The following is a Gaslight etext....

A message to you about copyright and permissions

from _The blindman's world, and other stories_ (1898)

            by Edward Bellamy (1850 - 1898)

              with a prefatory sketch by

                    W.D. Howells

                       EDWARD BELLAMY

                  26 MARCH, 1850--22 MAY, 1898

THE first book of Edward Bellamy's which I read was "Dr.
Heidenhoff's Process," and I thought it one of the finest
feats in the region of romance which I had known.  It seemed
to me all the greater because the author's imagination
wrought in it on the level of average life, and built the
fabric of its dream out of common clay.  The simple people
and their circumstance were treated as if they were persons
whose pathetic story he had witnessed himself, and he was
merely telling it.  He wove into the texture of their
sufferings and their sorrows the magic thread of invention
so aptly and skillfully that the reader felt nothing
improbable in it.  One even felt a sort of moral necessity
for it, as if such a clue not only could be, but must be
given for their escape.  It became not merely probable, but
imperative, that there should be some means of extirpating
the memory which fixed a sin in lasting remorse, and of thus
saving the soul from the depravity of despair.  When it
finally appeared that there was no such means, one reader,
at least, was inconsolable.  Nothing from romance remains to
me more poignant than the pang that this plain, sad tale

  The art employed to accomplish its effect was the art
which Bellamy had in degree so singular that one might call
it supremely his.  He does not so much transmute our
every-day reality to the substance of romance as make the
airy stuff of dreams one in quality with veritable
experience.  Every one remembers from "Looking Backward" the
allegory which figures the pitiless prosperity of the
present conditions as a coach drawn by slaves under the lash
of those on its top, who have themselves no firm hold upon
their places, and sometimes fall, and then, to save
themselves from being ground under the wheels, spring to
join the slaves at the traces.  But it is not this, vivid
and terrible as it is, which most wrings the heart; it is
that moment of anguish at the close, when Julian West
trembles with the nightmare fear that he has been only
dreaming of the just and equal future, before he truly wakes
and finds that it is real.  That is quite as it would happen
in life, and the power to make the reader feel this, like
something he has known himself, is the distinctive virtue of
that imagination which revived throughout Christendom the
faith in a millennium.

  A good deal has been said against the material character
of the happiness which West's story promises men when they
shall begin to do justice, and to share equally in the
fruits of the toil which operates life; and I confess that
this did not attract me.  I should have preferred, if I had
been chooser, to have the millennium much simpler, much more
independent of modern inventions, modern conveniences,
modern facilities.  It seemed to me that in an ideal
condition (the only condition finally worth having) we
should get on without most of these things, which are but
sorry patches on the rags of our outworn civilization, or
only toys to amuse our greed and vacancy.  AEsthetically, I
sympathized with those select spirits who were shocked that
nothing better than the futile luxury of their own selfish
lives could be imagined for the lives which overwork and
underpay had forbidden all pleasures; I acquired
considerable merit with myself by asking whether the hope of
these formed the highest appeal to human nature.  But I
overlooked an important condition which the other critics
overlooked; I did not reflect that such things were shown as
merely added unto those who had first sought the kingdom of
God and his righteousness, and that they were no longer
vicious or even so foolish when they were harmlessly come
by.  I have since had to own that the joys I thought trivial
and sordid did rightly, as they did most strenuously, appeal
to the lives hitherto starved of them.  In depicting them as
the common reward of the common endeavor, Edward Bellamy
builded better than we knew, whether he knew better or not;
and he builded from a thorough sense of that level of
humanity which he was destined so potently to
influence,--that American level which his book found in
every Christian land.

  I am not sure whether this sense was ever a full
consciousness with him; very possibly it was not; but in any
case it was the spring of all his work, from the earliest to
the latest.  Somehow, whether he *knew* or not, he
unerringly *felt* how the average man would feel; and all
the webs of fancy that he wove were essentially of one
texture through this sympathy.  His imagination was
intensely democratic, it was inalienably plebeian,
even,--that is to say, humane.  It did not seek distinction
of expression; it never put the simplest and plainest reader
to shame by the assumption of those fine-gentleman airs
which abash and dishearten more than the mere literary swell
can think.  He would use a phrase or a word that was common
to vulgarity, if it said what he meant; sometimes he sets
one's teeth on edge, in his earlier stories, by his public
school diction.  But the nobility of the heart is never
absent from his work; and he has always the distinction of
self-forgetfullness in his art.

  I have been interested, in recurring to his earlier work,
to note how almost entirely the action passes in the
American village atmosphere.  It is like the greater part of
his own life in this.  He was not a man ignorant of other
keeping.  He was partly educated abroad, and he knew cities
both in Europe and in America.  He was a lawyer by
profession, and he was sometime editor of a daily newspaper
in a large town.  But I remember how, in one of our
meetings, he spoke with distrust and dislike of the
environment of cities as unwholesome and distracting, if not
demoralizing (very much to the effect of Tolstoi's
philosophy in the matter), and in his short stories his
types are village types.  They are often such when he finds
them in the city, but for much the greater part he finds
them in the village; and they are always, therefore,
distinctively American; for we are village people far more
than we are country people or city people.  In this as in
everything else we are a medium race, and it was in his
sense, if not in his knowledge of this fact, that Bellamy
wrote so that there is never a word or a look to the reader
implying that he and the writer are of a different sort of
folk from the people in the story.

  "Looking Backward," with its material delights, its
communized facilities and luxuries, could not appeal to
people on lonely farms who scarcely knew of them, or to
people in cities who were tired of them, so much as to that
immense average of villagers, of small-town-dwellers, who
had read much and seen something of them, and desired to
have them.  This average, whose intelligence forms the
prosperity of our literature, and whose virtue forms the
strength of our nation, is the environment which Bellamy
rarely travels out of in his airiest romance.  He has its
curiosity, its principles, its aspirations.  He can tell
what it wishes to know, what problem will hold it, what
situation it can enter into, what mystery will fascinate it,
and what noble pain it will bear.  It is by far the widest
field of American fiction; most of our finest artists work
preferably in it, but he works in it to different effect
from any other.  He takes that life on its mystical side,
and deals with types rather than with characters; for it is
one of the prime conditions of the romancer that he shall do
this.  His people are less objectively than subjectively
present; ~their import is greater in what happens to them
than in what they are.  But he never falsifies them or their
circumstance.  He ascertains them with a fidelity that seems
almost helpless, almost ignorant of different people,
different circumstance; you would think at times that he had
never known, never seen, any others; but of course this is
only the effect of his art.

  When it comes to something else, however, it is still with
the same fidelity that he keeps to the small-town average,
the American average.  He does not address himself more
intelligently to the mystical side of this average in "Dr.
Heidenhoff's Process," or "Miss Ludington's Sister," or any
of his briefer romances, than to its ethical side in
"Equality."  That book disappointed me, to be frank.  I
thought it artistically inferior to anything else he had
done.  I thought it was a mistake to have any story at all
in it, or not to have vastly more.  I felt that it was not
enough to clothe the dry bones of its sociology with paper
garments out of "Looking Backward."  Except for that one
sublime moment when the workers of all sorts cry to the
Lords of the Bread to take them and use them at their own
price, there was no thrill or throb in the book.  But I
think now that any believer in its economics may be well
content to let them take their chance with the American
average, here and elsewhere, in the form that the author has
given them.  He felt that average so wittingly that he could
not have been wrong in approaching it with all that public
school exegesis which wearies such dilettanti as myself.

  Our average is practical as well as mystical; it is first
the dust of the earth, and then it is a living soul; it
likes great questions simply and familiarly presented,
before it puts its faith in them and makes its faith a life. 
It likes to start to heaven from home, and in all this
Bellamy was of it, voluntarily and involuntarily.  I recall
how, when we first met, he told me that he had come to think
of our hopeless conditions suddenly, one day, in looking at
his own children, and reflecting that he could not place
them beyond the chance of want by any industry or forecast
or providence; and that the status meant the same
impossibility for others which it meant for him.  I
understood then that I was in the presence of a man too
single, too sincere, to pretend that he had begun by
thinking of others, and I trusted him the more for his
confession of a selfish premise.  He never went back to
himself in his endeavor, but when he had once felt his power
in the world, he dedicated his life to his work.  He wore
himself out in thinking and feeling about it, with a belief
in the good time to come that penetrated his whole being and
animated his whole purpose, but apparently with no manner of
fanaticism.  In fact, no one could see him, or look into his
quiet, gentle face, so full of goodness, so full of common
sense, without perceiving that he had reasoned to his hope
for justice in the frame of things.  He was indeed a most
practical, a most American man, without a touch of
sentimentalism in his humanity.  He believed that some now
living should see his dream--the dream of Plato, the dream
of the first Christians, the dream of Bacon, the dream of
More--come true in a really civilized society; but he had
the patience and courage which could support any delay.

  These qualities were equal to the suffering and the death
which came to him in the midst of his work, and cut him off
from writing that one more book with which every author
hopes to round his career.  He suffered greatly, but he bore
his suffering greatly; and as for his death, it is told that
when, toward the last, those who loved him were loath to
leave him at night alone, as he preferred to be left, he
asked, "What can happen to me?  I can only die."

  I am glad that he lived to die at home in Chicopee,--in
the village environment by which he interpreted the heart of
the American nation, and knew how to move it more than any
other American author who has lived.  The theory of those
who think differently is that he simply moved the popular
fancy; and this may suffice to explain the state of some
people, but it will not account for the love and honor in
which his name is passionately held by the vast average,
East and West.  His fame is safe with them, and his faith is
an animating force concerning whose effect at this time or
some other time it would not be wise to prophesy.  Whether
his ethics will keep his aesthetics in remembrance I do not
know; but I am sure that one cannot acquaint one's self with
his merely artistic work, and not be sensible that in Edward
Bellamy we were rich in a romantic imagination surpassed
only by that of Hawthorne.

                                      W.D. HOWELLS.