Short summary - The Year 2440 - Louis-Sébastien Mercier

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Year 2440
Louis-Sébastien Mercier

The novel begins with a dedication to the year two thousand four hundred and fortieth. In the notice, the author states that his goal is general welfare.
The hero (who is also the author) of the novel, tired of a long conversation with an old Englishman who sharply condemns French manners and customs, falls asleep and wakes up at his home in Paris in 672 - in the twenty-fifth century. Since his clothes turn out to be ridiculous, he dresses in a second-hand dress shop, where he is taken by a passer-by he meets on the street. The hero is surprised at the almost complete absence of carriages, which, according to his companion, are intended only for sick people or especially important persons. A person who has become famous in some kind of art complains about a hat with his name, which gives him the right to universal respect for citizens and the opportunity to freely visit the sovereign.
The city amazes with the cleanliness and elegance of the design of public places and buildings, decorated with terraces and climbing plants. Doctors now belong to the most respected category of citizens, and prosperity has reached such a degree that there are no shelters for the poor and restraining houses as unnecessary. At the same time, a person who has written a book preaching "dangerous principles" must wear a mask until he expiates his guilt, and his correction is not forced and consists in moralizing conversations. Each citizen writes down his thoughts, and by the end of his life he compiles a book of them, which is read at his grave.
Children are taught in French, although the College of the Four Nations has survived, in which Italian, English, German and Spanish are studied. In the Sorbonne, once notorious for its "fruitless" disputes, they are engaged in the study of human corpses in order to find means of reducing the bodily suffering of a person. Aromatic plants with the ability to "thin the clotted blood" are considered a universal remedy; pneumonia, consumption, dropsy and many previously incurable diseases are cured. Vaccinations are among the newest principles of disease prevention.
All books on theology and jurisprudence are now stored in the basements of libraries, and, in case of danger of war with neighboring peoples, these dangerous books are sent to the enemy. At the same time, lawyers have been retained, and those who have violated the law are either publicly held in prison or expelled from the country.
The conversation is interrupted by the frequent striking of the bell, announcing the rarest event - executions for murder. Law obedience is brought up early: at the age of fourteen, everyone is obliged to rewrite the laws of the country with his own hand and take the oath, renewed every ten years. And yet, sometimes, for edification, the death penalty is carried out: on the square in front of the Palace of Justice, the criminal is brought to the cage with the body of the murdered. The President of the Senate reads out the verdict of the court, the repentant criminal, surrounded by priests, listens to the speech of the Prelate, after which they bring the death sentence signed by the Sovereign. At the same cell, the criminal is shot, which is considered the final atonement and his name is again included in the lists of citizens.
The ministers of the church in the state are an example of virtue, their main mission is to comfort the suffering, to prevent bloodshed. In the temple, almost everything is familiar to our hero, but there is no painting and sculpture, the altar is devoid of decorations, the glass dome opens up a view of the sky, and the prayer is a poetic message coming from the heart. In the rite of communion, a young man looks at heavenly bodies through a telescope, then through a microscope he is shown an even more wondrous world, thereby convincing him of the wisdom of the Creator.
Traveling around the city, satellites inspect the square with symbolic figures: kneeling France; England stretching out her hands to Philosophy; drooping head of Germany; Spain, of marble with bloody veins - which was supposed to represent repentance for unrighteous deeds in the past.
Dinner time was approaching, and the companions find themselves in a house decorated with a coat of arms and a shield. It turned out that in the homes of the nobility, it is customary to set three tables: for the family, foreigners and the poor. After lunch, the hero goes to watch a musical tragedy about the life and death of the Toulouse merchant Kalas, who was wheeled for a desire to convert to Catholicism. The companion talks about overcoming prejudices against actors: for example, the Prelate recently asked the Emperor for an embroidered hat for an outstanding actor.
The hero has a dream with fantastic visions that change the course of the events experienced - he finds himself alone without a guide in the royal library, which, instead of once huge rooms, is swept away in a small room. The librarian talks about the changed attitude towards the book: all frivolous or dangerous books were stacked in a huge pyramid and burned. However, the main essence of them was previously extracted from the burned books and presented in small books in 1/12 of a leaf, which make up the current library. The writer who found himself in the library characterizes today's writers as the most respected citizens - the pillars of morality and virtue.
Having proceeded to the Academy, the companions find themselves in a simple building with seats for academics, decorated with flags listing the merits of each. One of the academicians present makes a fiery speech condemning the order of the old Academy of the 18th century. The hero does not dispute the correctness of the speaker, but urges not to judge strictly the past tenses.
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Next, the hero visits the Royal Collection, in which he examines marble statues with the inscriptions "Inventor of the saw", "Inventor of the loophole, gate, block", etc .; rare plants, minerals pass in front of him; whole halls are devoted to optical effects; halls of acoustics, where young warlike heirs to the throne are weaned from aggression, deafening with the sounds of battles.
Not far from the collection is the Academy of Painting, which includes a number of other academies: drawing, painting, sculpture, practical geometry. The walls of the academy are decorated with works of the greatest masters, mainly on moral themes, without bloody battles and lustful pleasures of mythological gods. In an allegorical form, the originality of the peoples is conveyed: the envy and vindictiveness of the Italian, the proud striving forward of the Englishman, contempt for the elements of the German, the chivalry and sublimity of the French. Artists are now supported by the state, sculptors do not mold moneybags and royal servants, they immortalize only great deeds. An engraving has become widespread, which teaches citizens virtue and heroism.
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hero returns to the city center, where, with a crowd of citizens, he freely enters the throne room. On both sides of the throne are marble plaques engraved with laws that indicate the limits of royal power, on the one hand, and the duties of subjects, on the other. The sovereign in a blue cloak listens to the reports of the ministers, and if there is even one dissatisfied person, even of the lowest origin, he immediately listens to it publicly.
Delighted with what he saw, the hero asks those present to explain to him the form of government adopted in the state: the king's power is limited, the legislative power belongs to the Assembly of People's Representatives, the executive power belongs to the Senate, while the king monitors the observance of laws, single-handedly deciding only unforeseen and especially complex issues. This is how "the welfare of the state is combined with the welfare of individuals." The heir to the throne goes a long way of education and only at the age of twenty does the king declare him his son. At twenty-two he can ascend to the throne, and at seventy he resigns from himself "power." Only a citizen of her country can be his wife.
The women of the country are chaste and modest, they "do not blush, do not sniff tobacco, do not drink liqueurs."
To explain the essence of the tax system, the hero is led to a street crossroads and shown two chests with the words "Tax to the King" and "Voluntary Contributions", into which citizens "with a contented look" put sealed bags with silver coins. Once filled, the chests are weighed and handed over to the "Finance Controller".
“Tobacco, coffee and tea” have been driven out of use in the country, there is only internal trade, mainly agricultural products. Foreign trade is prohibited, and ships are used for astronomical observations.
In the evening, the hero's companion proposes to dine at the house of one of his friends. The host welcomes guests simply and naturally. The dinner begins with the blessing of the dishes on the table, which are served without any luxury. The food is simple - mostly vegetables and fruits, liqueurs are "prohibited as strictly as arsenic," the servants sit at the same table, and everyone serves their own food.
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Back in the living room, the hero pounces on the newspapers, from which it follows that the world has become a community of free states. The spirit of philosophy and enlightenment spread everywhere: in Beijing, Corneille's tragedy "Cinna" was staged in French, in Constantinople - Voltaire's "Mahomet"; in the previously closed Japan, the treatise "On Crimes and Punishments" was translated. In the former colonies on the American continent, two powerful empires were created - North and South America, the Indians were restored to their rights, their ancient culture was revived. Astronomical observations are being carried out in Morocco, not a single dispossessed person remains on the Papuan land, etc. There are also fundamental changes in Europe: in Russia the sovereign does not call himself an autocrat; the moral impact of Rome is felt by "a Chinese, a Japanese, a resident of Suriname, Kamchatka"; Scotland and Ireland want to be one with England. France, although not an ideal state, is far ahead of other countries in the progressive movement.
There was no secular news in the newspapers, and the hero, wanting to know the fate of Versailles, takes a trip to the former palace. In his place, he finds only ruins, where he receives explanations from the elder present there: the palace collapsed under the weight of buildings being built on top of each other. All the means of the kingdom went to their construction, and pride was punished. This old man turns out to be King Louis XIV.
At this moment, one of the snakes nesting in the ruins bites the hero in the neck and he wakes up.