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Encounter: Horace White and Elinor Langer

Hawaiian Annexation

Editorial (Horace White)
November 25, 1897

Imperialism’s First Fruits

Elinor Langer
April 6, 2015

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Botticelli’s Illustrations to the Divina Commedia

Bernard Berenson
Excerpted from the November 12, 1896 Issue

Dante does not lend himself to illustration; and, even if he did, Botticelli was not the man for the task. Then, pray, what is the value of these drawings? The answer is simple. Their value consists in their being drawings by Botticelli, not at all in their being drawings for Dante. And at this point the honest showman should warn the public that a drawing by Botticelli is something very peculiar. It does not so much as attempt to be correct; it is not a faithful reproduction of anything whatsoever. A hundred “artist-journalists” now at work publish daily drawings which are far more exact, more lifelike, more clever, and more brilliant than any you will find in Botticelli’s designs for the Commedia. His real place as a draughtsman is not among great Europeans, but with the great Chinese and Japanese, with Ririomin, Haronobu, and Hokusai. Like these, he is a supreme master of the single line. He gives it a swiftness and a purity which in the whole world of sensation find their analogy only in some few ecstatic notes of the violin, or in the most crystalline timbre of the soprano voice. His universe was of the simplest. It consisted of things that could and of things that could not furnish themes for rhapsodies in swift, pure lines. Dante happened to find himself among the blessed in this simple division, hence Botticelli chose him as a subject for his art. These illustrations required of our artist no coloring—with him always an afterthought—and scarcely any stereotyped composition. Here he could be free as nowhere else, and here, therefore, we see him in his most unadulterated form. The value of these drawings consists in their being the most spontaneous product of the greatest master of the single line that our modern Western world has yet possessed.

Bernard Berenson (1865–1959) was a critic and connoisseur whose first writing on art was published in The Nation in 1890. Sixty years later, he wrote a letter to Ray Bradbury complimenting his essay on science fiction. The essay is reprinted in this issue. 

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An Interesting Book for Inactive Boys

Review of The Boy’s Book of Inventions, by Ray Stannard Baker

Charles Sanders Peirce
October 19, 1899

Here is a fairly good book for boys, telling about automobiles, tall buildings, the new kites, the phonograph, wireless telegraphy, liquid air, and the Roentgen rays—subjects ranging from those whose principles are obvious for every boy, to those which must remain mysteries in his mind; from those which depend upon no new knowledge, but only upon new economic conditions, to those which have startled the scientific world. Mr. Baker has made his book entertaining. He has not loaded it down with information. On the contrary, it must be an inactive-minded boy who is satisfied with what he finds here: The question of dollars and cents is brought to the focus of attention. The purpose seems to be to turn the boy’s love of the marvelous to account in order to impress him with conceptions of the great science of economy. Mechanical contrivances, his natural delight, are kept scrupulously out of view. Purely scientific matters are apparently not deemed important enough to call for any great accuracy of statement.

It would have been perfectly possible without making the book any the less entertaining, to have given it a high value for the boy’s growing understanding of the scientific points involved in the different inventions, so that he should treasure and cherish it more and more with advancing years. A book after a boy’s own heart, it is not quite, though a boy will be glad enough to get and read it. The illustrations are interesting and extravagant.

Known as the “father of pragmatism,” the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) earned much of his living for years as a freelancer for The Nation, writing over 300 articles on subjects both weighty and light. 

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The Situation in the Philippines

Editorial (D.M. Means)
Excerpted from the August 16, 1900 Issue

The people of this country take but a languid interest in the Filipinos. Events in China now engage our attention, and the excitement of a Presidential campaign will soon exclude all other interests.

In the island of Luzon, there are 216 separate [US] garrisons, holding cities and villages in the twenty-seven provinces. A battalion of soldiers can now move from one of these points to another without meeting any effective resistance, and in some regions without meeting any resistance at all. In this sense the island is pacified, and there are no more “insurgents.” The armed natives are now called “ladrones,” “robbers,” and “bandits.” There are no more battles, but nearly every day there are fights in which the Americans lose one or more, and the natives one hundred or more. Nevertheless, everything is quiet, according to the official statement. The mass of the people, it is claimed, desire American rule, but are unable to resist the small but pestilent minority, who tyrannize over them. Even with the aid of our army, the great majority of the people are unable to resist these robber bands, and reluctantly supply them with all the food and money that they need.

Officially viewed, the situation is that of tolerably complete conquest. But the official view does not cover all the facts. Whenever a small force of Americans undertakes an expedition, the woods and hills become alive with enemies.

The theory that these bands terrorize the whole population has no support in facts. The American troops have done the terrorizing. Their conduct in some actions has been so ferocious, and their revenge in many cases so terrible, as to make them dreaded and hated. The natives submit to the Americans because they are afraid of them; they secretly support the “ladrones” because they are their relatives and friends, and because they sympathize with them in their resistance. Our rule is detested; and there is no reason why it should not continue to be so.

The sole defence of the slaughter of the Filipinos offered by those Americans who defend our course on moral grounds, is that we are relieving a friendly and peaceful population from the oppression of robber bands. What evidence supports this theory? How many Filipinos are killed by these bandits, and how many by our soldiers? By whom has most property been destroyed? The proof is overwhelming that we are forcing our rule on a sullen and reluctant people, by methods which will make us hated for generations. We have killed perhaps 30,000 Filipinos. Their children and relatives and friends do not love us for it. They are denounced for failing to appreciate our benevolent intentions; but since they do fail, our justification also fails.

D.M. Means (1847–1931), a lawyer and economist, was an editorial writer for The Nation and the New-York Evening Post

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The Pesky Anti-Imperialist

Editorial (Rollo Ogden)
Excerpted from the May 8, 1902 Issue

It is most provoking, we know, for Anti-Imperialists to pretend that they are still alive. They have been killed so often. After 1899 we were to hear no more of them. In 1900 they were again pronounced dead. Last year the slain were slaughtered once more, and that time buried as well, with all due ceremony. Yet the impudent creatures have resumed activity during the past few months just as if their epitaphs had not been composed again and again.

The worst of it is that they seem to have acquired a strange power over the public and over Government. What the lonely and ridiculous Anti-Imperialist was whispering in the closet, a year ago, thousands are now shouting from the housetops. How to account for it? Imperialist editors and statesmen are puzzled. Their despised and helpless opponents are actually swaying the policy of the Government! It is absurd, of course, really quite preposterous, but there stands the fact. It is all very fine to make merry at the expense of wrong-headed people who get in the way of national progress, but how if they succeed? Prodigiously unreasonable, truly disgusting to the well-ordered mind of the Imperialist; but what is the explanation?

Very simple, cocksure brothers of the Empire, we assure you. All you have to do is to remember that Anti-Imperialism is only another name for old-fashioned Americanism, and all will be clear to you. An American who has a settled body of convictions, as to which he is ready to speak out at a moment’s notice; who with his inherited ideas has an inherited courage, an inherited love of equality and of justice; who has also a sense of humor which cannot be imposed upon by Uncle Sam masquerading in Louis Quatorze garments. It is simply his Americanism that makes him think and act as he does.

This is what makes the Anti-Imperialist so pesky—he is American to the core. He has fed on his country’s tradition. With him, justice does not depend upon the color of a man’s skin. He cannot distinguish between the flag and the principles which first set the flag flying. He believes that the Declaration of Independence is the very Alcoran of American political doctrine. And he does not in the least mind being in a minority. He remembers that the history of success is the history of minorities.

Rollo Ogden (1856–1937) was editor of the New-York Evening Post for nearly two decades and a frequent Nation contributor before joining The New York Times. Oswald Garrison Villard wrote in 1922 that Ogden “took his plunge into the dull senescence of The Times’s editorial page.”