Pictures of the Socialistic Future
I FIND myself still quite solitary at home, a thing I have never known since I was a single young man.
My poor wife still lingers on at the hospital, and the doctor lately asked me to make as few visits as I possibly could to her, so that she might be kept from all excitement. For she no sooner sees me than she throws her arms passionately round my neck, as though I had just been rescued from some alarming danger. When I have to leave her there is a renewal of these agitating scenes, and it is long before she can reconcile herself to the idea of my going. After the conversations we have had together, her thoughts naturally wander back to me and the other members of the family; and the more she suffers them to run in this groove the more anxiety and uncertainty does she feel on our account. She is constantly fancying us exposed to all kinds of dreadful persecutions and perils, and is afraid of never seeing us more. The shock her system sustained through the death of our little daughter, and through the events connected with the flight of Franz and Agnes, still affects her most severely.
My wish was to consult our former doctor on her case. He knows her system thoroughly well, as he has attended her, when occasion required, ever since our marriage. When I called upon him he had just returned from a youthful suicide, whom he had in vain endeavoured to call back to life. He told me he was extremely sorry to say that his eight hours maximum working-day had just expired, and that such being the case, he was unable, although much against his will, and in spite of the friendship between us, to give any more medical advice on that day. He told me that he had already, on two occasions, been denounced by a younger colleague, who was not able to render a sufficient number of coupons to the State Book-keeping Department, to prove that he had been engaged professionally for eight hours each day. This young man had laid an information against him for exceeding the hours of labour, and he had been heavily fined for over-production.
Commenting upon the case he had just returned from, the old gentleman enlarged upon the frightful increase in the number of suicides in the socialistic Community. I asked him whether this one had been a case of unrequited love. He replied in the negative, but went on to say that such cases did sometimes occur, precisely as formerly, as it would scarcely do to prohibit women by act of Parliament from rejecting proposals which were not agreeable to them. The old gentleman who, in his younger days, had been an army surgeon, attributed the increase in the number of suicides to other causes. He told me he had frequently observed that a considerable number of such suicides as took place in the army arose from the simple fact that many young men, although they felt perfectly content in all other respects, found the unaccustomed restraints of military life utterly unbearable. These young men found life under such circumstances unendurable, even although they knew that in the course of two or three years they would return to their accustomed freedom. Hence, it was no wonder, he continued, that the irksome and life-long restrictions of personal freedom which have resulted from the new organisation of production and consumption, together with the idea of the absolute social equality of all, should have had the effect with many persons, and those by no means of an inferior order, of so far robbing life of all its charms, that at last they had recourse to suicide as the only way of escape from the restraints of a dreary and monotonous existence, which all their efforts were powerless to alter. It is very possible the old gentleman is not altogether in the wrong.
It is cheering to reflect that we have good news from Franz and Agnes in America. This is the only ray of sunshine in my life. They write that they have already left the boarding-house in New York, in which they stayed immediately after their marriage, and have managed to get a humble little home together. Through being an excellent hand at his trade, and through his honourable character, Franz has become foreman in a first-class printing concern. Agnes works for a large millinery establishment, and it seems that the wages in this branch have gone up considerably in America since the competition on the part of Germany has fallen so seriously in arrears. Thus, by economy, they are enabled to buy one thing after another for their cosy home. Franz was terribly upset by the news of his little sister's death, and he much wants me to send Ernst over to him, and promises to provide for his future.
No words could describe how sorry I feel for Ernst at his school. And, in fact, as a general thing, one hears nothing but unfavourable accounts of these schools, more particularly of those which are occupied by young men of from eighteen to twenty-one years of age. These young men all know that upon the completion of their twenty-first year, irrespective of what they have learnt, or whether they have learnt much or little, precisely the same fate awaits them all. They know they will find exactly the same course prescribed for them that is prescribed for all alike, and that no efforts or talents will ever avail to enable them to pass beyond that prescribed course. They know, further, that the fact of their tastes lying in this or that particular direction, affords not the slightest guarantee of their receiving an appointment in accordance with those tastes, or even in any approximate accordance with them. The result is, that almost without exception they run into all sorts of extravagance and excess, so that lately such severe measures had to be taken for keeping them within bounds as could scarcely be surpassed in reformatories.
But in spite of all this, I dare not yet venture to whisper a word to Ernst about flight. Even if I could devise a sure way of getting the young fellow on board a foreign vessel, and supposing I had any means of recouping Franz for the expense of the journey, I should still feel incapable of taking such a decisive step for Ernst's future, without his mother's full acquiescence. And to talk to her of such a thing, in her present frame of mind, might be her death.
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