The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 76
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"I am inclined to agree," I said. "Who was the artist who conceived and executed a monument of such wonderful proportions?"
"The artist? What other nation could produce a man who united such gifts with such a true Meccanian spirit? He desired that his name should never be spoken. When the work was completed after ten years, he gave up his life, and begged to be allowed to be buried underneath the rock with all the tools that had been used in the execution of the statue. His dying request was respected. His name is never uttered, but every child in Meccania knows it, and every citizen in Meccania comes once every ten years to salute the statue of Prince Mechow and do honour to the hero-artist who lies buried beneath."
"I shall never forget the story," I said, and we walked on to the look-out tower. On the way, I noticed that every person in the street saluted every other person of higher rank than himself. I have since learnt that there are six different forms of salute, one for each cla.s.s above the Seventh, and that it is a point of strict etiquette to give the right salute. A salute appropriate to the Fourth Cla.s.s given to a member of the Third is an insult, and the wrong salute given to a member of the Second (military) Cla.s.s may cost the offender his life.
We ascended the look-out tower. The sight was magnificent. From where we stood the details of the architecture could not be seen, nor even the style of the buildings. But the general impression produced by such a vast a.s.semblage of ma.s.sive edifices was one of grandeur and power, while the bright sunlight and the absence of smoke and dirt gave the whole city the appearance of having suddenly sprung up in a night, like Aladdin's palace.
To the west, in a great semicircle, the quarters of the first three cla.s.ses presented a spectacle such as I have not seen in any capital. Every house was a mansion or a villa surrounded by a pleasant garden. Here and there one saw large stretches of beautiful park. To the east the houses were cl.u.s.tered more thickly together, but even on this side there was an air of orderliness and comfort, although certainly not of luxury, which contrasted favourably with the populous districts of the towns I had seen in other countries. About five miles away we could see distinctly, with the aid of the gla.s.ses, the manufactories and workshops and warehouses of the industrial town that served the needs of the whole capital.
Conductor Prigge seemed duly satisfied with the impression made on me. "Here," he said, "you are at the centre of the civilisation of the modern world. Here are three million thoroughly efficient Meccanians, every one in his proper place, every one fulfilling his appointed duty. Think of the disorder, the squalor, the conflict of aims, the absence of ideals, represented by a city like Lunopolis, or Prisa, and look on this picture!"
We descended and returned to the hotel.
After luncheon we proceeded with our tour of the tramway system. By this means I got a good view of the exterior appearance of the houses of the various cla.s.ses. It confirmed the impression I had gained from the look-out tower, except in one respect. The houses of the well-to-do looked as if they had all been designed by the same school of architects, and except that they differed in size they might have been turned out by machinery. The houses of the rest of the population were 'standardised' to an even greater degree. The dwellings of the Sixth Cla.s.s are really blocks of small flats of a standard size; those of the Fifth Cla.s.s are similar, except that the rooms are a little larger and there are more of them. One curious fact came to light in the course of Conductor Prigge's explanation of the housing system. It seems that the Births Department determines the number of children each family is expected to have within a given period of years, and the houses are distributed accordingly. Thus a family in the Fifth Cla.s.s which is due to have, let us say, four children within the next seven years, is a.s.signed a flat of five rooms. Then, if the same family is due to have two more children within the next five years, they move into a house with seven rooms. Persons in the first grade of the Fifth Cla.s.s are allowed to take a flat with more rooms on payment of a special rate or tax.
Apparently there is very little choice of houses. As all the houses of a certain grade are practically alike, if a tenant wishes to move to another street he has to furnish valid reasons; and it is not easy to furnish reasons satisfactory to the authorities. Besides, the number of houses or flats is very closely proportioned to the number of tenants, and there are never many vacant houses. The members of the Third and higher cla.s.ses own their own houses, and can therefore change their residences by purchasing or exchanging. By special privilege members of the Fourth Cla.s.s can obtain permission to buy their houses, but as these are mostly flats they are usually rented from the munic.i.p.ality.
PROFESSOR PROSER-TOADY'S LECTURE.
FOLLOWING Conductor Prigge's instructions, I presented myself at six o'clock in the evening at the entrance to the Great University of Mecco. It was the first time I had been out without my' keeper,' but as everybody else was dressed in the Meccanian costume, whilst I was wearing the clothes I had been accustomed to wear in Luniland and Francaria, there was little risk of my going astray. A porter darted out of a box in the entrance hall and directed me to Room 415, where the Professor of Historical Culture was to deliver his monthly four-hour lecture to Foreign Observers. I found about a dozen Foreign Observers of various nationalities waiting in the small lecture - room, and presently a few more arrived. Some were Scandinavians, some South Americans; a few, I thought, were Turks; several were from some part of India. At 6.10 precisely the Professor came in. He wore a brilliant yellow uniform of the Third Cla.s.s, with green facings and b.u.t.tons and a number of little ribbons indicating, I suppose, various services rendered to the cause of Meccanian Culture. Apart from his dress he resembled the caricatures of Meccanian professors in our comic prints. His head was bald on the top and at the front, but at the sides great tufts of white hair protruded. His grey beard was of ample proportions. His coa.r.s.e wizened face and staring eyes, covered by a pair of huge spectacles, gave him the appearance of a Jack-in-the-box as he sat behind a high reading-desk. His voice was tough and leathery. At the end of three hours it sounded as fresh and as harsh as in the opening sentences. I cannot reproduce the whole lecture; if I did it would almost fill a book by itself. I can only hope to give a rough idea of it by paraphrasing some of the most salient pa.s.sages.
He began by saying that to accommodate himself to the culture of his foreign auditors he would endeavour to present his subject in the simplest possible form, which was the narrative, and would sketch the biography of the great re-founder of the Meccanian State, the true architect of the First Super-State in the world, the greatest political creative genius that had ever stepped upon the World Stage, Prince Mechow. We had all seen his memorial statue, , a unique monument to a unique individual, and no doubt it had made an impression upon our imagination; but it was impossible for any work of art however great--and here he paid a tribute to the hero-artist who built the monument--to convey more than a symbolical suggestion of the all-embracing magnificence of Prince Mechow's truly Meccanian personality. For that we must look around at the Super-State itself.
Prince Mechow, he said, was historically the culminating figure of the national development of Meccania. Compared with many countries in Europe, Meccania could not boast a long history. Some historians sought a false glory for Meccania by tracing its greatness back to the so-called Roman Empire of the Middle Ages, but true Meccanian history went back only a few hundred years. In fact, it was not until the eighteenth century that the Meccanian State in the proper sense of the word began, and only in the nineteenth century did it take its place among the powers of the modern world. In the nineteenth century the Meccanian State was saved by the genius and will of one great man, the worthy predecessor of Prince Mechow, his great-uncle Prince Bludiron. From a scientific or philosophical point of view it was difficult to say whether Prince Bludiron had not contributed as much to the greatness of Meccania as Prince Mechow; for it was he, undoubtedly, who laid the foundations upon which the final structure rested. The work of Prince Bludiron was very different from, but also similar in spirit to, the work of Prince Mechow. His task had been to rescue the young and inexperienced State from the perils and distractions of the false ideals of Liberty and Democracy, to secure the power of the State over all sections and cla.s.ses, to create the proud and confident Meccanian spirit and to set the nation on the right path.
The task of Prince Mechow was to erect the Super-State on the foundations laid by Prince Bludiron; in other words, to organise the energies of the whole nation to one supreme end, to train and direct the powers of every individual so as to produce one mind and one will.
Turning to the work of Prince Bludiron, the Professor said that when he began his work Meccania was distracted by false and conflicting ideals, of foreign origin. Revolution was in the air. People were ready to drive out their lawful rulers. Popular government was demanded. Parliaments were being set up. It was the saddest page in Meccanian history. Had these anarchic forces triumphed, Meccania would have sunk to the level of other nations, and the Super-State would never have arisen. It was the greatest testimony to the intellectual genius and moral power of Prince Bludiron that, after forty years of strenuous work, the whole outlook for Meccania was completely changed. The false ideal of individual liberty was dead and buried. Popular government was a discredited superst.i.tion. The military aristocracy were secure in their rightful position. The efficiency of the Government was demonstrated in every direction, and not least on the field of battle. Wars had been won with a rapidity unprecedented in any age.
Prince Bludiron's success was so complete that it was almost impossible for us now to realise how great his difficulties had been. So strong were the forces of Democracy that even he had to temporise and set up a Parliament. He even granted manhood suffrage.
Dr. Proser-Toady then explained how Prince Bludiron outwitted the disloyal elements among the people by securing the reality of power to the organised centralised State, whilst leaving the semblance of control to the representative bodies. He quoted a Foreign Observer, at the end of Prince Bludiron's career, who declared that the inst.i.tutions set up by him enabled the State to wield the maximum of power with the minimum of opposition. Strangely enough, said the Professor, the very movement that threatened to undo all his work was in reality of the greatest service. He referred to the movement of Meccanian Socialism or Social Democracy which owed its peculiar character to a certain demagogue named Spotts. The career and influence of Spotts was for a time almost as remarkable as Prince Bludiron's. Spotts persuaded his followers that the economic tendencies of modern life must inevitably create the Socialist State. The people need only wait until these tendencies had worked themselves out and then seize the power of the State, which would drop into their hands like ripe fruit. He saw in the existing State nothing but organised Capitalism. Consequently he encouraged his followers to take no part in the actual Government, but to maintain themselves in permanent opposition until the inevitable revolution came about, when they were to a.s.sume the whole control. Spottsian Socialism became the universal doctrine of the Meccanian proletariat of those days. They talked about the economic interpretation of history, about economic forces, about economic revolutions, mixed with vague notions of Liberty and Equality. But in reality they cared not a straw for Liberty; what they sought was Power. Yet by standing in permanent opposition to every other element in the State they played into Prince Bludiron's hands. Whilst they waited for the inevitable revolution, he had accustomed the people to prosperity; and had raised the prestige of the State at home and abroad. He had gained the support of all the strongest elements in society, had trained an efficient bureaucracy and an efficient military aristocracy. And yet at his death the followers of Spotts went on waiting for the economic revolution!
The Professor then dealt briefly with what he said was the most difficult period for a Meccanian historian, the period between the death of Prince Bludiron and the rise of the still greater statesman, Prince Mechow. In that interval no great leader arose, but a number of foolish statesmen who fancied they were cast in the mould of the great Bludiron. At that time Meccania had commercial relations with the whole world, and was rapidly penetrating every country with its peculiar culture. Its army and navy were growing in strength, and the temper of the people was becoming restless and aggressive. They lacked the controlling hand of Prince Bludiron. They were carried away by dreams of sudden world-conquest. Foolish statesmen allowed the country to be plunged into war with half the world at once. The Meccanians performed wonders, but they could not perform miracles, and in the end the country was reduced to great straits. Provinces were torn away. Its acc.u.mulations of wealth were exhausted; its manhood was decimated. The situation was terrible, yet it was this tremendous ordeal that indirectly created the most favourable conditions for the work of Prince Mechow.
During the war the Government had been compelled to take over, more and more, the control of every department of life. Under the pressure of war the last vestiges of the obsolete doctrines of Individualism had disappeared. Now that the war was over, the necessity for increasing all the means of wealth-production placed a new power in the hands of the State. It was in these years of what was called' Reconstruction' that Prince Mechow came to the front. Every one was depressed. The most conflicting views were expressed. Some people lamented that the whole work of Prince Bludiron had been destroyed. Others said it had been all a mistake, and that the nation ought to have followed the example of the rest of Europe. Some advocated hare-brained schemes of' Internationalism,' as they called it.
Prince Mechow was one of the few who kept a clear head. He saw exactly where the blunder had been made. Meccania had ventured upon projects of world-conquest before completing the internal work of perfecting the Super-State on the foundations laid down by Prince Bludiron. He saw that we must go back exactly to the point where Prince Bludiron left off. But the first step was the most difficult. Prince Mechow was quite a young man, not more than thirty, and was only an Under- Secretary. He had one advantage in that he was a grand-nephew of Prince Bludiron and had the ear of the Emperor, who very soon made him Minister of the Interior, a post created to relieve the Chief Minister.
Professor Proser-Toady said we should obtain the clearest conception of Prince Mechow's views and the best key to his policy in a volume of correspondence with his cousin General Count Block. Count Block, like many of his military colleagues, was alarmed at the general confusion. He declared there was nothing for it but to sweep away all popular representative inst.i.tutions, restrict education to the upper cla.s.ses and fall back upon the direct rule of the military. Prince Mechow pointed out that such a policy would fail utterly: it would bring about the very revolution it sought to avoid. Efficiency could never be created by the military alone. Industrial efficiency was absolutely necessary to military power. He agreed in the main with Count Block's objects, but declared that his means were clumsy and inadequate. The work of Prince Bludiron must be continued by the creation of a Super-State. The term had already been coined, but the thing did not yet exist.
It is in Prince Mechow's clear conception of the Super-State that we see his intellectual genius, but it is in the steps he took to bring it into being that we realise his kins.h.i.+p with his famous predecessor, Prince Bludiron. Prince Bludiron had had to live from hand to mouth relying upon his statesman's instinct. Prince Mechow, even before he became Chief Minister, foresaw every detail of the structure he was determined to erect.
The State, he said, has. .h.i.therto done only what is forced upon it by necessity. It has never attempted to utilise the whole energies of the Nation. The Super-State will only come into being by uniting in itself the will, the knowledge, the wisdom, and the multifarious energies, of the whole people. The State has been merely the strongest organ of society: the Super-State must be the only organ, uniting all others in itself.
How was such a conception to be realised concretely? In explaining his plans he found ample ill.u.s.tration in the circ.u.mstances of the recent Great War. The State had not only controlled everything essential to the conduct of the war; it had not only regulated the manufacture of all supplies, including food and clothing for the whole nation, but had undertaken a thousand activities never previously dreamt of, except by the Socialists.
He proposed to capture the whole armoury of the Socialists by gradually seizing everything for the State itself. The motto of the Super-State must be Efficiency. But to be efficient the State must absorb all the persons who represented efficiency. The whole conception of Bureaucracy must be revolutionised by being carried to its logical conclusion. The efficiency of a business firm depends upon the efficiency of the persons composing it. The efficiency of the Super-State will depend upon the efficiency of the new Bureaucracy and the Military Cla.s.s. There was no instance in history of an efficient Government being overthrown by any popular forces.
A century of industrial development had transformed the material world, whilst in the meantime the organisation of the State had almost stood still. The Super-State must borrow from the Socialists the conception of an all-embracing power and activity, and from the Industrial world the machinery for the execution of its will. The most efficient and successful business firms were those which got every ounce of work out of every member of the firm. The Super-State must not be less resourceful.
Now as to the methods, said the Professor. How was the State to absorb into its service all the energies of the nation, without at the same time becoming a Social Democracy? Already the Social Democrats, as in Prince Bludiron's time, were proclaiming that the Capitalist State was working out for them the Social Revolution predicted by Spotts; and as in Prince Bludiron's days so under Prince Mechow they went on waiting for the Social Revolution. They are waiting still. In the meantime Prince Mechow got into the saddle and began his practical reforms. He was a man of the most extraordinary energy and versatility. He was not content to begin with Education and wait for a generation. He attacked a dozen different problems at the same time: Education, Industry, Commerce, Railways, Finance, the Press, the Stage, the Professions, the Church--every side of national life received his attention; but the prime instrument through which he worked was the Bureaucracy. He laid it down as an axiom that the machinery of the State must work so smoothly that the people should be unaware of its operations.
There have been instances in history, he wrote in one of his letters, in which a Government has been overturned in a single day. How? By a perfectly planned coup d'etat. What can be accomplished on a single occasion can be done as a part of the regular working of the State Machinery. Our Super-State must be capable of a coup d'etat every day. Those of his friends who did not see the necessity for his reforms he silenced by showing them that if they did not capture the State the Social Democracy would do so.
During the first ten years of his regime he worked wonders. He renewed the State control of all the large industries. He took into the service of the State all the most capable business men and manufacturers, all the best scientists and engineers as well as the best administrators. The Censors.h.i.+p of the Press was continued and extended to every form of literature. He bought up all the big newspapers and drove all the little ones into bankruptcy. When every clever journalist was engaged on the State newspapers and all advertis.e.m.e.nts were controlled, there was not much room for an' opposition' Press. The Schools and Universities were already well under control, but he revised the whole system. He made every teacher and every professor a direct servant of the State. Every textbook was revised. He paid particular attention to history, philosophy and literature. The new generation were thus educated in an atmosphere calculated to cultivate the true Meccanian spirit. Inspectors, organisers and directors of Education infused new energy into the system and trained the whole population to co-operate with the Super-State.
As to the proletariat, he saw to it that there was no unemployment. Production went up by leaps and bounds, wages were increased, but there was no waste. Goods that could not be disposed of immediately were stored, but methods of control and regulation were introduced to direct industry into the right channels. Whilst he controlled the wageearners he at the same time controlled the employers. All surplus wages and profits were invested in the State funds.
Of course there was opposition to these reforms. The Military Cla.s.s were slow to understand his methods, so he established periodical military councils, took them into his confidence and eventually won them over completely. As for the Social Democrats, he did not scruple to employ against them the same methods they would have employed against him. He made use of secret agents to preach the doctrine that by his methods the way would be prepared for the social revolution. When at length he inaugurated the system of the seven social cla.s.ses the Social Democrats professed to see in this a means of stimulating cla.s.s consciousness; but after a few years they discovered that no cla.s.s was willing to surrender its privileges. The Fifth Cla.s.s, which includes the most skilled artisans in Europe, began to see that no revolution would improve their position, whilst it might lower them to the level of the Sixth or Seventh Cla.s.s. The boasted solidarity of the proletariat proved to be an illusion, like most of Spotts's ideas.
When he reformed the railway system he made travelling free. But of course if travelling were to be free, restrictions must be imposed. Similarly in regard to housing. He applied all the technical knowledge in the country to the problem. Standardised houses and other devices made it possible to rebuild any portions of our cities and to transfer population from one region to another with the greatest ease. On the other hand, restrictions were necessary. You cannot have free trade in houses and at the same time guarantee a house to every family.
I have condensed Dr. Proser-Toady's lecture, which lasted several hours, into such short compa.s.s that it gives very little idea, I am afraid, of the complete revolution worked out by Prince Mechow's reforms. For instance, he showed how the whole character of politics had been transformed, how the questions that agitated Meccania sixty years ago had entirely disappeared; how the Press no longer existed, because its functions had been absorbed by other agencies; how the Parliament, which I was surprised to hear still existed, was now organised to correspond with the seven social cla.s.ses; how the State was so wealthy that control over taxation was no longer necessary.
He ended with a remarkable pa.s.sage about the seven social cla.s.ses and the national Meccanian uniforms.
"Many Foreign Observers," he said, "in times past, have made merry over our sevenfold cla.s.sification and our national costumes. What have other nations to put in their place? They too have these cla.s.ses, for they are natural and inevitable. They have their n.o.bles, their soldiers, their officials and professional men, their bourgeoisie, their artisans, their labourers and their degraded' submerged tenth.' But they are afraid to call them by their proper names, afraid to recognise them. They have no uniforms, no dignified and pleasing costumes; but you never mistake one cla.s.s for another. You never mistake the labourer for the wealthy bourgeois or the popinjay aristocrat. Nowhere else, they say, would people consent to wear the servile badge of their caste. We Meccanians are proud of our seven national colours. So far from being a degradation, the historical origin of the costumes proves that it is a privilege to wear them. The seven uniforms were once the ceremonial dress of the seven guilds established by Prince Mechow. When permission was granted for all the members of the cla.s.ses to wear the ceremonial dress it was the occasion of national rejoicings everywhere. The national costumes are part of the Ritual of the Super-State."
Long-winded as some parts of the lecture were, I must confess it was most illuminating, and to me, as a student of politics and sociology, exceedingly interesting. I begin to understand now what the Meccanian Super-State really is.
CULTURE IN MECCO.
DURING the first few weeks of my tour in Mecco--Tour No. 4--Conductor Prigge kept my nose well to the grindstone. At times he made me feel like a small schoolboy, at times like a prisoner in charge of a warder. It would be tedious to detail all the incidents of my daily rounds, or to describe everything in the exact order in which it was presented to my view. So I propose to set down, as they remain in my mind, the most interesting or remarkable features of this truly remarkable city. One circ.u.mstance, however, annoys and almost distresses me. I cannot get into contact with any individual living people. I see everything as a spectacle from the outside.
As I go about, the impression of orderliness, cleanliness, and even magnificence of a kind, is such as I have seldom felt in any part of the world. At times the whole city gives one the same sort of feeling that one experiences in going through a gigantic hospital, where everything is spotless and nothing is out of its place. I am even getting used to the coloured uniforms of the seven cla.s.ses. In the central parts of the city green and yellow predominate; for the number of people belonging to the official cla.s.s is enormous. Even apart from their actual number they are the most conspicuous, because the lower cla.s.ses are at work in their factories and business houses, and are consequently seldom seen except when returning home in the evening. Occasionally I notice a few white uniforms (of the very select First Cla.s.s) and occasionally, too, a crowd of officers in their brilliant scarlet uniforms. At the other end of the scale, the most common colour visible is the grey, worn by the numerous servants in the well-to-do quarters. The few servants who wear chocolate are mostly the lackeys of the very rich, and the upper servants in the large hotels.
On the day after Dr. Proser-Toady's lecture, Conductor Prigge was more than usually "pedagogic." I wanted to look about the streets and ask questions about many things that occurred to me at the moment, but he insisted upon pouring out detailed information about the drainage system, the postal areas, the parcels' delivery areas, the telephone system, the market system, and so forth. What did interest me, however, was the organisation known as the Time Department, of which I had already seen something at Bridgetown.
There is, as I have said, an enormous number of public buildings in Mecco, but n.o.body can miss the gigantic office of the Time Department. It towers up, about seven stories high, over the surrounding buildings, and above it rises a great clock that can be seen for miles. In this central department alone, ten thousand people are employed--that is, of course, in addition to all those employed in the local offices of the Time Department in various parts of the country.
Conductor Prigge was tremendously proud of the Time Department. "Other nations," he said, "have never thought of establis.h.i.+ng such an inst.i.tution for themselves. They have not even had the intelligence to imitate ours. We Meccanians were the first to discover both time and s.p.a.ce: our philosophers were the first to understand time and s.p.a.ce: we have been the first Government to organise time and s.p.a.ce. We can tell you," he went on, "the exact amount of time occupied by any person, or any group of persons, in doing anything. We know exactly how much time is devoted to eating and drinking, as well as the time required to produce a picture, or a piece of sculpture, or a poem, or a musical composition; or how long it takes to learn any language, or any subject of study."
"But," I said, "what about the time spent by all the clerks and officials employed all over the country, as well as here, in the Time Department itself; isn't it rather extravagant? What is the object of it all?"
"Do you think," he replied, "that we should keep up such an inst.i.tution if it had not proved to be useful in the highest degree? Foreigners have such childish ideas of organisation," he continued. "This was one of the most brilliant inventions of Prince Mechow, but it has taken thirty years to bring it to its present state of perfection. It pays for itself over and over again, in the mere economy it effects; and it has other far-reaching effects on the whole social and economic life of the nation. In the first place, in the matter of material production, in every trade and occupation it enables us to speed-up scientifically. An increase of i per cent in the productiveness of the four main industries alone would more than pay all the expenses of the Time Department. We have increased productiveness all round by at least 20 per cent since the introduction of the Time Department; and although not all of this increase is due to the Time Department, we may safely reckon 5 per cent. We have done away with all the dawdlers in art, all the incompetent painters and novelists and poets. In connection with the Post Office we have been able to diminish the amount of time spent in writing useless letters by 50 per cent. Why, without the Time Department the Department for the Direction of Leisure would be helpless. In Education, how should we know the right proportion of time to be devoted to the various subjects, the right amount to recreation or amus.e.m.e.nt? And apart from economy, the aid given to the researches of the Sociological Department is simply invaluable. The efficiency of the Police Department is due in great measure to the Time Department."
"But," I inquired innocently, "is there no feeling of resentment on the part of the public at the somewhat inquisitorial methods of the Time Department?"
"Resentment!" he said, almost angrily. "Why should there be resentment?"
"At having to give an account of all that one does even in one's leisure time?"
"But when everybody knows that we save millions a year by it, and when the State has decided that it is for the public benefit, and the obligation is imposed upon everybody; why should anyone raise objections?"
"Still," I said, remembering my unfortunate experience, "you find it necessary to inflict fines in order to ensure compliance with the regulations about filling up the weekly diaries."
"Naturally. But perhaps you overlook the educative effect of having to keep the diary. The proper keeping of the diary is almost an education in itself." My conductor said this with such an air of finality that I thought it was not worth while to pursue the question further.
I was much amused by a conversation I had a few days ago on another subject. It was about five o'clock and I was feeling rather tired, so I proposed that we should have a meal in a restaurant, and then go to some place of amus.e.m.e.nt in the evening.
"You may return to the hotel if you are indisposed," said Prigge, "and rest there during the evening; or you may have a meal in a restaurant and resume your tour. But until we have completed at least the first week's tour of observation, you cannot possibly be permitted to visit any place of amus.e.m.e.nt, as you call it. Besides, such places as you probably have in mind, do not exist in Mecco. I have seen, in other countries, what are termed music halls, where a lot of so-called actors were making fools of themselves."
"Perhaps," I ventured to say, "you did not look at the performance from the right point of view."
"I see! You mean that I should have regarded these childish performances as ill.u.s.trating the stage of mental culture of the people. From that point of view your' music halls' may be of some interest, just as the drama of foreign countries is of interest; but it is so very primitive."
"Primitive? In what way primitive?" I asked.
"Primitive by comparison with our highly developed drama. For example, all the foreign dramas I have seen are written in the narrative form, or rather, I should say, the drama is still in the chronological stage. We have left that behind."
"Indeed," I said, "I am afraid I can hardly conceive of drama in any other form."
"Exactly. You cannot understand. But our Meccanian culture is not exactly designed for the intelligence of foreigners. If you are specially interested in the subject of the drama--it is not one of my specialities, although of course I am not ignorant of the drama, no Meccanian is--I will introduce you to my friend in the Department of Public Amus.e.m.e.nt, which is a branch of the Ministry of Education and Culture. He will probably enable you in the shortest period of time--and that is always a consideration, although most foreigners are often quite oblivious of the time aspect of such matters--to understand the Meccanian drama, in so far as it is possible for a foreigner to understand it."
I thanked him, and he made a note in his pocketbook to remind him of his promise. "Perhaps you can tell me," I said, "how your people do amuse themselves, apart from going to the theatre; for they cannot go to the theatre every evening."
"I notice that, like all foreigners, you are more interested in amus.e.m.e.nt than in the serious aspects of life. You will receive full information at the proper time if you will avail yourself of my offer to take you to my friend Dr. Dodderer, the Sub- Controller of Public Amus.e.m.e.nts (Section B); but I do not mind giving you a few facts such as are common knowledge among all Meccanians."
"Well," I said, "take your commercial travellers, who must spend a good deal of time in towns away from home. What do they do in the evenings?
"If you were to go to the Great Meccanian Library," he replied, "and consult the Reports of the Sociological Department for the last twenty years, you would be able to see exactly how all these persons have spent their time. But you would perhaps be surprised to find that the number of persons travelling about and staying away from home is very small. When you have studied our industrial and commercial system you will see that we require comparatively few commercial travellers. As to the way they spend their time, you must understand that in every town there are guilds of all the professions. Consequently, as every commercial traveller naturally wishes to improve his knowledge, he frequents the guild house, where he meets with other members of his profession and discusses matters of interest. If he comes from Mecco he will be welcomed, as the provincial members will be only too glad to learn anything from one who comes from the very centre of Meccanian culture. Also, he may wish to visit the local museums, or other cultural inst.i.tutions. If not, he will attend either an outdoor or an indoor concert."
"The commercial travellers of Meccania must be quite unlike the commercial travellers of all other countries if they spend their leisure in the way you have described," I remarked. "You spoke of concerts," I continued. "I suppose music is still the most popular form of amus.e.m.e.nt in Meccania?"
"Neither the drama nor music are, strictly speaking, mere amus.e.m.e.nts," answered Conductor Prigge. "They may be so regarded in other countries, but not in Meccania."
"Then what are they?" I asked.
"They form part of our general scheme of culture," replied Prigge. "As you probably know, attendance at the theatre once a week is compulsory for all persons over eighteen. Those below eighteen attend the juvenile theatre as part of their school course in literature."
"Attendance compulsory?" I said. "But if Meccanians are so advanced in the cultivation of the drama, why should it be necessary to enforce attendance?"
"Perhaps it is not really necessary, but I doubt whether our scheme of dramatic culture could be carried out without strict regulation. For instance, there are some plays more popular than others. People would want to see these plays in great numbers and there would not be room for them; whilst the less popular plays would not be well attended."
"Just so," I said, "that is what one would naturally expect; and where is the harm?
"Our scheme provides a succession of plays throughout the year, all designed as part of our culture, and if people were at liberty to pick and choose what they would see, and what they would not see, we should have no guarantee that they would have gone through the course."
"Would that matter," I asked, "so long as they were amused?"
"May I repeat that the Meccanian drama is something more than amus.e.m.e.nt," he replied testily. "You will learn more of this subject from Dr. Dodderer. We need not pursue it further."
"Then may I ask whether attendance at concerts is compulsory also?"
"It is not compulsory, but it is strictly regulated as regards the different grades of music," he answered.
"I should like to know how you regulate attendance at concerts," I said; "I have never heard of it elsewhere."
"I daresay not," said Prigge. "Other countries are still in a very backward state as regards musical culture. In the first place, all persons below eighteen have to pa.s.s an examination in some branch of practical or theoretical music, unless they are defective in the musical sense. Then, before any adult is admitted to the first, second or third grades of concerts, he has to pa.s.s an examination in musical appreciation. That is to say, only those are admitted to concerts of the first cla.s.s who hold a first-cla.s.s certificate in musical appreciation, and so on with the other grades. Otherwise we should have people whose musical knowledge is very moderate listening to the best music by the best performers. By means of our system we can provide exactly the right standard of music at all public concerts. At the beginning of each season the programmes of all the concerts of the first three grades are issued. Each person enters his name for a course of concerts according to the grade of musical culture attained by him. He is informed how many concerts he may attend in the season; he then chooses which concerts he will attend, and after that there is no difficulty."
"No," said I, "I should think there would be no difficulty after such careful preparation. Then the open-air concerts in the beer gardens," I said; "where do they come in?"
"Those are not regulated in the same way. We can tell from the Time Department whether any person is spending too much time at these performances, and any person who neglects to pa.s.s his examination in musical appreciation before the age of thirty is forbidden to attend such concerts-- if they can be called concerts--more than once a week."
"And is it possible to carry out such a regulation?" I asked.
"You have not studied our Time Department to much purpose if you ask such a question," answered Prigge.
"I suppose, then," I said, "as I have no certificate I shall not be permitted to hear any of your best music?"
"Foreigners who are Doctors of Music of any University," replied Prigge, "are admitted by special leave of the Ministry of Culture to attend a specified number of concerts even of the first grade, and others can attend a few concerts of the third grade, likewise by special permission of the Ministry of Culture."
I think it was on the same day that Prigge said to me, "I notice you are not wearing your spectacles."
"I have never worn spectacles," I said.
"But you were ordered to wear spectacles by Dr. Pincher."
"He did prescribe them," I said, "but I have not troubled to get them, as I do not really require them."
Conductor Prigge looked positively aghast. "You must go at once," he said; "you have the address. You had better pretend that there has been some delay--but no, your diary will show that you have not been to the optician. You will certainly be fined in accordance with Regulation 127 of the Instructions to Foreign Observers."
I went accordingly, and in a few days I had the spectacles. I suppose this incident caused me to notice that nearly all Meccanians wear spectacles or eyegla.s.ses. Some wear two pairs at once, and I have seen even three pairs worn. I felt thankful nothing wrong with my teeth had been discovered.
A day or two later I was taken by Prigge to see Dr. Dodderer. What I learnt from him was even more remarkable than what my conductor had told me, so I will not apologise for giving a fairly full account of my interview.
We were due at ten o'clock, and a whole hour had been reserved for me. As we entered his room he noted the exact time on his tablet and said, "The object of your visit is to learn something of the Meccanian drama, as part of the system of culture, and the relation of amus.e.m.e.nt to our system of culture. Very good; if you will be seated I will do my best to enlighten you."
He was a dried-up little man, with bright black eyes and a narrow but lofty forehead. I thanked him and prepared to listen. I knew he would think me disrespectful if I did not make use of my notebook, so I prepared to make copious notes.
When he saw I was ready, he sat with his eyes shut and his hands clasped together in front of him, and proceeded to pour forth a long discourse. He began by saying that all the higher animals showed some disposition towards play; and that, in particular, the human animal was pre-eminently distinguished in this respect. Some anthropologists had argued that the persistence of the play-instinct was a proof of the essential usefulness of play, in developing both muscular and intellectual power. He himself did not adopt this view, or, at any rate, only in a modified form. He held that play was one of the most wasteful methods of nature, and that if the compet.i.tion between the various races and subdivisions of the human species had been perfect, the race that could reduce play to an absolute minimum, confined perhaps to the first three years of life, would--ceteris paribus--succeed in winning the foremost place. Play was certainly the least profitable form of mental activity, and one of the problems of education was the gradual elimination of play from the scheme of national culture. It was unfortunately true that even the best system of education had to make concessions to this instinct of play, and it would take many generations before it could be reduced to a minimum. But the experiments of the Meccanian psychologists had demonstrated that the amount necessary, both in the case of children and in the case of adults, had been grossly exaggerated in the past, and was still grossly exaggerated by other nations. These experiments would have been impossible without the a.s.sistance of the Time Department, and the absence of a Time Department in other countries probably accounted for the little progress they had made in this direction.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 76
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