Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/566

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CORRESPONDENCE.
 

THE BICYCLE CONTROVERSY IN STOCKBRIDGE.

Messrs. Editors:

ALTHOUGH the writer belongs to those inhabitants of the village of Stockbridge who are editorially stigmatized in the December number of your magazine as destitute of "moral backbone," as "openly immoral," and "barbarians," yet cowards and criminals have their rights at the bar of editorial as of other justice, and he asks you to permit him to file a plea to your indictment—in other words, to publish this answer to your strictures.

Sound criticism, quite as much as sound philosophy, you will agree, depends on a correct and complete statement of the facts. The following version of the bicycle controversy can be maintained by many witnesses. The writer asserts it to be in every material part substantially true.

The professor, whom you justly call distinguished, fresh from a victory in the Central Park of this city over the ladies, invalids, and children who had been accustomed to be pushed about the skating-rink on the sliding-chairs, which doubtless interfered with his essays in skating, and perhaps on abstruser matters, came to his country retreat in Stockbridge naturally confident of equal success in clearing out all bicycles from his path. He was accustomed to walk with his eyes downcast, medians nescio quid nugarum philosophicarum totus in ilis, and the necessity of keeping wide awake with his bodily eyes was annoying. There was no Park Commissioner and no "Century" or other social club where officials can be button-holed, and petitions granted inter pocula; but there were three selectmen, chosen to guard the interests of the town in the old fashioned New England way. He drew a petition, procured eighteen signatures, and presented it to them. Taking it as a fair indication of the sentiment of the town, the selectmen were on the point of granting it, when the application chanced to become known to one or two inhabitants who took a different view. A remonstrance was drawn, based on the facts that accidents more commonly occurred from bicycles frightening horses in the roadway than from permitting them on sidewalks; on the hardship of practically depriving children of all use of the bicycles; on the impolicy and injustice of subjecting summer fugitives from the cities to the same kind of restrictions they had fled from; and denying the existence or seriousness of the so-called accidents alleged in the petition. This remonstrance was signed by thirty-six persons. The signers were generally heads of families, and up to the moment of this act of turpitude were (with the exception of the present writer) persons of recognized standing and character. In consequence of this remonstrance, the selectmen decided to ignore the petition. The shrewd professor, then perceiving that though, by dint of that persistent persuasiveness in which he is unexcelled, he might collect signatures, yet that all the names remaining in the town could not outweigh the remonstrance, called on the person who prepared that paper and urged his assent to a second petition, which had already been signed by a considerable number of visitors and residents. This was a remarkable document. It began by renewing the prayer of the original petition; but the various signers had been permitted to incorporate in it their different views and prejudices, which gave it so motley an aspect that it was hard to determine what was the net application. It asked in one place that all bicycles be excluded from the sidewalks; in another, that they be so excluded excepting children's; in another, that bicycles exceeding thirty-six inches in diameter be so excluded; in another, that bells be required to be attached to all bicycles; and, in another, that no bicycle be allowed to go anywhere in the village faster than five miles an hour. The person of whom the request was made, though reiterating his opinion that the real and only serious danger of accidents in the village was from the frightening of horses in the road, yet being fond of peace, something of a "moral coward," and willing to see how a compromise would work, yielded to the professor's strenuous demand, and reluctantly signed a memorandum to the effect that he considered that the chief objection to an order excluding bicycles from the sidewalks would be removed by permitting children to ride them there. The multiform document, thus re-enforced, was thereupon taken to the other signers of the remonstrance, who, seeing the memorandum of their representative, signed also.

The wheels of the opposition being thus scotched, other signatures were then obtained, to the number no doubt correctly stated by your informant as a hundred and sixty-eight. Meantime, a moment's cool reflection out of the range of the professor's battery having convinced the first compromiser that he had made a mistake, he sent