An Interview With Edward Bellamy

An Interview With Edward Bellamy  (1889) 
by Frances Elizabeth Willard

Source: Our Day, vol. 4, no. 24 (Dec. 1889), pp. 539–542.

Of good old New England stock; son of a Baptist pastor who for years went in and out before the church at Chicopee Falls, a few miles from Springfield, Mass.; a student of Union College, Schenectady, N. Y.; a graduate in law, but not working at it much; a journalist and author both born and made, - such, in a word, is Edward Bellamy. In figure of medium height, harmonious proportions, and agile movement; in forehead full and broad, with thoughtful dark-blue eyes, radiating good will; with mobile lips, parenthesized by a dark-brown moustache, the cheeks covered by a stubby beard; and the dress a little careless, - this he is to look upon. In manner quiet, yet observant, modest but perfectly self-poised, with mild and gentle tones, yet full of personality, and vibrating with purposes, - thus did he impress me on the occasion of a recent interview, asked for by me, in the home of my friends, Mr. and Mrs. O. M. Baker, of Springfield, Mass. About two years ago I had read his book, misleadingly entitled "Looking Backward," when it really looks forward and predicts the status of humanity a hundred years from now. The views presented were so novel, optimistic, and, as I thought, conceivable, that, in spite of my great regret that he should in those halcyon days still represent wine and cigars as luxuries, I wrote to his publishers asking who, where, and what this Edward Bellamy might be.

"We do not know," they said, " except that his letters are mailed from Chicopee Falls, Mass."

So then I wrote him, saying that his central thought that government should in a future age take the same relation to industry that it now holds to war, namely, afford to every one all of life's comforts in exchange for every one's industrial service, seemed to one most interesting, and not by any means chimerical. A life-long student of the New Testament, I had long since believed that competition was not the higher law, hence not the holy and immutable principle that old-school Presbyterians among political economists claim it to be. The author of the far-famed book had replied to me that he held altogether different views from mine; believing that, the labor question once settled on the gospel basis, strong drink and other vices would speedily loosen their hold upon the working class, now their most unresisting victims. While I did not accept his solution of these difficulties, I waived the question, intent upon gaining his point of view upon his specialty, and only sorry that he declined my own upon my specialty. From then to now, we had corresponded at infrequent intervals; I had urged my friends to read his book, and was long ago, as I believe, the means of introducing it into a noble group of students at Oxford University, where it has been studied by them with all the enthusiasm of youth and hope. And now he was to tell me some whys and wherefores of his theory. Omitting my many frank questions, let me give some of the points that made his ready utterance so full of interest. "I am a married man with a boy four and a girl three years old. I believe a man must have a daughter of his own before he really learns how to sympathize with women in their difficult relations to life. Now I do not propose that my boy shall get ahead of his little sister in opportunity, so far as I can influence the forms of society. I would make women absolutely independent of men to the extent that material values are concerned, - thus sweeping away atone stroke the greatest temptation the physically weaker has to go wrong, and the most potent weapon of the physically stronger in putting her at disadvantage and himself to shame. I would leave a woman as free in her choice of a life-companion as man has always been. Not to do so is a tyranny that has only been maintained in this age of intelligence by force of the poverty among women as a class. Under my system men will be chosen on their individual merit, and not because they can 'support a wife.' The present misunderstandings and jealousies of the sexes toward each other will be largely eliminated by this perfect independence each of the other in financial matters. This vast change, by which the government sets about utilizing the brain and brawn of its constituents in their own interest, must come by evolution rather than revolution. Little by little changes will be wrought out, as for instance the nationalization of railways, not by confiscating stocks, as some have ignorantly supposed, but by the United States becoming the great receiver alike of solvent and insolvent, and paying dividends on a reasonable valuation. In like manner, coal mines would be turned over, paying a suitable interest to the present owners and doing away with artificial rates. They now have artificial rates because they shut down in order to raise the price of coal; we would open the mines to lower it. The telegraph and telephone naturally belong to the national service, and we would make them part and parcel of it. Municipalities are now lighted, heated, and the means of transportation furnished, by great corporations. But why not let the municipality be itself that corporation? We want more humane conditions for the employee; corporations don't furnish those conditions, and they will not. We want children kept in school, instead of being sent out to earn money; and we say, here in Massachusetts, "You shall send your child to school," but the fact is, the families of the poor can't afford, under the present system, to lose their children's work. Hence you can't enforce your truancy law, and Chicago proves it as well as Massachusetts. Our mills are full of children, twelve to fourteen years old, stunted in body and mind. They are required by law to be in school twenty weeks in the year, while well-to-do children have thirty-five; and then these poor creatures stop at fourteen! What chance is that for intellectual development? It is a travesty of education. But the working people are confederating: Knights of Labor, Locomotive Engineers, Trainsmen, etc., are going to work together after a little, and thus condense their power. We who believe in nationalism are forming clubs in all the centres, and we have two papers: 'The Dawn,' edited by Rev. W. D. P. Bliss, an Episcopal clergyman of Boston, and 'The Nationalist' at Hamilton Place, in the same city. Both are already self-supporting, and both spread our propaganda far and wide. Women are very friendly to our movement. Miss Anne Whitney, the famous sculptor, opened her parlors on Beacon Street to us; Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, Mrs. [[../Abby Morton Diaz|Abby Morton Diaz]], and many other leaders, are our friends. Edward Everett Hale and Colonel T. W. Higginson are with us. Howells is strongly sympathetic, as his recent story of 'Annie Kilburn' proves. Mark Twain is looking our way with great interest. The clergy is sympathetic, too. Kev. Dr. Gifford, one of the ablest young men in America, is on our side; also Rev. Albert Lawson, Philip Moxom, and eleven others in Boston alone. This movement will bring the common people back to the church; they always heard Christ gladly. Substantially, his sermons were on the unity and brotherhood of man. A resume of the Ten Commandments contains all we are working for, - that and the socialism of the early church, as stated in the accounts of Pentecost. Christians form the best class in society, but they have lacked a practical working plan, and our movement supplies that lack. The partnership principle is the backbone of our philosophy. Our methods are moderate and are twofold, - educational and political. We have as large a stake in the community, where our families are located, as anybody. We do not mean revolution, but evolution, as I said before. Some say we need a new religion. I think we need the old sort, only we might well talk about it less and live it out more." In reply to other queries Mr. Bellamy, who is one of the most genial and communicative of men, told me that it took up most of his time, these days, to answer the letters that crowd in upon him from all quarters, and to write articles explanatory of these new plans. He also speaks considerably, and as his book (now published by Houghton & Mifflin of Boston) is selling at the rate of a thousand per week (one hundred and thirty-three thousand being already sold), he will doubtless be more and more in demand upon the platform. His book was written in 1887, and published the spring of 1888. As he started to go I said, "It seems to me you are your mother's boy: is that the case?" "I was always thought to be like her in mental and spiritual constitution," was his smiling answer. I learned that his wife is from a W. C. T. U. family, her mother being one of the active workers in Springfield, Mass. It was inevitable that the development of monopolies should develop a movement of this kind. Classes can only be offset by masses. A Jay Gould demands an Edward Bellamy.

Frances E. Willard.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.