Puppets at Large: Scenes and Subjects from Mr Punch's Show
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THE MODEL DEMOCRACY
"I think you left directions that you were to be thawed in 199 – precisely?" said the stranger politely. "Allow me to introduce myself – Number Seven Million and Six. If you feel equal to the effort, and would care to see the vast improvements in our social condition since the close of the benighted Nineteenth Century, I shall be pleased to conduct you."
Mr. Punch then began to realise that he had had himself frozen by a patent process just a hundred years ago, and that he had returned to animation in time for the close of the marvellous Twentieth Century; so he prepared, in much curiosity and excitement, to accompany his guide.
"By the way," observed the latter, "you must not be annoyed if your – hem – habiliments, which we are unaccustomed to nowadays, should attract some attention."
Singularly enough, Mr. Punch had just begun to feel a certain embarrassment at the prospect of being seen in Piccadilly or Regent Street in the company of a person attired in grey cellular pyjamas, a drab blanket, and a glazed pot hat. However, on reaching the street, he found that every man he met was similarly clad, while his own costume – which, in his original century, would only have been remarkable for its unimpeachable taste – was, in this, the subject of universal and invidious comment.
"You'll have your regulation pot hat and pyjamas served out to you in time!" said Mr. Seven Million and Six encouragingly. "Then no one will say anything to you. In these days we resent anything that tends to confer an artificial distinction on any man. Surnames, for example, which occasionally suggested superiority of birth, have long been abolished, and official numbers substituted. You seem to be looking for something you do not see?" he added, noting a certain blankness and disappointment in Mr. Punch's expressive countenance.
"I was only wondering why I saw no signs of any new and marvellous inventions at present," said Mr. Punch. "I rather expected to see the air full of electric trains, manageable balloons, or coveys of citizens darting about on mechanical pinions. But I see none, and even more people go on foot than in my own time."
"Inventions, I take it," was the reply, "only served to enrich the Capitalist, and save time or labour. Now we have no Capitalists and no riches, and no reason for hurrying anywhere, while it would be absurd and useless to lessen the amount of manual labour when, even as it is, there is scarcely enough to keep everyone employed for six hours a day."
"Why are all the women I see dressed exactly alike in navy-blue woollen frocks and coal-scuttle bonnets?" Mr. Punch inquired presently. "Surely they can't all be members of the Sal – "
"A uniform costume was decreed by plebiscite some years ago," replied his mentor, promptly. "Any real equality amongst women was found hopeless so long as some were able to render themselves exceptionally attractive by a distinctive toilette."
"What!" exclaimed Mr.Punch, "did all the pretty women consent to such a sacrifice?"
"They were in a very decided minority, even then," said Mr. Seven Million and Six; "and it is not our way to think much of minorities. At present, owing no doubt to an enactment which penalised every pretty woman by compelling her to wear blue goggles and a respirator, feminine beauty is practically extinct."
Mr. Punch could not restrain a sigh. They were now entering a somewhat gloomy thoroughfare, between massive blocks of buildings, with large doors and innumerable small windows, which towered into the sky on either hand.
"I seem to miss the shop-fronts," he said aloud, "with their plate-glass, and all their glitter and luxury. What has become of them all?"
"Such necessaries as the citizen requires," said his companion, "are procured at the Public Storehouses, which you see around you, by the simple method of presenting a ticket. The luxuries you refer to were only procurable by the rich, and nobody is rich now. If you will come with me, I will take you over one of the State Dwelling-houses, and show you one of the suites of rooms. Every citizen has a room; or, if married, a couple of rooms, exactly the same shape and size as those of his fellows… Beautifully clean, you see!" he remarked, complacently, as he threw open one of the doors. "Neat whitewashed walls, plain deal furniture, nice holland blinds – what more can any reasonable citizen want in the way of comfort?"
"There used to be a celebrated poet in my time," said Mr. Punch, with some hesitation, "who designed and sold very beautiful upholstery – tapestry, wall-papers, curtains, and so on. I fancy he held Socialistic views. But I see no trace of his work here."
"I think I know whom you refer to," was the reply. "The community would doubtless have been glad of his Company's services if they would only have contracted to supply every citizen with precisely the same pattern and quality of their manufactures at, say, a pork-pie a yard. But, for some reason, the firm could not see their way to it, and the industry declined; which is not to be regretted, for it certainly tended to foster individualism."
"It is curious," said Mr. Punch, when they were outside again, "that I have not as yet seen a single policeman."
"Not at all curious. We have none. Crime simply proceeded from the galling sense of social inequality. Consequently, as soon as that was removed, Justice, with all its machinery, became an anachronism."
"I think," said Mr. Punch, presently, "I should like to take a stroll in Hyde Park."
"That," said his guide, "has not been possible for at least fifty years. All the parks are now cut up into three-acre allotments, where every able-bodied citizen does an hour's compulsory spade-work once a fortnight. A most admirable reform, as you will agree!"
"Capital!" gasped Mr. Punch, with an anticipatory pain in his back. "Then I am curious to see what strides have been made by your modern painters. Could you take me to a picture-gallery?"
"There are no modern painters. It is perhaps a pity – but quite unavoidable. It was an obvious injustice that, when all citizens had to perform their share of more or less distasteful manual labour, there should be any one class that earned a living by work in which they took a positive pleasure. So that every artist had to do his six hours' stone-breaking or brick-making; or what not, as an antecedent condition of being permitted to paint at all, and naturally the State declined to provide him with paints and brushes at the expense of the community. A few artists persisted for a while, from sheer love of the thing; but as no picture fetched more than a pound of sausages, and the average price was a bowl of porridge, they found it expedient to turn to some more useful occupation. And it is undeniable that they contribute more to the resources of the commonwealth by wielding a trowel or a broom than by messing about with brushes and paint. As a concession to hereditary instinct, however, their descendants are still set apart as State white-washers."
"And the drama?" Mr. Punch inquired next. "How is that getting on? Has the New Dramatist made his appearance at last?"
"On the contrary, I am glad to say he has disappeared – let us hope for ever. For, the essence of Drama, as I understand, was Emotion – Passion, Jealousy, Marital and Parental relations, and so on. Now that marriages are the subject of State regulation, and extend only for a limited period, Passion, of course is obsolete; Jealousy, too, is recognised as merely Selfishness in disguise, and we have grown too altruistic to desire the exclusive possession of anything. While as the offspring of every union are removed at birth to a communal cr?che, and brought up and educated by the State, there are no longer any opportunities for filial or parental affection."
"Then I presume Fiction is equally – ?"
"Just so. Fiction depended on Contrast. When everybody is on precisely the same level, the novelist is, happily, unnecessary. What are you looking for now?"
"I was wondering if I could buy an evening paper anywhere," said Mr. Punch, wistfully. "But perhaps Journalism is also – ?"
"Of course. Everyone is so contentedly and peacefully absorbed in contributing his share of work to the State, that he has no desire to read about the doings of other persons, even if there was anything of interest to be told, which there isn't. We produce just sufficient for our own wants, so there is no commerce; we have no Army or Navy, since we don't desire to conquer, and are not worth conquering. No Politics, because we govern ourselves by our own consent and co-operation; no Science, as inventors only benefited capital at the expense of labour; and, this being so, what is there to put into a newspaper, if we had one?"
"Haven't you even a – a humorous paper?" said Mr. Punch. "I used to do a little in that way once."
"You had better not do it here. Humour, I believe, consisted in representing Humanity under ridiculous aspects. We're Humanity, and we don't see any fun in being laughed at. None of your humour here, mind!"
"But the citizens have a certain amount of leisure, I suppose," said Mr. Punch. "How do they amuse themselves? For I can discover no libraries, no circuses, nor concert-rooms, nor anything!"
"It was seen to be invidious to furnish any entertainment at the public expense which did not give equal amusement to all, and so the idea was gradually dropped. When our citizens have finished their daily task, they find their relaxation, in the intervals of eating and sleeping, in the harmless and soothing practice of chewing gum. They can all do that, and the State provides each with a weekly supply for the purpose. Now tell me – is there anything more I can do for you?"
"Yes," murmured Mr. Punch; "if you would be so very kind as to freeze me again for five hundred years or so, I should be exceedingly obliged. I don't feel quite at home in this century!"
On the Platform
A Lady of Family. Oh, yes, I do travel third-class sometimes, my dear. I consider it a duty to try to know something of the lower orders.
The Eccentric Man (to the Lady of Family). Sorry to disturb you, Mum, but you're a-setting on one o' my 'am sandwiches.
The L. of F.???!!!
The E. M. (considerately). Don't trouble yourself, Mum, it's of no intrinsic value. I on'y put it there to keep my seat.
The Chatty W. (to the L. of F.). I think I've seen you about Shinglebeach, 'ave I not?
The L. of F. It is very possible. I have been staying with some friends in the neighbourhood.
The C. W. It's a nice cheerful place is Shinglebeach; but (confidentially) don't you think it's a very singler thing that in a place like that – a fash'nable place, too – there shouldn't be a single 'am an' beef shop?
The L. of F. (making a desperate effort to throw herself into the question). What a very extraordinary thing to be sure. Dear, dear me! No ham and beef shop!
The C. W. It's so indeed, Mum; and what's more, as I daresay you have noticed for yourself, if you 'appen to want a snack o' fried fish ever so, there isn't a place you could go to – leastways, at a moment's notice. Now, 'ow do you explain such a thing as that?
The L. of F. (faintly). I'm afraid I can't suggest any explanation.
A Sententious Man. Fried fish is very sustaining.
The Eccentric Man. Talking of sustaining, I remember, when we was kids, my father ud bring us home two pennorth o' ches'nuts, and we 'ad 'em boiled, and they'd last us days. (Sentimentally.) He was a kind man, my father (to the L. of F., who bows constrainedly), though you wouldn't ha' thought it, to look at him. I don't know, mind yer, that he wasn't fond of his bit o' booze – (the L. of F. looks out of window) – like the best of us. I'm goin' up to prove his will now, I am – if you don't believe me, 'ere's the probate. (Hands that document round for inspection.) That's all reg'lar enough, I 'ope. (To the L. of F.) Don't give it back before you've done with it – I'm in no 'urry, and there's good reading in it. (Points out certain favourite passages with a very dirty forefinger.) Begin there —that's my name.
The Eccentric Man. D'ye see that big 'andsome building over there? That's the County Lunatic Asylum – where my poor wife is shut up. I went to see her last week, I did. (Relates his visit in detail to the L. of F., who listens unwillingly.) It's wonderful how many of our family have been in that asylum from first to last. I 'ad a aunt who died cracky; and my old mother, she's very peculiar at times. There's days when I feel as if I was a little orf my own 'ed, so if I say anything at all out of the way, you'll know what it is.
The Fianc?. Excuse me one moment, Ma'am.
(Leans across the L. of F. and out of the window.) Well, good-bye, my girl; take care of yourself.
The Fianc?e (with a hysterical giggle.) Oh, I'll take care o' my self.
He (with meaning). No more pickled onions, eh?
She. What a one you are to remember things! (After a pause.) Give my love to Joe.
He. All right. Well, Jenny, just one, for the last. (They embrace loudly, after which the F. resumes his seat with an expression of mingled sentiment and complacency.) Oh (to L. of F.), if you don't mind my stepping across you again, Mum. Jenny, if you see Dick between this and Friday, just tell him as —
Men, who is reclining in an easy attitude on the seat. His companion responds with a grin of intelligence, and produces a large black bottle from the rack. They drink, and hand the bottle to the Fianc?.
The F. Thankee, I don't mind if I do. Here's wishing you —
Both Seafarers. It's wine, Mum!
THE FARMING OF THE FUTURE;
Or, What British Agriculture is Coming to
A Car on the Electric Light Railway. Time. – Twentieth Century
First Farmer (recognising Second Farmer). Why, 'tis Muster Fretwail, surelie! didn't see it was you afore. And how be things gettin' along with you, Sir, eh?
Farmer Fretwail (lugubriously). 'Mong the middlin's, Muster Lackaday; 'mong the middlin's! Nothen doin' just now – nothen 't all!
Third Farmer (enviously). Well, you hevn't no call fur to cry out, neighbour. I see you've got a likely lot o' noo 'oardins comin' up all along your part o' the line. I wish mine wur arf as furrard, I know thet!
F. Fretwail. Ah, them "Keep yer 'air on"'s, you mean, Ryemouth. I don't deny as they was lookin' tidy enough a week back. But just as I was makin' ready fur to paint up "Try it on a Billiard Ball," blamed if this yere frost didn't set in, and now theer's everything at a standstill, wi' the brushes froze 'ard in the pots!
F. Ryemouth. 'Tis the same down with me. Theer's a acre o' "Bunyan's Easy Boots" as must hev a noo coat, and I cann't get nothen done to 'en till the weather's a bit more hopen like. Don' keer 'ow soon we hev a change, myself, I don't!
F. Lackaday. Nor yet me, so long as we don't 'ave no gales with it. Theer was my height acre pasture as I planted only las' Candlemas wi' "Roopy's Lung Tonics" – wunnerful fine and tall they was, too – and ivery one on 'en blowed down the next week!
F. Fretwail. Well I 'ope theer wun't be no rain, neither, come to that. I know I had all the P's of my "Piffler's Persuasive Pillules" fresh gold-leaved at Michaelmas, and it come on wet directly arter I done it, and reg'lar washed the gilt out o' sight an' knowledge, it did. Theer ain't no standin' up agen rain!
F. Ryemouth. I dunno as I wouldn't as lief hev rain as sun. My "Hanti-Freckle Salves" all blistered up and peeled afore the summer was 'ardly begun a'most.
F. Lackaday. 'Tis a turr'ble hard climate to make 'ead against, is ourn. I've 'eard tell as some farmers are takin' to they enamelled hiron affairs, same as they used to hev when I wur a lad. I mind theer wur a crop o' "Read Comic Cagmag" as lingered on years arter the paper itself. Not as I hold with enamelling, myself – 'tain't what I call 'igh farmin' – takes too much outer the land in my 'pinion.
F. Fretwail. Aye, aye. "Rotation o' boards." Say, "Spooner's Sulphur Syrup" fur a spring crop, follered with some kind o' soap or candles, and p'raps cough lozengers, or hembrocation, or bakin' powder, if the soil will bear it, arterwards – that's the system I wur reared on, and there ain't no better, 'pend upon it!
F. Ryemouth. I tell 'ee what 'tis; it's time we 'ad some protection agen these yere furrin advartisements. I was travellin' along the Great Northern t'other day, an' I see theer wos two or three o' them French boards nigh in ivery field, a downright shame and disgrace I call it, disfigurin' the look of the country and makin' it that ontidy – let alone drivin' honest British boards off the land. Government ought to put a stop to it; that's what I say!
F. Lackaday. They Parliment chaps don't keer what becomes of us poor farmers, they don't. Look at last General Election time. They might ha' given our boards a turn; but not they. Most o' they candidates did all their 'tisin' with rubbishy flags and balloons – made in Japan, Sir, every blamed one o' them! And they wonder British Agriculture don't prosper more!
F. Ryemouth. Speaking o' queer ways o' hadvertisin', hev any of ye set eyes on that farm o' young Fullacrank's? Danged if ever I see sech tomfool notions as he's took up with in all my born days.
F. Fretwail. Why, what hev he been up to now, eh?
F. Ryemouth. Well, I thought I shud ha' bust myself larfin' when I see it fust. Theer ain't not a board nor a sky sign; no, nor yet a 'oarding, on the 'ole of his land!
F. Lackaday. Then how do he expect to get a profit out of it? – that's what I want to year.
F. Ryemouth. You'll 'ardly credit it, neighbours, but he's been buryin' some o' they furrin grains, hoats and barley, an' I dunno what not, in little holes about his fields, so as to make the words, "Use Faddler's Non-Farinaceous Food" – and the best of it is the darned young fool expecks as 'ow it'll all sprout come next Aperl – he do indeed, friends!
F. Fretwail. Flying in the face o' Providence, I calls it. He must ha' gone clean out of his senses!
F. Lackaday. Stark starin' mad. I never heerd tell o' such extravagance. Why, as likely as not, 'twill all die off o' the land afore the year's out – and wheer wull he be then?
F. Ryemouth. Azactly what I said to 'en myself. "You tek my word for it," I sez, "'twun't never come to no good. The nateral crop for these yere British Hiles," I told 'en, "is good honest Henglish hoak an' canvas," I sez, "and 'tain't the action of no sensible man, nor yet no Christian," sez I, "to go a-drillin' 'oles and a-droppin' in houtlandish seeds from Canada an' Roosha, which the sile wasn't never intended to bear!"
Farmers Fretwell and Lackaday. Rightly spoke, neighbour Ryemouth, 'twas a true word! But theer'll be a jedgment on sech new-fangled doin's, and, what's moor, you and I will live fur to see it afore we're very much older!
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