A Traveler from Altruria, by William Dean Howells


“And so,” the Altrurian continued, “when the labor of the community was emancipated from the bondage of the false to the free service of the true, it was also, by an inevitable implication, dedicated to beauty and rescued from the old slavery to the ugly, the stupid, and the trivial. The thing that was honest and useful became, by the operation of a natural law, a beautiful thing.

“Once we had not time enough to make things beautiful, we were so overworked in making false and hideous things to sell; but now we had all the time there was, and a glad emulation arose among the trades and occupations to the end that everything done should be done finely as well as done honestly. The artist, the man of genius, who worked from the love of his work, became the normal man, and in the measure of his ability and of his calling each wrought in the spirit of the artist. We got back the pleasure of doing a thing beautifully, which was God’s primal blessing upon all His working children, but which we had lost in the horrible days of our need and greed. There is not a working-man within the sound of my voice but has known this divine delight, and would gladly know it always if he only had the time. Well, now we had the time, the Evolution had given us the time, and in all Altruria there was not a furrow driven or a swath mown, not a hammer struck on house or on ship, not a stitch sewn or a stone laid, not a line written or a sheet printed, not a temple raised or an engine built, but it was done with an eye to beauty as well as to use.

“As soon as we were freed from the necessity of preying upon one another, we found that there was no hurry. The good work would wait to be well done; and one of the earliest effects of the Evolution was the disuse of the swift trains which had traversed the continent, night and day, that one man might overreach another, or make haste to undersell his rival, or seize some advantage of him, or plot some profit to his loss. Nine-tenths of the railroads, which in the old times had ruinously competed, and then, in the hands of the Accumulation, had been united to impoverish and oppress the people, fell into disuse. The commonwealth operated the few lines that were necessary for the collection of materials and the distribution of manufactures, and for pleasure travel and the affairs of state; but the roads that had been built to invest capital, or parallel other roads, or ‘make work,’ as it was called, or to develop resources, or boom localities, were suffered to fall into ruin; the rails were stripped from the landscape, which they had bound as with shackles, and the road-beds became highways for the use of kindly neighborhoods, or nature recovered them wholly and hid the memory of their former abuse in grass and flowers and wild vines. The ugly towns that they had forced into being, as Frankenstein was fashioned, from the materials of the charnel, and that had no life in or from the good of the community, soon tumbled into decay. The administration used parts of them in the construction of the villages in which the Altrurians now mostly live; but generally these towns were built of materials so fraudulent, in form so vile, that it was judged best to burn them. In this way their sites were at once purified and obliterated.

“We had, of course, a great many large cities under the old egoistic conditions, which increased and fattened upon the country, and fed their cancerous life with fresh infusions of its blood. We had several cities of half a million, and one of more than a million; we had a score of them with a population of a hundred thousand or more. We were very proud of them, and vaunted them as a proof of our unparalleled prosperity, though really they never were anything but congeries of millionaires and the wretched creatures who served them and supplied them. Of course, there was everywhere the appearance of enterprise and activity, but it meant final loss for the great mass of the business men, large and small, and final gain for the millionaires. These and their parasites dwelt together, the rich starving the poor and the poor plundering and misgoverning the rich; and it was the intolerable suffering in the cities that chiefly hastened the fall of the old Accumulation and the rise of the commonwealth.

“Almost from the moment of the Evolution the competitive and monopolistic centres of population began to decline. In the clear light of the new order it was seen that they were not fit dwelling-places for men, either in the complicated and luxurious palaces where the rich fenced themselves from their kind, or in the vast tenements, towering height upon height, ten and twelve stories up, where the swarming poor festered in vice and sickness and famine. If I were to tell you of the fashion of those cities of our egoistic epoch, how the construction was one error from the first, and every correction of an error bred a new defect, I should make you laugh, I should make you weep. We let them fall to ruin as quickly as they would, and their sites are still so pestilential, after the lapse of centuries, that travelers are publicly guarded against them. Ravening beasts and poisonous reptiles lurk in those abodes of the riches and the poverty that are no longer known to our life. A part of one of the less malarial of the old cities, however, is maintained by the commonwealth in the form of its prosperity, and is studied by antiquarians for the instruction, and by moralists for the admonition, it affords. A section of a street is exposed, and you see the foundations of the houses; you see the filthy drains that belched into the common sewers, trapped and retrapped to keep the poison gases down; you see the sewers that rolled their loathsome tides under the streets, amid a tangle of gas-pipes, steam-pipes, water-pipes, telegraph-wires, electric lighting-wires, electric motor-wires, and grip-cables — all without a plan, but makeshifts, expedients, devices, to repair and evade the fundamental mistake of having any such cities at all.

“There are now no cities in Altruria, in your meaning, but there are capitals, one for each of the regions of our country and one for the whole commonwealth. These capitals are for the transaction of public affairs, in which every citizen of Altruria is schooled, and they are the residences of the administrative officials, who are alternated every year, from the highest to the lowest. A public employment with us is of no greater honor or profit than any other, for with our absolute economic equality there can be no ambition, and there is no opportunity for one citizen to outshine another. But as the capitals are the centres of all the arts, which we consider the chief of our public affairs, they are oftenest frequented by poets, actors, painters, sculptors, musicians, and architects. We regard all artists, who are in a sort creators, as the human type which is likest the divine, and we try to conform our whole industrial life to the artistic temperament. Even in the labors of the field and shop, which are obligatory upon all, we study the inspiration of this temperament, and in the voluntary pursuits we allow it full control. Each, in these, follows his fancy as to what he shall do, and when he shall do it, or whether he shall do anything at all. In the capitals are the universities, theatres, galleries, museums, cathedrals, laboratories and conservatories, and the appliances of every art and science, as well as the administration buildings; and beauty as well as use is studied in every edifice. Our capitals are as clean and quiet and healthful as the country, and these advantages are secured simply by the elimination of the horse, an animal which we should be as much surprised to find in the streets of a town as the plesiosaurus or the pterodactyl. All transportation in the capitals, whether for pleasure or business, is by electricity, and swift electrical expresses connect the capital of each region with the villages which radiate from it to the cardinal points. These expresses run at the rate of a hundred and fifty miles an hour, and they enable the artist, the scientist, the literary man, of the remotest hamlet, to visit the capital (when he is not actually resident there in some public use) every day, after the hours of the obligatory industries; or, if he likes, he may remain there a whole week or fortnight, giving six hours a day instead of three to the obligatories, until the time is made up. In case of very evident merit, or for the purpose of allowing him to complete some work requiring continuous application, a vote of the local agents may release him from the obligatories indefinitely. Generally, however, our artists prefer not to ask this, but avail themselves of the stated means we have of allowing them to work at the obligatories, and get the needed exercise and variety of occupation in the immediate vicinity of the capital.

“We do not think it well to connect the hamlets on the different lines of radiation from the capital, except by the good country roads which traverse each region in every direction. The villages are mainly inhabited by those who prefer a rural life; they are farming villages; but in Altruria it can hardly be said that one man is more a farmer than another. We do not like to distinguish men by their callings; we do not speak of the poet This or the shoemaker That, for the poet may very likely be a shoemaker in the obligatories, and the shoemaker a poet in the voluntaries. If it can be said that one occupation is honored above another with us, it is that which we all share, and that is the cultivation of the earth. We believe that this, when not followed slavishly, or for gain, brings man into the closest relations to the Deity, through a grateful sense of the divine bounty, and that it not only awakens a natural piety in him, but that it endears to the worker that piece of soil which he tills, and so strengthens his love of home. The home is the very heart of the Altrurian system, and we do not think it well that people should be away from their homes very long or very often. In the competitive and monopolistic times men spent half their days in racing back and forth across our continent; families were scattered by the chase for fortune, and there was a perpetual paying and repaying of visits. One-half the income of those railroads which we let fall into disuse came from the ceaseless unrest. Now a man is born and lives and dies among his own kindred, and the sweet sense of neighborhood, of brotherhood, which blessed the golden age of the first Christian republic is ours again. Every year the people of each region meet one another on Evolution day, in the regionic capital; once in four years they all visit the national capital. There is no danger of the decay of patriotism among us; our country is our mother, and we love her as it is impossible to love the step-mother that a competitive or monopolistic nation must be to its citizens.

“I can only touch upon this feature and that of our system as I chance to think of it. If any of you are curious about others, I shall be glad to answer questions as well as I can. We have, of course,” the Altrurian proceeded, after a little indefinite pause, to let any speak who liked, “no money in your sense. As the whole people control affairs, no man works for another, and no man pays another. Every one does his share of labor, and receives his share of food, clothing, and shelter, which is neither more nor less than another’s. If you can imagine the justice and impartiality of a well-ordered family, you can conceive of the social and economic life of Altruria. We are, properly speaking, a family rather than a nation like yours.

“Of course, we are somewhat favored by our insular, or continental, position; but I do not know that we are more so than you are. Certainly, however, we are self-sufficing in a degree unknown to most European countries; and we have within our borders the materials of every comfort and the resources of every need. We have no commerce with the egoistic world, as we call that outside, and I believe that I am the first Altrurian to visit foreign countries avowedly in my national character, though we have always had emissaries living abroad incognito. I hope that I may say without offence that they find it a sorrowful exile, and that the reports of the egoistic world, with its wars, its bankruptcies, its civic commotions, and its social unhappiness, do not make us discontented with our own condition. Before the Evolution we had completed the round of your inventions and discoveries, impelled by the force that drives you on; and we have since disused most of them as idle and unfit. But we profit, now and then, by the advances you make in science, for we are passionately devoted to the study of the natural laws, open or occult, under which all men have their being. Occasionally an emissary returns with a sum of money, and explains to the students of the national university the processes by which it is lost and won; and at a certain time there was a movement for its introduction among us, not for its use as you know it, but for a species of counters in games of chance. It was considered, however, to contain an element of danger, and the scheme was discouraged.

“Nothing amuses and puzzles our people more than the accounts our emissaries give of the changes of fashion in the outside world, and of the ruin of soul and body which the love of dress often works. Our own dress, for men and for women, is studied, in one ideal of use and beauty, from the antique; caprice and vagary in it would be thought an effect of vulgar vanity. Nothing is worn that is not simple and honest in texture; we do not know whether a thing is cheap or dear, except as it is easy or hard to come by, and that which is hard to come by is forbidden as wasteful and foolish. The community builds the dwellings of the community, and these, too, are of a classic simplicity, though always beautiful and fit in form; the splendors of the arts are lavished upon the public edifices, which we all enjoy in common.”

“Isn’t this the greatest rehash of ‘Utopia,’ ‘New Atlantis,’ and ‘City of the Sun’ that you ever imagined?” the professor whispered across me to the banker. “The man is a fraud, and a very bungling fraud at that.”

“Well, you must expose him, when he gets through,” the banker whispered back.

But the professor could not wait. He got upon his feet and called out: “May I ask the gentleman from Altruria a question?”

“Certainly,” the Altrurian blandly assented.

“Make it short!” Reuben Camp’s voice broke in, impatiently. “We didn’t come here to listen to your questions.”

The professor contemptuously ignored him. “I suppose you occasionally receive emissaries from, as well as send them to, the world outside?”

“Yes, now and then castaways land on our coasts, and ships out of their reckonings put in at our ports for water or provision.”

“And how are they pleased with your system?”

“Why, I cannot better answer than by saying that they mostly refuse to leave us.”

“Ah, just as Bacon reports!” cried the professor.

“You mean in the New Atlantis?” returned the Altrurian. “Yes; it is astonishing how well Bacon in that book, and Sir Thomas More in his Utopia, have divined certain phases of our civilization and polity.”

“I think he rather has you, professor,” the banker whispered, with a laugh.

“But all those inspired visionaries,” the Altrurian continued, while the professor sat grimly silent, watching for another chance, “who have borne testimony of us in their dreams, conceived of states perfect without the discipline of a previous competitive condition. What I thought, however, might specially interest you Americans in Altruria is the fact that our economy was evolved from one so like that in which you actually have your being. I had even hoped you might feel that, in all these points of resemblance, America prophesies another Altruria. I know that to some of you all that I have told of my country will seem a baseless fabric, with no more foundation, in fact, than More’s fairy-tale of another land where men dealt kindly and justly by one another, and dwelt, a whole nation, in the unity and equality of a family. But why should not a part of that fable have come true in our polity, as another part of it has come true in yours? When Sir Thomas More wrote that book, he noted with abhorrence the monstrous injustice of the fact that men were hanged for small thefts in England; and in the preliminary conversation between its characters he denounced the killing of men for any sort of thefts. Now you no longer put men to death for theft; you look back upon that cruel code of your mother England with an abhorrence as great as his own. We, for our part, who have realized the Utopian dream of brotherly equality, look back with the same abhorrence upon a state where some were rich and some poor, some taught and some untaught, some high and some low, and the hardest toil often failed to supply a sufficiency of the food which luxury wasted in its riots. That state seems as atrocious to us as the state which hanged a man for stealing a loaf of bread seems to you.

“But we do not regret the experience of competition and monopoly. They taught us some things in the operation of the industries. The labor-saving inventions which the Accumulation perverted to money-making we have restored to the use intended by their inventors and the Creator of their inventors. After serving the advantage of socializing the industries which the Accumulation effected for its own purposes, we continued the work in large mills and shops, in the interest of the workers, whom we wished to guard against the evil effects of solitude. But our mills and shops are beautiful as well as useful. They look like temples, and they are temples, dedicated to that sympathy between the divine and human which expresses itself in honest and exquisite workmanship. They rise amid leafy boscages beside the streams, which form their only power; for we have disused steam altogether, with all the offences to the eye and ear which its use brought into the world. Our life is so simple and our needs are so few that the hand-work of the primitive toilers could easily supply our wants; but machinery works so much more thoroughly and beautifully that we have in great measure retained it. Only, the machines that were once the workmen’s enemies and masters are now their friends and servants; and, if any man chooses to work alone with his own hands, the state will buy what he makes at the same price that it sells the wares made collectively. This secures every right of individuality.

“The farm-work, as well as the mill-work and the shop-work, is done by companies of workers; and there is nothing of that loneliness in our woods and fields which, I understand, is the cause of so much insanity among you. It is not good for man to be alone, was the first thought of his Creator when he considered him, and we act upon this truth in everything. The privacy of the family is sacredly guarded in essentials, but the social instinct is so highly developed with us that we like to eat together in large refectories, and we meet constantly to argue and dispute on questions of aesthetics and metaphysics. We do not, perhaps, read so many books as you do, for most of our reading, when not for special research, but for culture and entertainment, is done by public readers, to large groups of listeners. We have no social meetings which are not free to all; and we encourage joking and the friendly give and take of witty encounters.”

“A little hint from Sparta,” suggested the professor.

The banker leaned over to whisper to me: “From what I have seen of your friend when offered a piece of American humor, I should fancy the Altrurian article was altogether different. Upon the whole, I would rather not be present at one of their witty encounters, if I were obliged to stay it out.”

The Altrurian had paused to drink a glass of water, and now he went on: “But we try, in everything that does not inconvenience or injure others, to let every one live the life he likes best. If a man prefers to dwell apart, and have his meals in private for himself alone or for his family, it is freely permitted; only he must not expect to be served as in public, where service is one of the voluntaries; private service is not permitted; those wishing to live alone must wait upon themselves, cook their own food, and care for their own tables. Very few, however, wish to withdraw from the public life, for most of the discussions and debates take place at our mid-day meal, which falls at the end of the obligatory labors, and is prolonged indefinitely, or as long as people like to chat and joke or listen to the reading of some pleasant book.

“In Altruria there is no hurry, for no one wishes to outstrip another, or in any wise surpass him. We are all assured of enough, and are forbidden any and every sort of superfluity. If any one, after the obligatories, wishes to be entirely idle, he may be so, but I cannot now think of a single person without some voluntary occupation; doubtless there are such persons, but I do not know them. It used to be said, in the old times, that ‘it was human nature’ to shirk and malinger and loaf, but we have found that it is no such thing. We have found that it is human nature to work cheerfully, willingly, eagerly, at the tasks which all share for the supply of the common necessities. In like manner we have found out that it is not human nature to hoard and grudge, but that when the fear, and even the imagination, of want is taken away, it is human nature to give and to help generously. We used to say: ‘A man will lie, or a man will cheat, in his own interest; that is human nature’; but that is no longer human nature with us, perhaps because no man has any interest to serve; he has only the interests of others to serve, while others serve his. It is in no wise possible for the individual to separate his good from the common good; he is prosperous and happy only as all the rest are so; and therefore it is not human nature with us for any one to lie in wait to betray another or seize an advantage. That would be ungentlemanly, and in Altruria every man is a gentleman and every woman a lady. If you will excuse me here for being so frank, I would like to say something by way of illustration which may be offensive if you take it personally.”

He looked at our little group, as if he were addressing himself more especially to us, and the banker called out, jollily: “Go on! I guess we can stand it,” and “Go ahead!” came from all sides, from all kinds of listeners.

“It is merely this: that as we look back at the old competitive conditions we do not see how any man could be a gentleman in them, since a gentleman must think first of others, and these conditions compelled every man to think first of himself.”

There was a silence broken by some conscious and hardy laughter, while we each swallowed this pill as we could.

“What are competitive conditions?” Mrs. Makely demanded of me.

“Well, ours are competitive conditions,” I said.

“Very well, then,” she returned, “I don’t think Mr. Homos is much of a gentleman to say such a thing to an American audience. Or, wait a moment! Ask him if the same rule applies to women.”

I rose, strengthened by the resentment I felt, and said: “Do I understand that in your former competitive conditions it was also impossible for a woman to be a lady?”

The professor gave me an applausive nod as I sat down. “I envy you the chance of that little dig,” he whispered.

The Altrurian was thoughtful a moment, and then he answered: “No, I should not say it was. From what we know historically of those conditions in our country, it appears that the great mass of women were not directly affected by them. They constituted an altruistic dominion of the egoistic empire, and, except as they were tainted by social or worldly ambitions, it was possible for every woman to be a lady, even in competitive conditions. Her instincts were unselfish, and her first thoughts were nearly always of others.”

Mrs. Makely jumped to her feet and clapped violently with her fan on the palm of her left hand. “Three cheers for Mr. Homos!” she shrieked, and all the women took up the cry, supported by all the natives and the construction gang. I fancied these fellows gave their support largely in a spirit of burlesque; but they gave it robustly, and from that time on, Mrs. Makely led the applause, and they roared in after her.

It is impossible to follow closely the course of the Altrurian’s account of his country, which grew more and more incredible as he went on, and implied every insulting criticism of ours. Some one asked him about war in Altruria, and he said: “The very name of our country implies the absence of war. At the time of the Evolution our country bore to the rest of our continent the same relative proportion that your country bears to your continent. The egoistic nations to the north and the south of us entered into an offensive and defensive alliance to put down, the new altruistic commonwealth, and declared war against us. Their forces were met at the frontier by our entire population in arms, and full of the martial spirit bred of the constant hostilities of the competitive and monopolistic epoch just ended. Negotiations began in the face of the imposing demonstration we made, and we were never afterward molested by our neighbors, who finally yielded to the spectacle of our civilization and united their political and social fate with ours. At present, our whole continent is Altrurian. For a long time we kept up a system of coast defences, but it is also a long time since we abandoned these; for it is a maxim with us that where every citizen’s life is a pledge of the public safety, that country can never be in danger of foreign enemies.

“In this, as in all other things, we believe ourselves the true followers of Christ, whose doctrine we seek to make our life as He made it His. We have several forms of ritual, but no form of creed, and our religious differences may be said to be aesthetic and temperamental rather than theological and essential. We have no denominations, for we fear in this, as in other matters, to give names to things lest we should cling to the names instead of the things. We love the realities, and for this reason we look at the life of a man rather than his profession for proof that he is a religious man.

“I have been several times asked, during my sojourn among you, what are the sources of compassion, of sympathy, of humanity, of charity with us, if we have not only no want, or fear of want, but not even any economic inequality. I suppose this is because you are so constantly struck by the misery arising from economic inequality and want, or the fear of want, among yourselves, that you instinctively look in that direction. But have you ever seen sweeter compassion, tenderer sympathy, warmer humanity, heavenlier charity than that shown in the family where all are economically equal and no one can want while any other has to give? Altruria, I say again, is a family, and, as we are mortal, we are still subject to those nobler sorrows which God has appointed to men, and which are so different from the squalid accidents that they have made for themselves. Sickness and death call out the most angelic ministries of love; and those who wish to give themselves to others may do so without hinderance from those cares, and even those duties, resting upon men where each must look out first for himself and for his own. Oh, believe me, believe me, you can know nothing of the divine rapture of self-sacrifice while you must dread the sacrifice of another in it. You are not free, as we are, to do everything for others, for it is your duty to do rather for those of your own household!

“There is something,” he continued, “which I hardly know how to speak of,” and here we all began to prick our ears. I prepared myself as well as I could for another affront, though I shuddered when the banker hardily called out: “Don’t hesitate to say anything you wish, Mr. Homos. I, for one, should like to hear you express yourself fully.”

It was always the unexpected, certainly, that happened from the Altrurian. “It is merely this,” he said: “Having come to live rightly upon earth, as we believe, or having at least ceased to deny God in our statutes and customs, the fear of death, as it once, weighed upon us, has been lifted from our souls. The mystery of it has so far been taken away that we perceive it as something just and natural. Now that all unkindness has been banished from among us, we can conceive of no such cruelty as death once seemed. If we do not know yet the full meaning of death, we know that the Creator of it and of us meant mercy and blessing by it. When one dies we grieve, but not as those without hope. We do not say that the dead have gone to a better place, and then selfishly bewail them, for we have the kingdom of heaven upon earth already, and we know that wherever they go they will be homesick for Altruria; and when we think of the years that may pass before we meet them again our hearts ache, as theirs must. But the presence of the risen Christ in our daily lives is our assurance that no one ceases to be, and that we shall see our dead again. I cannot explain this to you; I can only affirm it.”

The Altrurian spoke very solemnly, and a reverent hush fell upon the assembly. It was broken by the voice of a woman wailing out: “Oh, do you suppose, if we lived so, we should feel so, too? That I should know my little girl was living?”

“Why not?” asked the Altrurian.

To my vast astonishment, the manufacturer, who sat the farthest from me in the same line with Mrs. Makely, the professor, and the banker, rose and asked, tremulously: “And have — have you had any direct communication with the other world? Has any disembodied spirit returned to testify of the life beyond the grave?”

The professor nodded significantly across Mrs. Makely to me, and then frowned and shook his head. I asked her if she knew what he meant. “Why, didn’t you know that spiritualism was that poor man’s foible? He lost his son in a railroad accident, and ever since —”

She stopped and gave her attention to the Altrurian, who was replying to the manufacturer’s question.

“We do not need any such testimony. Our life here makes us sure of the life there. At any rate, no externation of the supernatural, no objective miracle, has been wrought in our behalf. We have had faith to do what we prayed for, and the prescience of which I speak has been added unto us.”

The manufacturer asked, as the bereaved mother had asked: “And if I lived so, should I feel so?”

Again the Altrurian answered: “Why not?”

The poor woman quavered: “Oh, I do believe it! I just know it must be true!”

The manufacturer shook his head sorrowfully and sat down, and remained there, looking at the ground.

“I am aware,” the Altrurian went on, “that what I have said as to our realizing the kingdom of heaven on the earth must seem boastful and arrogant. That is what you pray for every day, but you do not believe it possible for God’s will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven — that is, you do not if you are like the competitive and monopolistic people we once were. We once regarded that petition as a formula vaguely pleasing to the Deity, but we no more expected His kingdom to come than we expected Him to give us each day our daily bread; we knew that if we wanted something to eat we should have to hustle for it, and get there first; I use the slang of that far-off time, which, I confess, had a vulgar vigor.

“But now everything is changed, and the change has taken place chiefly from one cause — namely, the disuse of money. At first, it was thought that some sort of circulating medium must be used, that life could not be transacted without it. But life began to go on perfectly well, when each dwelt in the place assigned him, which was no better and no worse than any other; and when, after he had given his three hours a day to the obligatory labors, he had a right to his share of food, light, heat, and raiment; the voluntary labors, to which he gave much time or little, brought him no increase of those necessaries, but only credit and affection. We had always heard it said that the love of money was the root of all evil, but we had taken this for a saying, merely; now we realized it as an active, vital truth. As soon as money was abolished the power to purchase was gone, and even if there had been any means of buying beyond the daily needs, with overwork, the community had no power to sell to the individual. No man owned anything, but every man had the right to anything that he could use; when he could not use it, his right lapsed.

“With the expropriation of the individual the whole vast catalogue of crimes against property shrank to nothing. The thief could only steal from the community; but if he stole, what was he to do with his booty? It was still possible for a depredator to destroy, but few men’s hate is so comprehensive as to include all other men, and when the individual could no longer hurt some other individual in his property destruction ceased.

“All the many murders done from love of money, or of what money could buy, were at an end. Where there was no want, men no longer bartered their souls, or women their bodies, for the means to keep themselves alive. The vices vanished with the crimes, and the diseases almost as largely disappeared. People were no longer sickened by sloth and surfeit, or deformed and depleted by overwork and famine. They were wholesomely housed in healthful places, and they were clad fitly for their labor and fitly for their leisure; the caprices of vanity were not suffered to attaint the beauty of the national dress.

“With the stress of superfluous social and business duties, and the perpetual fear of want which all classes felt, more or less; with the tumult of the cities and the solitude of the country, insanity had increased among us till the whole land was dotted with asylums and the mad were numbered by hundreds of thousands. In every region they were an army, an awful army of anguish and despair. Now they have decreased to a number so small, and are of a type so mild, that we can hardly count insanity among our causes of unhappiness.

“We have totally eliminated chance from our economic life. There is still a chance that a man will be tall or short in Altruria, that he will be strong or weak, well or ill, gay or grave, happy or unhappy in love, but none that he will be rich or poor, busy or idle, live splendidly or meanly. These stupid and vulgar accidents of human contrivance cannot befall us; but I shall not be able to tell you just how or why, or to detail the process of eliminating chance. I may say, however, that it began with the nationalization of telegraphs, expresses, railroads, mines, and all large industries operated by stock companies. This at once struck a fatal blow at the speculation in values, real and unreal, and at the stock-exchange, or bourse; we had our own name for that gambler’s paradise, or gambler’s hell, whose baleful influence penetrated every branch of business.

“There were still business fluctuations as long as we had business, but they were on a smaller and smaller scale, and with the final lapse of business they necessarily vanished; all economic chance vanished. The founders of the commonwealth understood perfectly that business was the sterile activity of the function interposed between the demand and the supply; that it was nothing structural; and they intended its extinction, and expected it from the moment that money was abolished.”

“This is all pretty tiresome,” said the professor to our immediate party. “I don’t see why we oblige ourselves to listen to that fellow’s stuff. As if a civilized state could exist for a day without money or business.”

He went on to give his opinion of the Altrurian’s pretended description, in a tone so audible that it attracted the notice of the nearest group of railroad hands, who were listening closely to Homos, and one of them sang out to the professor: “Can’t you wait and let the first man finish?” and another yelled: “Put him out!” and then they all laughed with a humorous perception of the impossibility of literally executing the suggestion.

By the time all was quiet again I heard the Altrurian saying: “As to our social life, I cannot describe it in detail, but I can give you some notion of its spirit. We make our pleasures civic and public as far as possible, and the ideal is inclusive and not exclusive. There are, of course, festivities which all cannot share, but our distribution into small communities favors the possibility of all doing so. Our daily life, however, is so largely social that we seldom meet by special invitation or engagement. When we do, it is with the perfect understanding that the assemblage confers no social distinction, but is for a momentary convenience. In fact, these occasions are rather avoided, recalling, as they do, the vapid and tedious entertainments of the competitive epoch, the receptions and balls and dinners of a semi-barbaric people striving for social prominence by shutting a certain number in and a certain number out, and overdressing, overfeeding, and overdrinking. Anything premeditated in the way of a pleasure we think stupid and mistaken; we like to meet suddenly, or on the spur of the moment, out-of-doors, if possible, and arrange a picnic or a dance or a play; and let people come and go without ceremony. No one is more host than guest; all are hosts and guests. People consort much according to their tastes — literary, musical, artistic, scientific, or mechanical — but these tastes are made approaches, not barriers; and we find out that we have many more tastes in common than was formerly supposed.

“But, after all, our life is serious, and no one among us is quite happy, in the general esteem, unless he has dedicated himself, in some special way, to the general good. Our ideal is not rights, but duties.”

“Mazzini!” whispered the professor.

“The greatest distinction which any one can enjoy with us is to have found out some new and signal way of serving the community; and then it is not good form for him to seek recognition. The doing any fine thing is the purest pleasure it can give; applause flatters, but it hurts, too, and our benefactors, as we call them, have learned to shun it.

“We are still far from thinking our civilization perfect; but we are sure that our civic ideals are perfect. What we have already accomplished is to have given a whole continent perpetual peace; to have founded an economy in which there is no possibility of want; to have killed out political and social ambition; to have disused money and eliminated chance; to have realized the brotherhood of the race, and to have outlived the fear of death.”

The Altrurian suddenly stopped with these words and sat down. He had spoken a long time, and with a fulness which my report gives little notion of; but, though most of his cultivated listeners were weary, and a good many ladies had left their seats and gone back to the hotel, not one of the natives, or the work-people of any sort, had stirred; now they remained a moment motionless and silent before they rose from all parts of the field and shouted: “Go on! Don’t stop! Tell us all about it!”

I saw Reuben Camp climb the shoulders of a big fellow near where the Altrurian had stood; he waved the crowd to silence with out-spread arms. “He isn’t going to say anything more; he’s tired. But if any man don’t think he’s got his dollar’s worth, let him walk up to the door and the ticket-agent will refund him his money.”

The crowd laughed, and some one shouted: “Good for you, Reub!”

Camp continued: “But our friend here will shake the hand of any man, woman, or child that wants to speak to him; and you needn’t wipe it on the grass first, either. He’s a man! And I want to say that he’s going to spend the next week with us, at my mother’s house, and we shall be glad to have you call.”

The crowd, the rustic and ruder part of it, cheered and cheered till the mountain echoes answered; then a railroader called for three times three, with a tiger, and got it. The guests of the hotel broke away and went toward the house over the long shadows of the meadow. The lower classes pressed forward, on Camp’s invitation.

“Well, did you ever hear a more disgusting rigmarole?” asked Mrs. Makely, as our little group halted indecisively about her.

“With all those imaginary commonwealths to draw upon, from Plato, through More, Bacon, and Campanella, down to Bellamy and Morris, he has constructed the shakiest effigy ever made of old clothes stuffed with straw,” said the professor.

The manufacturer was silent. The banker said: “I don’t know. He grappled pretty boldly with your insinuations. That frank declaration that Altruria was all these pretty soap-bubble worlds solidified was rather fine.”

“It was splendid!” cried Mrs. Makely. The lawyer and the minister came toward us from where they had been sitting together. She called out to them: “Why in the world didn’t one of your gentlemen get up and propose a vote of thanks?”

“The difficulty with me is,” continued the banker, “that he has rendered Altruria incredible. I have no doubt that he is an Altrurian, but I doubt very much if he comes from anywhere in particular, and I find this quite a blow, for we had got Altruria nicely located on the map, and were beginning to get accounts of it in the newspapers.”

“Yes, that is just exactly the way I feel about it,” sighed Mrs. Makely. “But still, don’t you think there ought to have been a vote of thanks, Mr. Bullion?”

“Why, certainly. The fellow was immensely amusing, and you must have got a lot of money by him. It was an oversight not to make him a formal acknowledgment of some kind. If we offered him money, he would have to leave it all behind him here when he went home to Altruria.”

“Just as we do when we go to heaven,” I suggested; the banker did not answer, and I instantly felt that in the presence of the minister my remark was out of taste.

“Well, then, don’t you think,” said Mrs. Makely, who had a leathery insensibility to everything but the purpose possessing her, “that we ought at least to go and say something to him personally?”

“Yes, I think we ought,” said the banker, and we all walked up to where the Altrurian stood, still thickly surrounded by the lower classes, who were shaking hands with him and getting in a word with him now and then.

One of the construction gang said, carelessly: “No all-rail route to Altruria, I suppose?”

“No,” answered Homos, “it’s a far sea voyage.”

“Well, I shouldn’t mind working my passage, if you think they’d let me stay after I got there.”

“Ah, you mustn’t go to Altruria. You must let Altruria come to you” returned Homos, with that confounded smile of his that always won my heart.

“Yes,” shouted Reuben Camp, whose thin face was red with excitement, “that’s the word. Have Altruria right here, and right now.”

The old farmer, who had several times spoken, cackled out: “I didn’t know, one while, when you was talk’n’ about not havin’ no money, but what some on us had had Altrury here for quite a spell, already. I don’t pass more’n fifty dolla’s through my hands most years.”

A laugh went up, and then, at sight of Mrs. Makely heading our little party, the people round Homos civilly made way for us. She rushed upon him, and seized his hand in both of hers; she dropped her fan, parasol, gloves, handkerchief, and vinaigrette in the grass to do so. “Oh, Mr. Homos,” she fluted, and the tears came into her eyes, “it was beautiful, beautiful, every word of it! I sat in a perfect trance from beginning to end, and I felt that it was all as true as it was beautiful. People all around me were breathless with interest, and I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough.”

“Yes. indeed,” the professor hastened to say, before the Altrurian could answer, and he beamed malignantly upon him through his spectacles while he spoke, “it was like some strange romance.”

“I don’t know that I should go so far as that,” said the banker, in his turn, “but it certainly seemed too good to be true.”

“Yes,” the Altrurian responded, simply, but a little sadly; “now that I am away from it all, and in conditions so different, I sometimes had to ask myself, as I went on, if my whole life had not hitherto been a dream, and Altruria were not some blessed vision of the night.”

“Then you know how to account for a feeling which I must acknowledge, too?” the lawyer asked, courteously. “But it was most interesting.”

“The kingdom of God upon earth,” said the minister —“It ought not to be incredible; but that, more than anything else you told us of, gave me pause.”

“You of all men?” returned the Altrurian, gently.

“Yes,” said the minister, with a certain dejection, “when I remember what I have seen of men, when I reflect what human nature is, how can I believe that the kingdom of God will ever come upon the earth?”

“But in heaven, where He reigns, who is it does His will? The spirits of men?” pursued the Altrurian.

“Yes, but conditioned as men are here —”

“But if they were conditioned as men are there?”

“Now, I can’t let you two good people get into a theological dispute,” Mrs. Makely pushed in. “Here is Mr. Twelvemough dying to shake hands with Mr. Homos and compliment his distinguished guest.”

“Ah, Mr. Homos knows what I must have thought of his talk without my telling him,” I began, skilfully. “But I am sorry that I am to lose my distinguished guest so soon.”

Reuben Camp broke out: “That was my blunder, Mr. Twelvemough. Mr. Homos and I had talked it over conditionally, and I was not to speak of it till he had told you; but it slipped out in the excitement of the moment.”

“Oh, it’s all right,” I said, and I shook hands cordially with both of them. “It will be the greatest possible advantage for Mr. Homos to see certain phases of American life at close range, and he couldn’t possibly see them under better auspices than yours, Camp.”

“Yes, I’m going to drive him through the hill country after haying, and then I’m going to take him down and show him one of our big factory towns.”

I believe this was done, but finally the Altrurian went on to New York, where he was to pass the winter. We parted friends; I even offered him some introductions; but his acquaintance had become more and more difficult, and I was not sorry to part with him. That taste of his for low company was incurable, and I was glad that I was not to be responsible any longer for whatever strange thing he might do next. I think he remained very popular with the classes he most affected; a throng of natives, construction hands, and table-girls saw him off on his train; and he left large numbers of such admirers in our house and neighborhood, devout in the faith that there was such a commonwealth as Altruria, and that he was really an Altrurian. As for the more cultivated people who had met him, they continued of two minds upon both points.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56