« ZurückWeiter »
The question of preserving all provincial newspapers at the British Museum suggests certain obvious and uncomfortable questions. My own life, like that of many, has been recently a struggle against the masses of printed matter which threaten to submerge any moderate household. They can be treated by very summary domestic methods; and one is tempted to wonder whether the same system might not le applied to the great public reservoir for such things. Would the world be any the
if the Eatanswill Gazette passed once for all out of existence? own opinion were in favor of summary destruction, I should not venture to utter it; I might be torn in pieces by told antiquaries. The bare contemplation of such a possibility is regarded as wicked and condemned in the name of sound scholarship and scientific research. Moreover, I can admit some force in the case for universal preservation. Dryasdust, though Carlyle writhed under his dominion, is, after all, one of the most harmless of human beings. There are few amusements in which a man can indulge with less injury to his fellow-creatures than the investigation of the vast “rubbishheaps" and waste "lumber mountains” over which his victim plodded with sonorous groans. If we are willing to preserve waste spaces for the amusement of golf-players, we ought not to grudge an accumulation of waste paper where people of a different taste may find a recreation, to them equally fascinating. It is true that they don't often find much that is of the least interest to others. It may be doubted whether all the labor bestowed upon Shakesperian details has made any. body understand Hamlet or Othello one
bit better than before. Still it bas given immense pleasure and pride to the laborers, and it cannot be denied that here and there some really illuminative spark has been struck out. Carlyle certainly succeeded in here and there eliciting brilliant flashes, and putting life into the dead bones. He complained, not of the preservation of the materials, but of the totally chaotic and unsifted condition in which they had been left.
Nobody doubts, indeed, that the older records should be religiously preserved. The more ambitious historian will tell us that they enable him to discover facts of primary importance for the right understanding of political institutions; and will add that our ancestors would have been incapable of foreseeing which were the really significant documents. As we, however, much wiser, are yet not quite infallible, we must keep everything, that we may be sure of not destroying just what our posterity will desire. Some things are to us so familiar to one geperation that the necessity of recording them does not suggest itself and get a following generation may see that they were of critical importance. The arguinent may be fully admitted with one reservation. Historians seem at times to confuse the two very different propositions. Because any fact may be important, they speak as if every fact must be interesting. A single obserration may clear up a scientific difficulty. Millions of years ago an insect happened to be stuck in a clod of carth. Its "mortal remains" when dug up may give a decisive solution of some problem of evolution. The one specimen was priceless. But if we afterwards found a whole stratum comTrosed of similar remains they might
tell us nothing more. A single locust in want of ample illustration. It is would be as instructive as a countless highly probable no doubt that posterity swarm. So a single ancient document may discover the interest of some profound in a mummy may reveal some- cesses to which we pay little attenthing of deep interest as to the remot- tion. The symptoms of great changes est civilization. If similar documents may be still obscure; but, though we were discovered their value would de- may not understand their significance, cline in a rapidly accelerating ratio. they can hardly fail to be on record. They would only repeat what we knew The great difficulty of the coming phialready. The enormous majority of losophers who unravel the play of the ascertainable facts become after all political forces will not be to get maworthless, and merely correspond to terials, but to disengage the really imrepetitions for the millionth time of portant facts from the masses of irperfectly familiar truths. Historians relevant matter in which they are imsometimes seem to overlook this very hedded. The historian of this century obvious distinction, and act like the is pretty certain to shudder when he directors of a museum who, instead of contemplates the vast masses of macollecting specimens of all known va- terial. If he thinks it necessary to rieties, should collect all the specimens know all the evidence for any one seof any given variety. They lose the ries of events-to know, as a specialist sense of proportion and become infect- is supposed to know, all that has been ed with a mania for communicating said upon his own familiar province of tacts simply as facts. Historians of
inquiry-he will have to devote a lifean earlier period were superficial and time to getting up the history of a did not care to burrow into original
year. But, whatever his province, I Their hasty surveys required cannot imagine that he will ever find to be compared with facts; but one re- reason to complain of any deficiency sult seems to be a superstitious regard of essential materials. for even irrelevant details, if they rest I do not propose to simplify the laupon first-hand evidence.
bors of posterity by suppressing anyThis tendency may no doubt cor- thing. We might, no doubt, make misrespond to a necessary stage and be at takes, and we may leave the future worst the exaggeration of a sound
philosopher to find his own methods of principle. But it suggests one other dealing with a problem daily becoming remark. The danger of losing really more difficult. My only moral is of a important information seems to be different kind. The demand for the greatly exaggerated. The important preservation of the material should be facts are the common facts; the facts
accompanied by a demand for its orwhich are illustrated in innumerable
ganization. Our huge storehouses should relations of life. Dip anywhere into be arranged with a view to their accesthe great ocean of history and you will sibility. Carlyle complains piteously bring up plenty of specimens. What that Dryasdust had rarely even troubis required is less to add to the accu- led himself to make an index. The index mulated knowledge than to arrange maker is, I hope, becoming more acthe knowledge already acquired in the tive. The plan for an extensive index significant order. Considering the vast of scientific papers is a natural corolmasses of records of every kind which lary from the demand for preserving are sure of preservation, it is hard to vast accumulations of material. The suppose that there is any really impor- Dictionary of National Biography, tant historical research which will be which has
interest to me, is already kind of index to British history; but its value would be greatly increased if an index were added to it, virtually classifying its contents according to events as well as according to names, to enable one to find out not only what a given man has done, but who has been the doer of a given thing. 'The index-maker, though he deserves the hearty blessing of all readers, represents the lowest stage of a whole class of work daily becoming more iinportant. There are many manuals and monograms useful either as guides to the student of some special subject or as supplying the specialist with such knowledge as he requires of subjects more or less conterminous with his own. But the need for such work steadily increases. When one thinks of the
stream daily setting into the British Museum and of the horror raised by any suggestion that any limit should be set to it, one may be pardoned for thinking more of the correlative necessity. Our catalogues and indexes and calendars have been immensely improved of late years, and at least made paths through the tangled wilderness. Still my heart sometimes sinks at the thoughts of the vast trouble that we are bequeathing to our children; I begin to think more kindly of the Sultan Omar, and to wonder whether there a judicious incendiary might not be a benefactor in disguise. The wickedness of such thoughts needs no demonstration; and the effectual way of suppressing them is to promote any system which can deal effectually with the powers of chaos and darkness.
The dead abide with us! Though stark and cold
Vibrations infinite of life in death,
AUGUST 4, 1900.
READINGS FROM NEW BOOKS.
LEGATION STREET IN PEKING.*
At the close of the war in 1860, the ketans, Koreans, and other tribute-bearhumiliated government, accepting the ing visitors were always lodged, and presence of foreign envoys at Peking where the Mongols still have a street as a necessary evil, offered the Summer to themselves. The French, German, I'alace inclosure for a great diplomatic Japanese, Spanish, and Italian legacompound, and then a tract of land im- tions, the club, the hotel, the bank, and mediately outside the west wall for a the two foreign stores are grouped foreign concession. Sir Harry Parkes closely together, facing and touching led in emphatically repudiating these one another half-way down Legation offers, and the Liang-Kung fu (palace Street; and, across once splendid of the Duke of Liang) was bught for bridge, the American and Russian lea British legation, Duke Tsin's fu be- gations face, and the British legation, coming the French legation. A fu al- adjoining, stretches along an iufraways has green tiled roofs, stone lions grant canal, or open sewer, that drains before the five-bayed entrance gate, away from lakes in the palace grounds. and four courts and pavilions beyond, The British is the largest establishand a fu is assigned to each imperial ment, the five-acre compound always son outside of the succession. Imperial sheltering from forty to fifty British descendants move down one degree in souls or "mouths" in the sordid Chirank with each generation and when nese expression. All these European the third descendant has reached the legations and the Japanese legation level of the people again, the fu reverts have their corps of student-interpreto the crown. The occupants of fus ters, university graduates sent out for may have eunuchs attached to their es- two years' study of the Chinese written tablishments, and to the remotest gen- and spoken language, the Pekingese or eration they may wear the yellow gir- mandarian court dialect used by the dle of imperial descent. There have official class throughout the empire. At been yellow-belted teachers, and even the completion of their prescribed domestic servants in foreign employ, course under their minister's charge, starvelings of imperial ancestry who they are drafted to the consulates, are took their few dollars with plebeian steadily promoted in line of seniority, gratitude.
and retire on pensions after twenty-five All the legations are in that quarter years' service. of the Tartar city where Mongols, Ti- All these official European residences beautiful parks and garden compounds, fine flowers of European diplomacy the drawing-rooms and ball-rooms, have been transplanted to Peking, they with their brilliant companies living have been content to wallow along this and amusing themselves exactly as in filthy Legation street, breathing its Europe, are among the greatest con- dust, sickened with its mud and stenchtrasts and surprises of Peking. The es, the highway before their doors a picked diplomats of all Europe are sent general sewer and dumping-ground for to Peking, lodged sumptuously, paid offensive refuse of every kind. The high salaries, and sustained by the cer- street is all gutter save where there are tainty of promotions and rewards at- fragmentary attempts at a raised mudter a useful term at Peking-all but bank footwalk beside the house walls, the American minister, wlio is crowded for use when the cartway between is in small rented premises, is paid about too deep a mud-slough. "We are here a fourth as much as the other envoys, on sufferance, under protest, you and, coming untrained to his career, know," say the meek and lowly dipiohas the cheerful certainty of being put mats. “We must not offend Chinese out of office as soon as he has learned prejudices.” Moreover, all the legahis business and another President is tions would not subscribe to an atelected, his stay in Peking on a mea- tempted improvement fund,
are maintained on a scale of consider• From China, The Long-Lived Empire. By
able splendor, and the sudden transEliza R. Scidmore. Oopyright, 1899-1900. The
fers from the noisome streets to the Century Co. Price $2.50.
nor all gre salary, a sufficient incident in itself, unite in demanding that the Chinese leading to nothing further officially. should clean, light, pave, and drain LeThe United States does not maintain gation Street. That jealousy of the student-interpreters at Peking, and the great Powers so ironically termed the legation has so far drafted its inter- "Concert of Europe," is as much to fireters from the mission boards.
biame for the sanitary situation of PeSuch interpreters, having usually king as for affairs in Crete and Argiven most attention to the local di- menia. alects of the people, must then acquire The whole stay of the envoys at Pethe elaborate and specialized idioms of king has been a long story of trial and the official class. Dr. Peter Parker and fruitless effort, of rebuff and covert inthe great Wells Williams are the only sults. It was unfortunate that their sinologues, or Chinese scholars, who residence began without the refugee have lent lustre to the roll of American Emperor being forced to come down diplomats serving in China.
from Jehol and receive them with honThe diplomats in exile lead a narrow, ors and due courtesy, and that the long busy life among themselves, occupied iegency of the two secluded empresses with their social amusements and continued the evasion of personal auteuds, often well satisfied with Peking diences, since precedent and custom after their first month's disgust, re- soon crystallize in fixed laws to the sentment and homesickness, and even Chinese. In the first years of their disbecoming sensitive to any criticism or grace and defeat, the officials were civdisparagement of the place. They have il and courteous, gracious and kindly their club, the tennis-courts of which in their intercourse with diplomats: but are flooded and roofed over as a skat- in a few years they recovered their ing-rink, their spring and autumn ra- a plomb, found their lost "face," and beces at a track beyond the walls, fre- (ame as insolent, arrogant, contemptuquent garden parties and picnic teas ous, and overbearing as they had been in the open seasons, and a busy round Lefore the war, and have continued to of state dinners and balls all winter. be, save in other brief moments of hu
For the nearly forty years that the miliation and defeat, ever since.