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ON MODERN UTOPIAS.
AN OPEN LETTER TO H. G. WELLS. In placing your name at the head of perhaps inevitable. You are and that an article of my own my motive is, is the usefulness and delightfulness of naturally, to do myself credit while you-a builder of Utopias; and all Utoshowing you honor. But I also seek pias, like all schemes of salvation, an opportunity of conversing with you pivot upon an if. Every constructive in that perfectly intimate manner so reformer is ready to set all (or most) often prevented by our own shy or things right, providing only you will philistine persons, and possible only, promise to obey him on one little point, perhaps, under the chaperonage of that or at least grant this point might have most sympathizing and unreal of all been otherwise. Thus: if only people phantoms, the Reader.
would observe some particular law, Our talk, of course, will be about the or (as more recent prophets prefer) dismost wonderful of all your inventions: obey every law without distinction; the planet, twin of our earth, where (as if only people would abolish private Sterne already remarked about the property, or disregard all selfish (or all Continent) things are better done than unselfish and merciful) impulses; if over here.
only they would be strictly communisI have just been re-reading your tic, or monogamic, or hygienic; if only Utopia and your Anticipations; and they would think less, or drink less, or my thoughts are still in a prodigious have fewer children, or (saving your welter, curdling into currents by no presence) have a few yards less of unmeans easy to follow, and eddying necessary intestine; if only they would round certain reefs, with or without follow the dictates of Lycurgus, Comte, beacons. One of these recurrent rocks Pope Pius X., Tolstoi, or Nietzscheis that against which our theological then, &c., &c., &c.—as if by magic. forefathers were perpetually breaking But so long as mankind obstinately their logic, and to a certain extent (brutishly or sentimentally or ignotheir hearts, the question, if I may give rantly, as the case may be) declines to it a name formed by analogy, of the accept the particular terms upon Inefficacy of Grace, the persistence of which the particular speaker has fixed Sin and Punishment in the face of re- his fancy, why, of course, all that demption; the question why, since mankind can possibly do will be mere there was a royal road to Heaven, vanity and vexation; for nothing equals should so many souls go nevertheless the critical acumen with which every to Hell? To you and me, and all who other scheme of redemption is dethink like us, this self-same query re- stroyed by each successive preacher curs for ever in a garb of evolutional of the one thing needful. Has not Mr. pbilosophy: Why should progress be Bernard Shaw achieved his comic masso little progressive? Why should terpiece in the proposal, following on Utopia be ... well, only Utopia? the demonstration of the futility of all
This is what your books make me reforms, whether Whig, Radical, Colask myself; whereunto, also, your lectivist, or Anarchist, that the effibooks furnish at least an implicit an- ciency of the citizen should be enswer; and it is about this mainly that trusted to an office for the breeding of I want to have a talk, because I find human beings? that we do not entirely agree. It is But enough of such examples. Even
without them, it is obvious that all Kingdoms of Heaven depend on an If. The if of your particular Utopia, my dear Mr. Wells, is certainly the most easily admitted, if not the most easily granted, of all similar conditions, because it is the least narrow and precise, and indeed is not so much expressed by yourself as perpetually sug. gested to the reader's own thoughts. This if of yours, this little bit of perfection required by you, as by all other utopists, as a starting point for all improvement, can, however, be summed up in a few words, as follows: Progress might have been and might be far rapider and more secure, and the world a less wretched and hopeless place for many folk, if the achievements of mankind had not been perpetually checked, deviated, or rendered nugatory, and its power of mind, heart, and will allowed in a considerable degree to run to waste. Thus, if I understand right, your Utopian planet beyond Sirius differs from its twin world Earth exactly in so far as its past has escaped certain historical accidents which have slackened progress; as the seed of good has fallen less often on indifferent obduracy, or been gobbled up less certainly by selfinterest and perfunctoriness; as whatever germinating wisdom has not been choked by routine and prejudice. There has been less loss of time and effort and thought in Utopia; that, take it all round, has been the difference between it and our poor Earth.
Such an explanation fits into our modern conception of Nature (in so far as Nature can be opposed to Man) as being eminently wasteful: millions of germs for one living organism, myriads of variations for one improvement. But even better does this explanation tally with the evidence of everyday life, of ingenious thoughts become dead letter, fruitful rules grown to barren routines, preferences to prejudices,
convictions to superstitions; and individual talents, power, good intentions, becoming not merely the paving-stones, but the very brick and mortar, of hell.
In your first chapter of Anticipations you have analyzed how the coming together of the two inventions of the steam pump and the tram-rail, both applied to the old arrangements of the stage coach, has bound us over to the intolerable stereotyped cumbersome ness of a railroad system. The chapter is a profoundly suggestive analysis of the deviation of what might be by what is; such spoiling of new wine by old bottles was recognized long ago in the domain of conduct and character; and half the novels written are unconscious essays on the ruin of powers for happiness and good by the institutions and arrangements made to secure good and happiness in other times or for other persons: marriage, inheritance, education, profession, all inventions which, when and where they do not help, inevitably impede. And you yourself, in your very remarkable little essay called “Scepticism of the Instrument,” have drawn attention to the intellectual loss due to the very forms of our speech and the categories of our thinking impoverishing and distorting all detail and reality to suit lopsided formula. In short, nearly everything which serves a purpose is apt to become a nuisance; and economy on one side implies, at least nine times in ten, a waste of one thing or another. Wastefulness; everything under the sun (and probably inside the sun) is wastefulness; such will have to be the burden of the latter-day Ecclesiastes; and in so far our latter-day pessimism is an improvement upon that of the Preacher of even more pessimistic and more wasteful times. For the lesson of history as well as of natural science is that wastefulness tends to diminish and eliminate itself; and that conversely, the obedience to purpose in
creases in all things just in proportion ness is, as the Jesuit moralists would as a purpose forms itself and emerges have said, a matter of direction of the out of the random lurchings and fum- intention; and the things Man happens blings of the universe. But as yet to require for sustenance of his body purpose has but little to say, and and soul are not necessarily the same Wastefulness, which we call Chance, which the universe intends producing; has the best of it. I have just alluded nay, it may be man's self-engrossed to the Parable of the Sower and the imagination which attributes to the Seed; it has an application wider than universe intentions of any sort. I the one which British infants are to be have made this little digression in ortaught, denominationally or not de- der to forestall from the first any acnominationally, in or out of school cusation of pessimism, particularly of hours: The seed falls on the highway that Schopenhauer type which holds and is trodden to mud by the passers- that the universe (including its expresby, w it might have fed; the fowls sion the Wille) is always interfering of the air pick it out of the furrow with Man's real interests, to wit, comand devour it; there are thousands of plete or partial self-annihilation. All square miles of rock upon which it is that I mean is, that given that Man, parched, and millions of acres of thorns with his sensitiveness to pain and conin which it is choked; the only ex- sequent arrangements for trying to esaggeration in the whole allegory being cape it, is merely one part, and a rethe hundred-fold multiplication of the cently superadded part, of what we one little grain which chances upon patronizingly designate as the Great good soil. “He that hath ears to hear Whole, there is no wonder in much of let him hear,” concludes the Master nan's ingenuity and effort, like the when he has set that forth.
And we seed of the parable, and from the latter-day believers have heard the Sower's point of view, being wasted. parable as a fair account of the ways The matter for astonishment to me is of the Universe and of Man's poor ef- rather how, despite the stones and forts in their midst. Only, my dear brambles and thievish birds, there Mr. Wells, there is a point which we should already have come to be so are apt to overlook in this whole de- many bushels of wheat and barley pressing story: the rocks and the and oats, so many well-baked loaves, thorns, the greedy pigeons, described and even the most refined and least as if they had come into being only to nourishing cakes; metaphorical brioche, frustrate that well-meaning agricultur- for instance, of art, sentiment, and ist, had been in that place long before ideal, such as that French princess the Sower himself; nay, the grain ex- proposed to offer to people in years of isted long before he took it into his famine. It is this view of things in head to use it for bread and sow it in general which, among other reasons, his furrows; what he called barren soil prevents my being much surprised, was such only in the eyes of his hun
much discouraged, at our gry
and hopeful effort; what he planet differing from its twin star called thorns or weeds were inferior Utopia. to other plants merely because they But the indifference, construed by did not afford him sustenance; and the pessimists into hostility, of the Uniseed was wasted when it got into the verse to man's rather tardy arrival and crops of the birds only because he had claims, is by no means the only reason intended that it should become bread for the slowness of his progress. As I for his belly. In other words, wasteful- have already hinted with reference to
marriage, education, and similar use. come the exclusive privilege of "Born ful encumbrances, it is man's Criminals” with odd-shaped ears and a presence and his own requirements taste for tattooing (see Lombroso) only which are really most to blame in this by the vigorous destruction of all possiunsatisfactory business.
ble Othellos and Orestes, with whatHe is, on the whole, paying the price ever chivalry and heroism there may of his Own refuse-heaps. “Refuse- be in them. heaps!" exclaims the sanitary reformer Mr. Lester Ward and Mrs. Stetson and patentee for wholesale-Rubbish- have told us of an irreparable loss of into-Fuel-Conversion (half in Latin, of time and opportunity accompanying the course, and half in Greek); "and pray, necessary subordination of the female why should there be any refuse-heaps to the male, the passage from the maat all?” Because the refuse-heap is triarchal to the patriarchal state of so the chief instrument by which all prog- ciety. And what is a great deal more ress has been achieved: the refuse- certain (though we blush to mention heap called turn about unfitness, fail- it) is the fearful waste of excellent ure, vice, sin, dishonor, or merely illegal qualities (of which we may judge by Asity, on to which Natural Selection and pasia, Mary Magdalene, poor Gretchen, Human Selection have for ever been and sundry humble or eminent lathrowing whatever, at any particular dies of our own acquaintance) which moment, happened to be in the way of must have attended, and still attend, their sweeping and garnishing; what- the needful segregation of the woman ever, like the fossil which Thoreau destined for motherhood from the flung out of his hermitage window, woman whose sterile and dishonorable was more bother than it was worth. This vocation has, after all, considerably rough and ready method has been, to helped the establishment of the lofty say the least, expensive. Think of monogamic household. In fact, it is that destruction of possibilities! The doubtful whether progress has lost variations suppressed for ever merely more by incursions of barbarians and that one type should gain the prepon- bouts of fanaticism than by the ruthderance needful for a few years! Why, lessness of its own slow and unintelliearly civilization (and perhaps not so gent methods. We do not like to teach very early either) must have been a this to our children, or even to admit perepetual killing off of individuals too it to ourselves; we should be glad-yes, sensitive, too imaginative, too inde- even you and I, dear Mr. Wells, let pendent, too good, in fact, for patri- alone the followers of Comte-if we archal and military civilizations; even could lay all such mischief at the door as, nowadays, individuals too good for of wicked tyrants, and capitalists, and strenuous commercialism find them- cunning priests (those “Bonzes," "Faselves discouraged in a quieter though kirs," and "Old Men of the Mountain," equally cruel way. And not only in- who were such a comfort to eighteenth dividuals have been exterminated, but century optimism), and blink the susin each survivor many a possibility picion that morality has employed imsacrificed to a standard of necessary
moral methods, and progress cost some righteousness. Nay, every advance in stagnation and regression. We are not morality has meant the sacrifice of all yet spiritually strong and elastic decent people who still clung to the enough to admit of moral instability practice, whatever it might be, which and adaptation. We still require the began to be branded as immoral; even safety of sanctions, the corroboration as manslaughter and vendetta will be- of prejudices, the exhilaration of mutual anathema; in our fatiguing and tween your decent and decently happy puzzling journey towards recognition planet and this Earth as seen from the of realities we want to be comforted top of a Strand omnibus, has not been with what Ibsen's doctor calls “Vital the accident of a war less or a discovLies." And “Vital Lies,” however in- ery more, nor even the presence of a dispensable for an individual, a class, greater number of persons of virtue or or a period, are lies nevertheless, in- talent, but simply that, in Utopia, peovolving failure, catastrophe, or mere ple have been less inexplicably stupid perfunctoriness; and as such they also and lazy and heartless and self-indulgent are another instance of the wasteful than here. system on which human progress is Less inexplicably. For I feel in all carried on. Wastefulness! Wasteful- your anger and all your humorous sadness everywhere, says the Preacher. ness, even as in all the anathemas of The refuse-heap becomes indeed ever all the prophets, the sting of the inexsmaller and smaller, fewer useless plicable: the human race is stiff-necked, things remaining to be thrown away, obstinately blind to its own good. fewer useful things being thrown away Now here it seems to me that you, like with them; but the very process by all the floaters of Kingdoms of Heaven, which all this happens is wasteful it- are distinctly unjust. The human race, self. Nor is it surprising if the con- I venture to say, has not shown, and scious spirit of man is thus wasteful, does not show, itself one bit more in however steadily decreasing a ratio, stupid, heartless, lazy, or self-indul. since it has arisen, after all, out of gent than you or I would in its place. the unconscious automatism of the uni- There has been wastefulness on the verse. And even as Pascal's Divinity part of the Forces of Nature, the great could afford injustice because he had abstractions who are indifferent. But eternity to right it in, so the forces of as to human beings, they have been Nature can be dignified and patient be applying their poor wits and will, uncause they are not flustered by pleas- der extremely trying circumstances, to ure and pain; why should they mind their daily and hourly needs; needs how long it takes to attain anything comprising rest and enjoyment (what when very likely they do not want to we moralists call "sloth” and “selfattain anything at all?
indulgence") quite as much as the more Such considerations, I imagine you obvious renovation of their tissues and answering, may afford a metaphysical replenishing of the race. Lenten diet for the lay priests of In so doing, like the famous savages progress, the responsible and busy of rhetoricians, mankind frequently Samurai of Utopia, during their yearly cuts down the tree for the fruit, and retreat among the polar ice-fields. eats its corn as spinach; it damages But, practically speaking, Mankind is to-morrow, but it satisfies to-day; and separate from all these cosmic forces. to-day is imperious. Mankind also And seeing that Mankind is conscious damages its neighbor and posterity, but of pleasure an pain, and consequently it satisfies (I must repeat it) the ego's gifted with foresight and volition, why immediate and cruel wants. Hence the deuce should it not apply this fore- vice, crime, and (more detrimental still sight and volition to arranging a more in the long run) all the various pertolerable earth? And here we functorinesses and frauds which raise back, my dear builder of Utopias, at
indignation legitimately, but the original if of your whole system. ought not (for you are a great novelist) For what has made the difference be- to excite your astonishment-you who