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| Chapter 10
GOING about with Ellador among familiar conditions, and seeing things I never dreamed were there, was always interesting, though sometimes painful. It was like carrying a high-powered light into dark places. As she turned her mind upon this or that feature of American life it straightway stood out sharply from the surrounding gloom, as the moving searchlight of a river boat brings out the features of the shore.
I had known clever women, learned women, even brilliant women, a few. But the learned ones were apt to be bit heavy, the clever ones twinkled and capered like spangled acrobats, and the brilliant ones shone, indeed, like planets among stars, but somehow did not illuminate much.
Ellador was simple enough, modest enough. She was always keeping in mind how little she knew of our civilization, but what she saw she saw clearly and was able to make her hearers see. As I watched her, I began to understand what a special strength it was not to have in one's mind all the associate ideas and emotions ours are so full of. She could take up the color question, for instance, and discuss it dispassionately, with no particular sentiment, one way or the other. I heard her once with a Southern sociologist, who was particularly strong on what he called "race conflict."
He had been reading a paper at some scientific meeting which we attended, a most earnest paper, full of deep feeling and some carefully selected facts. He spoke of the innate laziness of the negro race, their inborn objection to work, their ineducability — very strong on this — but his deepest horror was "miscegenation." This he alluded to in terms of the utmost loathing, hardly mitigated by the statement that it was impossible.
"There is," he averred, "an innate, insuperable, ineradicable, universal race antipathy, which forever separates the negro from the white."
Ellador had her chance at him afterward, with quite a group about, and he was too polite or insufficiently ingenious to escape. First she asked him what was the market price of a good, able-bodied negro before the war; if it was not, as she had read, about a thousand dollars. To this he agreed unsuspectingly. She inquired, further, if there had not been laws in the slave States forbidding the education of negroes, and if there were not laws still forbidding their intermarriage with whites. To this he agreed also; he had to. Then she asked whether the sudden emancipation of the negro had not ruined many rich men; if the major part of the wealth of the South had not been in slaves and the products of their labor. Here again could be no denial.
"But," she said, "I do not understand, yet. If negroes can not or will not work, why was one worth a thousand dollars? And how could the owners have accumulated wealth from their inefficiency? If they could not learn anything, why was it necessary to make laws forbidding their education; and if there is this insuperable antipathy separating the races, why are the laws against miscegenation needed?" He was quite naturally incensed. There were a good many of his previous hearers about, some of them looking quite pleased, and he insisted rather stormily that there was this deep-seated antipathy, and that every Southerner, at least, knew it.
"At what age does it begin?" she asked him. He looked at her, not getting the drift of her question.
"This innate antipathy," she pursued gently. "I have seen the Southern babies clinging to their black nurses most affectionately. At what age does the antipathy begin?" He talked a good bit then, with much heat, but did not seem to meet the points she raised, merely reiterating much of what he had said before. Then she went on quite calmly.
"And your millions of mulattos — they appear, not only against the law, but against this insuperable antipathy?"
This seemed to him so unwomanly of her, that he made some hasty excuse and got away, but his position was upheld by another man, for a moment. His little speech was mainly emotion, there are such hot depths of feeling on this subject in the children of slave owners that clear reasoning is naturally hard to find. This man made a fine little oration, with much about the noble women of the South, and how he, or any man, would lay down his life to protect them against the faintest danger of social contact with the colored race, against the abomination of a proposal of marriage from a black man.
"Do you mean," said Ellador slowly, her luminous eyes on his, "that if black men were free to propose to white women, the white women would accept them?"
At this he fairly foamed with horror. "A white woman of the South would no sooner marry a black man than she would a dog."
"Then why not leave it to the women?" she inquired.
Neither of these men were affected, save in the way of deep annoyance, by Ellador's gentle questions, but many of her hearers were, and she, turning that searchlight of hers on the subject, later announced to me that it seemed rather a long but by no means a difficult problem.
"About ten million negroes, counting all the mulattos, quardroons, octaroons and so on, to about ninety million whites," she said.
"As a mere matter of interbreeding, following the previous habits of the white men, it could be worked out mathematically — how long it would take to eliminate the negro, I mean."
"But suppose there remains a group of negroes, that have race pride and prefer to breed true to the stock," I suggested. "What then?"
"If they are decent, orderly and progressive, there is no problem, surely. It is the degraded negro that is so feared. The answer to that is easy. Compulsory and efficient education, suitable employment at fair wages, under good conditions — why, don't you see, dear," she interrupted herself to say, "the proof that it is not impossible is in what has been accomplished already. Here you white people wickedly brought over the ocean a great lot of reluctant black ones, and subjected them to several generations of slavery. Yet in those few generations these previously savage people have made noble progress."
She reeled off to me a list of achievements of the negro race, which I found surprising. Their development in wealth, in industry, in the professions, even the arts, was, considering the circumstances, astonishing.
"All you have to do is to improve the cultural conditions, to increase the rate of progress. It's no problem at all."
"You are a wonder," I told her. "You come out of that little far away heaven of yours, and dip into our tangle of horror and foolishness, and as soon as the first shock is over, you proceed to administer these little doses of wisdom, as if a mere pill or two would set the whole world straight."
"It would," said Ellador, "if you'd take it."
"Do you mean that seriously?" I demanded.
"I do. Why not? Why, Van — you've got all the necessary ingredients for peace and happiness. You don't have to wait a thousand years to grow. You're here. It's just a little matter of — behaving differently."
I laughed. "Exactly, my dear. And in Herland, so far as I make out, you behave accordingly to your perceptions and decisions. Here we don't."
"No," she admitted, grudgingly, "You don't, not yet. But you could" she persisted, triumphantly. "You could in a minute, if you wanted to."
I ducked this large proposition, and asked her if she had an 'answer to the Jewish race question as simple as that of the negro.
"What's the question?" she countered.
"I suppose there's more than one question involved," I answered slowly, "but mine would be: why don't people like Jews?"
"I wont be severe with your question, Van, though it's open to criticism. Not all people feel this race prejudice. And I'll tell you frankly that this is a bigger wide spread. It has deeper roots. I've one than the other. It's older. It's more looked into it — a little?"
I grinned. "Well, you young encyclopaedia, what did you discover?"
"I soon discovered that the very general dislike to this one people is not due to the religious difference between them and Christians; it was quite as general and strong, apparently, in very ancient times."
"Do you think it is a race feeling, then, an 'insuperable, ineradicable,' etc., antipathy."
"No," she said, "there are other Semitic and allied races to whom there is no general objection. I don't think it can be that. I have several explanations to suggest, of varying weight. Here's one of them. The Jews are the only surviving modern people that have ever tried to preserve the extremely primitive custom of endogenous marriage. Everywhere else, the exogenous habit proved itself best and was generally accepted. This people is the only one which has always assumed itself to be superior to every other people and tried to prevent intermarriage with them."
"That's twice you've said 'tried," I put in. "Do you mean that they have not succeeded?"
"Of course they haven't," she replied, cheerfully. "When people endeavor to live in defiance of natural law, they are not as a rule very successful."
"But, they boast the purity of their race —"
"Yes, I know they do, and other people accept it. But, Van, dear, surely you must have noticed the difference between, say, the Spanish and the German Jews, for instance. Social contract will do much in spite of Ghettos, but it hardly alters the color of the eyes and hair."
"Well, my dear, if it is not religion, nor yet race, what is it?"
"I have two other suggestions, one sociologic, one psychic. The first is this: In the successive steps of social evolution, the Jewish people seem not to have passed the tribal stage. They never made a real nation. Apparently they can't. They live in other nations perforce."
"Why perforce?" I interrupted.
"Well, if they don't die, they have to live somewhere, Van. And unless they go and set up a new nation in a previously uninhabited country, or on the graves of the previous inhabitants, they have to live in other nations, don't they?"
"But they were a nation once," I urged.
"In a way, — yes. They had a piece of land to live on and they lived on it, as tribes, not as one people. According to their own account, ten out of twelve of these tribes got lost, somehow, and the others didn't seem to mind. No — they could not maintain the stage of social organization rightly called a nation.
Their continuing entity is that of a race, as we see in far lesser instance in gypsies. And the more definitely organized peoples have, not a racial, but a sociological aversion to this alien form of life, which is in them, but not of them."
"But, Ellador, do not the modern Jews make good citizens in whatever country they are in?"
"They do, in large measure, wherever they are allowed," she agreed; "and both this difference and the old marriage difference would long ago have been outgrown but for the last one — the psychic one."
"Do you mean what that writer in Blackwoods said about Spain: "There seems to be something Spanish in the minds of Spaniards which causes them to act in a Spanish manner?"
She laughed. "All of that, Van, and a lot more." She stopped, looking away toward the far horizon. "I never tire of the marvel and interest of your mixed humanity" she resumed. "You see we were just us. For two thousand years we have been one stock and one sex. It's no wonder we can think, feel, act as one. And it's no wonder you poor things have had such a slow, tumultuous time of it. All kinds of races, all kinds of countries, all kinds of conditions, and the male sex to manage everything. Why, Van, the wonder is that before this last worldquake of war, you could travel about peaceably almost anywhere, I understand. Surely that ought to prove, once and for all how safe and quiet the world might be."
"But about the Jews?" I urged at last.
"Oh, yes. Well, dear, as I see it, people are moving on to a wide and full mutual understanding, with peace, of course, free trade and social intercourse and intermarriage, until everyone is what you call civilized. Against this process stood first total ignorance and separation. Then opposing interests. Then opposing ideas. To-day it is ideas that do the most damage. Look at poor Europe. Every interest calls them together but their different mental content holds them apart. Their egregiously false histories, their patriomanias, their long-nursed hatreds and vengeances — oh it is pathetic."
"Yes — and the Jews?"
"Oh dear me, Van, they're only one people. I get so interested in the world at large that I forget them. Well, what the Jews did was to make their patriomania into a religion."
I did not get that and said so.
"It was poorly put," she admitted. "They couldn't be patriomaniacs without a fatherland, could they? But it was the same feeling at a lower stage, applied only to the race. They thought they were 'the chosen people' — of God."
"Didn't other races think the same thing? Don't they yet?" I urged.
"Oh in a way, they do — some of them. Especially since the Jews made a Bible of it. You see, Van, the combination was peculiar. The special talent of this race is in literary expression. Other races had their sorrows but could not utter them. Carthage had no Jeremiah; nor has Armenia."
She saw that I was impressed by this point.
"You have Greece in its sculpture, its architecture and its objective literature. Even Greek history is a story told by an artist, a description. Rome lives in its roads, I have read, as well as its arts and its power of social organization. Rome, if it could have survived its besetting sins, was a super-nation, the beginning of a real world people. Egypt, India, — they all have something, but none of them concentrated on literature as the Jews did, having no other social expression."
"Why Ellador, don't you call their religion anything? Haven't they lifted the world with great religious concepts?"
She smiled at me, that gentle warm, steady smile of hers. "Forgive an outsider, please. I know that the Christian religion rests on the Jewish books, and that it hard indeed to see around early teachings. But I have read your Bible carefully, and some little of the latest study and criticism upon it. I think the Christian races have helped the Jews to overestimate their religion."
"You've never said much about our various religions, my fair foreigner, What do you really think about them?"
This she pondered carefully.
"It's a large subject to try to comment on in a few words, but I can say this — they are certainly improving."
I had to laugh. This was such faint praise for our highest institution.
"How do you measure them, O casual observer?"
"By their effect upon the people, of course. Naturally, each set of believers holds its own to be the All True, and as naturally that is impossible. But there is enough truth and enough good will in your religions if you would only use them, instead of just believing them."
"And do you not think, especially considering the time of its development, that the Jewish concept of one God, the Jewish ethical ideal, was a long step upward?"
"It was a step, certainly, but, Van, they did not think their God was the only one. He was just Theirs. A private tribal God, openly described as being jealous of the others. And as to their ethics and the behavior of the people — you have only to read their own books to see how bad it was. Van, no religion can be truly good where the initial doctrines are false, or even partly false. That utterly derogatory concept of a God who could curse all humanity because of one man's doing what he knew he would, a God so petty as to pick out one small people for no better reason than that they gave him some recognition, and to set his face against all the rest of his equally descended 'children' — can't you see how unethical, how morally degrading, such a religion must be?"
"It was surely better than others at the time," I insisted.
"That may be, but the others of that period have mercifully perished. They weren't so literary. Don't you see, by means of their tremendous art this people have immortalized their race egotism and their whole record of religious aspirations, mistakes and failures, in literature. That is what has given them their lasting place in the world. But the effect of this primitive religion, immortalized by art, and thrust upon the world so long, has been far from good. It has well-nigh killed Christianity, from its cradle. It has been the foundation of most of those hideous old wars and persecutions. With quotations from that Hebrew 'voice of God' the most awful deeds have been committed and sanctioned. I consider it in many ways a most evil religion."
"But we have, as you say, accepted it; so it does not account for the general dislike for which you were offering explanations."
"The last explanation was the psychic one," she went on. "What impresses me here is this: The psychic attitude of this people presents to all the other inhabitants of the world a spirit of concentrated pride. It rests first on the tribal animus, with that old endogenous marriage custom; and then on this tremendous literary-religious structure. One might imagine generations of Egyptians making their chief education a study of the pyramids, sphynxes and so on, or generations of Greeks bringing up their children in the ceaseless contemplation of the Acropolis, or the works of their dramatists; but with the Jews, as a matter of fact, we do see, century after century of education in their ancient language, in their ancient books, and everlasting study and discussion of what remote dead men have written. This has given a peculiar intensity to the Jewish character — a sort of psychic inbreeding; they have a condensed spirit, more and more so as time passes, and it becomes increasingly inimical to the diffused spirit of modern races. Look at the pale recent imitation of such a spirit given in Germany. They have tried in a generation or two to build up and force upon their people an intense national spirit, with, of course, the indwelling egotism essential to such an undertaking. Now, suppose all German national glory rested on a few sacred books; their own early writings imposed upon the modern world; and suppose that German spirit, even now so offensive to other nations, had been concentrated and transmitted for thousands of years. Do you think people would like them?"
I was silent a bit. Her suggestions were certainly novel, and in no way resembled what I had heard before, either for or against this "peculiar people."
"What's the answer?" I said at last. "Is it hopeless?"
"Certainly not. Aren't they born babies, with dear little, clean, free minds? Just as soon as people recognize the evil of filling up new minds with old foolishness, they can make over any race on earth."
"That won't change 'race characteristics,' will it?"
"No, not the physical ones," she answered. "Intermarriage will do that."
"It looks to me as though your answer to the Jewish question was — leave off being Jews. Is that it?"
"In a measure it is," she said slowly. "They are world-people and can enrich the world with their splendid traits. They will keep, of course, their high race qualities, their special talents and virtues, by a chosen, not an enforced, selection. Some of the noblest people are Jews, some of the nicest. That can't be denied. But this long-nursed bunch of ancient mistakes — it is high time they dropped it. What is the use of artificially maintaining characteristics which the whole world dislikes, and then complaining of race prejudice? Of course, there is race prejudice, a cultural one; and all the rest of you will have to bring up your children without that. It is only the matter of a few generations at most."
This was a part of the spirit of Herland to which I was slow in becoming accustomed. Their homogeneous, well-ordered life extended its social consciousness freely, ahead as well as backwards; their past history was common knowledge, and their future development even more commonly discussed. They planned centuries ahead and accomplished what they planned. When I thought of their making over the entire language in the interests of childhood, of their vast field of cultural literature, of such material achievements as their replanting all their forests, I began to see that the greatness of a country is not to be measured by linear space, in extent of land, nor arithmetically by numbers of people, nor shallowly by the achievements of the present and a few left-overs, but by the scope of its predetermined social advance.
As this perception grew within me, it brought first a sense of shame for all the rest of the world, and even more intensely for my own country, which had such incomparable advantages. But after a little, instead of shame, which is utter waste, I began to see life as I never had before: as a great open field of work; in which we were quite free to do as we would. We have always looked at it as a hopeless tangle of individual lives, short, aimless threads, as blindly mixed as the grass stems in a haystack. But collectively, as nations, taking sufficient time, there was nothing we could not do. I told her of my new vision, and she was dumbly happy — just held my hand, her eyes shining.
"That's how to stand the misery and failure, isn't it?" I said. "That's how not to be discouraged at the awfulness of things; and the reason you take up these separate 'questions' so lightly is that none of them mean much alone. The important thing is to get people to think and act together."
"There's nothing on earth to hinder them, Van, dear, except what's in their heads. And they can stop putting it in, in the babies, I mean, and can put it out of their own, at least enough to get to work. They are beginning, you know."
She spoke most encouragingly, most approvingly, of the special efforts we were making in small groups or as individuals to socialize various industries and functions, but with far more fervor of the great "movements."
"The biggest of all, and closest related, are your women's movement and labor movement. Both seem to be swiftly growing stronger. The most inclusive forward-looking system is Socialism, of course. What a splendid vision of immediate possibilities that is. I can not accustom myself to your not seeing it at once. Of course, the reason is plain: your minds are full of your ancient mistakes, too; not so much racial and religious, as in beliefs of economic absurdities. It is so funny!"
It always nettled me a little to have her laugh at us. That she should be shocked and horrified at the world I had expected; that she should criticise and blame; but to have her act as though all our troubles were easily removable, and we were just a pack of silly fools not to set about it — this was irritating.
"Well, dear," she pursued pleasantly, "doesn't it look funny to you, like a man sleeping cold with good blankets at the foot of his bed; like Mr. Tantalus, quite able to get what he wanted, if he would only reach?"
"If what you said was so — " I began.
"And why isn't it, dear?"
"The trouble is, I think, in your psychology. You, as a free-minded Herlander, can not seem to see how helpless we are in our minds. All these ages of enforced belief have done something to us, I tell you. We can't change all in a minute."
"The worst thing that has been done to you is to fill your poor heads with this notion that you cannot help yourselves. Tell me, now, what is there to hinder you?"
"You had better be studying as to what does hinder us," I answered, "and explain it so that we can do something. We mean well. We are fairly well educated. We are, as you say, rich enough and all that. But we, up to date, seem unable to get together on any line of concerted action toward better living."
"I have been studying just that, Van, ever since I first came. Of course after I saw how things were, that was the only thing to do."
"Well?" I said, and again, "Well?"
She sat considering, turning over some books and papers that lay on the table beside her. A lovely picture she made, unique among the women of this land, she had the smooth rounded freedom of body we see in noble statues, and whatever her new friends tried to make her wear, she insisted upon a dress of such simplicity as did not contradict her natural lines and movements. Her face had changed, somewhat, in our two years of travel and study; there was a sadness in it, such as it never wore in Herland, such as I never seen in anyone while there; and for all her quiet courtesy, her gentle patience, her scientific interest and loving kindness, there was a lonely look about her, as of some albatross in a poultry yard.
To me she was even more tender and delicately sympathetic than in our first young happiness. She seemed to be infinitely sorry for me, though carefully refraining from expressing it. Our common experiences, our studying and seeing so much together, had drawn us very close, and for my own part I had a curious sense of growing detachedness from the conditions about me and an overwhelming attachment to her which transcended every other tie. It seemed as if my love for her as a human being, such love as a brother, a sister, a friend might feel, was now so much greater than my love of her as a woman, my woman, that I could not miss that fulfilment much while so contented in the larger relation.
I thought of the many cases I had known where the situation was absolutely reversed, where a man loved a woman solely because of sex desire, without ever knowing her nature as a person, without even wanting to.
I was very happy with Ellador.