William Stanley’s “Utopia”

We here in Norwood are accustomed to think of William Stanley as scientific instrument-maker, architect, educationalist and public benefactor, but the book in which he expresses his philosophical ideas is hard to come by and not well-known. Published in 1903, it has the idiosyncratic title of “The case of The. Fox. Being his Prophecies under Hypnosis of the Period Ending A.D. 1950”, alternatively titled simply “Utopia” (Truslove and Hanson, 1903). This has nothing to do with foxes, except to the extent that in it the banning of fox-hunting is predicted, and “The” is short for Theodore, the fictional character who, under hypnosis, sees the future as Stanley imagines it.

A lot of predictions, or something like them, have come about. He sees Paris as the capital of the United States of Europe, reachable in three hours from London by electric train through a tunnel under the Channel, with a Central Legislative Assembly which conducts most of its work in English, the “most useful and popular language”. Much of the government would still be local to the individual countries.

The House of Lords would be replaced by a Senate. Britain would be a republic, but the Heir to the Throne would have become President. Women would have the vote and there would be 18 women in the House of Commons and 5 in the Senate. However, the function of most women would be to supervise the raising of children. Progressive Income Tax would be at the same level over the whole of Europe, but at quite a low level because wars would no longer happen and defence would not be necessary, so the government would no longer borrow money. But through heavy Death Duties all land would come to belong to the State. There would be an Idlers’ Tax on males under 55 who did not work. Work, rather than possessions, would be respected and admired. In fact there would be public affluence, with magnificent libraries, theatres, museums and sports facilities and no need for anything more than private simplicity.

Transport would be by electric “hotel trains” with a summer line across Siberia linking Europe and America, a Central-European Asiatic Line and trains from north to south in the Americas and Africa. He foresaw no future for air transport, but bigger and better ocean liners which could cross the Atlantic in three days. (this of course did happen in the 30s to 50s – the Queen Mary took just over four days to do the crossing). Coal would be exhausted but tidal energy, hydro-electricity, solar power from reflectors and the use of the energy in volcanoes would all be harnessed to provide electricity. Cars would all be electric. Cities would be designed in such a way that the traffic would be at a lower level than the pedestrians.

Telephones would be connected to gramophones to make answering-machines. “Little celluloid cards” would replace money. Machines would have taken over so much work that people would work 5 hours a day, though those with seasonal jobs would be allowed to work 10 hours a day in the season and have corresponding time off at other parts of the year. The money system and the avoirdupois weights and measures would be simplified. Fox-hunting would be banned. Women would have more practical and comfortable clothes. It would be possible to photograph the inside of the body. The educated intelligence of the citizen would be recognized as the best source of national wealth, education would be of supreme importance and crime would automatically decrease with a better understanding by the population of what a civilized society really is. Crime would be considered as an illness and criminals and drunks would be isolated in remote places for a time, murderers for life.  On release, those isolated could apply for state protection and be employed on public works.

Procreation is a serious undertaking and only men over 24 and women over 18, in good health and with £50 in the bank (£ 20 for women) and a clear police record would be allowed to be married and have children, though how this was to be achieved is not explained. Those with congenital defects would not be allowed to be married and would be sent to isolated places, like criminals, and separated from the opposite sex!

Boys would learn in their youth what they needed to practise as men. A boy leaving school should understand the working of a clock, how gas is made, the principles and effects of electricity, the machine that takes him to town in the morning, the press contrivances by which his paper is printed, the telegraph, the telephone and all around him. He would leave school with knowledge of general mechanics so that he would be qualified to become a refined workman.

This book was reviewed in the Daily News of 23rd Nov, 1903, but not favourably. The reviewer found it “…not particularly commendable either as a vision of any possible future or as a dream of changes immediately desirable”. From the vantage point of a century later it might seem ready for another airing.

Eloise Akpan

Editor’s Note. The Editor would put it far more strongly. Stanley’s prophecies seem astonishingly far-sighted – and more accurate than the prophecies of H. G. Wells recently featured in this Review. After all, did anyone else 100 years ago predict the use of plastic credit cards replacing money?

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