The Gate of Knowledge

The International Historical Society.

The late Lord Salisbury, on one celebrated occasion, lamented that the task of a statesman in a democracy was made almost impossible by the fact that people did not read history. But after all, do you know, it was rather hard luck on the people! History was always written with portentous dullness, and it was printed in folios or quartos, each volume of which weighed about 3.785 metric tons. Even an enthusiast could hardly be expected to wade through this kind of book. It was too much like digging. In fact it was very often like digging for gold in a place where there wasn’t any.

But there is no reason in nature why history should be dull; and certainly none why it should be presented in steam-roller form. History deals with realities, the lives of actual people; and it is reality alone in which we are fundamentally interested. We have now discovered that fairy stories appeal to us only because they sound symbolically the hidden depths of our vita sexualis. We accept stories in so far as we are genuinely touched by them, and where a historical basis helps our conviction of reality, we get one of the highest forms of fiction, the historical novel. There is, however, a counterpart to the plan of buttressing fiction by history; and that is to write history with imagination. Everyone knows how dreadful a sense of unreality is created by the perusal of Blue Books. It is much better to clothe facts with insight, style, and even a touch of romance. Our ancestors certainly possessed skeletons; but they did not walk about without flesh and blood to cover them.

There is, therefore, every reason to rejoice when a history appears which satisfies these conditions and in addition is presented in a readable form. This volume now under review will go conveniently into a pocket. Yet the type is excellently clear, and large enough to enable even very weak eyes to read without strain. The binding is extremely ornamental and artistic, entirely suited to the character of the works.

This “History of the Belgian People” is uniform with the excellent series of volumes of the “History of the German People.” It is a book of extraordinary value at the present moment when Belgium is once more a point of shock between opposing economic currents. Man is determined in his actions by his antecedents. The Belgian people did not descend suddenly from heaven. Their conditions are determined altogether by their history. We cannot understand why a man performs so simple an action as eating unless we go right back through evolution to the nutrition of protoplasm; and the attitude of Belgium in the present war can only be understood by going back to the first origins, and considering how climatic and geographical conditions determined the trend of religious, political and economic forces. In a period like the present when sanity of standpoint, breadth and completeness of view, and probity of judgement are so necessary to combat the hysterical arguments which are so prevalent on both sides of the present conflict, it is of the utmost importance that everyone should grasp the WHY of Belgium.

A. C.

By Professor Hugo Münsterberg.

It is with a somewhat sardonic smile that one reflects upon the fact presented by the existence of this book. It is not the Englishman who stretches “hands across the sea” and portrays the character and destiny of his greatly beloved cousin. It is a Prussian who gives America a patient and sympathetic understanding and elaborate study. It is difficult for an Englishman even to do so much as to read a book of this kind. I am acquainted with a number of distinguished Englishmen at the present resident in these States; and from no one of them have I ever heard a single good word for America. One went so far as to say that the sole pleasure of Englishmen in this country was to get together and abuse it. I have heard it said by one of them that the strongest passion of his lifetime of strong passions has been hatred or rather loathing for America, that this passion eats up the soul, destroys the memory of all other things and with such violence that the body itself in turn becomes sick. I have heard one master of language say that he is being irritated beyond all measure hourly by the impossibility of finding any words to express the intensity of his disgust. Yet it is to England that America innocently looks for friendship and alliance! It is against Germany that she fulminates every day in her (very-largely-English-owned) press. It is really painful to read Professor Münsterberg’s book at the present juncture. He is abominably fair. Even the most glaring abuses of America, abuses which are admitted by all its own citizens he refuses to condemn. He always finds a psychological reason to explain the apparent wrong, on fundamental grounds which are in themselves profoundly and beautifully right. Similarly, in what seem to the ordinary observer to be blank spots in American culture, art, literature, pure science, and philosophy, Professor Münsterberg finds achievement even as well as promise. He must have been devoured by passionate love for the people among whom he lived and worked. One cannot say much for the quality of the gratitude displayed in return, but I feel, however, that Professor Münsterberg himself were he alive would say that this ingratitude did not matter, that his book would remain a classical investigation of American conditions, and that its influence would ultimately lead to a true assimilation between the American and Teutonic temperaments. One might say, if one wished to be epigrammatic, that the Germans are all brains and the Americans all nerves. There is surely something wrong with the world when these two organs of a microcosm are in apparent conflict. In fact, one cannot believe that it is so. The more one studies the matter from a philosophical standpoint, the more certain it becomes that the present breach of the peace is an artificial and fictitious lesion, a quarrel which does not represent even for a single moment the truth of the matter. It is unnecessary to dilate further upon the extraordinary thoroughness of Professor Münsterberg’s great work. The depth of insight displayed is only what one would expect from one of the greatest psychologists of his period. The thoroughness is characteristically German. But the point of view is more than German: it is human.

By Arthur Machen. McBride, New York.

I have always maintained that Arthur Machen was one of the most original and excellent minds of England. The distinction of his thought and style is one of the most unmistakable of contemporary literary phenomena. He failed somewhat to come to his full stature because of an unfortunate obsession. His reverence for antiquity is so great that he has been compelled to follow the great masters in what I may call the framework of their art. Thus he began by telling Stevenson stories, and he was obliged to give them Stevenson’s sections, so that “The Three Impostors” reads like a new episode of “The Dynamiter.” In particular, “Miss Leicester” or “Miss Lally” makes a very fair duplicate of Stevenson’s one successful attempt to portray a woman. I was rather sorry to see Mr. Machen adventure himself in the province of scientific romance. It was only too clear that he would adopt the manner of Mr. H. G. Wells. However, his distinction has saved him from too margarine an effect. One is able to say with clear conscience that this is an excellent story, admirably written.

At the same time, one must say that this is not at all the time to have written it. The story is grossly seditious and openly pro-German. Mr. Machen, as his name implies, is, of course, himself a pure German. It is impossible to understand the stupidity of the British authorities in not having him interned, or indeed executed. It will be remembered that he furnished the basis for the fable of the “Angels of Mons,” which did so much to discourage recruiting in the early days of the war. This book is equally pernicious. The catastrophe is caused, according to him, by the fact of the animals having lost their fear of and respect for man, owing to the wickedness of man, the abdication of his human sovereignty. Now, Mr. Machen caused his catastrophe to take place in England. His characters blame the wicked Germans for everything that happened when it is really their own fault. That Satanic Teutonic subtlety! Mr. Machen’s book elaborates this thesis. “In England, men have become the equivalent of beasts. In Germany, however, there are no troubles of any kind. Germany has not lost its moral superiority to the lower animals.”

We are unfortunately not in possession of the checks which must have been paid to Mr. Machen by the Huns, but it is not a case where one needs to wait for further evidence. He should be shot at sunrise and no more ado about it.

— C. M. (of the Supervigilantes).


This small pamphlet is without publishers’ or printers’ marks. It contains an account of the murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington, with an article written by Mr. Skeffington, reprinted from the “Century Magazine.” The murder of Mr. Skeffington was, as some statesman or other once said: “Much worse than a crime, it was a blunder.” The murder of Mr. Thomas Ashe comes under the same category. In fact, it is always difficult to blame the authors of such atrocities. Naturally enough, they always occur in circumstances where clear reason and common sense are inhibited. These incidents must therefore be classed in a sense as accidents, and moral indignation is really a somewhat primitive reaction.

It is absurd to class Captain Bowen-Colthurst as a monster and a villain. He was simply an officer who completely lost his nerve. At the same time, one cannot expect the man in the street to take this philosophical view of what on the surface is certainly a most infamous outrage, an abomination almost unbelievable; and we must not be surprised that the Irish crudely determine to do away with the entire system which makes such things possible. The real cure does not lie in any political readjustment; a complete advance in civilization is necessary. Cool reason and common sense and presence of mind must become normal to the race. The Irish Republican will reply that that is quite true, and that these qualities will develop best when Ireland is free. It is hard to reply to this contention. But it is equally clear that Ireland will have been freed in vain, if the qualities of cool reason, etc., are not thereby developed. Ireland must cease to be the enemy of England the moment England has ceased to show herself the enemy of Ireland.

A. C.

Woodrow Wilson and The World’s Peace.
By George D. Herron.
New York
Mitchell Kennerley.

Mr. Herron seems to be rather an opportunist than a Socialist.

A. C.

The Laws of Health and Prosperity and How to Apply Them.
By Clara Chamberlain McLean.
Published by
The Elizabeth Towne Co., Inc. Holyoke, Mass.
L. N. Fowler Co.
7 Imperial Arcade, Ludgate Circus.
London. E. C.

Incoherent gush.


The Dead Have Never Died.
By Edward C. Randall.
New York Alfred A. Knopf 1917

Better written than most of the twaddle on spiritualism, but just as twaddly.


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