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Introduction Utopian Literature Dystopian Literature Utopian Communities



Elbert Hubbard. Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Teachers: Plato. East Aurora, New York: Roycroft, 1908.

In his discussion of Plato, Hubbard notes that The Republic served as “inspiration to Sir Thomas More, Erasmus, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Morris, Edward Bellamy, Brigham Young, John Humphrey Noyes, and Eugene Debs. The division of labor, by setting apart certain persons to do certain things . . . has made its appeal to Upton Sinclair, who jumped from his Utopian woodshed into a rubber plant and bounced off into oblivion.” The Sinclair reference is to the author of the best-selling The Jungle (1906) which brought the socialist writer a fortune which he used to found a utopian socialist community in New Jersey.

The book is open to an announcement of the Annual Philistine Convention and its list of guest “speakers and artists.” On the right is an advertisement for Roycroft leather goods.

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The Roycrofters are a small band of workers who make beautiful books and things—making them as good as they can. —Roycroft motto

The Roycroft community of East Aurora, New York, took William Morris and his Kelmscott press as its model in designing an Arts and Crafts workshop in 1894. Elbert Hubbard, the founder, had made money in the soap business but preferred to realize his dream as a writer and promoter of high quality goods beginning with a print shop and expanding to include leatherwork, copper wares, leaded glass lamps and a version of the popular Morris chair. His mission was to convince Americans that beauty belongs in the objects of everyday living, from books to table mats.

Of the people who joined Roycroft, Hubbard recalled the “boys who have been expelled from school, blind people, deaf people, old people, jail-birds and mental defectives” who all managed to do good work. He rejected the “remittance men” who were willing to do anything but work: “They offered to run things, to preach, to advise, to make love to the girls. We bought them tickets to Chicago and without violence conducted them to the Four-O‘Clock train.” Others, he said, look “for Utopia, when work is work, here as elsewhere.

Nonetheless, as Hubbard’s biographer says: “In the early years, Roycroft had much in common with the utopian communities that had dotted the country earlier in the century. Not economically, since the property was Hubbard’s. But Roycroft had common meals, meetings, sports, studies, and a library. Cash wages were small, but there wasn’t much need or opportunity to spend money. The work was still work, but there was an effort to make it humanly satisfying. There was a real—if informal and basically paternalistic—feeling of shared values, adventure, responsibility.”

Hubbard and his wife perished on the Lusitania but the community continued until 1938.