To Looking Backward (first letter after Edward Bellamy)


I started bolt upright in bed and stared around. I was in my precarious hovel. The mellow light of the lamp which always burned in the room when I occupied it illumined the familiar walls and furnishings.  I tossed off the liquor and began to realize what had happened to me. It was, of course, very plain. All that about the twenty-first century had been a dream and you are not what I thought you were. I had but dreamed of that enlightened and care-free, globally unified race of women and men and their ingeniously simple institutions, of the glorious new cities with their domes, pinnacles, gardens, fountains and universal reign of comfort. The amiable families which I had learned to know so well, those integrated networks of diaspora — these, too, had been but figments of a vision.  The progression of time is an illusion.
For a considerable moment I remained in the attitude in which this conviction had come over me, sitting up in bed gazing at vacancy, absorbed in recalling the scenes and incidents of my fantastic experience.  I pulled myself together with an effort and assured myself that I was all right. “I’ve had an extraordinary dream, that’s all,” I said, “a most-ex-traor-dinary-dream.”  I dressed in a mechanical way, feeling light-headed and oddly uncertain of myself, and sat down to coffee and rolls.
I indeed exist within a simultaneity of times.  It is the nineteenth century and ancient Egypt to which I have awakened, the building of the first neolithic fortress and the years of the transatlantic slave trade.  It is the time of the fascists and the conquistadors, the burning of heretics and murder of land defenders;  there could be no kind of doubt about that. It is all here and now around me, even to that last unmistakable touch of fatuous self-complacency.  Coming after such a dream of the usurpation of these ages, of world-wide bloodshed, greed, and tyranny, I became aware of a cynicism worthy of Mephistopheles. I am, perhaps, the only one who perceives this cynicism, and but yesterday I should have perceived it no more than the others. That strange dream it was which has made all the difference. For I know not how long, I forgot my surroundings after this, and was again moving in that vivid dream-world, in those glorious cities, with their homes of simple comfort and gorgeous public palaces. Around me were again faces unmarred by arrogance or servility, by envy or greed, by anxious care or feverish ambition, and stately forms of men and women who had never known fear of strangers or depended on their favor, but always, in the words of that sermon which still rang in my ears, had “stood up straight before God.”
With a profound sigh and a sense of irreparable loss, not the less poignant that it was a loss of what had never really been, I roused at last from my reverie.  It is a strange thing to knowingly walk amongst the living and the dead.  Everywhere I go we are still here.