Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Charles Bidwell
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
A TRAVELER FROM ALTRURIA
By W. D. HOWELLS
Author of "THE COAST OF BOHEMIA", "THE QUALITY OF MERCY",
"A HAZARD OF NEW FORTUNES" etc.
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
A TRAVELER FROM ALTRURIA
I confess that with all my curiosity to meet an Altrurian, I was in no
hospitable mood toward the traveler when he finally presented himself,
pursuant to the letter of advice sent me by the friend who introduced him.
It would be easy enough to take care of him in the hotel; I had merely to
engage a room for him, and have the clerk tell him his money was not good
if he tried to pay for anything. But I had swung fairly into my story; its
people were about me all the time; I dwelt amid its events and places, and
I did not see how I could welcome my guest among them, or abandon them for
him. Still, when he actually arrived, and I took his hand as he stepped
from the train, I found it less difficult to say that I was glad to see
him than I expected. In fact, I was glad, for I could not look upon his
face without feeling a glow of kindness for him. I had not the least
trouble in identifying him, for he was so unlike all the Americans who
dismounted from the train with him, and who all looked hot, worried, and
anxious. He was a man no longer young, but in what we call the heyday of
life, when our own people are so absorbed in making provision for the
future that they may be said not to live in the present at all. This
Altrurian's whole countenance, and especially his quiet, gentle eyes,
expressed a vast contemporaneity, with bounds of leisure removed to the
end of time; or, at least, this was the effect of something in them which
I am obliged to report in rather fantastic terms. He was above the middle
height, and he carried himself vigorously. His face was sunburned, or
sea-burned, where it was not bearded; and, although I knew from my
friend's letter that he was a man of learning and distinction in his own
country, I should never have supposed him a person of scholarly life, he
was so far from sicklied over with anything like the pale cast of thought.
When he took the hand I offered him in my half-hearted welcome he gave it
a grasp that decided me to confine our daily greetings to something much
"Let me have your bag," I said, as we do when we meet people at the train,
and he instantly bestowed a rather heavy valise upon me, with a smile in
his benignant eyes, as if it had been the greatest favor. "Have you got
any checks?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, in very good English, but with an accent new to me, "I
bought two." He gave them to me, and I passed them to our hotel porter,
who was waiting there with the baggage-cart. Then I proposed that we
should walk across the meadow to the house, which is a quarter of a mile
or so from the station. We started, but he stopped suddenly and looked
back over his shoulder. "Oh, you needn't be troubled about your trunks," I
said. "The porter will get them to the house all right. They'll be in your
room by the time we get there."
"But he's putting them into the wagon himself," said the Altrurian.
"Yes; he always does that. He's a strong young fellow. He'll manage it.
You needn't--" I could not finish saying he need not mind the porter; he
was rushing back to the station, and I had the mortification of seeing him
take an end of each trunk and help the porter toss it into the wagon; some
lighter pieces he put in himself, and he did not stop till all the baggage
the train had left was disposed of.
I stood holding his valise, unable to put it down in my embarrassment at
this eccentric performance, which had been evident not to me alone, but to
all the people who arrived by the train, and all their friends who came
from the hotel to meet them. A number of these passed me on the tally-ho
coach; and a lady, who had got her husband with her for over Sunday, and
was in very good spirits, called gayly down to me: "Your friend seems fond
"Yes," I answered, dryly; the sparkling repartee which ought to have come
to my help failed to show up. But it was impossible to be vexed with the
Altrurian when he returned to me, unruffled by his bout with the baggage
and serenely smiling.
"Do you know," he said, "I fancied that good fellow was ashamed of my
helping him. I hope it didn't seem a reflection upon him in any way before
your people? I ought to have thought of that."
"I guess we can make it right with him. I dare say he felt more surprised
than disgraced. But we must make haste a little now; your train was half
an hour late, and we shall not stand so good a chance for supper if we are
not there pretty promptly."
"No?" said the Altrurian. "Why?"
"Well," I said, with evasive lightness, "first come, first served, you
know. That's human nature."
"Is it?" he returned, and he looked at me as one does who suspects another
"Well, isn't it?" I retorted; but I hurried to add: "Besides, I want to
have time after supper to show you a bit of our landscape. I think you'll
enjoy it." I knew he had arrived in Boston that morning by steamer, and I
now thought it high time to ask him: "Well, what do you think of America,
anyway?" I ought really to have asked him this the moment he stepped from
"Oh," he said, "I'm intensely interested," and I perceived that he spoke
with a certain reservation. "As the most advanced country of its time,
I've always been very curious to see it."
The last sentence raised my dashed spirits again, and I said, confidently:
"You must find our system of baggage-checks delightful." I said this
because it is one of the first things we brag of to foreigners, and I had
the habit of it. "By-the-way," I ventured to add, "I suppose you meant to
say you _brought_ two checks when I asked you for them at the train just
now? But you really said you _bought_ them."
"Yes," the Altrurian replied, "I gave half a dollar apiece for them at the
station in Boston. I saw other people doing it," he explained, noting my
surprise. "Isn't it the custom?"
"I'm happy to say it isn't yet, on most of our roads. They were tipping
the baggage-man, to make sure that he checked their baggage in time and
put it on the train. I had to do that myself when I came up; otherwise it
might have got along here some time next day. But the system is perfect."
"The poor man looked quite worn out," said the Altrurian, "and I am glad I
gave him something. He seemed to have several hundred pieces of baggage to
look after, and he wasn't embarrassed like your porter by my helping him
put my trunks into the car. May I confess that the meanness of the
station, its insufficient facilities, its shabby waiting-rooms, and its
whole crowded and confused appearance gave me rather a bad impression?"
"I know," I had to own, "it's shameful; but you wouldn't have found
another station in the city so bad."
"Ah, then," said the Altrurian, "I suppose this particular road is too
poor to employ more baggage-men or build new stations; they seemed rather
shabby all the way up."
"Well, no," I was obliged to confess, "it's one of the richest roads in
the country. The stock stands at about 180. But I'm really afraid we shall
be late to supper if we don't get on," I broke off; though I was not
altogether sorry to arrive after the porter had disposed of the baggage. I
dreaded another display of active sympathy on the part of my strange
companion; I have often felt sorry myself for the porters of hotels, but I
have never thought of offering to help them handle the heavy trunks that
The Altrurian was delighted with the hotel; and in fact it did look
extremely pretty, with its branching piazzas full of well-dressed people,
and its green lawns where the children were playing. I led the way to the
room which I had taken for him next my own; it was simply furnished, but
it was sweet with matting, fresh linen, and pure whitewashed walls. I
flung open the window-blinds and let him get a glimpse of the mountains
purpling under the sunset, the lake beneath, and the deeply foliaged
"Glorious! glorious!" he sighed.
"Yes," I modestly assented. "We think that's rather fine." He stood
tranced before the window, and I thought I had better say: "Well, now I
can't give you much time to get the dust of travel off; the dining-room
doors close at eight, and we must hurry down."
"I'll be with you in a moment," he said, pulling off his coat.
I waited impatiently at the foot of the stairs, avoiding the question I
met on the lips and in the eyes of my acquaintance. The fame of my
friend's behavior at the station must have spread through the whole place;
and everybody wished to know who he was. I answered simply he was a
traveler from Altruria; and in some cases I went further and explained
that the Altrurians were peculiar.
In much less time than it seemed my friend found me; and then I had a
little compensation for my suffering in his behalf. I could see that,
whatever people said of him, they felt the same mysterious liking at
sight of him that I had felt. He had made a little change in his dress,
and I perceived that the women thought him not only good-looking but
well-dressed. They followed him with their eyes as we went into the
dining-room, and I was rather proud of being with him, as if I somehow
shared the credit of his clothes and good looks. The Altrurian himself
seemed most struck with the head-waiter, who showed us to our places, and
while we were waiting for our supper I found a chance to explain that he
was a divinity student from one of the fresh-water colleges, and was
serving here during his summer vacation. This seemed to interest my friend
so much that I went on to tell him that many of the waitresses, whom he
saw standing there subject to the order of the guests, were country
school-mistresses in the winter.
"Ah, that is as it should be," he said; "that is the kind of thing I
expected to meet with in America."
"Yes," I responded, in my flattered national vanity, "if America means
anything at all it means the honor of work and the recognition of personal
worth everywhere. I hope you are going to make a long stay with us. We
like to have travelers visit us who can interpret the spirit of our
institutions as well as read their letter. As a rule Europeans never quite
get our point of view. Now a great many of these waitresses are ladies, in
the true sense of the word--selfrespectful, intelligent, refined, and fit
I was interrupted by the noise my friend made in suddenly pushing back his
chair and getting to his feet. "What's the matter?" I asked. "You're not
ill, I hope?"
But he did not hear me. He had run half down the dining-hall toward the
slender young girl who was bringing us our supper. I had ordered rather
generously, for my friend had owned to a good appetite, and I was hungry
myself with waiting for him, so that the tray the girl carried was piled
up with heavy dishes. To my dismay I saw, rather than heard at that
distance, the Altrurian enter into a polite controversy with her, and
then, as if overcoming all her scruples by sheer strength of will, possess
himself of the tray and make off with it toward our table. The poor child
followed him, blushing to her hair; the head-waiter stood looking
helplessly on; the guests, who at that late hour were fortunately few,
were simply aghast at the scandal; the Altrurian alone seemed to think
his conduct the most natural thing in the world. He put the tray on the
side-table near us, and in spite of our waitress's protests insisted upon
arranging the little bird-bath dishes before our plates. Then at last he
sat down, and the girl, flushed and tremulous, left the room, as I could
not help suspecting, to have a good cry in the kitchen. She did not come
back, and the head-waiter, who was perhaps afraid to send another in her
place, looked after our few wants himself. He kept a sharp eye on my
friend, as if he were not quite sure he was safe, but the Altrurian
resumed the conversation with all that lightness of spirits which I
noticed in him after he helped the porter with the baggage. I did not
think it the moment to take him to task for what he had just done; I was
not even sure that it was the part of a host to do so at all, and between
the one doubt and the other I left the burden of talk to him.
"What a charming young creature!" he began. "I never saw anything prettier
than the way she had of refusing my help, absolutely without coquetry or
affectation of any kind. She is, as you said, a perfect lady, and she
graces her work, as I am sure she would grace any exigency of life. She
quite realizes my ideal of an American girl, and I see now what the spirit
of your country must be from such an expression of it."
I wished to tell him that while a country school-teacher who waits at
table in a summer hotel is very much to be respected in her sphere, she is
not regarded with that high honor which some other women command among us;
but I did not find this very easy, after what I had said of our esteem for
labor; and while I was thinking how I could hedge, my friend went on.
"I liked England greatly, and I liked the English, but I could not like
the theory of their civilization or the aristocratic structure of their
society. It seemed to me iniquitous, for we believe that inequality and
iniquity are the same in the last analysis."
At this I found myself able to say: "Yes, there is something terrible,
something shocking, in the frank brutality with which Englishmen affirm
the essential inequality of men. The affirmation of the essential equality
of men was the first point of departure with us when we separated from
"I know," said the Altrurian. "How grandly it is expressed in your
"Ah, you have read our Declaration of Independence, then?"
"Every Altrurian has read that," answered my friend.
"Well," I went on smoothly, and I hoped to render what I was going to say
the means of enlightening him without offence concerning the little
mistake he had just made with the waitress, "of course we don't take that
in its closest literality."
"I don't understand you," he said.
"Why, you know it was rather the political than the social traditions of
England that we broke with, in the Revolution."
"How is that?" he returned. "Didn't you break with monarchy and nobility,
and ranks and classes?"
"Yes, we broke with all those things."
"But I found them a part of the social as well as the political structure
in England. You have no kings or nobles here. Have you any ranks or
"Well, not exactly in the English sense. Our ranks and classes, such as we
have, are what I may call voluntary."
"Oh, I understand. I suppose that from time to time certain ones among you
feel the need of serving, and ask leave of the commonwealth to subordinate
themselves to the rest of the state and perform all the lowlier offices in
it. Such persons must be held in peculiar honor. Is it something like
"Well, no, I can't say it's quite like that. In fact I think I'd better
let you trust to your own observation of our life."
"But I'm sure," said the Altrurian, with a simplicity so fine that it was
a long time before I could believe it quite real, "that I shall approach
it so much more intelligently with a little instruction from you. You say
that your social divisions are voluntary. But do I understand that those
who serve among you do not wish to do so?"
"Well, I don't suppose they would serve if they could help it," I replied.
"Surely," said the Altrurian, with a look of horror, "you don't mean that
they are slaves."
"Oh no! oh no!" I said; "the war put an end to that. We are all free now,
black and white."
"But if they do not wish to serve, and are not held in peculiar honor for
"I see that my word 'voluntary' has misled you," I put in. "It isn't the
word exactly. The divisions among us are rather a process of natural
selection. You will see, as you get better acquainted with the workings of
our institutions, that there are no arbitrary distinctions here but the
fitness of the work for the man and the man for the work determines the
social rank that each one holds."
"Ah, that is fine!" cried the Altrurian, with a glow of enthusiasm. "Then
I suppose that these intelligent young people who teach school in winter
and serve at table in the summer are in a sort of provisional state,
waiting for the process of natural selection to determine whether they
shall finally be teachers or waiters."
"Yes, it might be stated in some such terms," I assented, though I was not
altogether easy in my mind. It seemed to me that I was not quite candid
with this most candid spirit. I added: "You know we are a sort of
fatalists here in America. We are great believers in the doctrine that it
will all come out right in the end."
"Ah, I don't wonder at that," said the Altrurian, "if the process of
natural selection works so perfectly among you as you say. But I am afraid
I don't understand this matter of your domestic service yet. I believe you
said that all honest work is honored in America. Then no social slight
attaches to service, I suppose?"
"Well, I can't say that, exactly. The fact is, a certain social slight
does attach to service, and that is one reason why I don't quite like to
have students wait at table. It won't be pleasant for them to remember it
in after-life, and it won't be pleasant for their children to remember
"Then the slight would descend?"
"I think it would. One wouldn't like to think one's father or mother had
been at service."
The Altrurian said nothing for a moment. Then he remarked: "So it seems
that while all honest work is honored among you, there are some kinds of
honest work that are not honored so much as others."
"Because some occupations are more degrading than others."
"But why?" he persisted, as I thought, a little unreasonably.
"Really," I said, "I think I must leave you to imagine."
"I am afraid I can't," he said, sadly. "Then, if domestic service is
degrading in your eyes, and people are not willing servants among you, may
I ask why any are servants?"
"It is a question of bread-and-butter. They are obliged to be."
"That is, they are forced to do work that is hateful and disgraceful to
them because they cannot live without?"
"Excuse me," I said, not at all liking this sort of pursuit, and feeling
it fair to turn even upon a guest who kept it up. "Isn't it so with you in
"It was so once," he admitted, "but not now. In fact, it is like a waking
dream to find one's self in the presence of conditions here that we
outlived so long ago."
There was an unconscious superiority in this speech that nettled me, and
stung me to retort: "We do not expect to outlive them. We regard them as
final, and as indestructibly based in human nature itself."
"Ah," said the Altrurian, with a delicate and caressing courtesy, "have I
said something offensive?"
"Not at all," I hastened to answer. "It is not surprising that you did not
get our point of view exactly. You will by-and-by, and then, I think, you
will see that it is the true one. We have found that the logic of our
convictions could not be applied to the problem of domestic service. It is
everywhere a very curious and perplexing problem. The simple old solution
of the problem was to own your servants; but we found that this was not
consistent with the spirit of our free institutions. As soon as it was
abandoned the anomaly began. We had outlived the primitive period when the
housekeeper worked with her domestics and they were her help, and were
called so; and we had begun to have servants to do all the household work,
and to call them so. This state of things never seemed right to some of
our purest and best people. They fancied, as you seem to have done, that
to compel people through their necessities to do your hateful drudgery,
and to wound and shame them with a name which every American instinctively
resents, was neither republican nor Christian. Some of our thinkers tried
to mend matters by making their domestics a part of their families; and in
the life of Emerson you'll find an amusing account of his attempt to have
his servant eat at the same table with himself and his wife. It wouldn't
work. He and his wife could stand it, but the servant couldn't."
I paused, for this was where the laugh ought to have come in. The
Altrurian did not laugh, he merely asked, "Why?"
"Well, because the servant knew, if they didn't, that they were a whole
world apart in their traditions, and were no more fit to associate than
New-Englanders and New-Zealanders. In the mere matter of education--"
"But I thought you said that these young girls who wait at table here were
"Oh, I beg your pardon; I ought to have explained. By this time it had
become impossible, as it now is, to get American girls to take service
except on some such unusual terms as we have in a summer hotel; and the
domestics were already ignorant foreigners, fit for nothing else. In such
a place as this it isn't so bad. It is more as if the girls worked in a
shop or a factory. They command their own time, in a measure, their hours
are tolerably fixed, and they have one another's society. In a private
family they would be subject to order at all times, and they would have no
social life. They would be in the family, out not of it. American girls
understand this, and so they won't go out to service in the usual way.
Even in a summer hotel the relation has its odious aspects. The system of
giving fees seems to me degrading to those who have to take them. To offer
a student or a teacher a dollar for personal service--it isn't right, or I
can't make it so. In fact, the whole thing is rather anomalous with us.
The best that you can say of it is that it works, and we don't know what
else to do."
"But I don't see yet," said the Altrurian, "just why domestic service is
degrading in a country where all kinds of work are honored."
"Well, my dear fellow, I have done my best to explain. As I intimated
before, we distinguish; and in the different kinds of labor we distinguish
against domestic service. I dare say it is partly because of the loss of
independence which it involves. People naturally despise a dependant."
"Why?" asked the Altrurian, with that innocence of his which I was
beginning to find rather trying.
"Why?" I retorted. "Because it implies weakness."
"And is weakness considered despicable among you?" he pursued.
"In every community it is despised practically, if not theoretically," I
tried to explain. "The great thing that America has done is to offer the
race an opportunity--the opportunity for any man to rise above the rest
and to take the highest place, if he is able." I had always been proud of
this fact, and I thought I had put it very well, but the Altrurian did not
seem much impressed by it.
He said: "I do not see how it differs from any country of the past in
that. But perhaps you mean that to rise carries with it an obligation
to those below 'If any is first among you, let him be your servant.' Is it
something like that?"
"Well, it is not quite like that," I answered, remembering how very little
our self-made men as a class had done for others. "Every one is expected
to look out for himself here. I fancy that there would be very little
rising if men were expected to rise for the sake of others, in America.
How is it with you in Altruria?" I demanded, hoping to get out of a
certain discomfort I felt in that way. "Do your risen men generally devote
themselves to the good of the community after they get to the top?"
"There is no rising among us," he said, with what seemed a perception of
the harsh spirit of my question; and he paused a moment before he asked in
his turn: "How do men rise among you?"
"That would be rather a long story," I replied. "But, putting it in the
rough, I should say that they rose by their talents, their shrewdness,
their ability to seize an advantage and turn it to their own account."
"And is that considered noble?"
"It is considered smart. It is considered at the worst far better than a
dead level of equality. Are all men equal in Altruria? Are they all alike
gifted or beautiful, or short or tall?"
"No, they are only equal in duties and in rights. But, as you said just
now, that is a very long story. Are they equal in nothing here?"
"They are equal in opportunities."
"Ah!" breathed the Altrurian, "I am glad to hear that."
I began to feel a little uneasy, and I was not quite sure that this last
assertion of mine would hold water. Everybody but ourselves had now left
the dining-room, and I saw the head-waiter eying us impatiently. I pushed
back my chair and said: "I'm sorry to seem to hurry you, but I should like
to show you a very pretty sunset effect we have here before it is too
dark. When we get back, I want to introduce you to a few of my friends. Of
course, I needn't tell you that there is a good deal of curiosity about
you, especially among the ladies."
"Yes, I found that the case in England, largely. It was the women who
cared most to meet me. I understand that in America society is managed
even more by women than it is in England."
"It's entirely in their hands," I said, with the satisfaction we all feel
in the fact. "We have no other leisure class. The richest men among us are
generally hard workers; devotion to business is the rule; but, as soon as
a man reaches the point where he can afford to pay for domestic service,
his wife and daughters expect to be released from it to the cultivation of
their minds and the enjoyment of social pleasures. It's quite right.
That is what makes them so delightful to foreigners. You must have heard
their praises chanted in England. The English find our men rather stupid,
I believe; but they think our women are charming."
"Yes, I was told that the wives of their nobility were sometimes
Americans," said the Altrurian. "The English think that you regard such
marriages as a great honor, and that they are very gratifying to your
"Well, I suppose that is so in a measure," I confessed. "I imagine that it
will not be long before the English aristocracy derives as largely from
American millionaires as from kings' mistresses. Not," I added,
virtuously, "that we approve of aristocracy."
"No, I understand that," said the Altrurian. "I shall hope to get your
point of view in this matter more distinctly by-and-by. As yet, I'm a
little vague about it."
"I think I can gradually make it clear to you," I returned.
We left the hotel, and I began to walk my friend across the meadow toward
the lake. I wished him to see the reflection of the afterglow in its still
waters, with the noble lines of the mountain-range that glassed itself
there; the effect is one of the greatest charms of that lovely region, the
sojourn of the sweetest summer in the world, and I am always impatient to
show it to strangers.
We climbed the meadow wall and passed through a stretch of woods to a path
leading down to the shore, and, as we loitered along in the tender gloom
of the forest, the music of the hermit-thrushes rang all round us like
crystal bells, like silver flutes, like the drip of fountains, like the
choiring of still-eyed cherubim. We stopped from time to time and
listened, while the shy birds sang unseen in their covert of shadows; but
we did not speak till we emerged from the trees and suddenly stood upon
the naked knoll overlooking the lake.
Then I explained: "The woods used to come down to the shore here, and we
had their mystery and music to the water's edge; but last winter the owner
cut the timber off. It looks rather ragged now." I had to recognize the
fact, for I saw the Altrurian staring about him over the clearing in a
kind of horror. It was a squalid ruin, a graceless desolation, which not
even the pitying twilight could soften. The stumps showed their hideous
mutilation everywhere; the brush had been burned, and the fires had
scorched and blackened the lean soil of the hill-slope and blasted it with
sterility. A few weak saplings, withered by the flames, drooped and
straggled about; it would be a century before the forces of nature could
repair the waste.
"You say the owner did this?" said the Altrurian. "Who is the owner?"
"Well, it does seem too bad," I answered, evasively. "There has been a
good deal of feeling about it. The neighbors tried to buy him off before
he began the destruction, for they knew the value of the woods as an
attraction to summer-boarders; the city cottagers, of course, wanted to
save them, and together they offered for the land pretty nearly as much as
the timber was worth. But he had got it into his head that the land here
by the lake would sell for building lots if it was cleared, and he could
make money on that as well as on the trees; and so they had to go. Of
course, one might say that he was deficient in public spirit, but I don't
blame him, altogether."
"No," the Altrurian assented, somewhat to my surprise, I confess.
I resumed: "There was no one else to look after his interests, and it was
not only his right but his duty to get the most he could for himself and
his own, according to his best light. That is what I tell people when they
fall foul of him for his want of public spirit."
"The trouble seems to be, then, in the system that obliges each man to be
the guardian of his own interests. Is that what you blame?"
"No, I consider it a very perfect system. It is based upon individuality,
and we believe that individuality is the principle that differences
civilized men from savages, from the lower animals, and makes us a nation
instead of a tribe or a herd. There isn't one of us, no matter how much he
censured this man's want of public spirit, but would resent the slightest
interference with his property rights. The woods were his; he had the
right to do what he pleased with his own."
"Do I understand you that, in America, a man may do what is wrong with his
"He may do anything with his own."
"To the injury of others?"
"Well, not in person or property. But he may hurt them in taste and
sentiment as much as he likes. Can't a man do what he pleases with his own
"No, he can only do right with his own."
"And if he tries to do wrong, or what the community thinks is wrong?"
"Then the community takes his own from him." Before I could think of
anything to say to this he went on: "But I wish you would explain to me
why it was left to this man's neighbors to try and get him to sell his
portion of the landscape?"
"Why, bless my soul!" I exclaimed, "who else was there? You wouldn't have
expected to take up a collection among the summer-boarders?"
"That wouldn't have been so unreasonable; but I didn't mean that. Was
there no provision for such an exigency in your laws? Wasn't the state
empowered to buy him off at the full value of his timber and his land?"
"Certainly not," I replied. "That would be rank paternalism."
It began to get dark, and I suggested that we had better be going back
to the hotel. The talk seemed already to have taken us away from all
pleasure in the prospect; I said, as we found our way through the rich,
balsam-scented twilight of the woods, where one joy-haunted thrush was
still singing: "You know that in America the law is careful not to meddle
with a man's private affairs, and we don't attempt to legislate personal
"But marriage," he said--"surely you have the institution of marriage?"
I was really annoyed at this. I returned, sarcastically; "Yes, I am glad
to say that there we can meet your expectation; we have marriage, not only
consecrated by the church, but established and defended by the state.
What has that to do with the question?"
"And you consider marriage," he pursued, "the citadel of morality, the
fountain of all that is pure and good in your private life, the source of
home and the image of heaven?"
"There are some marriages," I said, with a touch of our national humor,
"that do not quite fill the bill, but that is certainly our ideal of
"Then why do you say that you have not legislated personal virtue in
America?" he asked. "You have laws, I believe, against theft and murder,
and slander and incest, and perjury and drunkenness?"
"Then it appears to me that you have legislated honesty, regard for human
life, regard for character, abhorrence of unnatural vice, good faith, and
sobriety. I was told on the train coming up, by a gentleman who was
shocked at the sight of a man beating his horse, that you even had laws
against cruelty to animals."
"Yes, and I am happy to say that they are enforced to such a degree that a
man cannot kill a cat cruelly without being punished for it." The
Altrurian did not follow up his advantage, and I resolved not to be
outdone in magnanimity. "Come, I will own that you have the best of me on
those points. I must say you've trapped me very neatly, too; I can enjoy a
thing of that kind when it's well done, and I frankly knock under. But I
had in mind something altogether different when I spoke. I was thinking of
those idealists who want to bind us hand and foot and render us the slaves
of a state where the most intimate relations of life shall be penetrated
by legislation and the very hearthstone shall be a tablet of laws."
"Isn't marriage a rather intimate relation of life?" asked the Altrurian.
"And I understood that gentleman on the train to say that you had laws
against cruelty to children, and societies established to see them
enforced. You don't consider such laws an invasion of the home, do you, or
a violation of its immunities? I imagine," he went on, "that the
difference between your civilization and ours is only one of degree, after
all, and that America and Altruria are really one at heart."
I thought his compliment a bit hyperbolical, but I saw that it was
honestly meant, and as we Americans are first of all patriots, and vain
for our country before we are vain for ourselves, I was not proof against
the flattery it conveyed to me civically if not personally.
We were now drawing near the hotel, and I felt a certain glow of pleasure
in its gay effect on the pretty knoll where it stood. In its artless and
accidental architecture it was not unlike one of our immense coastwise
steamboats. The twilight had thickened to dusk, and the edifice was
brilliantly lighted with electrics, story above story, which streamed into
the gloom around like the lights of saloon and state-room. The corner of
wood making into the meadow hid the station; there was no other building
in sight; the hotel seemed riding at anchor on the swell of a placid sea.
I was going to call the Altrurian's attention to this fanciful resemblance
when I remembered that he had not been in our country long enough to have
seen a Fall River boat, and I made toward the house without wasting the
comparison upon him. But I treasured it up in my own mind, intending some
day to make a literary use of it.
The guests were sitting in friendly groups about the piazzas or in rows
against the walls, the ladies with their gossip and the gentlemen with
their cigars. The night had fallen cool after a hot day, and they all had
the effect of having cast off care with the burden of the week that was
past, and to be steeping themselves in the innocent and simple enjoyment
of the hour. They were mostly middle-aged married folk, but some were old
enough to have sons and daughters among the young people who went and came
in a long, wandering promenade of the piazzas, or wove themselves through
the waltz past the open windows of the great parlor; the music seemed one
with the light that streamed far out on the lawn flanking the piazzas.
Every one was well-dressed and comfortable and at peace, and I felt that
our hotel was in some sort a microcosm of the republic.
We involuntarily paused, and I heard the Altrurian murmur: "Charming,
charming! This is really delightful!"
"Yes, isn't it?" I returned, with a glow of pride. "Our hotel here is a
type of the summer hotel everywhere; it's characteristic in not having
anything characteristic about it; and I rather like the notion of the
people in it being so much like the people in all the others that you
would feel yourself at home wherever you met such a company in such a
house. All over the country, north and south, wherever you find a group of
hills or a pleasant bit of water or a stretch of coast, you'll find some
such refuge as this for our weary toilers. We began to discover some time
ago that it would not do to cut open the goose that laid our golden eggs,
even if it looked like an eagle, and kept on perching on our banners just
as if nothing had happened. We discovered that, if we continued to kill
ourselves with hard work, there would be no Americans pretty soon."
The Altrurian laughed. "How delightfully you put it! How quaint! How
picturesque! Excuse me, but I can't help expressing my pleasure in it. Our
own humor is so very different."
"Ah," I said; "what is your humor like?"
"I could hardly tell you, I'm afraid; I've never been much of a humorist
Again a cold doubt of something ironical in the man went through me, but I
had no means of verifying it, and so I simply remained silent, waiting for
him to prompt me if he wished to know anything further about our national
transformation from bees perpetually busy into butterflies occasionally
idle. "And when you had made that discovery?" he suggested.
"Why, we're nothing if not practical, you know, and as soon as we made
that discovery we stopped killing ourselves and invented the summer
resort. There are very few of our business or professional men now who
don't take their four or five weeks' vacation. Their wives go off early in
the summer, and, if they go to some resort within three or four hours of
the city, the men leave town Saturday afternoon and run out, or come up,
and spend Sunday with their families. For thirty-eight hours or so a hotel
like this is a nest of happy homes."
"That is admirable," said the Altrurian. "You are truly a practical
people. The ladies come early in the summer, you say?"
"Yes, sometimes in the beginning of June."
"What do they come for?" asked the Altrurian.
"What for? Why, for rest!" I retorted, with some little temper.
"But I thought you told me awhile ago that as soon as a husband could
afford it he relieved his wife and daughters from all household work."
"So he does."
"Then what do the ladies wish to rest from?"
"From care. It is not work alone that kills. They are not relieved from
household care even when they are relieved from household work. There is
nothing so killing as household care. Besides, the sex seems to be born
tired. To be sure, there are some observers of our life who contend that
with the advance of athletics among our ladies, with boating and bathing,
and lawn-tennis and mountain-climbing and freedom from care, and these
long summers of repose, our women are likely to become as superior to the
men physically as they now are intellectually. It is all right. We should
like to see it happen. It would be part of the national joke."
"Oh, have you a national joke?" asked the Altrurian. "But, of course! You
have so much humor. I wish you could give me some notion of it."
"Well, it is rather damaging to any joke to explain it," I replied, "and
your only hope of getting at ours is to live into it. One feature of it is
the confusion of foreigners at the sight of our men's willingness to
subordinate themselves to our women."
"Oh, I don't find that very bewildering," said the Altrurian. "It seems to
me a generous and manly trait of the American character. I'm proud to say
that it is one of the points at which your civilization and our own touch.
There can be no doubt that the influence of women in your public affairs
must be of the greatest advantage to you; it has been so with us."
I turned and stared at him, but he remained insensible to my astonishment,
perhaps because it was now too dark for him to see it. "Our women have no
influence in public affairs," I said, quietly, after a moment.
"They haven't? Is it possible? But didn't I understand you to imply just
now that your women were better educated than your men?"
"Well, I suppose that, taking all sorts and conditions among us, the women
are as a rule better schooled, if not better educated."
"Then, apart from the schooling, they are not more cultivated?"
"In a sense you might say they were. They certainly go in for a lot of
things: art and music, and Browning and the drama, and foreign travel and
psychology, and political economy and Heaven knows what all. They have
more leisure for it; they have all the leisure there is, in fact; our
young men have to go into business. I suppose you may say our women are
more cultivated than our men; yes, I think there's no questioning that.
They are the great readers among us. We poor devils of authors would be
badly off if it were not for our women. In fact, no author could make a
reputation among us without them. American literature exists because
American women appreciate it and love it."
"But surely your men read books?"
"Some of them; not many, comparatively. You will often hear a complacent
ass of a husband and father say to an author: 'My wife and daughters know
your books, but I can't find time for anything but the papers nowadays. I
skim them over at breakfast, or when I'm going in to business on the
train.' He isn't the least ashamed to say that he reads nothing but the
"Then you think that it would be better for him to read books?"
"Well, in the presence of four or five thousand journalists with drawn
scalping-knives I should not like to say so. Besides, modesty forbids."
"No, but, really," the Altrurian persisted, "you think that the literature
of a book is more carefully pondered than the literature of a daily
"I suppose even the four or five thousand journalists with drawn
scalping-knives would hardly deny that."
"And it stands to reason, doesn't it, that the habitual reader of
carefully pondered literature ought to be more thoughtful than the readers
of literature which is not carefully pondered and which they merely skim
over on their way to business?"
"I believe we began by assuming the superior culture of our women, didn't
we? You'll hardly find an American that isn't proud of it."
"Then," said the Altrurian, "if your women are generally better schooled
than your men, and more cultivated and more thoughtful, and are relieved
of household work in such great measure, and even of domestic cares, why
have they no part in your public affairs?"
I laughed, for I thought I had my friend at last. "For the best of all
possible reasons: they don't want it."
"Ah, that's no reason," he returned. "Why don't they want it?"
"Really," I said, out of all patience, "I think I must let you ask the
ladies themselves," and I turned and moved again toward the hotel, but the
Altrurian gently detained me.
"Excuse me," he began.
"No, no," I said.
"'The feast is set, the guests are met,
May'st hear the merry din.'
Come in and see the young people dance."
"Wait," he entreated; "tell me a little more about the old people first.
This digression about the ladies has been very interesting, but I thought
you were going to speak of the men here. Who are they, or, rather, what
"Why, as I said before, they are all business men and professional men;
people who spend their lives in studies and counting-rooms and offices,
and have come up here for a few weeks or a few days of well-earned repose.
They are of all kinds of occupations: they are lawyers and doctors, and
clergymen and merchants, and brokers and bankers. There's hardly any
calling you Won't find represented among them. As I was thinking
just now, our hotel is a sort of microcosm of the American republic."
"I am most fortunate in finding you here, where I can avail myself of your
intelligence in making my observations of your life under such
advantageous circumstances. It seems to me that with your help I might
penetrate the fact of American life, possess myself of the mystery of your
national joke, without stirring beyond the piazza of your hospitable
hotel," said my friend. I doubted it, but one does not lightly put aside a
compliment like that to one's intelligence, and I said I should be very
happy to be of use to him. He thanked me, and said: "Then, to begin with,
I understand that these gentlemen are here because they are all
"Of course. You can have no conception of how hard our business men and
our professional men work. I suppose there is nothing like it anywhere
else in the world. But, as I said before, we are beginning to find that we
cannot burn the candle at both ends and have it last long. So we put one
end out for a little while every summer. Still, there are frightful wrecks
of men strewn all along the course of our prosperity, wrecks of mind and
body. Our insane asylums are full of madmen who have broken under the
tremendous strain, and every country in Europe abounds in our dyspeptics."
I was rather proud of this terrible fact; there is no doubt but we
Americans are proud of overworking ourselves; Heaven knows why.
The Altrurian murmured: "Awful! Shocking!" But I thought somehow he had
not really followed me very attentively in my celebration of our national
violation of the laws of life and its consequences. "I am glad," he went
on, "that your business men and professional men are beginning to realize
the folly and wickedness of overwork. Shall I find some of your other
weary workers here, too?"
"What other weary workers?" I asked in turn, for I imagined I had gone
over pretty much the whole list.
"Why," said the Altrurian, "your mechanics and day laborers, your
iron-moulders and glass-blowers, your miners and farmers, your printers
and mill-operatives, your trainmen and quarry-hands. Or do they prefer to
go to resorts of their own?"
It was not easy to make sure of such innocence as prompted this inquiry of
my Altrurian friend. The doubt whether he could really be in earnest was
something that I had already felt; and it was destined to beset me, as it
did now, again and again. My first thought was that, of course, he was
trying a bit of cheap irony on me, a mixture of the feeble sarcasm and
false sentiment that makes us smile when we find it in the philippics of
the industrial agitators. For a moment I did not know but I had fallen
victim to a walking delegate on his vacation, who was employing his summer
leisure in going about the country in the guise of a traveler from
Altruria, and foisting himself upon people who would have had nothing to
do with him in his real character. But in another moment I perceived that
this was impossible. I could not suppose that the friend who had
introduced him to me would be capable of seconding so poor a joke, and,
besides, I could not imagine why a walking delegate should wish to address
his clumsy satire to me particularly. For the present, at least, there was
nothing for it but to deal with this inquiry as if it were made in good
faith and in the pursuit of useful information. It struck me as grotesque;
but it would not have been decent to treat it as if it were so. I was
obliged to regard it seriously, and so I decided to shirk it.
"Well," I said, "that opens up rather a large field, which lies somewhat
outside of the province of my own activities. You know, I am a writer of
romantic fiction, and my time is so fully occupied in manipulating the
destinies of the good old-fashioned hero and heroine, and trying always to
make them end in a happy marriage, that I have hardly had a chance to look
much into the lives of agriculturists or artisans; and, to tell you the
truth, I don't know what they do with their leisure. I'm pretty certain,
though, you won't meet any of them in this hotel; they couldn't afford it,
and I fancy they would find themselves out of their element among our
guests. We respect them thoroughly; every American does, and we know that
the prosperity of the country rests with them; we have a theory that they
are politically sovereign, but we see very little of them, and we don't
associate with them. In fact, our cultivated people have so little
interest in them socially that they don't like to meet them, even in
fiction; they prefer refined and polished ladies and gentlemen, whom they
can have some sympathy with; and I always go to the upper classes for my
types. It won't do to suppose, though, that we are indifferent to the
working classes in their place. Their condition is being studied a good
deal just now, and there are several persons here who will be able to
satisfy your curiosity on the points you have made, I think. I will
introduce you to them."
The Altrurian did not try to detain me this time. He said he should be
very glad indeed to meet my friends, and I led the way toward a little
group at the corner of the piazza. They were men whom I particularly
liked, for one reason or another; they were intelligent and open-minded,
and they were thoroughly American. One was a banker; another was a
minister; there was a lawyer, and there was a doctor; there was a
professor of political economy in one of our colleges; and there was a
retired manufacturer--I do not know what he used to manufacture: cotton or
iron, or something like that. They all rose politely as I came up with my
Altrurian, and I fancied in them a sensation of expectancy created by the
rumor of his eccentric behavior which must have spread through the hotel.
But they controlled this if they had it, and I could see, as the light
fell upon his face from a spray of electrics on the nearest pillar, that
sort of liking kindle in theirs which I had felt myself at first sight of
I said, "Gentlemen, I wish to introduce my friend, Mr. Homos," and then I
presented them severally to him by name. We all sat down, and I explained:
"Mr. Homos is from Altruria. He is visiting our country for the first
time, and is greatly interested in the working of our institutions. He has
been asking me some rather hard questions about certain phases of our
civilization; and the fact is that I have launched him upon you because I
don't feel quite able to cope with him."
They all laughed civilly at this sally of mine, but the professor asked,
with a sarcasm that I thought I hardly merited, "What point in our polity
can be obscure to the author of 'Glove and Gauntlet' and 'Airs and
They all laughed again, not so civilly, I felt, and then the banker asked
my friend: "Is it long since you left Altruria?"
"It seems a great while ago," the Altrurian answered, "but it is really
only a few weeks."
"You came by way of England, I suppose?"
"Yes; there is no direct line to America," said the Altrurian.
"That seems rather odd," I ventured, with some patriotic grudge.
"Oh, the English have direct lines everywhere," the banker instructed me.
"The tariff has killed our shipbuilding," said the professor. No one took
up this firebrand, and the professor added: "Your name is Greek, isn't it,
"Yes; we are of one of the early Hellenic families," said the Altrurian.
"And do you think," asked the lawyer, who, like most lawyers, was a lover
of romance, and was well read in legendary lore especially, "that there is
any reason for supposing that Altruria is identical with the fabled
"No, I can't say that I do. We have no traditions of a submergence of the
continent, and there are only the usual evidences of a glacial epoch which
you find everywhere to support such a theory. Besides, our civilization is
strictly Christian, and dates back to no earlier period than that of the
first Christian commune after Christ. It is a matter of history with us
that one of these communists, when they were dispersed, brought the Gospel
to our continent; he was cast away on our eastern coast on his way to
"Yes, we know that," the minister intervened, "but it is perfectly
astonishing that an island so large as Altruria should have been lost to
the knowledge of the rest of the world ever since the beginning of our
era. You would hardly think that there was a space of the ocean's surface
a mile square which had not been traversed by a thousand keels since
Columbus sailed westward."
"No, you wouldn't. And I wish," the doctor suggested in his turn, "that
Mr. Homos would tell us something about his country, instead of asking us
"Yes," I coincided, "I'm sure we should all find it a good deal easier. At
least I should; but I brought our friend up in the hope that the professor
would like nothing better than to train a battery of hard facts upon a
defenceless stranger." Since the professor had given me that little stab,
I was rather anxious to see how he would handle the desire for information
in the Altrurian which I had found so prickly.
This turned the laugh on the professor, and he pretended to be as curious
about Altruria as the rest, and said he would rather hear of it. But the
Altrurian said: "I hope you will excuse me. Sometime I shall be glad to
talk of Altruria as long as you like; or, if you will come to us, I shall
be still happier to show you many things that I couldn't make you
understand at a distance. But I am in America to learn, not to teach, and
I hope you will have patience with my ignorance. I begin to be afraid that
it is so great as to seem a little incredible. I have fancied in my friend
here," he went on, with a smile toward me, "a suspicion that I was not
entirely single in some of the inquiries I have made, but that I had some
ulterior motive, some wish to censure or satirize."
"Oh, not at all," I protested, for it was not polite to admit a conjecture
so accurate. "We are so well satisfied with our condition that we have
nothing but pity for the darkened mind of the foreigner, though we believe
in it fully: we are used to the English tourist."
My friends laughed, and the Altrurian continued: "I am very glad to hear
it, for I feel myself at a peculiar disadvantage among you. I am not only
a foreigner, but I am so alien to you in all the traditions and habitudes
that I find it very difficult to get upon common ground with you. Of
course, I know theoretically what you are, but to realize it practically
is another thing. I had read so much about America and understood so
little that I could not rest without coming to see for myself. Some of the
apparent contradictions were so colossal--"
"We have everything on a large scale here," said the banker, breaking off
the ash of his cigar with the end of his little finger, "and we rather
pride ourselves on the size of our inconsistencies, even. I know something
of the state of things in Altruria, and, to be frank with you, I will say
that it seems to me preposterous. I should say it was impossible, if it
were not an accomplished fact; but I always feel bound to recognize the
thing done. You have hitched your wagon to a star, and you have made the
star go; there is never any trouble with wagons, but stars are not easily
broken to harness, and you have managed to get yours well in hand. As I
said, I don't believe in you, but I respect you." I thought this charming,
myself; perhaps because it stated my own mind about Altruria so exactly
and in terms so just and generous.
"Pretty good," said the doctor, in a murmur of satisfaction, at my ear,
"for a bloated bond-holder."
"Yes," I whispered back, "I wish I had said it. What an American way of
putting it! Emerson would have liked it himself. After all, he was our
"He must have thought so from the way we kept stoning him," said the
doctor, with a soft laugh.
"Which of our contradictions," asked the banker, in the same tone of
gentle bonhomie, "has given you and our friend pause just now?"
The Altrurian answered, after a moment: "I am not sure that it is a
contradiction, for as yet I have not ascertained the facts I was seeking.
Our friend was telling me of the great change that had taken place
in regard to work, and the increased leisure that your professional people
are now allowing themselves; and I was asking him where your working-men
spent their leisure."
He went over the list of those he had specified, and I hung my head in
shame and pity; it really had such an effect of mawkish sentimentality.
But my friends received it in the best possible way. They did not laugh;
they heard him out, and then they quietly deferred to the banker, who made
answer for us all:
"Well, I can be almost as brief as the historian of Iceland in his chapter
on snakes: those people have no leisure to spend."
"Except when they go out on a strike," said the manufacturer, with a
certain grim humor of his own; I never heard anything more dramatic than
the account he once gave of the way he broke up a labor union. "I have
seen a good many of them at leisure then."
"Yes," the doctor chimed in, "and in my younger days, when I necessarily
had a good deal of charity practice, I used to find them at leisure when
they were 'laid off.' It always struck me as such a pretty euphemism. It
seemed to minify the harm of the thing so. It seemed to take all the
hunger and cold and sickness out of the fact. To be simply 'laid off' was
so different from losing your work and having to face beggary or
"Those people," said the professor, "never put anything by. They are
wasteful and improvident, almost to a man; and they learn nothing by
experience, though they know as well as we do that it is simply a question
of demand and supply, and that the day of overproduction is sure to come,
when their work must stop unless the men that give them work are willing
to lose money."
"And I've seen them lose it, sometimes, rather than shut down," the
manufacturer remarked; "lose it hand over hand, to keep the men at work;
and then as soon as the tide turned the men would strike for higher wages.
You have no idea of the ingratitude of those people." He said this toward
the minister, as if he did not wish to be thought hard; and, in fact, he
was a very kindly man.
"Yes," replied the minister, "that is one of the most sinister features of
the situation. They seem really to regard their employers as their
enemies. I don't know how it will end."
"I know how it would end if I had my way," said the professor. "There
wouldn't be any labor unions, and there wouldn't be any strikes."
"That is all very well," said the lawyer, from that judicial mind which I
always liked in him, "as far as the strikes are concerned, but I don't
understand that the abolition of the unions would affect the impersonal
process of 'laying off.' The law of demand and supply I respect as much as
any one--it's something like the constitution; but, all the same, I should
object extremely to have my income stopped by it every now and then. I'm
probably not so wasteful as a working-man generally is; still, I haven't
laid by enough to make it a matter of indifference to me whether my income
went on or not. Perhaps the professor has." The professor did not say, and
we all took leave to laugh. The lawyer concluded: "I don't see how those
fellows stand it."
"They don't, all of them," said the doctor. "Or their wives and children
don't. Some of them die."
"I wonder," the lawyer pursued, "what has become of the good old American
fact that there is always work for those who are willing to work? I notice
that wherever five thousand men strike in the forenoon, there are five
thousand men to take their places in the afternoon--and not men who are
turning their hands to something new, but men who are used to doing the
very thing the strikers have done."
"That is one of the things that teach the futility of strikes," the
professor made haste to interpose, as if he had not quite liked to appear
averse to the interests of the workman; no one likes to do that. "If there
were anything at all to be hoped from them, it would be another matter."
"Yes, but that isn't the point, quite," said the lawyer.
"By-the-way, what is the point?" I asked, with my humorous lightness.
"Why, I supposed," said the banker, "it was the question how the working
classes amused their elegant leisure. But it seems to be almost anything
We all applauded the neat touch, but the Altrurian eagerly entreated:
"No, no; never mind that now. That is a matter of comparatively little
interest. I would so much rather know something about the status of the
working-man among you."
"Do you mean his political status? It's that of every other citizen."
"I don't mean that. I suppose that in America you have learned, as we have
in Altruria, that equal political rights are only means to an end, and as
an end have no value or reality. I meant the economic status of the
working-man, and his social status."
I do not know why we were so long girding up our loins to meet this simple
question. I myself could not have hopefully undertaken to answer it; but
the others were each in their way men of affairs, and practically
acquainted with the facts, except perhaps the professor; but he had
devoted a great deal of thought to them, and ought to have been qualified
to make some sort of response. But even he was silent; and I had a vague
feeling that they were all somehow reluctant to formulate their knowledge,
as if it were uncomfortable or discreditable. The banker continued to
smoke quietly on for a moment; then he suddenly threw his cigar away.
"I like to free my mind of cant," he said, with a short laugh, "when I can
afford it, and I propose to cast all sorts of American cant out of it in
answering your question. The economic status of the working-man among us
is essentially the same as that of the working-man all over the civilized
world. You will find plenty of people here, especially about election
time, to tell you differently, but they will not be telling you the truth,
though a great many of them think they are. In fact, I suppose most
Americans honestly believe because we have a republican form of
government, and manhood suffrage, and so on, that our economic conditions
are peculiar, and that our working-man has a status higher and better than
that of the working-man anywhere else. But he has nothing of the kind. His
circumstances are better, and provisionally his wages are higher, but it
is only a question of years or decades when his circumstances will be the
same and his wages the same as the European working-man's. There is
nothing in our conditions to prevent this."
"Yes, I understood from our friend here," said the Altrurian, nodding
toward me, "that you had broken only with the political tradition of
Europe in your Revolution; and he has explained to me that you do not hold
all kinds of labor in equal esteem; but--"
"What kind of labor did he say we did hold in esteem?" asked the banker.
"Why, I understood him to say that if America meant anything at all it
meant the honor of work, but that you distinguished and did not honor some
kinds of work so much as others; for instance, domestic service, or
personal attendance of any kind."
The banker laughed again. "Oh, he drew the line there, did he? Well, we
all have to draw the line somewhere. Our friend is a novelist, and I will
tell you in strict confidence that the line he has drawn is imaginary. We
don't honor any kind of work any more than any other people. If a fellow
gets up, the papers make a great ado over his having been a woodchopper or
a bobbin-boy, or something of that kind, but I doubt if the fellow himself
likes it; he doesn't if he's got any sense. The rest of us feel that it's
_infra dig._, and hope nobody will find out that we ever worked with our
hands for a living. I'll go further," said the banker, with the effect of
whistling prudence down the wind, "and I will challenge any of you to
gainsay me from his own experience or observation. How does esteem usually
express itself? When we wish, to honor a man, what do we do?"
"Ask him to dinner," said the lawyer.
"Exactly. We offer him some sort of social recognition. Well, as soon as a
fellow gets up, if he gets up high enough, we offer him some sort of
social recognition; in fact, all sorts; but upon condition that he has
left off working with his hands for a living. We forgive all you please to
his past on account of the present. But there isn't a working-man, I
venture to say, in any city or town, or even large village, in the whole
length and breadth of the United States who has any social recognition, if
he is still working at his trade. I don't mean, merely, that he is
excluded from rich and fashionable society, but from the society of the
average educated and cultivated people. I'm not saying he is fit for it;
but I don't care how intelligent and agreeable he might be--and some of
them are astonishingly intelligent, and so agreeable in their tone of mind
and their original way of looking at things that I like nothing better
than to talk with them--all of our invisible fences are up against him."
The minister said: "I wonder if that sort of exclusiveness is quite
natural? Children seem to feel no sort of social difference among
"We can hardly go to children for a type of social order," the professor
"True," the minister meekly admitted. "But somehow there is a protest in
us somewhere against these arbitrary distinctions--something that
questions whether they are altogether right. We know that they must be,
and always have been, and always will be, and yet--well, I will confess
it--I never feel at peace when I face them."
"Oh," said the banker, "if you come to the question of right and wrong,
that is another matter. I don't say it's right. I'm not discussing that
question; though I'm certainly not proposing to level the fences; I should
be the last to take my own down. I say simply that you are no more likely
to meet a working-man in American society than you are to meet a colored
man. Now you can judge," he ended, turning directly to the Altrurian, "how
much we honor labor. And I hope I have indirectly satisfied your curiosity
as to the social status of the working-man among us."
We were all silent.
Perhaps the others were occupied like myself in trying to recall some
instance of a working-man whom they had met in society, and perhaps we
said nothing because we all failed.
The Altrurian spoke at last.
"You have been so very full and explicit that I feel as if it were almost
unseemly to press any further inquiry; but I should very much like to know
how your working-men bear this social exclusion."
"I'm sure I can't say," returned the banker. "A man does not care much to
get into society until he has something to eat, and how to get that is
always the first question with the working-man."
"But you wouldn't like it yourself?"
"No, certainly, I shouldn't like it myself. I shouldn't complain of not
being asked to people's houses, and the working-men don't; you can't do
that; but I should feel it an incalculable loss. We may laugh at the
emptiness of society, or pretend to be sick of it, but there is no doubt
that society is the flower of civilization, and to be shut out from it is
to be denied the best privilege of a civilized man. There are society
women--we have all met them--whose graciousness and refinement of presence
are something of incomparable value; it is more than a liberal education
to have been admitted to it, but it is as inaccessible to the working-man
as--what shall I say? The thing is too grotesquely impossible for any sort
of comparison. Merely to conceive of its possibility is something that
passes a joke; it is a kind of offence."
Again we were silent.
"I don't know," the banker continued, "how the notion of our social
equality originated, but I think it has been fostered mainly by the
expectation of foreigners, who argued it from our political equality.
As a matter of fact, it never existed, except in our poorest and most
primitive communities, in the pioneer days of the West and among the
gold-hunters of California. It was not dreamed of in our colonial society,
either in Virginia or Pennsylvania or New York or Massachusetts; and the
fathers of the republic, who were mostly slave-holders, were practically
as stiff-necked aristocrats as any people of their day. We have not a
political aristocracy, that is all; but there is as absolute a division
between the orders of men and as little love, in this country as in any
country on the globe. The severance of the man who works for his living
with his hands from the man who does not work for his living with his
hands is so complete, and apparently so final, that nobody even imagines
anything else, not even in fiction. Or, how is that?" he asked, turning to
me. "Do you fellows still put the intelligent, high-spirited, handsome
young artisan, who wins the millionaire's daughter, into your books? I
used sometimes to find him there."
"You might still find him in the fiction of the weekly story-papers; but,"
I was obliged to own, "he would not go down with my readers. Even in the
story-paper fiction he would leave off working as soon as he married the
millionaire's daughter, and go to Europe, or he would stay here and become
a social leader, but he would not receive working-men in his gilded
The others rewarded my humor with a smile, but the banker said: "Then I
wonder you were not ashamed of filling our friend up with that stuff about
our honoring some kinds of labor. It is true that we don't go about openly
and explicitly despising any kind of honest toil--people don't do that
anywhere now; but we contemn it in terms quite as unmistakable. The
working-man acquiesces as completely as anybody else. He does not remain a
working-man a moment longer that he can help; and after he gets up, if he
is weak enough to be proud of having been one, it is because he feels that
his low origin is a proof of his prowess in rising to the top against
unusual odds. I don't suppose there is a man in the whole civilized
world--outside of Altruria, of course---who is proud of working at a
trade, except the shoemaker Tolstoy, and is a count, and he does not make
very good shoes."
We all laughed again: those shoes of Count Tolstoy's are always such an
The Altrurian, however, was cocked and primed with another question; he
instantly exploded it: "But are all the working-men in America eager to
rise above their condition? Is there none willing to remain among the mass
because the rest could not rise with him, and from the hope of yet
bringing labor to honor?"
The banker answered: "I never heard of any. No, the American ideal is not
to change the conditions for all, but for each to rise above the rest if
"Do you think it is really so bad as that?" asked the minister, timidly.
The banker answered: "Bad? Do you call that bad? I thought it was very
good. But, good or bad, I don't think you'll find it deniable, if you
look into the facts. There may be working-men willing to remain so for
other working-men's sake, but I have never met any--perhaps because the
working-man never goes into society."
The unfailing question of the Altrurian broke the silence which ensued:
"Are there many of your working-men who are intelligent and agreeable--of
the type you mentioned a moment since?"
"Perhaps," said the banker, "I had better refer you to one of our friends
here, who has had a great deal more to do with them than I have. He is a
manufacturer, and he has had to do with all kinds of work-people."
"Yes, for my sins," the manufacturer assented; and he added: "They are
often confoundedly intelligent, though I haven't often found them very
agreeable, either in their tone of mind or their original way of looking
The banker amiably acknowledged his thrust, and the Altrurian asked: "Ah,
they are opposed to your own?"
"Well, we have the same trouble here that you must have heard of in
England. As you know now that the conditions are the same here, you won't
be surprised at the fact."
"But the conditions," the Altrurian pursued--"do you expect them always to
continue the same?"
"Well, I don't know," said the manufacturer. "We can't expect them to
change of themselves, and I shouldn't know how to change them. It was
expected that the rise of the trusts and the syndicates would break the
unions, but somehow they haven't. The situation remains the same. The
unions are not cutting one another's throats now any more than we are. The
war is on a larger scale--that's all."
"Then let me see," said the Altrurian, "whether I clearly understand the
situation as regards the working-man in America. He is dependent upon the
employer for his chance to earn a living, and he is never sure of this. He
may be thrown out of work by his employer's disfavor or disaster, and his
willingness to work goes for nothing; there is no public provision of work
for him; there is nothing to keep him from want nor the prospect of
"We are all in the same boat," said the professor.
"But some of us have provisioned ourselves rather better and can generally
weather it through till we are picked up," the lawyer put in.
"I am always saying the working-man is improvident," returned the
"There are the charities," the minister suggested.
"But his economical status," the Altrurian pursued, "is in a state of
perpetual uncertainty, and to save himself in some measure he has
organized, and so has constituted himself a danger to the public peace?"
"A very great danger," said the professor.
"I guess we can manage him," the manufacturer remarked.
"And socially he is non-existent?"
The Altrurian turned with this question to the banker, who said: "He is
certainly not in society."
"Then," said my guest, "if the working-man's wages are provisionally so
much better here than in Europe, why should they be discontented? What is
the real cause of their discontent?"
I have always been suspicious, in the company of practical men, of an
atmosphere of condescension to men of my calling, if nothing worse. I
fancy they commonly regard artists of all kinds as a sort of harmless
eccentrics, and that literary people they look upon as something droll, as
weak and soft, as not quite right. I believed that this particular group,
indeed, was rather abler to conceive of me as a rational person than most
others, but I knew that if even they had expected me to be as reasonable
as themselves they would not have been greatly disappointed if I were not;
and it seemed to me that I had put myself wrong with them in imparting to
the Altrurian that romantic impression that we hold labor in honor here. I
had really thought so, but I could not say so now, and I wished to
retrieve myself somehow. I wished to show that I was a practical man, too,
and so I made answer: "What is the cause of the working-man's discontent?
It is very simple: the walking delegate."
I suppose I could not have fairly claimed any great originality for my
notion that the walking delegate was the cause of the labor troubles: he
is regularly assigned as the reason of a strike in the newspapers, and is
reprobated for his evil agency by the editors, who do not fail to read the
working-men many solemn lessons and fervently warn them against him, as
soon as the strike begins to go wrong--as it nearly always does. I
understand from them that the walking delegate is an irresponsible tyrant,
who emerges from the mystery that habitually hides him and from time to
time orders a strike in mere rancor of spirit and plenitude of power, and
then leaves the working-men and their families to suffer the consequences,
while he goes off somewhere and rolls in the lap of luxury, careless of
the misery he has created. Between his debauches of vicious idleness and
his accesses of baleful activity he is employed in poisoning the mind of
the working-men against his real interests and real friends. This is
perfectly easy, because the American working-man, though singularly shrewd
and sensible in other respects, is the victim of an unaccountable
obliquity of vision which keeps him from seeing his real interests and
real friends--or, at least, from knowing them when he sees them.
There could be no doubt, I thought, in the mind of any reasonable person
that the walking delegate was the source of the discontent among our
proletariate, and I alleged him with a confidence which met the approval
of the professor, apparently, for he nodded, as if to say that I had hit
the nail on the head this time; and the minister seemed to be freshly
impressed with a notion that could not be new to him. The lawyer and the
doctor were silent, as if waiting for the banker to speak again; but he
was silent, too. The manufacturer, to my chagrin, broke into a laugh. "I'm
afraid," he said, with a sardonic levity which surprised me, "you'll have
to go a good deal deeper than the walking delegate. He's a symptom; he
isn't the disease. The thing keeps on and on, and it seems to be always
about wages; but it isn't about wages at the bottom. Some of those fellows
know it and some of them don't, but the real discontent is with the whole
system, with the nature of things. I had a curious revelation on that
point the last time I tried to deal with my men as a union. They were
always bothering me about this and about that, and there was no end to the
bickering. I yielded point after point, but it didn't make any difference.
It seemed as if the more I gave the more they asked. At last I made up my
mind to try to get at the real inwardness of the matter, and I didn't wait
for their committee to come to me--I sent for their leading man, and said
I wanted to have it out with him. He wasn't a bad fellow, and when I got
at him, man to man that way, I found he had sense, and he had ideas--it's
no use pretending those fellows are fools; he had thought about his side
of the question, anyway. I said: 'Now what does it all mean? Do you want
the earth, or don't you? When is it going to end?' I offered him something
to take, but he said he didn't drink, and we compromised on cigars. 'Now
when is it going to end?' said I, and I pressed it home, and wouldn't let
him fight off from the point. 'Do you mean when is it all going to end?'
said he. 'Yes,' said I, 'all. I'm sick of it. If there's any way out I'd
like to know it.' 'Well,' said he, 'I'll tell you, if you want to know.
It's all going to end when you get the same amount of money for the same
amount of work as we do.'"
We all laughed uproariously. The thing was deliciously comical; and
nothing, I thought, attested the Altrurian's want of humor like his
failure to appreciate this joke. He did not even smile in asking: "And
what did you say?"
"Well," returned the manufacturer, with cosey enjoyment, "I asked him if
the men would take the concern and run it themselves." We laughed again;
this seemed even better than the other joke. "But he said, 'No'; they
would not like to do that. And then I asked him just what they would like,
if they could have their own way, and he said they would like to have me
run the business, and all share alike. I asked him what was the sense of
that, and why, if I could do something that all of them put together
couldn't do, I shouldn't be paid more than all of them put together; and
he said that if a man did his best he ought to be paid as much as the best
man. I asked him if that was the principle their union was founded on, and
he said, 'Yes,' that the very meaning of their union was the protection of
the weak by the strong and the equalization of earnings among all who do
We waited for the manufacturer to go on, but he made a dramatic pause at
this point, as if to let it sink into our minds; and he did not speak
until the Altrurian prompted him with the question, "And what did you
"I saw there was only one way out for me, and I told the fellow I did not
think I could do business on that principle. We parted friends, but the
next Saturday I locked them out and smashed their union. They came back,
most of them--they had to--but I've treated with them ever since 'as
"And they're much better off in your hands than they were in the union,"
said the professor.
"I don't know about that," said the manufacturer, "but I'm sure I am."
We laughed with him, all but the minister, whose mind seemed to have
caught upon some other point, and who sat absently by.
"And is it your opinion, from what you know of the working-man generally,
that they all have this twist in their heads?" the professor asked.
"They have, until they begin to rise. Then they get rid of it mighty soon.
Let a man save something--enough to get a house of his own, and take a
boarder or two, and perhaps have a little money at interest--and he sees
the matter in another light."
"Do you think he sees it more clearly?" asked the minister.
"He sees it differently."
"What do you think?" the minister pursued, turning to the lawyer. "You are
used to dealing with questions of justice--"
"Rather more with questions of law, I'm afraid," the other returned,
pleasantly, putting his feet together before him and looking down at them
in a way he had. "But, still, I have a great interest in questions of
justice, and I confess that I find a certain wild equity in this
principle, which I see nobody could do business on. It strikes me as
idyllic--it's a touch of real poetry in the rough-and-tumble prose of our
He referred this to me as something I might appreciate in my quality of
literary man, and I responded in my quality of practical man: "There's
certainly more rhyme than reason in it."
He turned again to the minister:
"I suppose the ideal of the Christian state is the family?"
"I hope so," said the minister, with the gratitude that I have seen people
of his cloth show when men of the world conceded premises which the world
usually contests; it has seemed to me pathetic.
"And if that is the case, why, the logic of the postulate is that the
prosperity of the weakest is the sacred charge and highest happiness of
all the stronger. But the law has not recognized any such principle, in
economics at least, and if the labor unions are based upon it they are
outlaw, so far as any hope of enforcing it is concerned; and it is bad for
men to feel themselves outlaw. How is it," the lawyer continued, turning
to the Altrurian, "in your country? We can see no issue here, if the first
principle of organized labor antagonizes the first principle of business."
"But I don't understand precisely yet what the first principle of business
is," returned my guest.
"Ah, that raises another interesting question," said the lawyer. "Of
course, every business man solves the problem practically according to his
temperament and education, and I suppose that on first thoughts every
business man would answer you accordingly. But perhaps the personal
equation is something you wish to eliminate from the definition."
"Yes, of course."
"Still, I would rather not venture upon it first," said the lawyer.
"Professor, what should you say was the first principle of business?"
"Buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest," the professor
"We will pass the parson and the doctor and the novelist as witnesses of
no value. They can't possibly have any cognizance of the first principle
of business; their affair is to look after the souls and bodies and
fancies of other people. But what should you say it was?" he asked the
"I should say it was an enlightened conception of one's own interests."
The manufacturer had no hesitation in answering: "The good of Number One,
first, last, and all the time. There may be a difference of opinion about
the best way to get at it; the long way may be the better, or the short
way; the direct way or the oblique way, or the purely selfish way, or the
partly selfish way; but if you ever lose sight of that end you might as
well shut up shop. That seems to be the first law of nature, as well as
the first law of business."
"Ah, we mustn't go to nature for our morality," the minister protested.
"We were not talking of morality," said the manufacturer; "we were talking
This brought the laugh on the minister, but the lawyer cut it short:
"Well, then, I don't really see why the trades-unions are not as
business-like as the syndicates in their dealings with all those outside
of themselves. Within themselves they practise an altruism of the highest
order, but it is a tribal altruism; it is like that which prompts a Sioux
to share his last mouthful with a starving Sioux, and to take the scalp of
a starving Apache. How is it with your trades-unions in Altruria?" he
asked my friend.
"We have no trades-unions in Altruria," he began.
"Happy Altruria!" cried the professor.
"We had them formerly," the Altrurian went on, "as you have them now. They
claimed, as I suppose yours do, that they were forced into existence by
the necessities of the case; that without union the working-man was unable
to meet the capitalist on anything like equal terms, or to withstand his
encroachments and oppressions. But to maintain themselves they had to
extinguish industrial liberty among the working-men themselves, and they
had to practise great cruelties against those who refused to join them or
who rebelled against them."
"They simply destroy them here," said the professor.
"Well," said the lawyer, from his judicial mind, "the great syndicates
have no scruples in destroying a capitalist who won't come into them or
who tries to go out. They don't club him or stone him, but they under-sell
him and freeze him out; they don't break his head, but they bankrupt him.
The principle is the same."
"Don't interrupt Mr. Homos," the banker entreated. "I am very curious to
know just how they got rid of labor unions in Altruria."
"We had syndicates, too, and finally we had the _reductio ad absurdum_--we
had a federation of labor unions find a federation of syndicates, that
divided the nation into two camps. The situation was not only impossible,
but it was insupportably ridiculous."
I ventured to say: "It hasn't become quite so much of a joke with us yet."
"Isn't it in a fair way to become so?" asked the doctor; and he turned to
the lawyer: "What should you say was the logic of events among us for the
last ten or twenty years?"
"There's nothing so capricious as the logic of events. It's like a woman's
reasoning--you can't tell what it's aimed at, or where it's going to fetch
up; all that you can do is to keep out of the way if possible. We may come
to some such condition of things as they have in Altruria, where the faith
of the whole nation is pledged to secure every citizen in the pursuit of
happiness; or we may revert to some former condition, and the master may
again own the man; or we may hitch and joggle along indefinitely, as we
are doing now."
"But come, now," said the banker, while he laid a caressing touch on the
Altrurian's shoulder, "you don't mean to say honestly that everybody works
with his hands in Altruria?"
"Yes, certainly. We are mindful, as a whole people, of the divine law--'In
the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.'"
"But the capitalists? I'm anxious about Number One, you see."
"We have none."
"I forgot, of course. But the lawyers, the doctors, the parsons, the
"They all do their share of hand-work."
The lawyer said: "That seems to dispose of the question of the working-man
in society. But how about your minds? When do you cultivate your minds?
When do the ladies of Altruria cultivate their minds, if they have to do
their own work, as I suppose they do? Or is it only the men who work, if
they happen to be the husbands and fathers of the upper classes?"
The Altrurian seemed to be sensible of the kindly scepticism which
persisted in our reception of his statements, after all we had read of
Altruria. He smiled indulgently, and said: "You mustn't imagine that work
in Altruria is the same as it is here. As we all work, the amount that
each one need do is very little, a few hours each day at the most, so that
every man and woman has abundant leisure and perfect spirits for the
higher pleasures which the education of their whole youth has fitted them
to enjoy. If you can understand a state of things where the sciences and
arts and letters are cultivated for their own sake, and not as a means of
"No," said the lawyer, smiling, "I'm afraid we can't conceive of that. We
consider the pinch of poverty the highest incentive that a man can have.
If our gifted friend here," he said, indicating me, "were not kept like a
toad under the harrow, with his nose on the grindstone, and the poorhouse
staring him in the face--"
"For Heaven's sake," I cried out, "don't mix your metaphors so, anyway!"
"If it were not for that and all the other hardships that literary men
'Toil, envy, want, the patron and the jail'--
his novels probably wouldn't be worth reading."
"Ah!" said the Altrurian, as if he did not quite follow this joking; and,
to tell the truth, I never find the personal thing in very good taste.
"You will understand, then, how extremely difficult it is for me to
imagine a condition of things like yours--although I have it under my very
eyes--where the money consideration is the first consideration."
"Oh, excuse me," urged the minister; "I don't think that's quite the
"I beg your pardon," said the Altrurian, sweetly; "you can see how easily
I go astray."
"Why, I don't know," the banker interposed, "that you are so far out in
what you say. If you had said that money was always the first motive, I
should have been inclined to dispute you, too; but when you say that money
is the first consideration, I think you are quite right. Unless a man
secures his financial basis for his work, he can't do his work. It's
nonsense to pretend otherwise. So the money consideration is the first
consideration. People here have to live by their work, and to live they
must have money. Of course, we all recognize a difference in the
qualities, as well as in the kinds, of work. The work of the laborer may
be roughly defined as the necessity of his life; the work of the business
man as the means, and the work of the artist and scientist as the end.
We might refine upon these definitions and make them closer, but they
will serve for illustration as they are. I don't think there can be
any question as to which is the highest kind of work; some truths are
self-evident. He is a fortunate man whose work is an end, and every
business man sees this, and owns it to himself, at least when he meets
some man of an aesthetic or scientific occupation. He knows that this
luckier fellow has a joy in his work which he can never feel in business;
that his success in it can never be embittered by the thought that it is
the failure of another; that if he does it well, it is pure good; that
there cannot be any competition in it--there can be only a noble
emulation, as far as the work itself is concerned. He can always look up
to his work, for it is something above him; and a business man often has
to look down upon his business, for it is often beneath him, unless he is
a pretty low fellow."
I listened to all this in surprise; I knew that the banker was a
cultivated man, a man of university training, and that he was a reader and
a thinker; but he had always kept a certain reserve in his talk, which he
now seemed to have thrown aside for the sake of the Altrurian, or because
the subject had a charm that lured him out of himself. "Well, now," he
continued, "the question is of the money consideration, which is the first
consideration with us all: does it, or doesn't it degrade the work, which
is the life, of those among us whose work is the highest? I understand
that this is the misgiving which troubles you in view of our conditions?"
The Altrurian assented, and I thought it a proof of the banker's innate
delicacy that he did not refer the matter, so far as it concerned the
aesthetic life and work, to me; I was afraid he was going to do so. But he
courteously proposed to keep the question impersonal, and he went on to
consider it himself: "Well, I don't suppose any one can satisfy you fully.
But I should say that it put such men under a double strain, and perhaps
that is the reason why so many of them break down in a calling that is
certainly far less exhausting than business. On one side, the artist is
kept to the level of the working-man, of the animal, of the creature whose
sole affair is to get something to eat and somewhere to sleep. This is
through his necessity. On the other side, he is exalted to the height of
beings who have no concern but with the excellence of their work, which
they were born and divinely authorized to do. This is through his purpose.
Between the two, I should say that he got mixed, and that his work shows
None of the others said anything, and, since I had not been personally
appealed to, I felt the freer to speak. "If you will suppose me to be
speaking from observation rather than experience--" I began.
"By all means," said the banker, "go on;" and the rest made haste in
various forms to yield me the word.
"I should say that such a man certainly got mixed, but that his work kept
itself pure from the money consideration, as it were, in spite of him. A
painter or actor, or even a novelist, is glad to get all he can for his
work, and, such is our fallen nature, he does get all he knows how to get:
but, when he has once fairly passed into his work, he loses himself in it.
He does not think whether it will pay or not, whether it will be popular
or not, but whether he can make it good or not."
"Well, that is conceivable," said the banker. "But wouldn't he rather do
something he would get less for, if he could afford it, than the thing he
knows he will get more for? Doesn't the money consideration influence his
choice of subject?"
"Oddly enough, I don't believe it does," I answered, after a moment's
reflection. "A man makes his choice once for all when he embraces the
aesthetic life, or, rather, it is made for him; no other life seems
possible. I know there is a general belief that an artist does the kind of
thing he has made go because it pays; but this only shows the prevalence
of business ideals. If he did not love to do the thing he does, he could
not do it well, no matter how richly it paid."
"I am glad to hear it," said the banker, and he added to the Altrurian:
"So, you see, we are not so bad as one would think. We are illogically
better, in fact."
"Yes," the other assented. "I knew something of your literature as well as
your conditions before I left home, and I perceived that by some anomaly
the one was not tainted by the other. It is a miraculous proof of the
divine mission of the poet."
"And the popular novelist," the lawyer whispered in my ear, but loud
enough for the rest to hear, and they all testified their amusement at my
The Altrurian, with his weak sense of humor, passed the joke. "It shows no
signs of corruption from greed, but I can't help thinking that, fine as it
is, it might have been much finer if the authors who produced it had been
absolutely freed to their work, and had never felt the spur of need."
"Are they absolutely freed to it in Altruria?" asked the professor. "I
understood you that everybody had to work for his living in Altruria."
"That is a mistake. Nobody works for his living in Altruria; he works for
"Ah, that is precisely what our working-men object to doing here," said
the manufacturer. "In that last interview of mine with the walking
delegate he had the impudence to ask me why my men should work for my
living as well as their own."
"He couldn't imagine that you were giving them the work to do--the very
means of life," said the professor.
"Oh no, that's the last thing those fellows want to think of."
"Perhaps," the Altrurian suggested, "they might not have found it such a
hardship to work for your living if their own had been assured, as it is
with us. If you will excuse my saying it, we should think it monstrous in
Altruria for any man to have another's means of life in his power; and in
our condition it is hardly imaginable. Do you really have it in your power
to take away a man's opportunity to earn a living?"
The manufacturer laughed uneasily. "It is in my power to take away his
life; but I don't habitually shoot my fellow-men, and I never dismissed a
man yet without good reason."
"Oh, I beg your pardon," said the Altrurian. "I didn't dream of accusing
you of such inhumanity. But, you see, our whole system is so very
different that, as I said, it is hard for me to conceive of yours, and I
am very curious to understand its workings. If you shot your fellow-man,
as you say, the law would punish you; but if, for some reason that you
decided to be good, you took away his means of living, and he actually
starved to death--"
"Then the law would have nothing to do with it," the professor replied for
the manufacturer, who did not seem ready to answer. "But that is not the
way things fall out. The man would be supported in idleness, probably,
till he got another job, by his union, which would take the matter up."
"But I thought that our friend did not employ union labor," returned the
I found all this very uncomfortable, and tried to turn the talk back to a
point that I felt curious about: "But in Altruria, if the literary class
is not exempt from the rule of manual labor, where do they find time and
strength to write?"
"Why, you must realize that our manual labor is never engrossing or
exhausting. It is no more than is necessary to keep the body in health. I
do not see how you remain well here, you people of sedentary occupations."
"Oh, we all take some sort of exercise. We walk several hours a day, or we
row, or we ride a bicycle, or a horse, or we fence."
"But to us," returned the Altrurian, with a growing frankness which
nothing but the sweetness of his manner would have excused, "exercise for
exercise would appear stupid. The barren expenditure of force that began
and ended in itself, and produced nothing, we should--if you will excuse
my saying so--look upon as childish, if not insane or immoral."
At this moment the lady who had hailed me so gayly from the top of the
coach while I stood waiting for the Altrurian to help the porter with the
baggage, just after the arrival of the train, came up with her husband to
our little group and said to me: "I want to introduce my husband to you.
He adores your books." She went on much longer to this effect, while the
other men grinned round and her husband tried to look as if it were all
true, and her eyes wandered to the Altrurian, who listened gravely. I knew
perfectly well that she was using her husband's zeal for my fiction to
make me present my friend; but I did not mind that, and I introduced him
to both of them. She took possession of him at once and began walking him
off down the piazza, while her husband remained with me, and the members
of our late conference drifted apart. I was not sorry to have it broken up
for the present; it seemed to me that it had lasted quite long enough, and
I lighted a cigar with the husband, and we strolled together in the
direction his wife had taken.
He began, apparently in compliment to literature in my person: "Yes, I
like to have a book where I can get at it when we're not going out to the
theatre, and I want to quiet my mind down after business. I don't care
much what the book is; my wife reads to me till I drop off, and then she
finishes the book herself and tells me the rest of the story. You see,
business takes it out of you so! Well, I let my wife do most of the
reading, anyway. She knows pretty much everything that's going in that
line. We haven't got any children, and it occupies her mind. She's up to
all sorts of things--she's artistic, and she's musical, and she's
dramatic, and she's literary. Well, I like to have her. Women are funny,
He was a good-looking, good-natured, average American of the money-making
type; I believe he was some sort of a broker, but I do not quite know what
his business was. As we walked up and down the piazza, keeping a discreet
little distance from the corner where his wife had run off to with her
capture, he said he wished he could get more time with her in the summer--
but he supposed I knew what business was. He was glad she could have the
rest, anyway; she needed it.
"By-the-way," he asked, "who is this friend of yours? The women are all
crazy about him, and it's been an even thing between my wife and Miss
Groundsel which would fetch him first. But I'll bet on my wife every time,
when it comes to a thing like that. He's a good-looking fellow--some kind
of foreigner, I believe; pretty eccentric, too, I guess. Where is
I told him, and he said: "Oh yes. Well, if we are going to restrict
immigration, I suppose we sha'n't see many more Altrurians, and we'd
better make the most of this one. Heigh?"
I do not know why this innocent pleasantry piqued me to say: "If I
understand the Altrurians, my dear fellow, nothing could induce them to
emigrate to America. As far as I can make out, they would regard it very
much as we should regard settling among the Eskimos."
"Is that so?" asked my new acquaintance, with perfect good temper. "Why?"
"Really, I can't say, and I don't know that I've explicit authority for my
"They are worse than the English used to be," he went on. "I didn't know
that there were any foreigners who looked at us in that light now. I
thought the war settled all that."
I sighed. "There are a good many things that the war didn't settle so
definitely as we've been used to thinking, I'm afraid. But, for that
matter, I fancy an Altrurian would regard the English as a little lower in
the scale of savagery than ourselves even."
"Is that so? Well, that's pretty good on the English, anyway," said my
companion, and he laughed with an easy satisfaction that I envied him.
"My dear!" his wife called to him from where she was sitting with the
Altrurian, "I wish you would go for my shawl. I begin to feel the air a
"I'll go if you'll tell me where," he said, and he confided to me, "Never
knows where her shawl is one-quarter of the time."
"Well, I think I left it in the office somewhere. You might ask at the
desk; or perhaps it's in the rack by the dining-room door--or maybe up in
"I thought so," said her husband, with another glance at me, as if it were
the greatest fun in the world, and he started amiably off.