Historical Section Shawmut College, Boston,December 26, 2000.
Living as we do in the closing year of the twentieth century, enjoying
the blessings of a social order at once so simple and logical that it
seems but the triumph of common sense, it is no doubt difficult for
those whose studies have not been largely historical to realize that
the present organization of society is, in its completeness, less than
a century old. No historical fact is, however, better established than
that till nearly the end of the nineteenth century it was the general
belief that the ancient industrial system, with all its shocking
social consequences, was destined to last, with possibly a little
patching, to the end of time. How strange and wellnigh incredible does
it seem that so prodigious a moral and material transformation as has
taken place since then could have been accomplished in so brief an
interval? The readiness with which men accustom themselves, as
matters of course, to improvements in their condition, which, when
anticipated, seemed to leave nothing more to be desired, could not be
more strikingly illustrated. What reflection could be better
calculated to moderate the enthusiasm of reformers who count for their
reward on the lively gratitude of future ages!
The object of this volume is to assist persons who, while desiring to
gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts between the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are daunted by the formal aspect
of the histories which treat the subject. Warned by a teacher's
experience that learning is accounted a weariness to the flesh, the
author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by
casting it in the form of a romantic narrative, which he would be glad
to fancy not wholly devoid of interest on its own account.
The reader, to whom modern social institutions and their underlying
principles are matters of course, may at times find Dr. Leete's
explanations of them rather trite,--but it must be remembered that to
Dr. Leete's guest they were not matters of course, and that this book
is written for the express purpose of inducing the reader to forget
for the nonce that they are so to him. One word more. The almost
universal theme of the writers and orators who have celebrated this
bi-millennial epoch has been the future rather than the past, not the
advance that has been made, but the progress that shall be made, ever
onward and upward, till the race shall achieve its ineffable destiny.
This is well, wholly well, but it seems to me that nowhere can we find
more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development during
the next one thousand years, than by "Looking Backward" upon the
progress of the last one hundred.
That this volume may be so fortunate as to find readers whose interest
in the subject shall incline them to overlook the deficiencies of the
treatment is the hope in which the author steps aside and leaves Mr.
Julian West to speak for himself.