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Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887

Chapter 5
When, in the course of the evening the ladies retired, leaving Dr. Leete and myself alone,
he sounded me as to my disposition for sleep, saying that if I felt like it my bed was ready
for me; but if I was inclined to wakefulness nothing would please him better than to bear
me company. "I am a late bird, myself," he said, "and, without suspicion of flattery, I may
say that a companion more interesting than yourself could scarcely be imagined. It is
decidedly not often that one has a chance to converse with a man of the nineteenth
century."
Now I had been looking forward all the evening with some dread to the time when I
should be alone, on retiring for the night. Surrounded by these most friendly strangers,
stimulated and supported by their sympathetic interest, I had been able to keep my mental
balance. Even then, however, in pauses of the conversation I had had glimpses, vivid as
lightning flashes, of the horror of strangeness that was waiting to be faced when I could
no longer command diversion. I knew I could not sleep that night, and as for lying awake
and thinking, it argues no cowardice, I am sure, to confess that I was afraid of it. When,
in reply to my host's question, I frankly told him this, he replied that it would be strange
if I did not feel just so, but that I need have no anxiety about sleeping; whenever I wanted
to go to bed, he would give me a dose which would insure me a sound night's sleep
without fail. Next morning, no doubt, I would awake with the feeling of an old citizen.
"Before I acquired that," I replied, "I must know a little more about the sort of Boston I
have come back to. You told me when we were upon the house-top that though a century
only had elapsed since I fell asleep, it had been marked by greater changes in the
conditions of humanity than many a previous millennium. With the city before me I
could well believe that, but I am very curious to know what some of the changes have
been. To make a beginning somewhere, for the subject is doubtless a large one, what
solution, if any, have you found for the labor question? It was the Sphinx's riddle of the
nineteenth century, and when I dropped out the Sphinx was threatening to devour society,
because the answer was not forthcoming. It is well worth sleeping a hundred years to
learn what the right answer was, if, indeed, you have found it yet."
"As no such thing as the labor question is known nowadays," replied Dr. Leete, "and
there is no way in which it could arise, I suppose we may claim to have solved it. Society
would indeed have fully deserved being devoured if it had failed to answer a riddle so
entirely simple. In fact, to speak by the book, it was not necessary for society to solve the
riddle at all. It may be said to have solved itself. The solution came as the result of a
process of industrial evolution which could not have terminated otherwise. All that
society had to do was to recognize and cooperate with that evolution, when its tendency
had become unmistakable."
"I can only say," I answered, "that at the time I fell asleep no such evolution had been
recognized."
 
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