"Nationalism." by Mrs. Lillian Cantrell Bay.
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 260-263.
|MRS. LILLIAN CANTRELL BAY.|
Social reforms are as varied as the flowers of the field, or, if you please, as the resources of the evil one. We hear of societies based upon communities of wives and upon celibacy; upon the Word of God, and upon the denial of God; upon Christian communism, and the naturalism of Rousseau; upon the slave-based military systems of Sparta and the modern ideal of social and industrial equality; upon the military system and religious brotherhoods of the Middle Ages; the Jesuitism of Loyola, and the Shakerism of Mother Ann Lee, which are diverse and varied in their forms and conceptions, and yet all were suggested by either the religious or social condition of mankind and must be called communism, which is nothing more nor less than discontent created by the success of the few and the misery and want of the many, brought about by the principle and practice of competition in war, politics, finances, capitalization and industry, which makes might the basis of right.
Against this triumph of might, against right and humanity, the Socialists in Europe and the Nationalists in America raise their protest. Lord Lytton, in his Utopia "The [Page 261] Coming Race," says: "The primary condition of mortal happiness consists in the extinction of that strife and competition between individuals which, no matter what form of government they adopt, render the many subordinate to the few, and annul the calm of existence."
The social dream of co-operation, like the clouds of sunset, has changed form and name since the time of Plato to Bellamy, and there is some reason to believe that the clouds are becoming the reflection of an actual future; that all the various social reforms, nihilism in Russia and nationalism in America, must present some permanent idea, some just complaint, as the rock lies beneath the torn seaweed and the shivering foam on the beach. What, then, is the message, the soul of good, the impelling spirit and inspiration in these things that seem so evil? Nihilism in Russia alone has given to prison, to Siberia, and to the executioner genius enough, self-sacrifice enough, and love enough to have inspired an hundred epochs in the history of the world. It may be said, What is the use of pursuing the impossible, however bright the dream may be; but the answer is, That we have never yet discovered what the impossible may be in social problems, and that we cannot say, in the light of past experience, what may or may not be true, as the history of the world is a history of derided dreams. A large number will thrust the subject aside as disagreeable or dangerous, and say: "It is no business of mine;" which may mean, "It is not to be helped, and that it is natural for the weakest to go to the wall." These weird reformers reply that it is not nature, but that
"Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn."
Mr. Bellamy presents a bright picture of a social democracy, giving to all the greatest advantages and the highest civilization, and obliterating corruption, degradation and poverty, which, he says, is demanded by increasing civilization and the laws of evolution, in order to prevent the people from being handed over to the rapacity of a feudal system of capitalists, and that we must either choose nationalism or despotism.
I must acknowledge that the personal history of Edward Bellamy is unknown to me. It is inevitable in the world of letters that an author must be at rest in his mausoleum before the doors of his earthly home are thrown open and the public admitted to the hallowed hearthstone. There are instances where authors are permitted to read their own biographies, and to enjoy the doubtful pleasure of "seeing themselves as others see them;" but if Mr. Bellamy occupies a place in this coterie I am not possessed of the evidence.
There is thus only one other way for me to become acquainted with him, and that is his writings. We judge a tree by its fruit. In this instance the fruit hangs very high, by almost like the apples of Hesperides, in the region of Allegory, and surrounded the mists of a century of time in advance of us. It promises to be luscious to the taste, having for us all the enchantment that distance is said to lend.
Mr. Bellamy has, in his most interesting book, "Looking Backward," stationed himself on the heights of the twentieth century, and through the magical medium of a dream has looked back on the nineteenth century with the eyes of a philanthropist who would see us all bestowed in an earthly elysium, where fraternity and equality go hand in hand, "the one being a flower growing on the soil of the other;" where love enters all the doors and poverty has been relegated to parts unknown, and where plutocracy has been banished to its own Plutonian shores. This is a delightful dream, a beautiful vision of a possible better condition than existing surroundings, free from selfishness, and where the relations of mankind are perfectly harmonious. It is really the dream of a noble and very sympathetic type of man, guided by the hope that the greatest good will eventually prevail.
Mr. Bellamy's "Looking Backward" has not only attracted the most marked attention of the literary' world, but has also been subjected to the most rigorous criticism and condemnation. [Page 262]
M. Emil de Loveleye, the eminent French critic, says: "As for Mr. Bellamy's dream, it will, I fear, always remain an Utopia, unless man's heart be entirely transformed. His ideal is pure communism, and as such raises my invincible objections." And Mr. Vinton, in his "Looking Further Backward," has drawn a gloomy picture of the outcome of nationalism as advocated by Mr. Bellamy. However, all seem to admit that he has instilled heart into the usually dry subject of political economy, and has woven poetry around the dread problem of social reform, which wrecks lives and embitters souls, and that he has offered a pleasing remedy instead of a raven prophecy.
It has been suggested that "Looking Backward," like "Uncle Tom's Cabin," may be one of those unexpected incidents which occasionally bring mighty causes and forces into play, and with astonishing results.
The plan is beautifully conceived and quaintly sketched with the skill of a master, but I very much fear that the time for the lion and the lamb to live together and not covet each other's strength or flesh will be deferred to our millennium instead of the twentieth century.
However it may be, public opinion says that it at least demands attention and is worthy of investigation; that it may be garnished with a multiplicity of ornamental towns, columns and entablatures, a wild mingling of the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture, and yet suggest many needed additions to the edifice of our government. I believe in looking at bright things, at pictures of places that I may never hope to see, at grand mountains that I may never hope to climb, and in hoping that the survival of the fittest will be the survival of the most gracious spirit and the most tender heart.
Duty, assisted by anxiety, compels us to ask: "What is there in this weird proposition to which generation after generation comes in such questionable shapes?" Is it a curse, or a blessing in disguise, or some angel in the process of development? We seem to be driven to the necessity of saying, as Hamlet said, "Thou comest in such a questionable shape that I will speak with thee;" or as Carlyle said of the dingy, soiled and ragged toiler: "Thou wert our conscript, on whom the lot fell, and, fighting our battles wert so marred." We know that glorious dreamers, unselfish martyrs, untamed lovers of liberty and noble-minded women, as well as dynamite fiends and incendiary hags, have been led to the executioner's block, or doomed to pass their lives in the dark mines of Siberia, toiling with broken hearts under the lash of heartless masters. It is said that the barricades have their Christs, in whom we can detect aspirations, emotions, instincts and ideas essentially beneficent and good, the despairing anguish of nature's longing for justice and right. Oscar Wilde, with real insight, touched a right note when he said:
"I love them not, whose hands profane
Plant the red flag upon the piled-up street
For no right cause; beneath whose ignorant reign,
Arts, culture, reverence, honor, all things fade,
Save treason, and the dagger of her trade,
And murder, with his silent, bloody feet,
* * * And yet, and yet,
These Christs upon the barricades,
God knows, I am with them in some things."
John the Baptist, clad in his camel's hair blanket, and feeding upon locusts and wild honey, was a most startling character, and the victim of unfortunate circumstances; although he was a forerunner of our Saviour, who, also, by the way, came to be Saviour only after Calvary and the cross.
We might do worse things than remember that it was a murderer who said: "Am I my brother's keeper?" and listen to these weird reformers why teach us the Divine lesson of inculcating self-sacrifice; or condemn or dread them as we will, no selfish thoughts taint the simplicity of their aims. [Page 263]
We consider Nationalists as dreamers, for "Looking Backward" and all similar Utopias are but dreams to our practical people; but such dreams are a mirage, which could not appear in the sky unless as a reflection of a former reality somewhere on earth. Mr. Bellamy would be insane, indeed, did he conclude that even the main features of his plan will be adopted, or that the world can grow up on the basis of a book. The growth must be natural, but the forecast of that growth can be either hopeful or disheartening. "You will get well," says Dr. Bellamy, and the world opens its heart to the good and gentle tidings.
Mrs. Lillian Cantrell Bay was born in Little Rock, Ark., and is the daughter of Dr. W. A. Cantrell and Ellen Harrell Cantrell. She was educated chiefly in Little Rock, finished her course of study at St. Mary's Hall, Burlington, N. J., and has visited the eastern and northern cities of the United States. She married Joseph Lovell Bay, and has an interesting family of children. Mrs. Bay is a lady of unusual gifts of mind and person, is a favorite in social circles, has many devoted friends and admirers of her virtues, and is rarely excelled as an amateur pianist. In religious faith she is Protestant Episcopalian. Her postoffice address is Hot Springs, Ark.
This chapter has been put on-line as part of the
BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer