Meccania, the Super-State

Meccania, the Super-State

Author:
Owen Gregory
Author:
Owen Gregory
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Gregory, Owen
Dystopias — Fiction
Meccania, the Super-State
MECCANIA
THE SUPER-STATE


MECCANIA
THE SUPER-STATE

BY
OWEN GREGORY
METHUEN & CO. LTD.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON


First Published in 1918


INSCRIBED
TO
W. H. S.
IN TOKEN OF TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS’
FRIENDSHIP


CONTENTS

    PAGE
  Introduction: A Few Words about Mr. Ming and his Journal ix
CHAP.    
I. I become a Foreign Observer 1
II. Bridgetown, Tour No. 1 17
III. Introduction to Mecco 53
IV. Professor Proser-Toady’s Lecture 82
V. Culture in Mecco 97
VI. More Culture in Mecco 122
II. A Meccanian Apostle 139
VIII. The Mechow Festival 163
IX. Meccanisation 177
X. Conversations 193
XI. An Academic Discussion 240
XII. The Latest Institution 260
XIII. Never Again 289

[viii]
[ix]

INTRODUCTION
A FEW WORDS ABOUT MR. MING AND HIS JOURNAL

As this book is little more than a transcript of a document originally written in the form of a journal by a man who, until about a year ago, was an entire stranger to me, and as the document itself contains not a few statements which make large demands upon the credulity of the average reader, it seems necessary to offer some explanation regarding both the journal and its author, Mr. Ming—or, to give him his full name, Ming Yuen-hwuy.
If I were able to go bail for Mr. Ming and assure the British Public that he was an entirely credible and impartial witness, the book might have stood on the same foundation as other volumes of ‘revelations’ concerning a country with which Englishmen are still insufficiently acquainted. But I cannot go bail for Mr. Ming. The chief source of my knowledge of him is the journal itself. It has even been suggested to me that Mr. Ming did not write the journal, but must have stolen it from some European, probably an Englishman. On this point I shall have something to say presently. Perhaps the best solution of these difficulties will be to say what I know of the origin of the book.
Mr. Ming was introduced to me, by a friend whose name it is unnecessary to give, in November or December 1917. My friend said he remembered meeting him in London as far back as 1909. Since then, however, Mr. Ming had not only lived in London and travelled throughout England, but had also spent about two years in France and Italy, and had visited America. What his previous career had been I do not know, nor did my friend know. He appeared always to have plenty of money, and we surmised that he might have been attached in some way to the Chinese Legation; but he never gave the least hint about any such connection. What I do know is that he had a remarkable knowledge of our language, and a remarkable familiarity with our laws, customs and political institutions. He professed a great admiration for our British Constitutions, a circumstance which may account for some of the political views to which he gives expression in his journal.

A day or two after he had been introduced to me I invited him to dinner and on this occasion we found much to talk about—chiefly European politics. At length, after we had finished a bottle of wine and a liqueur or two, he remarked that of all the countries he had visited in Western Europe he had been most impressed by Meccania. (He pronounced the word ‘Mek-kah´-nia.’)
My knowledge of Geography is not complete, I admit, but I thought I knew all the countries of Western Europe (the war has helped wonderfully to fill up certain gaps). I replied that I had never heard of such a country.
“Probably not,” he answered. “But it exists. And the proof of it is that I spent some five months there in 1970, and kept a journal of my experiences.”
“You mean 1870,” I said.
“No, 1970,” he replied.
I hardly knew whether he were experimenting upon my sense of humour, or had got confused between Chinese and European chronology; or whether the liqueur had gone to his head. Possibly—and here I became a little nervous—he was a little ‘abnormal.’ “Anyhow,” he said, “one of my chief objects in seeking an interview with you was to consult you about publishing this journal.”
We were dining in my chambers and he begged permission to fetch his hand-bag from the anteroom. He returned with a bulky manuscript. I wondered if he were hard up and wanted to draw me into some sort of bargain, but I reflected that he seemed to be a much wealthier man than I. He said he was convinced that his journal was an important contribution to political literature, and would be found of interest not only in Great Britain but in France and America as well. It would be a good thing also if the Meccanians themselves could read it. Unfortunately there was no chance of that, he said, because nothing was read in Meccania except by permission of the Government. He went on to explain that the journal had been kept partly in English, partly in Chinese and partly in Meccanian; but that he had since written a rough translation of the whole in English. His knowledge of English, though sufficient for most practical purposes, was not such as to satisfy the literary critics; and that was one of the reasons why he sought my assistance. The upshot was that I promised to read the manuscript, which I did in a few hours next day.
I found that it purported to be the journal of a visit or tour, made in 1970, to a country he called Meccania. I had little difficulty in penetrating the fiction. (It was obvious what country was meant.) As to the date, 1970, I soon came to the conclusion that this was another literary device, to enable him to describe with greater freedom what he considered to be the probable, or as he would be inclined to say, the inevitable development of the tendencies he had observed in that country. Whilst some parts of the description were clear, and even vivid, many things were left in obscurity. For instance, the extent and the limits of the country were quite vague. Only two cities were described in any detail. Little was said about domestic life, little about religion, little about women and children.
When I questioned him subsequently on these points, he said that the obstacles to obtaining full information had proved insuperable: he had not been at liberty to travel about when and where he pleased, nor to get into close contact with the common people. The journal itself if carefully read, he said, gave a sufficient answer on these points, and he had preferred to give a faithful account of what had actually happened to him, and of the conversations he had had with representative Meccanians, leaving the evidence to speak for itself. If he had said little about Education the little that he had said would be found most illuminating, by the aid of insight and imagination. If he had said little about military matters, that was because it would have been positively dangerous to be suspected of spying.
I then questioned him about his references to Luniland, which occur on the very first page of the journal and are scattered throughout the book. Did he mean to indicate England by this term? If so, it was not exactly flattering.
Mr. Ming said he intended no offence. The references were perhaps a little obscure. The simple fact was that some years ago he had, for his own amusement, written a harmless satire upon some of our national characteristics. He had then hit upon the phrase Luniland and Lunilanders, and he could not get it out of his head. It was just an instance of his whimsicality.
“But why Luniland?” I asked.
“Why not?” he said. “You do such funny things without seeing that they are funny.”
“Such as what?” I asked.
“Well, to take a few things that have happened recently in connection with your great war. You are intensely proud of all your soldiers, and rightly. Yet you seem to pay the citizens who stay at home about three times as much as the soldiers who go out to fight; and I have been told, although this seems more difficult to believe, that you pay the men who volunteered from the very first less than those whom you subsequently had to compel to serve in your armies.”
“I am afraid these things you allege are true,” I replied, “but they do not seem funny to us.”
“No, probably not,” he said. “Each nation has its own sense of humour!”
“Have you noticed anything else of the same kind?” I asked.
“Oh, a great many things,” he said, “but I just gave you a sample of what first occurred to me. I did hear of some men being excused from serving in the army because they were engaged in carving gravestones.”
“For the soldiers, I suppose?”
“Oh no,” he replied, “there is no time to carve gravestones for the soldiers; for people who die in their beds at home. Yet you do not profess to be worshippers of the dead.”
“Do not misunderstand me,” he added. “You are a wonderful people, and it is perhaps because you are Lunilanders that I cannot help liking you. We are Lunilanders ourselves if only we knew it. If you were to come to my country you would find many things just as funny as those I have observed here. Perhaps when you have more time and the opportunity is favourable you may like to read my book of observations on Luniland, but Meccania is a more important subject.”
After a careful reading of Mr. Ming’s account of Meccania I was inclined to agree with him. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the dangers to be apprehended from Meccania, or Meccanianism, are far more real and imminent than the dangers from what he would call our Lunilandishness, and for that reason I have done my best to bring before the British Public his account of Meccania, although I hope at some future time to produce, perhaps for a smaller circle of readers, his notes on Luniland and the Lunilanders.
Lastly, a word about the suggestion that the journal cannot be the work of a Chinaman. It is implied that the sentiments professed by Mr. Ming, his interests and his way of looking at things, are those of an Englishman. What does this really amount to? Mr. Ming does not like the Meccanians. Certainly we should not like the Meccanians. Therefore Mr. Ming is an Englishman. Mr. Ming does not like interferences with his personal habits: he has some belief in the political value of individual liberty. An Englishman resents interference and is also credited with a passion for Liberty. Therefore Mr. Ming must be an Englishman. Now I would suggest that, so far from Mr. Ming’s sentiments being evidence against him, they really substantiate his character as a Chinaman and remove all suspicion of his having stolen the document from some Englishman, or some other European. In the first place, he submits calmly to indignities that a typical Englishman would fiercely resent. In the second place, he records things with a detachment that few Englishmen would be capable of, and resigns himself to the customs of the country in the manner of a mere spectator. In the third place, he betrays a philosophical interest, which is again very different from the behaviour of most of our countrymen. He records at great length conversations which we perhaps find tedious, because he thinks the ideas of the Meccanians even more significant than their customs. An Englishman’s journal, in the same circumstances, would be certain to contain angry diatribes against the Meccanians, whereas Mr. Ming writes with singular restraint, even when he is describing features of Meccanian life which we should consider revolting.
Possibly the style in which the book is presented, the turns of expression and the colloquialisms, give the journal an English appearance; but for these features the editor is responsible, as it was Mr. Ming’s wish that the book should not suffer from the most common defects of a mere translation.


NOTE ON PERSONAL NAMES

The names which occur in the narrative are exactly as given by Mr. Ming in his journal, but it would appear that he has taken some liberties with the language in attempting to give an approximate English equivalent for the original meaning. The translation of personal names and place-names is notoriously difficult as many names are either corrupt or obscure.


MECCANIA
THE SUPER-STATE

CHAPTER I
I BECOME A FOREIGN OBSERVER

I had already spent several years in various parts of Western Europe, staying for long periods in Francaria, Romania and Luniland, before I made up my mind to pay a visit to Meccania. Before coming to Europe I had read a great deal about Western civilisation generally and had conceived a great admiration for many of its features. My experiences during my travels had, on the whole, strengthened my feelings of admiration; although even an Oriental may be allowed to criticise some of the characteristics of Western nations. In Romania I had been delighted with the never-ending spectacle of history displayed in every part of the country. The whole land was like an infinite museum; but it was not in Romania that the living forces of the present were to be found. In Francaria, on the other hand, the people were more interesting than the country, charming as that country was in many ways. One perceived that the people were highly civilised; they displayed a combination of intellectual and moral refinement, an appreciation of the material and sensuous enjoyment of life as well as a traditional standard of conduct and manners, while at the same time they were keenly alive to the most modern political ideas, and were perpetually discussing new phases of all those problems which must constantly emerge wherever political liberty is held as an article of popular faith.
But it was in Luniland that I felt most at home. Just what it was that kept me constantly pleased and interested it would take long to tell, and I must reserve my observations on Luniland for another occasion. It will be sufficient to say here that I was not so much impressed with the wealth of ideas current in society in Luniland—Francaria was more prolific in ideas, and in Francaria intellectual discussion was more brilliant—as with the stability of certain political principles which, as it seems to me at any rate, are destined to prevail ultimately throughout the world.
For many reasons I thoroughly enjoyed the three or four years which, with short intervals of absence, I had spent there. I had made many acquaintances and even a considerable number of friends. In fact, I had stayed so long, contrary to my original intention, that there was little time left for carrying out the project of visiting Meccania, and I was in some doubt whether I should not have to return home without seeing that remarkable country. For I had already received one or two pressing reminders from my family that they were expecting my return. Before leaving home, however, I had promised some of my political friends, who were interested in the subject of Meccanian culture, that I would not return without investigating the social and political life of Meccania. They had, in fact, written several times to remind me of my promise, and I had put them off by explaining that, whilst travelling in the rest of Europe was a simple and easy matter, I could not enter Meccania without elaborate preparation.
When I began to talk to some of my friends in Luniland of my idea of investigating Meccanian culture on the spot, I received the most conflicting advice. Some said, “Don’t go on any account. You will be arrested as a spy, and probably shot!” Others said Meccania was ahead of Luniland in every respect, and that I should certainly see something worth remembering if I went there. Others, again, said that if I did go, I should be looked upon with suspicion on my return. In fact, I gathered that most of my friends would never open their doors to me again. Finally, I took counsel with Mr. Yorke, a gentleman occupying an important position in Lunopolis, a man of wide culture and sober views, whom it was a great privilege to count among my friends.

He discussed the matter very frankly with me. I remember it was a cold evening early in March, and we sat by the fire in his study after an excellent dinner. “We Lunilanders,” he said, “do not like the Meccanians, and few of us ever visit Meccania. We prefer to have nothing to do with that country, and if you followed the advice which nine out of ten of my countrymen would give you, you would not go near Meccania. But you have come to Europe partly, at all events, to study our civilisation, and not simply to amuse yourself; and although there is little intercourse between the Meccanians and the rest of us, if you want to know Europe you cannot afford to neglect Meccania. If I may advise you, I should say, Go there by all means. See as much as you can with your own eyes. But try to see the country as a whole. Don’t be content to see just what interests you, or amuses you, or what excites your admiration. If you do that, you will be like certain cranks from this country who come back and tell us there is no poverty in Meccania, there are no strikes, there is no disorder, no ignorance, no preventible disease. You at any rate are not a simpleton to be taken in by any sort of hocus-pocus. But the Meccanians are very clever, and they manage to impose on many people who are not so wideawake as you are. How much you will be allowed to see I don’t know. It is a good many years since I was there, but, if things are managed as I am told they are now, you will not see all you want by any means. In fact, in one sense, you would learn far more from books—you read Meccanian easily already, I know—than from an actual visit. But unless you go there you will not feel satisfied that what you read is true, and you will not have the same sense of reality.
“The great thing is to look at the country as a whole—I don’t mean geographically, but spiritually. There is always a tendency for foolish people to take this idea from one country and that institution from another. Enthusiastic reformers are ready to shut their eyes to everything else if only they can get support for their particular fads. If you find after a real study of Meccanian life that you would like to turn your own country into a second edition of Meccania, I shall say, like old Dogberry, that you are not the man I took you for.”
He impressed upon me the importance of a thorough knowledge of the language, but I was able to satisfy him on that score; for I had learnt to read easily before coming to Europe, and had already undertaken a long course of colloquial Meccanian under a good teacher during a visit to Francaria. Besides, I rather prided myself on my aptitude for languages, and considered myself well equipped. So I packed up all the miscellaneous

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