Étienne Cabet 1842

Voyage en Icarie

Source: Voyage en Icarie (Paris, 1842): 39-55. Translation by John W. Reps (1946) from Cabet’s 5th ed., 1848: 20-22, and from E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel (eds.), French Utopias: An Anthology of Ideal Societies (New York: Schocken Books, 1971): 332-338.

Cabet (1788-1856) was a French lawyer from Dijon who, because of his part in the Revolution of 1830, was in effect exiled to Corsica where he became Procureur General. He continued his opposition to government policies, was forced to resign, returned to France, and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. Finally exiled for five years for critical articles in his journal, Le Populaire, Cabet went to England where he became acquainted with the theories of Robert Owen. In 1840 he took advantage of a general amnesty and returned to France where he wrote his socialist utopia from which these passages are taken. This work attracted considerable support, and in 1848 a group of 1500 set off for America to establish a colony on the model of Icarie. Swindled out of land in Texas, the group moved to Illinois where they occupied Nauvoo, the Illinois town abandoned by the Mormons. The group split, and Cabet himself died in St. Louis shortly thereafter.

In an early part of the book a citizen of Icara, the capital of Cabet’s model commonwealth, describes the Paris-like plan of the city to two visitors:

“See! The city, nearly circular, is divided into two almost equal parts by the Tair [River], whose course has been straightened and confined between two walls in an almost straight line, and whose bed has been deepened to accommodate vessels arriving by sea....

“You see that in the center of the city the river divides into two arms which flow together again so as to form a circular island....

“This island is the central place, planted with trees, in the middle of which rises a palace enclosing a vast and superb terraced garden from the center of which springs an immense column topped by a colossal statue which towers over all the buildings. On each side of the river you will notice a large wharf bordered by public monuments.”

Of the street system, the Icaran has this to say:

“All of them [are] wide and straight! There are 50 principal streets which cross the city parallel to the river and 50 which cross perpendicularly.... Those which you see marked in black and which connect the squares are planted with trees like the boulevards of Paris.” He continued with these further observations: “Notice these areas distinguished by the light multi-coloured tints with which the entire city is marked.... They are...[the]...sixty quarters or communities, all very nearly equal and each one representing the extent of population in an ordinary town.

“Each quarter bears the name of one of the sixty principal cities of the ancient and modern world, and exhibits in its monuments and dwellings and architecture of one of the sixty principal nations....

“Here is the plan of one of these quarters. All coloured spots represent public buildings. Here is the school, the hospital, the temple. Red indicates the great factories, yellow the large retail shops, blue the places for public gatherings, violet the monuments.

“Notice that all these public buildings are so located that they are in all the streets and that every street contains the same number of houses....

“Now here is a plan of a street. See! sixteen houses on each side, with a public building in the middle and two other houses at the ends. These sixteen houses are treated alike on the exterior or combined to form a single building, but no street exactly matches any of the others.

What follows is the text of a letter Eugene, a visitor, is supposed to have written to his brother, Camille, describing some of the features of the great city of Icara.

Tear up your city plans, my poor Camille, and yet rejoice, for I am sending, to replace them, the plan of a model city which you have long wanted. I feel the keenest regret that you are not here to share my wonderment and delight.

First of all, imagine in Paris or London the most magnificent reward offered for the plan of a model city, a great open competition, and a big committee of painters, sculptors, scholars, travellers, who gather the plans or descriptions of all known cities, sift the opinions and ideas of the whole population including foreigners, discuss all the advantages and disadvantages of existing cities and proposals submitted, and choose among thousands the most perfect blueprint. Envision a city more beautiful than any which have preceded it; you will then begin to have a notion of Icara, especially if you bear in mind that all its citizens are equal, that it is the republic which is in command and that the rule invariably and constantly followed in all matters is: first, the necessary, then the useful, and last the pleasing.

Now, where shall I start? That’s a problem for me! All right, I will follow the rule that I have just mentioned and begin with the necessary and the useful.

I will pass over the measures taken to promote good health, to assure the free circulation of pure air, to decontaminate it if required. Within the city there are no cemeteries, no noxious products manufactured, no hospitals: all these establishments are on the outskirts, in open places, near swift-flowing streams or in the country.

I could never tell you how resourceful they are in devising methods to keep the streets clean. That the side-walks are swept and washed every morning and are always perfectly clean goes without saying: but in addition, the streets are so paved or constructed that the water constantly drains out of them into subterranean canals.

If mud forms, it is collected in one place by ingenious and handy equipment and washed down into the same canals by water from the fountains; but every conceivable means is employed to minimise the accumulation of mud and dust in the first place.

Examine the construction of the streets! Each has eight tracks of iron or stone to accommodate four coaches, two going in one direction and two in the other. The wheels never jump the tracks and the horses do not stray from the middle ground. These four areas are paved with stone or pebbles, all the other strips with brick. The wheels stir up neither mud nor dust, the horses practically none, the engines on railroad-streets none at all.

Note too that the big workshops and warehouses are situated along the canal streets and railroad streets; that the wagons, which incidentally are never overloaded, move only on these streets; that streets with tracks are reserved for omnibuses; and that half the streets do not even admit omnibuses or wagons but only carts pulled by big dogs for making daily deliveries to families residing there.

Then, no sort of trash is ever thrown from the houses or shops into the street; never are straw, hay, or manure dumped there because all the stables and their provisioners are on the outskirts; all the wagons and conveyances shut so tightly that none of their contents can spill out of them, and all unloading is done with machines so that nothing dirties the sidewalk and the gutter.

In each street, fountains supply the water for cleaning, laying the dust, and refreshing the air.

Thus everything is arranged, as you see, so that the streets are naturally clean, not misused, and easy to tidy up.

The law — you will be inclined to laugh but this will give way to admiration — the law has decreed that the pedestrian must be safe, that there are never to be any accidents caused by vehicles, horses or other animals, or anything else. Reflect, and you will soon realise nothing is impossible for a government that wants the good of its citizens.

First, frisky saddle horses are not allowed inside the city; riding is permitted only outside it, and the stables are located at the city limits.

As for stage coach-, bus- and draft-horses, apart from all sorts of precautions to keep them from running away, they can never leave their tracks or mount the sidewalks, and their drivers are obliged to lead them on foot as they near pedestrian cross-walks; these intersections furthermore are surrounded by every sort of necessary precaution: they are usually indicated by columns extending across the street and forming a sort of gateway for vehicles, and by a kind of intermediary platform where the pedestrian can halt until he ascertains that it is safe to proceed. Needless to say, these cross-walks are almost as clean as the sidewalks. In some streets, the passage is even underground like the tunnel in London, while in some others it is a bridge beneath which vehicles move.

There is another simple precaution which eliminates many accidents, but which is not taken seriously in our cities because nothing is done to teach it to people and encourage them to observe it: everywhere vehicles and pedestrians keep to the right of the road.

You understand also that drivers of vehicles, all of them workers for the Republic and not in anyone’s private employ, have no interest in exposing themselves to accidents and are on the contrary eager to avoid them.

You realise further that since the whole population is in the workshops or at home until three o'clock, and the transport vehicles circulate only when the omnibuses do not run and when pedestrians are few, and the wheels never jump the tracks, accidents and collisions are pretty much eliminated

As to other animals, one never sees droves of oxen and flocks of sheep like those which encumber and disgrace the streets of London, causing a thousand accidents, creating anxiety and often spreading terror and death, while people become habituated to the idea of slaughter. For here the slaughterhouses and the butcher shops are outside the city; the beasts never come into it, one never sees blood or animal carcasses; and great numbers of butchers do not become callused to human butchery through constantly steeping their knives and hands in the blood of other kinds of victims.

I shall not abandon the subject of the animals without speaking of the dogs. The Republic feeds, shelters, and employs a great number of dogs remarkable for their size and strength to convey many goods with still less danger than if horses were used. These dogs, well fed, always bridled and muzzled or led on a leash, can never go mad, or bite, or frighten anyone, or create the kind of scene which, in our cities, destroys in a moment all the worth of years of training.

Everything is so well figured out that no chimney, flower-pot, nor any object whatsoever can be flung down by a storm or thrown from a casement.

Pedestrians are protected even against the caprices of the weather; for all the streets are equipped with side-walks, and all these side-walks are covered with glass panes to keep out the rain without excluding the light, and with awnings to combat the heat. One even finds some streets entirely covered, especially those connecting the great warehouses, and all the cross-walks are likewise covered.

They have pushed these measures to the extent of constructing, at different points on each side of the street, covered platforms where the omnibuses stop, so that one can board or alight without fear of rain or mud.

You see, dear friend, that one can go all over the city of Icara, in a carriage when one is in a hurry, through the gardens when the weather is fine, and under the porticoes when it is bad, without ever requiring a parasol or an umbrella and with perfect confidence; while thousands of accidents and disasters, which each year overwhelm the people of Paris and London, point a finger at the shameful impotence or barbarous indifference of their governments.

You are right if you think that the city is perfectly illuminated, as well as Paris and London, even much better, because the source of light is not absorbed by the shops, since there are none, or by the factories, since nobody works at night. Illumination is then concentrated on the streets and public monuments; and not only is the gas odourless because means have been found to purify it, but the illumination combines to the highest degree the pleasing and the useful, through the elegant and varied forms of the street lamps and the thousand shapes and colours which they give the light. I have seen fine illumination in London in some streets on certain holidays; but in Icara the illumination is always magnificent, and sometimes it creates a veritable fairy-land.

You would see here neither cabarets, nor roadhouses, nor cafes, nor smoking joints, nor the stock-exchange, nor gaming or lottery houses, nor establishments for shameful or culpable pleasures, nor barracks and guard-rooms, nor gendarmes and stool- pigeons, just as there are no prostitutes or pickpockets, no drunkards or mendicants; but instead you would find everywhere privies, as elegant as they are clean and convenient, some for women, others for men, where modesty may enter for a moment without fear for itself or for public decency.

You would never again be offended by the sight of all those cartoons, drawings, scrawls which defile the walls of our cities even as they make one avert one’s eyes with shame; for the children are trained not to spoil or dirty anything, and to blush at whatever might be indecent or knavish.

You would not even have the pleasure or annoyance of seeing so many signs and posters above the doors of the houses, nor so many notices and advertisements which usually disfigure buildings: instead you would see beautiful inscriptions on the monuments, workshops, and public depots, just as you would see all the useful hand-bills, attractively printed on papers of many colours, and posted by the Republic’s placarders on special bulletin boards, in such a way that the notices themselves are ornamental.

You would see no more those rich and pretty shops of every sort that one finds in Paris and London in all the houses on commercial streets. But what are the finest of these shops, the richest of these stores and bazaars, the most extensive of these markets or fairs, compared with the factories, shops, stores of Icara! Imagine that all the goldsmith and jewellery workshops and stores of Paris or London, for example, were merged into one or two of each; imagine the same for all branches of industry and commerce; and tell me if the stores for jewellery, watches, flowers, feathers, piece goods, fashions, instruments, fruits, and so on, would not inevitably cast into the shade all the shops in the rest of the world; tell me whether you would not feel as much and perhaps more pleasure in visiting them than in touring our museums and artistic monuments. Ah well, such are the shops and stores of Icara!

And all of them are purposely spread through the city to enhance its beauty and serve the maximum convenience of the inhabitants, and to make them even more decorative, they are built to resemble on the outside monuments where simplicity and the marks of industry are the dominant notes.

I have just mentioned utilitarian monuments: I need hardly say that all the monuments and useful institutions that exist elsewhere are, with all the more reason, found here — the schools, hostels, temples, courts, places of popular assembly, even arenas, circuses, theatres, museums of all sorts, and all the establishments whose agreeableness makes them more or less essential.

No aristocratic mansions, likewise no private carriages; but no prisons or almshouses! No royal or ministerial palaces; but the schools, hostels, popular assemblies are as impressive as palaces, or, if you like, all the palaces are dedicated to public purposes!

I would never finish, my dear brother, if I were to enumerate all the useful things contained in Icara: but I have said enough, perhaps too much, although I am sure that in your love for me you will relish all these details....

Let us look then at the externals of the houses, the streets, and the monuments.

I have already told you that all the houses on a street are similar, but that all the streets are different, and all the attractive houses of foreign lands are represented.

Your eye would never be offended here by the sight of those hovels, dumps, and street-corner hang-outs that elsewhere crowd the most magnificent palaces, nor by the view of those rags and tatters that are the neighbours of aristocratic luxury.

Your gaze would no longer alight on those dismal railings that surround the moats of London houses, and combine with the sooty bricks to give them the appearance of a vast prison.

The chimneys, so hideous in many other countries, are here an ornament or are at least inconspicuous, while iron balustrades give a charming aspect to the tops of the houses.

The sidewalks or gracefully-columned porticoes which border every street, already magnificent, will be something enchanting when, as is planned, all the colonnades are bedecked with foliage and flowers.

Shall I undertake to describe to you the fountains, the squares, the promenades, the columns, the public monuments the colossal gates of the city, and its magnificent avenues? No, my friend: my vocabulary would be inadequate to depict my admiration, and besides I would have to write you volumes. I will bring you all the plans, and will limit myself here to giving you only a general idea.

Ah, how sorry I am that I cannot visit them again with my brother! You would see that each fountain, square, monument, is unique, and that all the varieties of architectural style are here exemplified. You would think yourself in Rome, Greece, Egypt, India, everywhere; and never would you be infuriated, as we have been in London at St. Paul’s, by the shops which deprive you of a birdseye view of the whole magnificent monument.

Nowhere would you see more paintings, sculpture, statues than here in the monuments, on the squares, along the promenades, and in the public gardens; for, while elsewhere these works of art are hidden in the palaces of kings and rich men, while in London the museums, shut on Sundays, are never open to the People, who cannot leave their work to visit them during the week, here all the curios exist only for the People and are displayed only in the spots frequented by them.

And since it is the Republic under whose auspices the painters and sculptors work, since the artists, fed, clad, lodged, and equipped by the Community, have no other motive but love of art and glory, and no other guide but the inspirations of genius, you can imagine the results.

Nothing useless and especially nothing harmful, but everything directed toward the goal of utility! Nothing favouring despotism and Aristocracy, fanaticism and superstition, but everything favouring the People and their benefactors, liberty and its martyrs, or opposing the old tyrants and their minions.

Never those paintings of nudes or voluptuous scenes which are publicly shown to cater to the tastes of influential libertines, all the while that hypocrites pay endless lip service to decency and chastity. Such pictures no husband would want his wife and the mother of his children to behold.

Never more those works which betray only ignorance or lack of skill, works that elsewhere poverty sells for a pittance to buy bread, and that corrupt public taste while they dishonour the arts; for here nothing is passed by the Republic without examination; and as in Sparta weak or deformed children were destroyed at birth, here they mercilessly thrust into oblivion whatever productions are unworthy of the radiance of the God of the arts.

I am stopping, dear Camille, although I had much to tell you about the garden-streets, the river and canals, the quays and bridges, and the monuments which have just been started or planned.

But what will you say when I add that all the cities of Icaria, though much smaller, are built on the same plan, except for the omission of the large national institutions.

And so I hear you exclaim with me: “Lucky Icarians! Unlucky Frenchmen!”

The more I moved about the city after that, the more accurate did Eugene’s description appear to me.