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Title: A Positive Romance - 1898
Author: Bellamy, Edward
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Positive Romance - 1898" ***


By Edward Bellamy


My friend Hammond is a bachelor, and lives in chambers in New York.
Whenever we meet on my occasional visits to the city, he insists on my
spending the night with him. On one of these occasions we had been
at the opera during the evening, and had witnessed an ovation to a
beautiful and famous singer. We had been stirred by the enthusiasm of
the audience, and on our walk home fell to discussing a theme suggested
by the scene; namely, the tendency of man to assume a worshipful
attitude towards woman, and the reason for it. Was it merely a phase of
the passional relation between the sexes, or had it some deeper and more
mysterious significance?

When I mentioned the former idea, Hammond demanded why this tendency
was not reciprocal between the sexes. As a matter of fact, while women
showed endless devotion and fondness for men, their feeling was without
the strain of adoration. Particular men’s qualities of mind or heart
might excite the enthusiastic admiration of women, but such admiration
was for cause, and in no way confounded with the worshipful reverence
which it was man’s instinct to extend to woman as woman, with secondary
reference to her qualities as a particular person. No fact in the
relations of men and women, he declared, was more striking than this
contrast in their mutual attitudes. It was the feminine, not the
masculine, ideal which supplied the inspiration of art and the aroma of
literature, which was found enshrined in the customs and common speech
of mankind. To this I replied that man, being the dominant sex, had
imposed his worship on the race as a conquering nation, its gods on
the conquered. He, not woman, had been the creator of the art, the
literature, and the language which were dedicated to her. Had woman been
the dominant sex, the reverse might have happened, and man been obliged
to stand upon a pedestal and be worshiped.

Hammond laughed, but declared that I was all wrong. Man’s tendency to
worship woman, while naturally blending with his passional attraction
towards her, did not spring from the instinct of sex, but from the
instinct of race,--a far deeper and generally unrecognized impulse.
Even though woman should become some day the dominant sex, man need
suffer no apprehension of being worshiped. His modesty would be

Some time later, when we had cozily established ourselves before a
sea-coal fire in Hammond’s quarters, with divers creature comforts at
hand for one of our usual symposiums, the subject came up again; and
under conditions so favorable to discursiveness our talk took a wide

“By the way,” said I, apropos of some remark he had made, “talking about
the adoration of woman, did not that crack-brained Frenchman, Auguste
Comte, propose something of the sort as a feature of his ‘Religion of

Hammond nodded.

“I wonder,” I said, “whether that feature of his scheme was ever
actually practiced by his followers. I should like to get a chance to
ask a Positivist about that, if indeed there are any in America.”

Hammond smoked in silence for some time, and finally said, quietly,
“Possibly I might tell you something about it myself.”

“Hello!” I exclaimed. “How long since you have been a Positivist?”

“About twenty-five years,” was the matter-of-fact reply.

“A Positivist of twenty-five years’ standing,” I ejaculated, “and never
told of it! Why have you hid your light under a bushel all this while?”

“I said that it was twenty-five years since I had been a Positivist,”
 replied Hammond; “as long, in fact, as it is since I have been a
sophomore. Both experiences belonged to the same year of my college
course, and, perhaps you may infer, to the same stage of intellectual
development. For about six months at that time I was as ardent a
convert, I fancy, as the Religion of Humanity ever had.”

“I thought you had told me all about yourself long ago,” I said. “How
is it that you have kept so mum about this experience? I should fancy it
must have been a decidedly odd one.”

“It was a very odd one,” replied Hammond,--“the strangest passage, on
the whole, I think, in my life. I have never spoken of it, because it is
one of those emotional experiences which no man likes to relate unless
he is sure of being understood. To tell it to most men would be casting
pearls before swine. I have always meant to tell you when a suitable
opportunity came up.”

“You know,” he said, when I had signified my eagerness to hear, “that I
graduated at Leroy College. It was a little one-horse institution, but
blue as a whetstone in its orthodoxy; and with my father, who was a
clergyman of a very strait sect and staid views, that fact covered
a multitude of shortcomings. I was nineteen when I entered, and
consequently twenty when, at the beginning of sophomore year, I came
under the charge of Professor Régnier. He was a Frenchman, but spoke
English with perfect ease and precision and a very slight accent. At the
time I knew him, he was probably sixty. His hair was quite gray, but his
mustache and imperial were still dark. It was rumored among the students
that he had left his native land for political reasons, having played
for too high stakes at the national game of revolution. True or not, the
report naturally heightened the interest which his personality had for

“He made it his business to know personally all the students in his
classes; and as it is not easy for a man of sixty, especially if he is
also their teacher, to become really acquainted with students of twenty,
the fact may be taken as evidence of his unusual tact. He was, I think,
the most fascinating man I ever saw. His insight into character was like
magic, his manners were charming, and his Gallic vivacity made him seem
like a boy. Gradually, while still remaining to the rest of the students
a genial and friendly instructor, he singled out a smaller circle
of particular intimates. Of these I was one, and I believe the most

“Of course we boys were immensely flattered by the partiality of such
a man; but equally of course the pursuit of his own pleasure
could scarcely have been the motive which impelled him to seek our
companionship. It was, in fact, a motive as unselfish as that of the
missionary who leaves the comforts and refinements of civilization and
exiles himself among savages that he may win them to his faith. He had
been a personal friend and disciple of Auguste Comte, then but lately
dead, and on coming to America had sought his present employment, not
merely as a means of livelihood, but equally for the opportunity it
offered for propagating the new gospel among young men. Do you know much
about what Positivism is?”

I confessed that I knew next to nothing,--scarcely more than that there
was such a thing.

“I shall not bore you with an account of it,” resumed Hammond, “further
than to say that it is a scheme for the perfection of the human race. It
rejects as idle all theories of superhuman intelligences, and declares
the supreme object of the individual love and devotion should be
humanity. The rational demonstration of the truth of this system is
sought in the course of history, which is claimed to prove Positivism
the finality of social evolution. You will find anything else you want
to know about it in the books. I dare say you will not be converted; but
if you were nineteen instead of twice that, with Hippolyte Régnier to
indoctrinate you, I fancy the result would be about what it was in my

“His personal influence over us, and the intoxicating flattery implied
in being seriously reasoned with on themes so lofty by a man whom we
so greatly admired, would have gone far, no doubt, to commend to us any
form of opinions he might have taught; but there were not lacking other
reasons to account for his success in converting us. As for Comte’s
dogmatic denial of superhuman existence, and his fanciful schemes of new
society, we were too young and crude to realize how unphilosophic
was the former, how impossible and undesirable was the latter. While
accepting them as facts of a new creed, they meant little to us, nor
did Régnier much insist upon them. What most he did insist on was the
ethical side of Positivism,--the idea of the essential unity of the
individual with the immortal race of man, and his obvious duty to forget
self in its service. What could be better adapted to affect generous and
impassioned boys than an appeal like this? The magnificent audacity
of it, the assumption of man’s essential nobleness, the contemptuous
refusal to make any terms with selfishness, captivated our imaginations.
I know now, indeed, that this enthusiasm of humanity, this passion of
self-abnegation, which I thought a new religion, was the heart of the
old religions. In its new-fangled disguise the truth and virtue of the
doctrine were still operative, and the emotional crisis through which
I passed I found was as essentially religious as it was in form

“At the end of sophomore year there were a half-dozen very positive
young Positivists in our class. The pride of intellect which we felt in
our new enlightenment was intoxicating. To be able to look down from a
serene height, with compassion frequently tempered by contempt, upon the
rest of the world still groping in the mists of childish superstition,
was prodigiously to the taste of youths of eighteen and twenty. How, to
be sure, we did turn up our noses at the homely teachings in the college
chapel on Sundays! Well do I remember attending my father’s church when
at home on vacation, and endeavoring to assume the mental attitude of
a curious traveler in a Buddhist temple. Together with the intellectual
vanity which it fostered, our new faith was commended to us by its
flavor of the secret, the hazardous, and the forbidden. We were
delightfully conscious of being concerned in a species of conspiracy,
which if it came to light would convulse the college and the community,
have us expelled, and cause no end of scandal to the public.

“But the more I took my new faith in earnest and tried to make of it the
religion it claimed to be, I was troubled by a lack that seemed to be
inherent. Humanity, the object of our devotion, was but an abstraction,
a rhetorical expression for a mass of individuals. To these individuals
I might indeed render affection, service, compassion, tenderness,
self-sacrifice; but their number and pettiness forbade me the glow of
adoration with which service was touched in religions which offered
a personified object of adoration. When, finally, I confided these
troubles to Régnier, I expected to be rebuked; but on the contrary, and
to my great discomfiture, he embraced me effusively after the Gallic
manner. He said that he had been waiting for the time when in the course
of my development I should become conscious of the need I had confessed
before explaining to me the provision made for it by Positivism.

“To start with, he put in, as a sort of special plea for Positivism,
that it was not singular among religions in recognizing as the object
of devotion an abstraction, the mode of the existence of which was a
mystery. As a solace to their votaries and an aid to their faith, nearly
all religions recognized sacred emblems; not indeed to be confounded
in clear minds with the original object of devotion, but worthy of
reverence in its place, as its special representative and reminder. In
precisely this sense the sacred emblem of humanity was woman.

“Of course, Positivism claiming to be a creed of demonstration, not of
faith, Régnier did not ask me to receive this proposition as his mere
statement, but proceeded to establish its reasonableness by logic. I
am going to give you what I remember of his argument, because I believe
still, as I did when I heard it, that it is the only philosophical
explanation of the instinctive reverence of man for woman which we
have been talking about to-night. It was given to me, of course, as
a doctrine peculiar to Positivism; but I don’t know of any form of
religious belief, inconsistent with the recognition of the sacred
quality of womanhood on the grounds given by Régnier. Indeed, I am by no
means sure whether the doctrine as I received it is orthodox Positivism
at all. I have reason to think that Régnier was quite too original a
character for a very good interpreter, and should be interested to know
how far his ideas were his own and how far his master’s.

“First he pointed out to me as matter of fact that there was no more
striking feature of the modern and humane as compared with the ancient
and barbaric world than the constantly growing tendency of the most
civilized races to apotheosize womanhood. The virgin ideal had been set
up by the larger part of Christendom as the object of divine honors. The
age of chivalry had translated for all time the language of love into
that of worship. Art had personified under the feminine form every noble
and affecting ideal of the race, till now it was in the name of woman
that man’s better part adjured his baser in every sort of strife towards
the divine. Is it alleged that it is man’s passion for woman that has
moved him thus in a sort to deify the sex? Passion is no teacher of
reverence. Moreover, it is as the race outgrows the dominion of passion
that it recognizes the worshipfulness of woman. The gross and sensual
recognize in her no element of sacredness. It is the clear soul of the
boy, the poet, and the seer which is most surely aware of it. Equally
vain is it to seek the explanation in any general superiority of woman
to man, either moral or mental. Her qualities are indeed in engaging
contrast with his, but on the whole no such superiority has ever been
maintained. How, then, were we to account for a phenomenon so great in
its proportions that either it indicates a world-wide madness infecting
the noblest nations while sparing the basest, or else must be the
outcome of some profound monition of nature, which, in proportion as
man’s upward evolution progresses, he becomes capable of apprehending?
Why this impassioned exaltation by him of his tender companion? What
is the secret spring that makes her the ceaseless fountain of lofty
inspiration she is to him? What is the hint of divinity in her gentle
mien that brings him to his knees? Who is this goddess veiled in woman
whom men instinctively reverence yet cannot name?

“The adoration of woman, which may almost be called the natural religion
of the modern man, springs from his recognition, instinctive when not
conscious, that she is in an express sense, as he is not, the type, the
representative, and the symbol of the race from which he springs, of
that immortal and mystical life in which the secret of his own is
hid. She is this by virtue, not of her personal qualities, but of the
mother-sex, which, overbearing in part her individuality, consecrates
her to the interests of the race, and makes her the channel of those
irresistible attractions by which humanity exists and men are made to
serve it. As compared with woman’s peculiar identification with the
race, man’s relation to it is an exterior one. By his constitution he
is above all an individual, and that is the natural line of his
development. The love of woman is the centripetal attraction which in
due time brings him back from the individual tangent to blend him again
with mankind. In returning to woman he returns to humanity. All that
there is in man’s sentiment for woman which is higher than passion and
larger than personal tenderness--all, that is to say, which makes his
love for her the grand passion which in noble hearts it is--is the
fact that under this form his passion for the race finds expression.
Mysterious ties, subtending consciousness, bind him, though seemingly
separate, to the mighty life of humanity, his greater self, and these
are the chords which, when ‘Love took up the harp of life,’... ‘passed
in music out of sight.’ In woman humanity is enshrined and made concrete
for the homage of man. This is the mighty indwelling which causes her
to suggest something more august than herself, and invests her with an
impersonal majesty commanding reverence.

“You may imagine with what power such a doctrine as this, set forth by
an enthusiast like Régnier, appealed to the mind of an impassioned boy
of twenty, as yet pure as a girl, but long vaguely stirred by the master
passion of our nature. The other tenets of the Religion of Humanity had
been impressed upon me by argument, but at the mere statement of this my
heart responded, _O Dea Certe!_

“Subsequently, in response to my questioning, Régnier explained to me
how the master had recommended his disciples to give practical effect
to the cult of womanhood. I must remember that it was nothing new and
nothing peculiar to Positivism for men to adore women to the point even
of idolatry. Lovers constantly were doing it. But in these cases the
worshipers did not look beyond the personality of the idol. Possibly,
no doubt, some dim apprehension of the true grounds of woman’s
worshipfulness might mingle with the lover’s sentiment, but it was very
far from being the clear and distinct sense necessary to redeem his
homage from the charge of extravagance. On the other hand, the spirit
in which women received the homage men rendered them was usually as
mistaken as that in which it was offered. Either, on the one hand, from
an impulse of personal modesty they deprecated it, or, on the other
hand, they accepted it as a gratification to their personal vanity. In
either case, they equally misapprehended their true and valid title
to worship, which, while personal qualities might enhance or partially
obscure it, was itself in root more than personal, and consisted in the
martyr and mother sex which so peculiarly sacrificed and consecrated
them to the interests of humanity as to draw to them the homage and
loyalty of all men who loved their race. It had been the counsel of his
master, Régnier said, that, while his disciples should hold all women in
exalted reverence, they should peculiarly address this general sentiment
to some particular woman, who, being of the same faith, should be able
to accept it worthily and without self-exaltation, in the spirit in
which it was offered.

“Of course the reflection was obvious that in the existing conditions
of the Positivist propaganda in America it would be impossible to find a
woman capable of understanding, much less of accepting, such a relation,
and, therefore, that to me the cult which I had been taught must remain
entirely theoretical. Homage from men which did not insure to the
titillation of the vanity would seem to women, as usually educated,
equally incomprehensible and unprofitable.

“It was in recognition of this situation that Régnier ended by making a
proposition which testified, more strongly than anything else could have
done, both to the enthusiasm and sincerity with which he himself held
the faith he preached, and to his confidence in my own equal singleness
of heart. He had never before spoken of his personal history or home
life. Several times I had spent the evening at his house, but on these
occasions I had seen only himself. Certain womanly belongings, however,
which I had noticed, and the sound of a piano once or twice, had
suggested that the house might not be without a feminine presence. The
professor now told me that long ago in France, for a few short, blissful
years, he had been the husband of the sweetest of women. She had left
behind a daughter, the sole companion of his life and the apple of his
eye. She lived in complete seclusion, rarely even leaving the house. He
did not desire her to make acquaintances in this country, nor indeed
was she able to speak a word of any language but her own. There was no
question of my making her acquaintance in the ordinary sense, or even
of meeting her a second time, but if I desired to testify my new
appreciation of the sacred quality of womanhood, it was possible that
she might consent to receive my homage in the name of her sex. He could
not be sure what she would say, but he would speak with her about it.

“The following day, a note from him requesting that I should call at
his house that evening intimated that he had succeeded in carrying his
point. When I called at the time set, he told me that he had found it
more difficult than he had anticipated to gain his daughter’s consent to
see me. She had been very reluctant to assume the attitude required of
her, and only her respect for his wishes and the good of the cause, and
the assurance he had given her of the entire ingenuousness of my own
motive, had induced her finally to yield. After some talk as to the
significance of the interview before me, which I was too much agitated
to comprehend, he bade me follow him.

“As may readily be supposed, my fancy, from the moment Régnier had
suggested this interview, had been exceedingly busy with conjectures
as to the sort of scene it would prove, and especially as to the
personality of her who was to be the central figure. Except his
intimation that the interview would be necessarily without interchange
of speech and presumably brief, scarcely more, probably, than a
confrontation, he had told me nothing.

“Of course, however, my fancies had not failed to take some form. I
think I had a general expectation of finding myself in the presence of a
beautiful woman, statuesquely shaped and posed. I imagine that I rather
expected her to be enthroned or standing upon some sort of dais, and
I am sure that I should not have been surprised had there been some
artificial arrangement of lights as in a theatre to add effectiveness to
the figure.

“I followed Régnier through several rooms without raising my eyes.
Presently he paused and said, ‘My daughter.’

“Thrilling with the premonition of a vision of imperious or melting
loveliness which should compel my homage by its mere aspect, I raised
my eyes to find myself facing a plain-featured, plainly dressed young
woman, not ill-looking certainly, but destitute of a single trait
striking enough to have won a second glance from me had I met her on the

“Her father need not have told me of her reluctance to assume the part
his wishes had imposed upon her. For the fraction of an instant only, a
pair of black eyes had met mine, and then she had bent her face as low
as she could. The downcast head, the burning cheeks, the quick heaving
of the breast, the pendent arms, with tensely interlacing fingers and
palms turned downward, all told the story of a shy and sensitive girl
submitting from a sense of duty to a painful ordeal.

“The sudden and complete wreck of all my preconceptions as to her
appearance, as well as the accessories of the scene, left me for a few
moments fairly dazed. Not only were my highly wrought expectations as
to the present interview brought to humiliating discomfiture, but the
influence of the disillusionment instantly retroacted with the effect
of making the entire noble and romantic cult which had led up to this
unlucky confrontation seem a mere farrago of extravagant and baseless
sentiment. What on earth had Régnier been thinking of, to plan
deliberately a situation calculated to turn a cherished sentiment into
ridicule? If he had seriously thought his daughter capable of supporting
the rôle he had assigned her, had there ever been a like case of
parental fatuity?

“But even as I indignantly asked myself this question, I saw a great
light, and recognized that the trouble was neither with Régnier’s
fatuity nor with his daughter’s lack of charms, but with myself, and
a most unworthy misconception into which I had fallen as to the whole
object and purport of this interview. What had the beauty or the lack of
beauty of this girl to do with the present occasion? I was not here to
render homage to her for the beauty of her sex, but for its perpetual
consecration and everlasting martyrdom to my race. The revulsion of
feeling which followed the recognition of the grossness of the mistake I
had made had no doubt the effect of greatly intensifying my emotions. I
was overcome with contrition for the unworthiness with which I had stood
before this girl who had so trusted to my magnanimity, appraising her
like a sensualist when I should have been on my knees before her. A
reaction of compunctious loyalty made my very heartstrings ache. I saw
now how well it had been for a weak-minded fool like myself that she
had not chanced to be beautiful or even pretty, for then I should have
cheated myself of all that distinguished this solemn meeting from
the merest lover’s antics. I won in that moment an impression of the
tawdriness of mere beauty which I have never gotten over. It seemed to
me then, and more or less has ever since, that the beauty of women is a
sort of veil which hides from superficial eyes the true adorableness of

“Unable longer to resist the magnetism of my gaze, her eyes rose slowly
to mine. At their first meeting, her face became crimson; but as she
did not avert her eyes, and continued to look into mine, the flush
paled swiftly from her face, and with it all the other evidences of
her embarrassment passed as quickly away, leaving her bearing wholly
changed. It was plain that through my eyes, which in that moment must
have been truly windows of my soul, she had read my inmost thoughts,
and had perceived how altogether impertinent to their quality
self-consciousness on her part would be. As with a gaze growing ever
more serene and steadfast she continued to read my thoughts, her face
changed, and from the look of a shy and timid maiden it gradually took
on that of a conscious goddess. Then, as still she read on, there came
another change. The soft black eyes grew softer and yet softer, and then
slowly filled with tears till they were like brimming vases. She did
not smile, but her brows and lips assumed a look of benignant sweetness

“In that moment no supernatural aureole would have added sacredness to
that head, or myth of heavenly origin have made that figure seem more
adorable. With right good-will I sank upon my knees. She reached forth
her hand to me and I pressed my lips to it. I lifted up the hem of her
dress and kissed it. There was a rustle of garments. I looked up and she
was gone.

“I suppose immediately after that I must have left the house. I only
know that the dawn found me miles out of town, walking aimlessly about
and talking to myself.”

Hammond poured himself a glass of wine, drunk it slowly, and then fell
into a profound reverie, apparently forgetful of my presence.

“Is that all?” I asked at last. “Did you not see her again?”

“No,” he answered, “I never saw her again. Probably, as her father
had intimated, he did not intend that I should. But circumstances also
prevented. The very next day there was an explosion in college. There
had been a Judas among my fellow-disciples, and the faculty had been
informed of the Positivist propaganda going on under their noses. I
was suspended for six months. When I returned to college, Régnier
had disappeared. He had of course been promptly dismissed, and it was
rumored that he had gone back to France. He had left no trace, and I
never heard of him again or of his daughter. I don’t even know the name
of the woman I worshiped.”

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Positive Romance - 1898" ***

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