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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/476

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an axe, and, with a view to diminish or destroy the power of the stick to perform work, chopped it into several pieces; whereupon, each piece immediately began to bring as much water as one had formerly done; and in the end not only the magician but the whole world was deluged and destroyed.

The proposition, that "all transitions in the life of society, even those to a better stage, are inevitably accompanied by human suffering," is undoubtedly correct. It is impossible, as an old-time writer (Sir James Stewart, 1767) has remarked, to even sweep a room without raising a dust and occasioning temporary discomfort. But those who are inclined to take discouraging and pessimistic views of recent economic movements, seem not only to forget this, but also to content themselves with looking mainly at the bad results of such movements, in place of the good and bad together. So it is not difficult to understand how a person like the Russian novelist Tolstoi, a man of genius, but whose life and writings show him to be eccentric almost to the verge of insanity, should, after familiarizing himself with peasant life in Russia, come to the conclusion "that the edifice of civil society, erected by the toil and energy of countless generations, is a crumbling ruin." But the trials and vicissitudes of life as Tolstoi finds them among the masses of Russia are the result of an original barbarism and savagery from which the composite races of that country have not yet been able to emancipate themselves; coupled with the existence of a typically despotic government, which throttles every movement for increased freedom in respect to both person and thought. But these are results for which the higher civilization of other countries is in nowise responsible and can not at present help, but the indirect influence of which will, without doubt, in time powerfully affect and even entirely change. No one, furthermore, can familiarize himself with life as it exists in the slums and tenement houses of all great cities in countries of the highest civilization; or in sterile Newfoundland, where all nature is harsh and niggardly; or in sunny Mexico and the islands of the West Indies, where she is all bountiful and attractive, without finding much to sicken him with the aspects under which average humanity presents itself. But even here the evidence is absolutely conclusive that matters are not worse, but almost immeasurably better than formerly; and that the possibilities for melioration, through what may be termed the general drift of affairs, is, beyond all comparison, greater than at any former period.

The first and signal result of the recent remarkable changes in the conditions of production and distribution, which in turn have been so conducive of industrial and societary disturbances, has been to greatly increase the abundance and reduce the price of most useful and desirable commodities. If some may say, "What of that, so long as distribution is impeded and has not been correspondingly perfected?" it may be answered, that production and distribution in virtue of a