My Utopian Self
It falls to few of us to interview our better selves. My Utopian self
is, of course, my better self--according to my best endeavours--and
I must confess myself fully alive to the difficulties of the
situation. When I came to this Utopia I had no thought of any such
The whole fabric of that other universe sways for a moment as I come
into his room, into his clear and ordered work-room. I am trembling.
A figure rather taller than myself stands against the light.
He comes towards me, and I, as I advance to meet him, stumble
against a chair. Then, still without a word, we are clasping
I stand now so that the light falls upon him, and I can see his face
better. He is a little taller than I, younger looking and sounder
looking; he has missed an illness or so, and there is no scar over
his eye. His training has been subtly finer than mine; he has made
himself a better face than mine.... These things I might have
counted upon. I can fancy he winces with a twinge of sympathetic
understanding at my manifest inferiority. Indeed, I come, trailing
clouds of earthly confusion and weakness; I bear upon me all the
defects of my world. He wears, I see, that white tunic with the
purple band that I have already begun to consider the proper Utopian
clothing for grave men, and his face is clean shaven. We forget to
speak at first in the intensity of our mutual inspection. When at
last I do gain my voice it is to say something quite different from
the fine, significant openings of my premeditated dialogues.
"You have a pleasant room," I remark, and look about a little
disconcerted because there is no fireplace for me to put my back
against, or hearthrug to stand upon. He pushes me a chair, into
which I plump, and we hang over an immensity of conversational
"I say," I plunge, "what do you think of me? You don't think I'm an
"Not now that I have seen you. No."
"Am I so like you?"
"Like me and your story--exactly."
"You haven't any doubt left?" I ask.
"Not in the least, since I saw you enter. You come from the world
beyond Sirius, twin to this. Eh?"
"And you don't want to know how I got here?"
"I've ceased even to wonder how I got here," he says, with a laugh
that echoes mine.
He leans back in his chair, and I in mine, and the absurd parody of
our attitude strikes us both.
"Well?" we say, simultaneously, and laugh together.
I will confess this meeting is more difficult even than I
Our conversation at that first encounter would do very little to
develop the Modern Utopia in my mind. Inevitably, it would be
personal and emotional. He would tell me how he stood in his world,
and I how I stood in mine. I should have to tell him things, I
should have to explain things----.
No, the conversation would contribute nothing to a modern
And so I leave it out.
But I should go back to my botanist in a state of emotional
relaxation. At first I should not heed the fact that he, too, had
been in some manner stirred. "I have seen him," I should say,
needlessly, and seem to be on the verge of telling the untellable.
Then I should fade off into: "It's the strangest thing."
He would interrupt me with his own preoccupation. "You know," he
would say, "I've seen someone."
I should pause and look at him.
"She is in this world," he says.
"Who is in this world?"
I have not heard her name before, but I understand, of course, at
"I saw her," he explains.
"I'm certain it was her. Certain. She was far away across those
gardens near here--and before I had recovered from my amazement she
had gone! But it was Mary."
He takes my arm. "You know I did not understand this," he says. "I
did not really understand that when you said Utopia, you meant I was
to meet her--in happiness."
"It works out at that."
"You haven't met her yet."
"I shall. It makes everything different. To tell you the truth I've
rather hated this Utopia of yours at times. You mustn't mind my
saying it, but there's something of the Gradgrind----"
Probably I should swear at that.
"What?" he says.
"But you spoke?"
"I was purring. I'm a Gradgrind--it's quite right--anything you can
say about Herbert Spencer, vivisectors, materialistic Science or
Atheists, applies without correction to me. Begbie away! But now you
think better of a modern Utopia? Was the lady looking well?"
"It was her real self. Yes. Not the broken woman I met--in the real
"And as though she was pining for you."
He looks puzzled.
"Look there!" I say.
We are standing high above the ground in the loggia into which our
apartments open, and I point across the soft haze of the public
gardens to a tall white mass of University buildings that rises with
a free and fearless gesture, to lift saluting pinnacles against the
clear evening sky. "Don't you think that rather more beautiful
than--say--our National Gallery?"
He looks at it critically. "There's a lot of metal in it," he
I purred. "But, anyhow, whatever you can't see in that, you can, I
suppose, see that it is different from anything in your world--it
lacks the kindly humanity of a red-brick Queen Anne villa residence,
with its gables and bulges, and bow windows, and its stained
glass fanlight, and so forth. It lacks the self-complacent
unreasonableness of Board of Works classicism. There's something in
its proportions--as though someone with brains had taken a lot of
care to get it quite right, someone who not only knew what metal can
do, but what a University ought to be, somebody who had found the
Gothic spirit enchanted, petrified, in a cathedral, and had set it
"But what has this," he asks, "to do with her?"
"Very much," I say. "This is not the same world. If she is here, she
will be younger in spirit and wiser. She will be in many ways more
"No one----" he begins, with a note of indignation.
"No, no! She couldn't be. I was wrong there. But she will be
different. Grant that at any rate. When you go forward to speak to
her, she may not remember--very many things _you_ may remember.
Things that happened at Frognal--dear romantic walks through the
Sunday summer evenings, practically you two alone, you in your
adolescent silk hat and your nice gentlemanly gloves.... Perhaps
that did not happen here! And she may have other memories--of
things--that down there haven't happened. You noted her costume. She
wasn't by any chance one of the samurai?"
He answers, with a note of satisfaction, "No! She wore a womanly
dress of greyish green."
"Probably under the Lesser Rule."
"I don't know what you mean by the Lesser Rule. She wasn't one of
"And, after all, you know--I keep on reminding you, and you keep on
losing touch with the fact, that this world contains your
He pales, and his countenance is disturbed. Thank Heaven, I've
touched him at last!
"This world contains your double. But, conceivably, everything may
be different here. The whole romantic story may have run a different
course. It was as it was in our world, by the accidents of custom
and proximity. Adolescence is a defenceless plastic period. You are
a man to form great affections,--noble, great affections. You might
have met anyone almost at that season and formed the same
For a time he is perplexed and troubled by this suggestion.
"No," he says, a little doubtfully. "No. It was herself." ... Then,
For a time we say no more, and I fall musing about my strange
encounter with my Utopian double. I think of the confessions I have
just made to him, the strange admissions both to him and myself. I
have stirred up the stagnations of my own emotional life, the pride
that has slumbered, the hopes and disappointments that have not
troubled me for years. There are things that happened to me in my
adolescence that no discipline of reason will ever bring to a just
proportion for me, the first humiliations I was made to suffer, the
waste of all the fine irrecoverable loyalties and passions of my
youth. The dull base caste of my little personal tragi-comedy--I
have ostensibly forgiven, I have for the most part forgotten--and
yet when I recall them I hate each actor still. Whenever it comes
into my mind--I do my best to prevent it--there it is, and these
detestable people blot out the stars for me.
I have told all that story to my double, and he has listened with
understanding eyes. But for a little while those squalid memories
will not sink back into the deeps.
We lean, side by side, over our balcony, lost in such egotistical
absorptions, quite heedless of the great palace of noble dreams to
which our first enterprise has brought us.
I can understand the botanist this afternoon; for once we are in the
same key. My own mental temper has gone for the day, and I know what
it means to be untempered. Here is a world and a glorious world, and
it is for me to take hold of it, to have to do with it, here and
now, and behold! I can only think that I am burnt and scarred, and
there rankles that wretched piece of business, the mean
unimaginative triumph of my antagonist----
I wonder how many men have any real freedom of mind, are, in truth,
unhampered by such associations, to whom all that is great and noble
in life does not, at times at least, if not always, seem secondary
to obscure rivalries and considerations, to the petty hates that are
like germs in the blood, to the lust for self-assertion, to dwarfish
pride, to affections they gave in pledge even before they were
The botanist beside me dreams, I know, of vindications for that
All this world before us, and its order and liberty, are no more
than a painted scene before which he is to meet Her at last, freed
from "that scoundrel."
He expects "that scoundrel" really to be present and, as it were,
writhing under their feet....
I wonder if that man _was_ a scoundrel. He has gone wrong on earth,
no doubt, has failed and degenerated, but what was it sent him
wrong? Was his failure inherent, or did some net of cross purposes
tangle about his feet? Suppose he is not a failure in Utopia!...
I wonder that this has never entered the botanist's head.
He, with his vaguer mind, can overlook--spite of my ruthless
reminders--all that would mar his vague anticipations. That, too, if
I suggested it, he would overcome and disregard. He has the most
amazing power of resistance to uncongenial ideas; amazing that is,
to me. He hates the idea of meeting his double, and consequently so
soon as I cease to speak of that, with scarcely an effort of his
will, it fades again from his mind.
Down below in the gardens two children pursue one another, and one,
near caught, screams aloud and rouses me from my reverie.
I follow their little butterfly antics until they vanish beyond a
thicket of flowering rhododendra, and then my eyes go back to the
great facade of the University buildings.
But I am in no mood to criticise architecture.
Why should a modern Utopia insist upon slipping out of the hands of
its creator and becoming the background of a personal drama--of such
a silly little drama?
The botanist will not see Utopia in any other way. He tests it
entirely by its reaction upon the individual persons and things he
knows; he dislikes it because he suspects it of wanting to lethal
chamber his aunt's "dear old doggie," and now he is reconciled to it
because a certain "Mary" looks much younger and better here than she
did on earth. And here am I, near fallen into the same way of
We agreed to purge this State and all the people in it of
traditions, associations, bias, laws, and artificial entanglements,
and begin anew; but we have no power to liberate ourselves. Our
past, even its accidents, its accidents above all, and ourselves,