Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887 HTML version

Chapter 14
A heavy rainstorm came up during the day, and I had concluded that the condition of the
streets would be such that my hosts would have to give up the idea of going out to dinner,
although the dining-hall I had understood to be quite near. I was much surprised when at
the dinner hour the ladies appeared prepared to go out, but without either rubbers or
The mystery was explained when we found ourselves on the street, for a continuous
waterproof covering had been let down so as to inclose the sidewalk and turn it into a
well lighted and perfectly dry corridor, which was filled with a stream of ladies and
gentlemen dressed for dinner. At the comers the entire open space was similarly roofed
in. Edith Leete, with whom I walked, seemed much interested in learning what appeared
to be entirely new to her, that in the stormy weather the streets of the Boston of my day
had been impassable, except to persons protected by umbrellas, boots, and heavy
clothing. "Were sidewalk coverings not used at all?" she asked. They were used, I
explained, but in a scattered and utterly unsystematic way, being private enterprises. She
said to me that at the present time all the streets were provided against inclement weather
in the manner I saw, the apparatus being rolled out of the way when it was unnecessary.
She intimated that it would be considered an extraordinary imbecility to permit the
weather to have any effect on the social movements of the people.
Dr. Leete, who was walking ahead, overhearing something of our talk, turned to say that
the difference between the age of individualism and that of concert was well
characterized by the fact that, in the nineteenth century, when it rained, the people of
Boston put up three hundred thousand umbrellas over as many heads, and in the twentieth
century they put up one umbrella over all the heads.
As we walked on, Edith said, "The private umbrella is father's favorite figure to illustrate
the old way when everybody lived for himself and his family. There is a nineteenth
century painting at the Art Gallery representing a crowd of people in the rain, each one
holding his umbrella over himself and his wife, and giving his neighbors the drippings,
which he claims must have been meant by the artist as a satire on his times."
We now entered a large building into which a stream of people was pouring. I could not
see the front, owing to the awning, but, if in correspondence with the interior, which was
even finer than the store I visited the day before, it would have been magnificent. My
companion said that the sculptured group over the entrance was especially admired.
Going up a grand staircase we walked some distance along a broad corridor with many
doors opening upon it. At one of these, which bore my host's name, we turned in, and I
found myself in an elegant dining-room containing a table for four. Windows opened on
a courtyard where a fountain played to a great height and music made the air electric.
"You seem at home here," I said, as we seated ourselves at table, and Dr. Leete touched
an annunciator.