Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887 HTML version
When, in the course of our tour of inspection, we came to the library, we succumbed to
the temptation of the luxurious leather chairs with which it was furnished, and sat down
in one of the book-lined alcoves to rest and chat awhile.
 I cannot sufficiently celebrate the glorious liberty that reigns in the public libraries of
the twentieth century as compared with the intolerable management of those of the
nineteenth century, in which the books were jealously railed away from the people, and
obtainable only at an expenditure of time and red tape calculated to discourage any
ordinary taste for literature.
"Edith tells me that you have been in the library all the morning," said Mrs. Leete. "Do
you know, it seems to me, Mr. West, that you are the most enviable of mortals."
"I should like to know just why," I replied.
"Because the books of the last hundred years will be new to you," she answered. "You
will have so much of the most absorbing literature to read as to leave you scarcely time
for meals these five years to come. Ah, what would I give if I had not already read
"Or Nesmyth's, mamma," added Edith.
"Yes, or Oates' poems, or `Past and Present,' or, `In the Beginning,' or--oh, I could name a
dozen books, each worth a year of one's life," declared Mrs. Leete, enthusiastically.
"I judge, then, that there has been some notable literature produced in this century."
"Yes," said Dr. Leete. "It has been an era of unexampled intellectual splendor. Probably
humanity never before passed through a moral and material evolution, at once so vast in
its scope and brief in its time of accomplishment, as that from the old order to the new in
the early part of this century. When men came to realize the greatness of the felicity
which had befallen them, and that the change through which they had passed was not
merely an improvement in details of their condition, but the rise of the race to a new
plane of existence with an illimitable vista of progress, their minds were affected in all
their faculties with a stimulus, of which the outburst of the mediaeval renaissance offers a
suggestion but faint indeed. There ensued an era of mechanical invention, scientific
discovery, art, musical and literary productiveness to which no previous age of the world
offers anything comparable."
"By the way," said I, "talking of literature, how are books published now? Is that also
done by the nation?"