The Arena Part 12

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Russia is a bear. Germany is a black eagle. France also, in her Bonaparte mood, is an eagle. Imperial Rome _was_ an eagle from the days of the Caesars. Great Britain is a lion, and Prussia is a leopard, and Siam is an elephant, and Mexico is still a snake. As for Great Britain, not satisfied with one lion, she repeats him seven times, rampant or couchant, on the royal standard. She also preserves on her coat-of-arms and coins the unicorn, that fabulous, one-horned monster of a horrid dream.

The American Republic seems to have accepted the eagle for its totem. We might have taken a bear or a caribou, but the eagle has pleased our mythologists more--and so, instead of belonging to the tribe of the Turkey, the tribe of the Dog, or the tribe of the Calf, we belong to the tribe of the Eagle. But what does our totem signify?

The eagle in our symbolism and war-myth has come to us from the past. He was of old the totem of the Romans. From the Tiber he flew beyond the Alps, to perch on the standards of German chieftains and Gallic emperors. He has visited all lands that are affected with the civil and ethnic life of Rome. He has appeared here and there on the flags of the Latin races in the Old World and the New. He has made an eyrie in our mountains, and his scream has been heard in our wars. He has settled on our flagstaffs, and has been seen by certain and sundry poets who apostrophize him in verse. He has been admired by orators whose imaginations rise as high as battle and conquest, but not as high as the Stars and Stripes. He has been adored in academic essays. He has hovered over the pages of inchoate histories, until his claim to be regarded as the American bird is established. The eagle has become traditional as the totem of the United States.

In so far as the eagle is the symbol of the independence and freedom of men, let us accept him! In so far as he represents the idea and sublimity of height and flight, let him soar! The eagle as a sign of the free voyage of the human mind, triumphant over nature, visiting on strong wing the far and otherwise inaccessible heights of escape and glory, is the n.o.blest of all the totems ever discovered by man; for flight is the n.o.blest and most sublime of earthly actions. Height is the sublimest of all earthly stations. Height and flight are precisely the dream which we would select from the infinite visions of the soul and have engraved on our seal as a motto for eternity. Height and flight and freedom!

In so far as the eagle may be regarded as the bird of the past; in so far as he stands for violence and conquest; in so far as he represents the rending and destruction of life, the carnivorous pa.s.sion in mankind, the rage of battle and triumph,--to that extent be there no eagle for the Republic or for us! It is high time that some race of men should rise to the height of discarding violence and blood as the beginnings of fame and power. It is high time that some race should renounce all bears and leopards and lions and mythological monsters as the symbols of its spirit and purpose. It is high time that some nation should ascend to a level from which it may look down on the savage emblems and beast-born symbolism of the past world as no longer fit to express the central purposes and n.o.blest visions of an enlightened people.

The American eagle in the better and more glorious sense--in the sense in which he typifies freedom and height and flight--is a totem of which neither philosopher nor peasant need be ashamed. The eagle's wing is more than pinion; it is thought. The eagle's eye is more than fierce disdain; it is a flash of ineffable light. His glance is more than terror; it is an arrow shot into the darkness. His breast is more than pressure and force; it is defiance of wind and battle-rack. His spirit is more than destruction; it is supremacy over chaotic elements and the triumph of the emanc.i.p.ated spirit. His scream is more than the shriek of carnal victory and rage of destroying strength; it is the cry of liberty and the shout of progress to all peoples in the valleys of the world.

Give man the spirit of the eagle. Give him height and flight and freedom. Give us who are Americans the splendid arena of the plains and the open vault of heaven. Give us the mountain, the beetling crag, the precipice, the gnarled oak, the lightning, and the cloud. Give us the warfare of the lawless elements, the world-blaze of the magnificent sun, the starlight of the profound and unspeakable night. Give us the transport of the unchained seasons, the snow-blast and the sun-flash, the tenderness of the dawn, the sorrow of the evening, the rainspout of the bursting nimbus, and the mellow light of autumn. Give us the splendid apocalypse of October and the infinite air-bath of the perfumed June. Give us all the aspirations of the man-soul standing in the midst of this splendor and mutation, standing high and opening the eagle-wing to cloudland and the sky, soaring and circling unfettered, viewing all lakes and hills from the aerial curves of freedom, alighting at will on the chosen summit, undisturbed by fear and untroubled by the torments of power!

Vive La France.

A strange fact is the apathy of the American nation towards France and the French people. There is every reason to expect a different sentiment on this side of the sea. France was ever our friend; since the colonial days we have never warred with her. The French were our allies when the days were dark and the winds of our destiny were loosed on the deep. We had been a.s.sailed by an unnatural mother. That strong mother had wronged us, treated us as aliens, erased us from her book, turned loose mercenary armies upon us, killed our patriot fathers.

In that hour of fate France appeared willingly on the scene as our champion. She succored us. Whatever may have been her motive, she put her aegis over our head. She sent her heroes to our camps; she gave us Lafayette and Rochambeau. She placed her fleets at our ports, with guns pointed seaward for protection. Then, when the fight was won, she aided us to enlarge our territories, to confirm our new republican empire.

Though in the afterdays of her monarchical gloom France sometimes looked askance at our flag, the French nation was never once disloyal to us--never once indifferent to the fate of our great democracy.

In our inst.i.tutional development for more than a century we have proceeded on the same general lines with the French. If we are satisfied with the result--if we _believe_ in our republic--we ought, in good reason, to believe in the republic of France; for the republic is a universal fact, little trammelled by locality. The barrier of race ought not to predominate over political and social sympathies. The barrier of race ought not to separate us from our own. The fact that we are allied in ethnic descent with the English people ought not to make us enamored of the social life and civil inst.i.tutions of Great Britain. Much less should the industrial and commercial life of England allure us as if to provoke a like manner of life in ourselves. Least of all should the financial method of Great Britain lead us by imitation to fix upon ourselves a similar incubus and horror.

This leads us to say that to break away from Great Britain, even when incited thereto by the antipathy and prejudice which we must needs hold against her; to leave her behind; to treat her as a historical fact not favorable, but inimical rather, to our progress and independent destiny,--seems to be the hardest task imposed upon the American democracy. The preference of race and language is so profound, the influences of the commercial life are so far-reaching, the admiration for political stability is so natural, the domination of centralized wealth is so overwhelming, and the allurements of consolidated power so well calculated to fascinate the ma.s.ses, that even American democracy has found it hard to break the British tie and sail away uncabled and disenchanted on the sea.

This deluded instinct of attachment to Great Britain, and this unnatural lack of sympathy for France have cost us dearly. The two sentiments have modified our national life, and have left a result different by not a little from what it would have been if influenced by other and more wholesome dispositions on our part. Our nationality has lost much force on both counts--on the score of our illogical attachment to Great Britain on the one hand, and of our unnatural indifference to France on the other. Under the one influence we have become _tolerant of subserviency_ as a national trait, and under the other we have become in a measure _incapable of enthusiasm_. The addition of British subserviency has been aggravated with the subtraction of French enthusiasm from our public and private life.

All this had been better otherwise. All this--even after the lapse of a hundred and twenty-one years from the great summer of our Independence--ought still to be bettered with amendment. It is not needed, stiff as we have already become in our national instincts and methods, to go forward by going backwards. To approximate Great Britain is to go backwards. The English _people_ are among the greatest of the historic races, but the British _monarchy_, with its mediaeval pretensions, its humbug of a throne and a crown, its subordinated ranks of society, its military and naval despotism, and its vast skein of _tentaculae_ stretching to every valuable thing in the world,--is perhaps the one thing that modern civilization should most dread and put away from the field of its desires.

On the other hand France is, in nearly all respects, admirable. Her mobility is life, and her warmth is a fructifying force. France gives forth more than she takes from the nations. Her republic is a splendid piece of political workmanship. Her spirit is patriotic. Her people, instead of straggling over the world like adventurers and pirates, remain in the borders of _La Patrie_, happy and vital in the possession of freedom.

Her lilies still bloom in the depth of the valleys.

Her vineyards are a covert under which if there be a peasantry it is not a peasantry forced down by oppression, but only the modest residue of the stronger life above and beyond. The free inst.i.tutions of this beautiful land are the natural counterpart of our own; we should be all the better for warming ourselves not a little in the glow of the Gallic enthusiasm. _Vive la France!_

Le Siecle.

The century pa.s.ses as a broken dream That fades into the darkness ere the dawn!

The hopes it cherished and its griefs are gone As spirit-shadows on Time's silent stream!

The outcry and the anguish of it seem Like echoes on dusk hills--like lights upon The haunted borders of oblivion-- Pale will-o'-wisps of a disordered scheme.

O thou New Age that comest! welcome thrice-- More welcome than the ever-welcome birth Of the expected love-child of our youth!

Bring us a n.o.bler portion--n.o.bler twice Than ever yet was given unto earth!

Bring us our freedom--bring us love and truth.


[_In this Department of_ THE ARENA _no book will be reviewed which is not regarded as a real addition to literature._]

President Jordan's Saga of the Seal.

David Starr Jordan, President of Leland Stanford Junior University, has many times deserved well of his country. As a scientific man he has, we believe, given to the American public and the world a greater number of original monographs on important branches of current investigation than has any of his distinguished contemporaries. From his special department of ichthyology, in which he became an expert fully a score of years ago, he has branched into nearly all fields of scientific exploration, finding ever new paths, leading to new regions and new empires of knowledge.

Upon this basis is builded Dr. Jordan's fame as an educator. In two great States of the Union he has presided over the affairs of high-grade inst.i.tutions of learning. After a successful career as President of the Indiana University, he was selected from the great array of American scholars to preside over the destinies of Leland Stanford Junior University, at Palo Alto, California. But the onerous duties and responsibilities of these positions have hardly distracted Dr. Jordan's mind from his central motive and aim of scientific investigation.

Through all the years of his busy career he has prosecuted his researches with the most conspicuous success.

Meanwhile, he has endeared himself to the American people as an able publicist, whose writings and leadership have become potent in many lines of our public policy. President Cleveland had the good judgment to select Dr. Jordan to preside over the inquiry into the condition of affairs in Bering Sea. The fur-seal imbroglio had already become an international menace; the peace of great nations was threatened by it.

It has thus fallen to Dr. Jordan's lot in his official position to conduct an inquiry of the highest importance. He is the United States Commissioner in charge of the fur-seal investigation, and it is this fact and the results of this fact that now bring him to the fore in a literary production, the only adverse criticism on which is its brevity.

Would it were longer.

In 1896 Dr. Jordan published his "Observations on the Fur Seals of the Pribilof Islands." This was a _preliminary_ report. But it is nevertheless replete with statements of the bottom facts and of generalized information from which a clear notion of the condition of affairs in the fur-seal regions must be derived. It is not of this work, however, that we shall at the present speak, but rather of Dr. Jordan's later production, "Matka and Kotik; a Tale of the Mist-Islands."[18]

[18] "Matka and Kotik; a Tale of the Mist-Islands." By David Starr Jordan, President of the Leland Stanford Junior University and of the California Academy of Sciences; United States Commissioner in charge of Fur-Seal Investigations. One volume, square duodecimo, ill.u.s.trated, pp. 68. San Francisco: The Whitaker & Ray Company, 1897.

It appears that during his investigations from a scientific and official point of view the author's mind has been profoundly impressed on the sentimental and poetic side by the conditions in which he found himself in the Pribilof Islands. The result of this profound impression is the little work before us. Though it is done in prose it is none the less a poem; it is the Saga of the Seals. It is a poetic appeal to all Christendom in the simple and dramatic way of Frithiof and his contemporaries.

"Matka and Kotik" will be a revelation to those of Dr. Jordan's friends and admirers who were not already acquainted with the deep, clear vein of poetry in his composition. I have noted that several of our nineteenth-century scientists have this vein. Huxley was of this number; the spirits at the seances used to designate him as the "Poet of Science." Dr. Jordan in "Matka and Kotik" vindicates his right to be known as the _American_ Poet of Science.

It is evident that while the President of the Fur-Seal Commission was performing his duty in the Pribilofs, in the summer of 1896, his mind became profoundly impressed with the sorrows of the seal. Not only have commerce and the equity of nations been outraged in this matter, but the cry of humanity is heard. Aye, more; the cry of the seals themselves is heard; and it is this cry that Dr. Jordan has interpreted and sent to the world. Not satisfied with the preparation of his preliminary report, he has found opportunity to appease his sense of indignation, by writing this book, every line of which tells a story of avarice and crime and butchery which, if we mistake not, the roused-up spirit of mankind will soon abate.

Dr. Jordan's book is a sort of dramatical story, the _personae_ of which are all Seals except one man, Apollon the Destroyer, and a few of the creatures such as Chignotto, the sea-otter; Bobrik, her son; Epatka, the sea parrot; Eichkao, the blue fox; Isogh, the hair-seal; Amogada, the walrus; Sivutch, the sea lion; and Kagua, his wife, etc. The princ.i.p.al actors are Atagh, an old "beach-master" living on the Tolstoi Mys; Matka, his wife; Kotik, their child; Unga, Atagh's brother; Polsi, Matka's brother; Minda and Lakutha, Kotik's sisters; Ennatha, Matka's sister, and Annak, Ennatha's child. It is the manner of life and fate of these personages that Dr. Jordan has delineated in the "Tale of the Mist-Islands." He tells us that it is a true story--that the author personally knew Matka before Kotik was born, and that he witnessed the events which he describes.

I shall not attempt to give an extended review of the story of "Matka and Kotik." I must satisfy myself and, I trust, incite the interest of the readers of THE ARENA, by sketching only an outline of the Saga of the Seal. The scene of the story is the Mist-Island, or, more properly, certain parts of the sh.o.r.e and headlands of that island whereon the seals pa.s.s an important part of their migratory life. From these coast lines they take to sea at certain seasons and swim away, generally to the south. Tolstoi Head is the point of observation from which Dr.

Jordan begins his charming delineations of seal-life, and there he concludes the story; which, in the meantime, transforms itself into the pathos of sad separations and finally into the dumb tragedy of slaughter and death.

The author gives character--human character--to his personages, discriminating them according to their natures into beings whose very names, notwithstanding the limited range of their faculties, bring us into intimate and profound sympathy with them. Old Atagh, the lordly sea-bull of the Tolstoi Mys, looms up grandly above the rest--

In shape and gesture proudly eminent.

Matka, the wife, is an embodiment of her s.e.x. Kotik is the child of her choice. All her offspring are veritable children: the uncles are uncles, the aunts are aunts, the cousins are cousins, and the rest are the rest.

Even the "supers" appear in the nebulous names of the drama.

The point of the "Tale of the Mist-Islands," the great lesson of it, is the horrid abuses and cruelties to which the seals have been subjected by the brutal fur-pirates who have thronged the Alaskan waters in the past two decades, and whose intolerable l.u.s.t of slaughter and devastation has threatened the extinction of the fur-seal race. If the story of "Matka and Kotik" could be perused, as it should be, by the American people, the very mothers of the country would rise up against the piratical butchers of the Pribilofs, who would quail under their frown. Meanwhile, diplomacy drags its length, and official reports carry to Congressional Committees a vague statistical account of what has been done and is still doing in the Alaskan waters.

I most heartily commend to all who are interested--and who is not?--in the fur-seal question and in the manner of its solution, Dr. Jordan's interesting little book. I have hardly ever seen a better piece of English than this. The author's style is admirable. I scarcely recall another book so monosyllabic and terse. Whoever commences to read "Matka and Kotik" will continue to the end. The story fascinates while it instructs. I dare say that Dr. Jordan, in the scientific sketches which are cunningly scattered in these paragraphs, is always correct.

If our s.p.a.ce permitted, we should be glad to make extended quotations in ill.u.s.tration of the sterling merits of this tale of our far Northwest. I shall be obliged to conclude the review with only a single extract, but must first remark that "Matka and Kotik" is ill.u.s.trated with forty-two striking photographic reproductions, the beauty and excellency of which can hardly be too highly praised. To these are added thirty-four pen sketches by Miss Chloe Frances Lesley, a student in zoology in Leland Stanford Junior University. The ill.u.s.trations which appear are adapted to the text with perfect good taste. We also note "The Calendar of the Mist-Islands." This is appended to the story proper, as is also the map of the Mist-Island. In the calendar Dr. Jordan gives a diary of the movements of the seals beginning January 1st and ending November 15th.

These notes convey a great amount of scientific information in the most condensed and interesting form. It is evident that Dr. Jordan has written under a strong sense of the significance of the scenes which he wishes to portray. At the close, he says:

And when Kotik came back in the spring and climbed over the broken ice-floes to take his place at Tolstoi, Atagh was sleeping yet. [It was the sleep of death!]

And now the dreary days have come to the twin Mist-Islands. The ships of the Pirate Kings swarm in the Icy Sea. To the Islands of the Four Mountains they have found the way. The great Smoke-Island has ceased to roar, because it cannot keep them back. The blood of the silken-haired ones, thousand by thousand, stains the waves as they rise and fall. The decks of the schooners are smeared with their milk and their blood, while their little ones are left on the rocks to wail and starve. The cries of the little ones go up day and night from all the deserted homes, from Tolstoi and Zoltoi, from Lukanin and Vostochni, and from the sister island of Staraya Artil.

Meanwhile, Kotik and Unga, Polsi and Holostiak, stand in their places, roaring and groaning, waiting for the silken-haired ones that never come.

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The Arena Part 12 summary

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