A heavy rainstorm came up during the day, and I had concluded that the
condition of the streets would be such that my hosts would have to
give up the idea of going out to dinner, although the dining-hall I
had understood to be quite near. I was much surprised when at the
dinner hour the ladies appeared prepared to go out, but without either
rubbers or umbrellas.
The mystery was explained when we found ourselves on the street, for a
continuous waterproof covering had been let down so as to inclose the
sidewalk and turn it into a well lighted and perfectly dry corridor,
which was filled with a stream of ladies and gentlemen dressed for
dinner. At the corners the entire open space was similarly roofed in.
Edith Leete, with whom I walked, seemed much interested in learning
what appeared to be entirely new to her, that in the stormy weather
the streets of the Boston of my day had been impassable, except to
persons protected by umbrellas, boots, and heavy clothing. "Were
sidewalk coverings not used at all?" she asked. They were used, I
explained, but in a scattered and utterly unsystematic way, being
private enterprises. She said to me that at the present time all the
streets were provided against inclement weather in the manner I saw,
the apparatus being rolled out of the way when it was unnecessary. She
intimated that it would be considered an extraordinary imbecility to
permit the weather to have any effect on the social movements of the
Dr. Leete, who was walking ahead, overhearing something of our talk,
turned to say that the difference between the age of individualism and
that of concert was well characterized by the fact that, in the
nineteenth century, when it rained, the people of Boston put up three
hundred thousand umbrellas over as many heads, and in the twentieth
century they put up one umbrella over all the heads.
As we walked on, Edith said, "The private umbrella is father's
favorite figure to illustrate the old way when everybody lived for
himself and his family. There is a nineteenth century painting at the
Art Gallery representing a crowd of people in the rain, each one
holding his umbrella over himself and his wife, and giving his
neighbors the drippings, which he claims must have been meant by the
artist as a satire on his times."
We now entered a large building into which a stream of people was
pouring. I could not see the front, owing to the awning, but, if in
correspondence with the interior, which was even finer than the store
I visited the day before, it would have been magnificent. My companion
said that the sculptured group over the entrance was especially
admired. Going up a grand staircase we walked some distance along a
broad corridor with many doors opening upon it. At one of these, which
bore my host's name, we turned in, and I found myself in an elegant
dining-room containing a table for four. Windows opened on a courtyard
where a fountain played to a great height and music made the air
"You seem at home here," I said, as we seated ourselves at table, and
Dr. Leete touched an annunciator.
"This is, in fact, a part of our house, slightly detached from the
rest," he replied. "Every family in the ward has a room set apart in
this great building for its permanent and exclusive use for a small
annual rental. For transient guests and individuals there is
accommodation on another floor. If we expect to dine here, we put in
our orders the night before, selecting anything in market, according
to the daily reports in the papers. The meal is as expensive or as
simple as we please, though of course everything is vastly cheaper as
well as better than it would be if prepared at home. There is actually
nothing which our people take more interest in than the perfection of
the catering and cooking done for them, and I admit that we are a
little vain of the success that has been attained by this branch of
the service. Ah, my dear Mr. West, though other aspects of your
civilization were more tragical, I can imagine that none could have
been more depressing than the poor dinners you had to eat, that is,
all of you who had not great wealth."
"You would have found none of us disposed to disagree with you on that
point," I said.
The waiter, a fine-looking young fellow, wearing a slightly
distinctive uniform, now made his appearance. I observed him closely,
as it was the first time I had been able to study particularly the
bearing of one of the enlisted members of the industrial army. This
young man, I knew from what I had been told, must be highly educated,
and the equal, socially and in all respects, of those he served. But
it was perfectly evident that to neither side was the situation in the
slightest degree embarrassing. Dr. Leete addressed the young man in a
tone devoid, of course, as any gentleman's would be, of
superciliousness, but at the same time not in any way deprecatory,
while the manner of the young man was simply that of a person intent
on discharging correctly the task he was engaged in, equally without
familiarity or obsequiousness. It was, in fact, the manner of a
soldier on duty, but without the military stiffness. As the youth left
the room, I said, "I cannot get over my wonder at seeing a young man
like that serving so contentedly in a menial position."
"What is that word 'menial'? I never heard it," said Edith.
"It is obsolete now," remarked her father. "If I understand it
rightly, it applied to persons who performed particularly disagreeable
and unpleasant tasks for others, and carried with it an implication of
contempt. Was it not so, Mr. West?"
"That is about it," I said. "Personal service, such as waiting on
tables, was considered menial, and held in such contempt, in my day,
that persons of culture and refinement would suffer hardship before
condescending to it."
"What a strangely artificial idea," exclaimed Mrs. Leete, wonderingly.
"And yet these services had to be rendered," said Edith.
"Of course," I replied. "But we imposed them on the poor, and those
who had no alternative but starvation."
"And increased the burden you imposed on them by adding your
contempt," remarked Dr. Leete.
"I don't think I clearly understand," said Edith. "Do you mean that
you permitted people to do things for you which you despised them for
doing, or that you accepted services from them which you would have
been unwilling to render them? You can't surely mean that, Mr. West?"
I was obliged to tell her that the fact was just as she had stated.
Dr. Leete, however, came to my relief.
"To understand why Edith is surprised," he said, "you must know that
nowadays it is an axiom of ethics that to accept a service from
another which we would be unwilling to return in kind, if need were,
is like borrowing with the intention of not repaying, while to enforce
such a service by taking advantage of the poverty or necessity of a
person would be an outrage like forcible robbery. It is the worst
thing about any system which divides men, or allows them to be
divided, into classes and castes, that it weakens the sense of a
common humanity. Unequal distribution of wealth, and, still more
effectually, unequal opportunities of education and culture, divided
society in your day into classes which in many respects regarded each
other as distinct races. There is not, after all, such a difference as
might appear between our ways of looking at this question of service.
Ladies and gentlemen of the cultured class in your day would no more
have permitted persons of their own class to render them services they
would scorn to return than we would permit anybody to do so. The poor
and the uncultured, however, they looked upon as of another kind from
themselves. The equal wealth and equal opportunities of culture which
all persons now enjoy have simply made us all members of one class,
which corresponds to the most fortunate class with you. Until this
equality of condition had come to pass, the idea of the solidarity of
humanity, the brother hood of all men, could never have become the
real conviction and practical principle of action it is nowadays. In
your day the same phrases were indeed used, but they were phrases
"Do the waiters, also, volunteer?"
"No," replied Dr. Leete. "The waiters are young men in the
unclassified grade of the industrial army who are assignable to all
sorts of miscellaneous occupations not requiring special skill.
Waiting on table is one of these, and every young recruit is given a
taste of it. I myself served as a waiter for several months in this
very dining-house some forty years ago. Once more you must remember
that there is recognized no sort of difference between the dignity of
the different sorts of work required by the nation. The individual is
never regarded, nor regards himself, as the servant of those he
serves, nor is he in any way dependent upon them. It is always the
nation which he is serving. No difference is recognized between a
waiter's functions and those of any other worker. The fact that his is
a personal service is indifferent from our point of view. So is a
doctor's. I should as soon expect our waiter to-day to look down on me
because I served him as a doctor, as think of looking down on him
because he serves me as a waiter."
After dinner my entertainers conducted me about the building, of which
the extent, the magnificent architecture and richness of
embellishment, astonished me. It seemed that it was not merely a
dining-hall, but likewise a great pleasure-house and social rendezvous
of the quarter, and no appliance of entertainment or recreation seemed
"You find illustrated here," said Dr. Leete, when I had expressed my
admiration, "what I said to you in our first conversation, when you
were looking out over the city, as to the splendor of our public and
common life as compared with the simplicity of our private and home
life, and the contrast which, in this respect, the twentieth bears to
the nineteenth century. To save ourselves useless burdens, we have as
little gear about us at home as is consistent with comfort, but the
social side of our life is ornate and luxurious beyond anything the
world ever knew before. All the industrial and professional guilds
have clubhouses as extensive as this, as well as country, mountain,
and seaside houses for sport and rest in vacations."
NOTE. In the latter part of the nineteenth century it became
a practice of needy young men at some of the colleges of the
country to earn a little money for their term bills by
serving as waiters on tables at hotels during the long summer
vacation. It was claimed, in reply to critics who expressed
the prejudices of the time in asserting that persons
voluntarily following such an occupation could not be
gentlemen, that they were entitled to praise for vindicating,
by their example, the dignity of all honest and necessary
labor. The use of this argument illustrates a common
confusion in thought on the part of my former contemporaries.
The business of waiting on tables was in no more need of
defense than most of the other ways of getting a living in
that day, but to talk of dignity attaching to labor of any
sort under the system then prevailing was absurd. There is no
way in which selling labor for the highest price it will
fetch is more dignified than selling goods for what can be
got. Both were commercial transactions to be judged by the
commercial standard. By setting a price in money on his
service, the worker accepted the money measure for it, and
renounced all clear claim to be judged by any other. The
sordid taint which this necessity imparted to the noblest and
the highest sorts of service was bitterly resented by
generous souls, but there was no evading it. There was no
exemption, however transcendent the quality of one's service,
from the necessity of haggling for its price in the
market-place. The physician must sell his healing and the
apostle his preaching like the rest. The prophet, who had
guessed the meaning of God, must dicker for the price of the
revelation, and the poet hawk his visions in printers' row.
If I were asked to name the most distinguishing felicity of
this age, as compared to that in which I first saw the light,
I should say that to me it seems to consist in the dignity
you have given to labor by refusing to set a price upon it
and abolishing the market-place forever. By requiring of
every man his best you have made God his task-master, and by
making honor the sole reward of achievement you have imparted
to all service the distinction peculiar in my day to the