When, in the course of our tour of inspection, we came to the library,
we succumbed to the temptation of the luxurious leather chairs with
which it was furnished, and sat down in one of the book-lined alcoves
to rest and chat awhile.1
"Edith tells me that you have been in the library all the morning,"
said Mrs. Leete. "Do you know, it seems to me, Mr. West, that you are
the most enviable of mortals."
"I should like to know just why," I replied.
"Because the books of the last hundred years will be new to you," she
answered. "You will have so much of the most absorbing literature to
read as to leave you scarcely time for meals these five years to come.
Ah, what would I give if I had not already read Berrian's novels."
"Or Nesmyth's, mamma," added Edith.
"Yes, or Oates' poems, or 'Past and Present,' or, 'In the Beginning,'
or,—oh, I could name a dozen books, each worth a year of one's
life," declared Mrs. Leete, enthusiastically.
"I judge, then, that there has been some notable literature produced
in this century."
"Yes," said Dr. Leete. "It has been an era of unexampled intellectual
splendor. Probably humanity never before passed through a moral and
material evolution, at once so vast in its scope and brief in its time
of accomplishment, as that from the old order to the new in the early
part of this century. When men came to realize the greatness of the
felicity which had befallen them, and that the change through which
they had passed was not merely an improvement in details of their
condition, but the rise of the race to a new plane of existence with
an illimitable vista of progress, their minds were affected in all
their faculties with a stimulus, of which the outburst of the medi=E6val
renaissance offers a suggestion but faint indeed. There ensued an era
of mechanical invention, scientific discovery, art, musical and
literary productiveness to which no previous age of the world offers
"By the way," said I, "talking of literature, how are books published
now? Is that also done by the nation?"
"But how do you manage it? Does the government publish everything that
is brought it as a matter of course, at the public expense, or does
it exercise a censorship and print only what it approves?"
"Neither way. The printing department has no censorial powers. It is
bound to print all that is offered it, but prints it only on condition
that the author defray the first cost out of his credit. He must pay
for the privilege of the public ear, and if he has any message worth
hearing we consider that he will be glad to do it. Of course, if
incomes were unequal, as in the old times, this rule would enable only
the rich to be authors, but the resources of citizens being equal, it
merely measures the strength of the author's motive. The cost of an
edition of an average book can be saved out of a year's credit by the
practice of economy and some sacrifices. The book, on being published,
is placed on sale by the nation."
"The author receiving a royalty on the sales as with us, I suppose," I
"Not as with you, certainly," replied Dr. Leete, "but nevertheless in
one way. The price of every book is made up of the cost of its
publication with a royalty for the author. The author fixes this
royalty at any figure he pleases. Of course if he puts it unreasonably
high it is his own loss, for the book will not sell. The amount of
this royalty is set to his credit and he is discharged from other
service to the nation for so long a period as this credit at the rate
of allowance for the support of citizens shall suffice to support him.
If his book be moderately successful, he has thus a furlough for
several months, a year, two or three years, and if he in the mean time
produces other successful work, the remission of service is extended
so far as the sale of that may justify. An author of much acceptance
succeeds in supporting himself by his pen during the entire period of
service, and the degree of any writer's literary ability, as
determined by the popular voice, is thus the measure of the
opportunity given him to devote his time to literature. In this
respect the outcome of our system is not very dissimilar to that of
yours, but there are two notable differences. In the first place, the
universally high level of education nowadays gives the popular verdict
a conclusiveness on the real merit of literary work which in your day
it was as far as possible from having. In the second place, there is
no such thing now as favoritism of any sort to interfere with the
recognition of true merit. Every author has precisely the same
facilities for bringing his work before the popular tribunal. To judge
from the complaints of the writers of your day, this absolute equality
of opportunity would have been greatly prized."
"In the recognition of merit in other fields of original genius, such
as music, art, invention, design," I said, "I suppose you follow a
"Yes," he replied, "although the details differ. In art, for example,
as in literature, the people are the sole judges. They vote upon the
acceptance of statues and paintings for the public buildings, and
their favorable verdict carries with it the artist's remission from
other tasks to devote himself to his vocation. On copies of his work
disposed of, he also derives the same advantage as the author on sales
of his books. In all these lines of original genius the plan pursued
is the same,—to offer a free field to aspirants, and as soon as
exceptional talent is recognized to release it from all trammels and
let it have free course. The remission of other service in these cases
is not intended as a gift or reward, but as the means of obtaining
more and higher service. Of course there are various literary, art,
and scientific institutes to which membership comes to the famous and
is greatly prized. The highest of all honors in the nation, higher
than the presidency, which calls merely for good sense and devotion to
duty, is the red ribbon awarded by the vote of the people to the great
authors, artists, engineers, physicians, and inventors of the
generation. Not over a certain number wear it at any one time, though
every bright young fellow in the country loses innumerable nights'
sleep dreaming of it. I even did myself."
"Just as if mamma and I would have thought any more of you with it,"
exclaimed Edith; "not that it isn't, of course, a very fine thing to
"You had no choice, my dear, but to take your father as you found him
and make the best of him," Dr. Leete replied; "but as for your
mother, there, she would never have had me if I had not assured her
that I was bound to get the red ribbon or at least the blue."
On this extravagance Mrs. Leete's only comment was a smile.
"How about periodicals and newspapers?" I said. "I won't deny that
your book publishing system is a considerable improvement on ours,
both as to its tendency to encourage a real literary vocation, and,
quite as important, to discourage mere scribblers; but I don't see how
it can be made to apply to magazines and newspapers. It is very well
to make a man pay for publishing a book, because the expense will be
only occasional; but no man could afford the expense of publishing a
newspaper every day in the year. It took the deep pockets of our
private capitalists to do that, and often exhausted even them before
the returns came in. If you have newspapers at all, they must, I
fancy, be published by the government at the public expense, with
government editors, reflecting government opinions. Now, if your
system is so perfect that there is never anything to criticise in the
conduct of affairs, this arrangement may answer. Otherwise I should
think the lack of an independent unofficial medium for the expression
of public opinion would have most unfortunate results. Confess, Dr.
Leete, that a free newspaper press, with all that it implies, was a
redeeming incident of the old system when capital was in private
hands, and that you have to set off the loss of that against your
gains in other respects."
"I am afraid I can't give you even that consolation," replied Dr.
Leete, laughing. "In the first place, Mr. West, the newspaper press is
by no means the only or, as we look at it, the best vehicle for
serious criticism of public affairs. To us, the judgments of your
newspapers on such themes seem generally to have been crude and
flippant, as well as deeply tinctured with prejudice and bitterness.
In so far as they may be taken as expressing public opinion, they give
an unfavorable impression of the popular intelligence, while so far as
they may have formed public opinion, the nation was not to be
felicitated. Nowadays, when a citizen desires to make a serious
impression upon the public mind as to any aspect of public affairs, he
comes out with a book or pamphlet, published as other books are. But
this is not because we lack newspapers and magazines, or that they
lack the most absolute freedom. The newspaper press is organized so as
to be a more perfect expression of public opinion than it possibly
could be in your day, when private capital controlled and managed it
primarily as a money-making business, and secondarily only as a
mouthpiece for the people."
"But," said I, "if the government prints the papers at the public
expense, how can it fail to control their policy? Who appoints the
editors, if not the government?"
"The government does not pay the expense of the papers, nor appoint
their editors, nor in any way exert the slightest influence on their
policy," replied Dr. Leete. "The people who take the paper pay the
expense of its publication, choose its editor, and remove him when
unsatisfactory. You will scarcely say, I think, that such a newspaper
press is not a free organ of popular opinion."
"Decidedly I shall not," I replied, "but how is it practicable?"
"Nothing could be simpler. Supposing some of my neighbors or myself
think we ought to have a newspaper reflecting our opinions, and
devoted especially to our locality, trade, or profession. We go about
among the people till we get the names of such a number that their
annual subscriptions will meet the cost of the paper, which is little
or big according to the largeness of its constituency. The amount of
the subscriptions marked off the credits of the citizens guarantees
the nation against loss in publishing the paper, its business, you
understand, being that of a publisher purely, with no option to refuse
the duty required. The subscribers to the paper now elect somebody as
editor, who, if he accepts the office, is discharged from other
service during his incumbency. Instead of paying a salary to him, as
in your day, the subscribers pay the nation an indemnity equal to the
cost of his support for taking him away from the general service. He
manages the paper just as one of your editors did, except that he has
no counting-room to obey, or interests of private capital as against
the public good to defend. At the end of the first year, the
subscribers for the next either re=EBlect the former editor or choose
any one else to his place. An able editor, of course, keeps his place
indefinitely. As the subscription list enlarges, the funds of the
paper increase, and it is improved by the securing of more and better
contributors, just as your papers were."
"How is the staff of contributors recompensed, since they cannot be
paid in money."
"The editor settles with them the price of their wares. The amount is
transferred to their individual credit from the guarantee credit of
the paper, and a remission of service is granted the contributor for a
length of time corresponding to the amount credited him, just as to
other authors. As to magazines, the system is the same. Those
interested in the prospectus of a new periodical pledge enough
subscriptions to run it for a year; select their editor, who
recompenses his contributors just as in the other case, the printing
bureau furnishing the necessary force and material for publication, as
a matter of course. When an editor's services are no longer desired,
if he cannot earn the right to his time by other literary work, he
simply resumes his place in the industrial army. I should add that,
though ordinarily the editor is elected only at the end of the year,
and as a rule is continued in office for a term of years, in case of
any sudden change he should give to the tone of the paper, provision
is made for taking the sense of the subscribers as to his removal at
"However earnestly a man may long for leisure for purposes of study or
meditation," I remarked, "he cannot get out of the harness, if I
understand you rightly, except in these two ways you have mentioned.
He must either by literary, artistic, or inventive productiveness
indemnify the nation for the loss of his services, or must get a
sufficient number of other people to contribute to such an indemnity."
"It is most certain," replied Dr. Leete, "that no able-bodied man
nowadays can evade his share of work and live on the toil of others,
whether he calls himself by the fine name of student or confesses to
being simply lazy. At the same time our system is elastic enough to
give free play to every instinct of human nature which does not aim at
dominating others or living on the fruit of others' labor. There is
not only the remission by indemnification but the remission by
abnegation. Any man in his thirty-third year, his term of service
being then half done, can obtain an honorable discharge from the army,
provided he accepts for the rest of his life one half the rate of
maintenance other citizens receive. It is quite possible to live on
this amount, though one must forego the luxuries and elegancies of
life, with some, perhaps, of its comforts."
When the ladies retired that evening, Edith brought me a book and
"If you should be wakeful to-night, Mr. West, you might be interested
in looking over this story by Berrian. It is considered his
masterpiece, and will at least give you an idea what the stories
nowadays are like."
I sat up in my room that night reading "Penthesilia" till it grew gray
in the east, and did not lay it down till I had finished it. And yet
let no admirer of the great romancer of the twentieth century resent
my saying that at the first reading what most impressed me was not so
much what was in the book as what was left out of it. The
story-writers of my day would have deemed the making of bricks without
straw a light task compared with the construction of a romance from
which should be excluded all effects drawn from the contrasts of
wealth and poverty, education and ignorance, coarseness and
refinement, high and low, all motives drawn from social pride and
ambition, the desire of being richer or the fear of being poorer,
together with sordid anxieties of any sort for one's self or others; a
romance in which there should, indeed, be love galore, but love
unfretted by artificial barriers created by differences of station or
possessions, owning no other law but that of the heart. The reading of
"Penthesilia" was of more value than almost any amount of explanation
would have been in giving me something like a general impression of
the social aspect of the twentieth century. The information Dr. Leete
had imparted was indeed extensive as to facts, but they had affected
my mind as so many separate impressions, which I had as yet succeeded
but imperfectly in making cohere. Berrian put them together for me in
1 I cannot sufficiently celebrate the glorious liberty that
reigns in the public libraries of the twentieth century as compared
with the intolerable management of those of the nineteenth century, in
which the books were jealously railed away from the people, and
obtainable only at an expenditure of time and red tape calculated to
discourage any ordinary taste for literature.]