"No Meccanian woman is obliged to submit to the embraces of her lawful husband."
"But how did the men ever consent to such a law?" I asked; "for in this country it is the men who make the laws."
"It is rather a queer story," he replied. "It is quite a long time ago, forty years or more, since a movement arose among the women, influenced no doubt by the women's movement in Europe, which had for its object, or one of its objects, greater freedom from the domestic tyranny of the Meccanian husband. Some of them, of course, thought that the way to secure everything they wanted was to get the right to vote for the National Council; but the wiser among them saw that the vote was merely a bad joke. Anybody could have the vote, because it was worth nothing; seeing that the powers of the representatives were being reduced to nothing. All the same, this women's movement, such as it was, was the nearest approach to a revolutionary movement that the Meccanians have ever shown themselves capable of. Once more our dear old Prince Mechow came to the rescue. He was a real genius."
"But I thought you did not admire the Mechow reforms?" I interrupted.
"I do not; but I recognise a genius when I see him. Believe me, Prince Mechow was the first Meccanian to understand his countrymen. He knew exactly what they wanted, what they would stand, what they could do, what they could be made to believe. He was absorbed in his early reforms when this women's movement broke out, and some people were afraid of it. He attacked the problem in his characteristic fashion. He knew the women didn't want political power; he knew also that there was not the slightest danger of them getting it; but he saw immense possibilities in having the women as his allies in certain of his reforms, especially his Eugenic reforms. He hit upon a really brilliant idea. I don't suppose you can guess what it was?"
"How can I?" I said. "All this is quite new to me."
"Well, if you had read Meccanian literature, or even the writings of the old travellers in Meccania aai your predecessors as Foreign Observers--you would know that the Meccanian women are the most primitive in Europe. They have one ideal as regards men. They have a superstitious admiration for physical strength. If a Meccanian woman were really free to choose her mate, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred she would choose the strongest man. They have always been like that. Probably many primitive peoples have had that characteristic, but the Meccanians have preserved that trait longest. You think I am joking or spinning a theory?"
"I was thinking that as they have had the same marriage laws as the rest of Europe for many centuries, the fact, if it is a fact, cannot be of much practical importance," I said.
"The fact itself is vouched for by dozens of writers among the Meccanians. They pride themselves on having preserved these primitive characteristics; they glory in never having been influenced by Latin culture. The marriage laws you speak of have been adopted by the men, in self-defence, so to speak. In very early times the Meccanian marriage laws were essentially the same as they have been for two thousand years, and the penalties on the women for infractions of the marriage laws were more severe in practice than in any other country. Notice the facts: breaches of the' moral code' before marriage are regarded very lightly: illegitimacy in Meccania, as is proved by statistics, was more prevalent than in most countries; but the men took care that breaches after marriage should be severely dealt with. I told you it was a long story, and I have not yet come to the point. For twenty or thirty years before Prince Mechow got into the saddle all the young hot-headed Meccanian patriots got Eugenics on the brain, but none of them knew how to put their ideas into practice. Mechow himself was a Eugenist of the most brutal type. He believed that if he could once utilise this primitive instinct of the Meccanian women, he could do something much more effective than eliminating certain feeble types, which was all that the Eugenist theorists had so far aimed at. He proposed to give every woman the right to choose, within limits, the father of her children. He knew that all the Meccanian women were obsessed with a frantic admiration for the Military Class--in the old days it was the ambition of every woman to marry an officer, and that was why the officers who were not well-to-do never had any difficulty in getting a rich partie. Well, he actually made a law to the effect that any woman could claim a sort of exemption from the marital rights of her husband, upon the recommendation of an authorised medical man."
"But why on earth did the men consent to such a law?" I asked once more.
"That was easily done. You had only to invoke the Meccanian spirit, devotion to the supreme interests of the State, the opinion of the experts and all the rest of it. The opposition was stifled. The three highest classes were all for it; the women supported it, and although they had no political power they made opposition impossible."
"And what effect has this law had? I am afraid I do not see how it would effect the purpose Prince Mechow had in view," I said.
"The consequences have been enormous. I do not mean that the law by itself effected much, but taken as part of a system it solved the whole problem from Mechow's point of view."
"But how?" I asked, somewhat puzzled.
"You understand, I suppose, the system of medical inspection and medical supervision and medical treatment?"
"To a certain extent," I replied.
"Well, you realise perhaps that, in the hands of a patriotic medical staff, the system can be so worked that every woman who is' approved' can be provided with a' eugenic' mate from an approved panel, drawn chiefly from the Military Class, eh?"
"Is this one of Mr. Villele's jokes at the expense of the Meccanians?" I asked Mr. Johnson.
"He is telling the story in his own way," answered Johnson, "but in substance it is quite true."
"But it sounds incredible," I said. "What do the husbands say to it?"
"Oh, the business is done very quietly. A woman is ordered a' cure' by the' medical authority,' and she goes away for a little time. The men on the panel are kept in training, like pugilists used to be. As for the husbands--did you ever attend any lectures in the Universities on Meccanian ethics? Of course you have not been in the country very long. Jealousy is regarded as an obsolete virtue, or vice, whichever you like. Besides, you must not imagine the custom affects large numbers. Probably not more than 10 per cent of the women, chiefly in the Fifth and Sixth, and to some extent in the Fourth, Class, are affected."
"But I should have thought that social caste would be an insuperable obstacle," I said.
"Surely not! When did you hear that women were chosen for such purposes from any particular class? It is not a question of marriage."
"There is one circumstance," interposed Mr. Johnson, "that has some bearing on this subject.
Domestic life in Meccania for generations past has been based on quite a different ideal from that prevalent in other parts of Europe. A Meccanian in the old days used to choose a wife very much as he would choose a horse. She was thought of as the mother of children; in fact, the Meccanian sociologists used to maintain that this was one of the marks of their superiority over other European nations. Conjugal affection was recognised only as a sort of by-product of marriage. Of course they always pretended to cultivate a kind of Romanticism because they wrote a lot of verse about the spring, and moonlight and kisses and lovelonging, but their Romanticism never went beyond that. As the object of Meccanian sentiment, one person would do just as well as another."
"Our friend seems very much surprised at many things he finds in Meccania," remarked Mr. Villele, "and my own countrymen, and more especially my own countrywomen, only half believe the accounts they read about this country, simply because they think human nature is the same everywhere; but then they are ignorant of history. Civilisations just as extraordinary have existed in ancient times, created through the influence of a few dominant ideas. The Meccanians are a primitive people with a mechanical culture. They have never been civilised, because they have no conception of an individual soul. Consequently they find it easy to devote themselves to a common purpose."
The conversation went on for a long time. It was a warm summer evening and we were sitting in the garden at the back of the hotel, otherwise we should have been rather more guarded in our remarks. As we parted, Mr. Villele repeated his advice to seek an interview with Mr. Kwang, as he called him. (His name was Sz-ma-Kwang, but for convenience I shall allude to him as Mr. Kwang.) A day or two later, I contrived to get an interview with him, and although Conductor Lickrod was present I soon discovered that Mr. Kwang and I were members of the same secret society. He promised that I should see him again before long, and that he would be happy to assist me in any way he could. He told Lickrod that he had been doing his best, for the last five years, to induce the Chinese Government to send more' observers' to Meccania; but his enthusiasm for Meccania had perhaps defeated its own object, as it caused him to be mistrusted. His writings on Meccania were well known, and it was thought that he was trying to proselytise. He spoke most flatteringly of me to Lickrod, and said that, in view of the influence I should have in my own country, it was well worth while giving me every facility to see all I wished. He would guarantee that, under his tutelage, I should soon learn to appreciate things from the right point of view.
Two days after this, I received a message to call on the Chief Inspector of Foreigners. He received me most politely, and almost apologised for not having had time to see me before. He had only just learnt that I was a friend of the excellent Mr. Kwang. He said I should be permitted to visit Mr. Kwang whenever I chose, and that I was now at liberty to make use of the letters of introduction I had brought with me to several persons in Meccania. It would not be necessary for me to be accompanied by a' conductor' every day. He would transfer me to Class B, Stage II. Class B meant Foreign Observers staying not less than six months; and Stage II. meant that they were permitted to submit a plan each week showing how they proposed to spend the following week; so that on the days which were occupied to the satisfaction of the Inspector of Foreign Observers for the district, the services of a 'conductor' could be dispensed with.
I did not know whether to avail myself of my new-found liberty or not. For when I came to talk the matter over with the only person at hand, Conductor Lickrod, I found that it was not very easy to prepare a plan that would be accepted by the Authorities, unless I were prepared to pursue some definite line of research. When I talked of taking a few walks in the poorer quarters, calling in for a few lectures in the University, hearing some concerts, and seeing some plays and other amusements, looking round the museums,--a programme innocent enough in all conscience,--Lickrod said no Inspector would sanction such a miscellaneous time-table for an observer in Stage II. I was not qualified to attend concerts; I had not yet received permission to visit the theatre. Unless I were pursuing some particular study, I could only visit the museums in company with a conductor. As for a stroll through the poorer quarters, he failed to see the object of that. On the whole, I decided to stick to Lickrod for another week at any rate. I asked if I might see something of Education in Mecco. He said certainly, if I desired to make a study of Meccanian Pedagogics for a period of not less than four months. Otherwise it would not be possible to enter any of the educational institutions. I could get permission to read in the Great Library, if I would specify the subject, or subjects, and show that I was qualified to pursue them. In that way I could read up Meccanian Education. If I were not willing to do this, he advised me to talk to Mr. Johnson, who was a keen and capable student of Meccanian Pedagogics.
I suggested investigating Meccanian political institutions, but similar difficulties arose there. I could only study Meccanian politics if I were registered as a specialist, and for that I should have to obtain permission from the Department for Foreign Affairs as well as from the Chief Inspector of Foreign Observers. He remarked, however, that in his opinion there was little to study beyond what could be got from books. The political system of Meccania was really simplicity itself when once the fundamental principles had been grasped. I replied that in most countries it took a foreigner rather a long time to understand the views and policy of the many different groups and sections in the representative assemblies. Each of them usually had their organisations and their special point of view. He replied that in Meccania the State itself was the only political organisation.
"But," I said, "when your members of the National Council meet, do they not fall into groups according to their views upon policy?
"They are grouped according to classes, of course," he answered. "Each of the seven classes has the same number of representatives, and there is no doubt a tendency for the representatives of each class to consider things somewhat from the point of view of the interests of their class. But the members have no meetings, except in the full assembly and in the committees. Such groupmeetings form no part of the Constitution. We do not do things by halves. When the State decided to have nothing to do with party government, it decided also not to have anything to do with group government. There is no room for such trifling in Meccania. So you see there is nothing for you to investigate in this direction."
"The classes themselves, then? Is there no body of opinion, no collective political tradition or sentiment cultivated by the various classes?"
"You might find something there," said Lickrod, musing a little. "But except in the shape of books I do not know how you would get at it."
"But all books are censored, are they not?" I said.
"Certainly, but how does that affect the question?"
"Books would hardly give me a truthful idea of all the currents of thought."
"But surely you cannot suppose that the State would assist you in trying to discover things which, by its deliberate action, it had already thought it desirable to suppress?" he answered. "Besides," he added, "such things belong rather to the pathology of politics. By the way, you would find some useful matter in Doctor Squelcher's great work on Political Pathology."
"That is a new term to me," I said. "Doctor Squelcher's researches have proved invaluable to the Special Medical Board in connection with the disease Znednettlapseiwz (Chronic tendency to Dissent) which you also had not heard of."
In view of this conversation my attempt to investigate Meccanian politics did not seem likely to meet with much success.
Before seeing Mr. Kwang again, I received an invitation to dine with a certain Industrial Director Blobber, one of the persons to whom I had a letter of introduction. He lived in a very pleasant villa in the Third Quarter, and as it was the first time I had had an opportunity of seeing the interior of any private menage, I was naturally rather curious to observe everything in the house. The door was opened by a servant in a livery of grey. The hall was spotlessly clean, and decorated in yellow tones, to indicate the class to which my host belonged. I was shown into what I took to be a drawing-room, the prevailing tone of which was also yellow. The first thing that struck me was the peculiar construction of the easy chairs in the room. They were all fitted with mechanical contrivances which enabled them to be adjusted in any position. At first I thought they were invalids' chairs, but they were all alike. The other furniture suggested the latest phases of Meccanian decorative Art, but it would be tedious to describe it in detail. The frieze was decorated with a curious geometrical design executed in the seven colours. There were silk hangings which at first I took to be Chinese, but which I soon saw were imitations. The carpet had the Imperial arms woven in the centre. It seems it is one of the privileges of officials of the Third Class to have the Imperial arms as a decoration on certain articles of furniture; only members of the Second and First Classes may have their own arms. The mantelpiece was large and clumsy. A bust of the reigning Emperor stood on one side and one of Prince Mechow on the other.
Mr. Blobber joined me in a few minutes. He was dressed in a lounge suit of bright yellow with green buttons. (The buttons indicated that he had been promoted from the Fourth Class.) He was polite, in a condescending sort of way, and spoke to me as if I had been a child. He was a foot taller than I am, and decidedly portly in build. He had a red face, a rather lumpy nose and a large bald forehead. He wore spectacles and was decorated with the' Mechow' beard, which he not only stroked but combed in my presence.
After the first formal greetings, he said, "So you have come all the way from the other side of the world to see our wonderful country. You had all the countries in the world to choose from, and you had the good sense to come to Meccania. You decided well, and I hope you have been profiting by your stay."
"Yes," I said; "I have seen a great many things to admire already."
"For example?" he said.
"The wonderful roof of your Great Central Station," I said.
"Ah, yes, unique, is it not? We have, of course, the finest railway stations in the world, and the finest railway system too. But that is only part of our industrial organisation."
"You have indeed a wonderful industrial system," I said, "and no industrial problem."
"No industrial problem?" he replied. "We have a great many. We do not produce half enough. Of course, compared with other countries, it may seem that we are doing very well, but we are not satisfied."
"I meant rather that you have no disturbances, no strikes, no Trade Unionism or anything of that sort."
"Of course, you cannot help thinking of what you have seen in other countries. No, we have no time for nonsense of that kind. But I take no interest in that sort of thing. I have enough to do with my work. The chief Director of the Imperial Porcelain Factory is a busy man, I assure you."
At this moment Madame Blobber came in and I was introduced to her. She was a great contrast to her husband in many ways. She was tall and rather thin--at any rate for a Meccanian--and would have been graceful but for a certain stiffness and coldness in her manner and bearing. She had a pale face with cold blue eyes. Her mouth was rather large, and her lips thin and flexible. While her husband's voice was leathery, like that of most Meccanians, hers was thin and penetrating, but not loud. We crossed into the dining-room. A butler in a chocolate-coloured livery saw that all was in order, and left the room. Waiting was unnecessary The first dishes were on the table, where they were kept hot by electricity, and others on the sideboard were afterwards handed by a woman servant in a grey uniform.
It was a rather silent meal. Mr. Blobber was much occupied with his food, which he evidently enjoyed, and at a later stage he relapsed into a sleepy condition. Madame Blobber then took the lead in the conversation. She was evidently a very well-read woman, especially in all matters relating to Art. I suspected she had no children and had made herself a blue-stocking. She talked like a professor, and with all the dogmatism of one. She said the Chinese had never had any true knowledge of colour. They had merely hit upon some colours which were pleasing to a crude taste. The Meccanians in fifty years had absorbed all the knowledge the Chinese had ever possessed, and much more besides."
I ventured to say that there were still some secrets of artistic production in porcelain that foreigners had not discovered. She laughed at the idea. The' secrets,' she said, were the very things the Meccanian experts had rejected as of no value. I might as well say that the Chinese political constitution was a secret because ihe Meccanians had not adopted it. When I suggested that scientific knowledge was not a complete equipment for Art, and would not necessarily increase the artistic powers of a nation, she said this was a mere superstition. Art was not a mystery. Every work of art admitted of being analysed; the laws of its production were ascertainable; and it could be reproduced or modified in every conceivable way.
I asked if the same were true of music. I had heard, I said, that for nearly a hundred years even the Meccanians had produced no great musician.
"Another superstition," she declared. "The great musicians, as they were called, were merely the pioneers of music. Their works were much overrated in foreign countries. We have proved by analysis," she said, "that they were merely groping for their effects. We know what they wanted to effect, and we have discovered how to get those effects. Musical psychology was an unknown science a hundred years ago. Why, the old composers had simply no means of testing the psychological effects of their works by experiment."
"I am afraid I am very ignorant of musical science," I said. "In fact, I did not even know there was such a thing as a science of music."
"What did you think music was?" she almost snapped.
"Simply one of the Arts," I said.
"There can be no art in the proper sense without a science."
"But I thought you Europeans considered that in Sculpture, for example, the Ancients had never been surpassed; and yet they had no science of sculpture."
"Their science was probably lost: but we have recovered the true science. The basis of all sculpture is accurate measurement. Whatever has bulk, whatever occupies space, can be measured, if your instruments are fine enough. Our instruments are fine enough. We can reproduce any statue ever made by any artist."
"But that is only copying," I said. "How do you create?"
"The process is a little more elaborate, but the principles are exactly the same. Even the classical sculptors had models, had they not? Well, our sculptors also use models; they pose them in thousands of different positions until they have the attitude they want; they have instruments to enable them to fix them in position, and the rest is merely accurate measurement."
"I should never have imagined that sculpture had been carried to such a point," I remarked. "Is there much of it in Meccania?"
"Not a great deal of the finer work. Accurate measurement is a slow and costly business even with our improved instruments."
"Tell me," I said,--"you see I am very ignorant of Art as understood in Meccania,--has Literature been pursued by the same scientific methods?"
"It depends upon what you mean by Literature," replied Madame Blobber.
"Broadly speaking," I said, "I mean the art of expressing ideas in language that satisfies one's sense of beauty."
"All our professional writers go through a period of training in the particular department they cultivate. For example, our writers of history are very carefully trained, writers of scientific treatises also."
"But what of your novelists and poets?" I asked.
"We do not specially encourage the writing of novels. All stories are merely variations of a few themes: all the stories worth writing have been written long ago. We print a certain number of the old novels, and we employ a few specialists to 'vamp' up new stories from the old materials, chiefly for the benefit of the lower classes. We Meccanians never really took to novel- writing, except under foreign influence, and that passed away long ago. The theme of almost all novels is domestic life and individual passion: they treat of phases of thought and feeling that our Culture tends more and more to make obsolete. We have developed the Drama much more; in fact, the drama takes the place of the novel with us."
"I have heard something of your Drama from Dr. Dodderer," I said.
"Indeed! Then you understand the fourfold treatment. That in itself would explain why we have discarded the novel. We still keep up the philosophical parable, which is a sort of link between the novel and our modern drama."
"I am afraid I should find it difficult to appreciate some of your plays," I said; "Uric Acid, for instance."
"That is only because our mental environment is in advance of the rest of Europe. Physical science, including of course medical science, is part of our mental furniture: we have assimilated whole masses of ideas that are still unfamiliar to other peoples. Naturally our drama finds its material in the affairs that interest us."
"And Poetry?" I said. "Is Poetry still cultivated?"
"Naturally! Most of our dramas are in poetry: our language lends itself admirably; it is almost as easy to write poetry as prose in our language."
"But is there no lyrical poetry?"
"Certainly; we utilise it as one of the means of cultivating the Meccanian spirit, especially among the young. No poetry is published unless it contributes to the uplifting of the Meccanian spirit."
At this point Director Blobber woke up and proposed that we should retire to his study for a glass of spirits and a cigar. Madame Blobber left us, and for the next half-hour I did my best to keep Mr. Blobber awake. But it was evident he wanted to go to bed, and by half-past nine I left the house, without any desire to see either of my hosts again.
Two days later I received another invitation, this time to dine with an Under-Secretary of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. I had not presented any letters of introduction to him. I could therefore only suspect that this invitation was in some way due to Mr. Kwang. I went, of course; but I could hardly help wondering what was in store for me. Under-Secretary Count Krafft belonged to one of the great families and wore the uniform of the Second Class, with a badge to indicate that he was now in the Civil Service, although of course he had served as an officer in the army. His wife was apparently dining elsewhere, for I saw no sign of her, and we dined tete-a-tete in a small apartment in his large mansion in the Second Quarter. He was much more a man of the world than the others I had met, and in his manners resembled the men of good family whom I had met in Luniland. After a short preliminary talk, about nothing in particular, he said he was sorry that he had not learnt of my presence in Mecco when I first arrived, particularly as I was a friend of Mr. Kwang.
"The applications from foreigners for permission to travel in Meccania," he said, by way of apology, "are not very numerous, and they are always referred to me for my signature. Yours reached us from Luniland, and was regarded as that of a mere globe-trotter. It is a pity you did not give the name of your friend, Mr. Kwang, as a reference. We think very highly of Mr. Kwang, and I should be pleased to give special facilities to any of his friends. I don't suppose you have been neglected," he added; "our officials have instructions to pay attention to the comfort of all Foreign Observers, and I am sure we do more for them than any Government I am acquainted with."
We were by this time about half-way through dinner, and under its influence I ventured upon a mild joke.
"You do everything for them," I said, "except leave them alone."
He took this in good part.
"You have been in Luniland," he remarked, "where every one does what he pleases. When you have spent as long a time here you will appreciate the wisdom of our arrangements. No doubt it seems a little irksome at first, and perhaps rather dull, especially as you have seen only the mere routine aspects of the life of the lower and middle classes--I use the old-fashioned terms, you see. But how else would you arrange matters? We cannot invite all foreign visitors, indiscriminately, to take part in our higher social life, and it would not be fair to our own citizens to allow foreigners a greater liberty than we allow to ourselves."
"So you put us in a strait-jacket," I said, laughing, "because you have to put your whole nation in a strait-jacket."
"Our whole nation in a strait-jacket," he replied, with a smile. "So that is how it strikes you, is it?"
"Well, isn't it so?" I said. "Your children are sorted out while they are at school, their play is turned into useful employment, their careers are decided for them; hardly any of them rise out of their original class. Then everybody is under the eye of the Time Department, everybody is inspected and looked after from the cradle to the grave. It is almost impossible to commit a real crime or to set up any independent institution. There is, you must admit, a certain want of freedom in your arrangements."
"But of what people are you speaking?" said Count Krafft. "You seem to have confined your attention to the lower classes. For them, in all countries, something of a strait- jacket is needed surely. Certainly it is for ours. We know our own people. When they are properly drilled and led they do wonders, but left to themselves they have always relapsed into laziness and barbarism, or else have burst out into anarchy and revolutionary fury."
"But what scope does your system allow for their energies?" I asked. "Every aspect of life seems confined by your meticulous regulations."
"That is an illusion," he replied. "You see, we are a highly intellectual people and it is quite natural for us to formulate regulations. Modern life is necessarily complex, and the chief difference between us and other nations is that we recognise the complexity and organise our activities accordingly. We are simply in advance of other nations, that is all. Take a simple thing like Railways. We organised our Railway system to suit our national purposes instead of leaving them to commercial enterprise. Take the Education of the people. The State took charge of it fifty years before other nations recognised its vital importance. Take the question of Public Health; even those States which prate about individual liberty have had to follow in our wake and organise the medical service. Besides, it is only by organising the activities of the lower classes that the State can maintain its supremacy."
"I see," I replied, "the strait-jacket is for the lower classes. I thought it was a garment worn by everybody."
"The expression was yours," he said, with an indulgent smile. "We certainly do not regard it as a strait-jacket."
"That is perhaps because the ruling classes do not wear it," I replied.
"We do not recognise any classes as ruling classes," he said suavely. "It is an obsolete expression."
"But I thought you liked to recognise facts and call things by their proper names," I replied.
"Certainly we do," he answered. "But which are the ruling classes? The Super-State is the supreme and only ruler in Meccania."
"Even in a Super-State," I said, "I should have thought, from what you have said, that some groups of persons really wielded the power of the State."