COLONIAL EXPANSION AND WAR
A CHAPTER WHICH OUGHT TO GIVE YOU A GREAT DEAL OF POLITICAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE LAST FIFTY YEARS, BUT WHICH REALLY CONTAINS SEVERAL EXPLANATIONS AND A FEW APOLOGIES
IF I had known how difficult it was to write a History of the World, I should never have undertaken the task. Of course, any one possessed of enough industry to lose himself for half a dozen years in the musty stacks of a library, can compile a ponderous tome which gives an account of the events in every land during every century. But that was not the purpose of the present book. The publishers wanted to print a history that should have rhythm - a story which galloped rather than walked. And now that I have almost finished I discover that certain chapters gallop, that others wade slowly through the dreary sands of long forgotten ages - that a few parts do not make any progress at all, while still others indulge in a veritable jazz of action and romance. I did not like this and I suggested that we destroy the whole manuscript and begin once more from the beginning. This, however, the publishers would not allow.
As the next best solution of my difficulties, I took the type- written pages to a number of charitable friends and asked them to read what I had said, and give me the benefit of their advice. The experience was rather disheartening. Each and every man had his own prejudices and his own hobbies and preferences. They all wanted to know why, where and how I dared to omit their pet nation, their pet statesman, or even their most beloved criminal. With some of them, Napoleon and Jenghiz Khan were candidates for high honours. I explained that I had tried very hard to be fair to Napoleon, but that in my estimation he was greatly inferior to such men as George Washington, Gustavus Wasa, Augustus, Hammurabi or Lincoln, and a score of others all of whom were obliged to content themselves with a few paragraphs, from sheer lack of space. As for Jenghiz Khan, I only recognise his superior ability in the field of wholesale murder and I did not intend to give him any more publicity than I could help.
``This is very well as far as it goes,'' said the next critic, ``but how about the Puritans? We are celebrating the tercentenary of their arrival at Plymouth. They ought to have more space.'' My answer was that if I were writing a history of America, the Puritans would get fully one half of the first twelve chapters; that however this was a history of mankind and that the event on Plymouth rock was not a matter of far- reaching international importance until many centuries later; that the United States had been founded by thirteen colonies and not by a single one; that the most prominent leaders of the first twenty years of our history had been from Virginia, from Pennsylvania, and from the island of Nevis, rather than from Massachusetts; and that therefore the Puritans ought to content themselves with a page of print and a special map.
Next came the prehistoric specialist. Why in the name of the great Tyrannosaur had I not devoted more space to the wonderful race of Cro-Magnon men, who had developed such a high stage of civilisation 10,000 years ago?
Indeed, and why not? The reason is simple. I do not take as much stock in the perfection of these early races as some of our most noted anthropologists seem to do. Rousseau and the philosophers of the eighteenth century created the ``noble savage'' who was supposed to have dwelt in a state of perfect happiness during the beginning of time. Our modern scientists have discarded the ``noble savage,'' so dearly beloved by our grandfathers, and they have replaced him by the ``splendid savage'' of the French Valleys who 35,000 years ago made an end to the universal rule of the low-browed and low-living brutes of the Neanderthal and other Germanic neighbourhoods. They have shown us the elephants the Cro-Magnon painted and the statues he carved and they have surrounded him with much glory.
I do not mean to say that they are wrong. But I hold that we know by far too little of this entire period to re-construct that early west-European society with any degree (however humble) of accuracy. And I would rather not state certain things than run the risk of stating certain things that were not so.
Then there were other critics, who accused me of direct unfairness. Why did I leave out such countries as Ireland and Bulgaria and Siam while I dragged in such other countries as Holland and Iceland and Switzerland? My answer was that I did not drag in any countries. They pushed themselves in by main force of circumstances, and I simply could not keep them out. And in order that my point may be understood, let me state the basis upon which active membership to this book of history was considered.
There was but one rule. ``Did the country or the person in question produce a new idea or perform an original act without which the history of the entire human race would have been different?'' It was not a question of personal taste. It was a matter of cool, almost mathematical judgment. No race ever played a more picturesque role in history than the Mongolians, and no race, from the point of view of achievement or intelligent progress, was of less value to the rest of mankind.
The career of Tiglath-Pileser, the Assyrian, is full of dramatic episodes. But as far as we are concerned, he might just as well never have existed at all. In the same way, the history of the Dutch Republic is not interesting because once upon a time the sailors of de Ruyter went fishing in the river Thames, but rather because of the fact that this small mud-bank along the shores of the North Sea offered a hospitable asylum to all sorts of strange people who had all sorts of queer ideas upon all sorts of very unpopular subjects.