Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/427

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415
EDITOR'S TABLE.

being alone interpretative of the universe. We are only landed in blank confusion and hopeless contradiction if we try to assign a positive and undivided supremacy to either mind or matter. No one can doubt that the Duke of Argyll is very sincere in his attachment to pre-Darwinian modes of thought; but it is no less certain that the arguments which he directs against the new philosophy have a singularly unconvincing quality. He is a writer who seems to have exhausted all his intellectual forces in convincing himself: the more carefully we read him, the more the impression grows that he has compassed sea and laud, and laid a vast amount of knowledge under contribution, in a strenuous and successful effort to be on the wrong side.

 

 

A NEW SOCIAL PROBLEM.

As must have been long apparent to a critical observer of "the tendencies of the times," the department store, to which so many master minds applied themselves during the legislative season just closed, was bound, sooner or later, to rise to the dignity and importance of a new "social problem." It exhibited precisely those traits that appeal so powerfully to the shortsighted philanthropy and superficial knowledge of the "new" social reformer. It required a large concentration of capital, which has come to be regarded as prima facie evidence of "social peril." Because of certain economies it was able to effect, it brought about a reduction in prices, which is likewise believed by a well-known school of "uninstructed economists" to be a deplorable evil. Finally, it tended to crowd to the wall smaller concerns dealing in the same class of goods, that found themselves unable to compete with it.

Here were all the elements that go to make up a first-class "social problem." A vivid imagination, inflamed by a deep sympathy with immediate inconvenience and suffering, drew a harrowing picture of the distress to individuals and to society. In the first place, there were the small shopkeepers, high-spirited and independent, driven out of business and compelled to become "mere clerks" under the roof of their merciless rival. In the second place, there were the empty stores scattered all over a city that had been occupied to the advantage of their owners. In the third place, there were the loss of general knowledge of any given business, the confinement of the poor clerks to some special department, and their reduction to the humiliating and paralyzing position of "only cogs in a great piece of commercial machinery." Is it any wonder that such a spectacle moved the hearts of the philanthropists and statesmen in the Legislatures of Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, and New York? Was it not as plain as a pikestaff that something was wrong? Was it not "the duty of society" to remedy it? Who could be so ignorant and callous as to insist that these questions were absurd—that they applied to the spinning jenny and the power loom as well as to the department store?

Yet such is the fact. The department store is as much a labor-saving device as a steam engine or the telegraph and telephone. One as much as the other is a product of industrial evolution. Like the mediæval fair or the modern market, the department store is a segregation of commodities and of buyers and sellers. Like the perfecting press also, which unites in one machine several distinct processes, such as inking, printing, cutting, and folding, it is an integration under one management of a number of forms of trade carried