INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME VII.
IN the present volume some chapters are devoted to minor American nations, China, Japan, and Australasia, the story being, as in the previous volume, brought to 1889, after which we proceed to unroll the tangled skein of world history down to the outbreak of the Great War.
The events of this later period took place in the lifetime of persons who have not yet reached middle age, and it may well be that as yet some of these events cannot be viewed in their true perspective. Nevertheless, it is desirable that the story should be told. The alertness of the human mind in our age; the frequency of its readings; the limitless facility for knowing and hearing whatever is doing in the whole worldhave conspired to fix the attention of all peoples upon what now is. The whole temper of the age turns from what once was to what now is. Of a certainty this is not the way of wisdom; only it is the way.
The myriad printing presses of the world, teeming hourly and momentarily, with the flying transcript of the universal drama, as reflected in the distorted vision and inflamed imagination of a million scribeshave conduced powerfully to create a demand for current annals. Even before the event has completed itself; verily, while the event is still, in military phraseology, ''in the air," without a single permanent buttress to support it, the cry comes into every historical study of the world, to take the uncompleted event and to give it a historical setting. Such history must, in the nature of the case, be imperfectthough not as imperfect as the voice which demands it is unreasoning and arbitrary.
Under such antecedents, the history of current events must be undertaken and brought to as great a degree of perfection as the conditions may admit. All human affairs suffer from distortion, from obscuring mist and dif- fracting coloration, when they are viewed from a close-by point of observation. The natural eye of man has its focus, within which all objects are blurred and indistinct. How much more the eye of the mind when it is required to determine the magnitude and motion of nearby bodies hanging and twisting in the very door of the pupil!
To stand off is therefore an essential prerequisite of correct historical writing. The historian cannot delineate and interpret correctly an event which by distance falls short of the natural focus of his vision. Nevertheless, with the aid of lenses and with change of position, he may do something toward rendering distinct that which was obscure, and to make reasonable the chaotic babble of the passing days.
The period under consideration in this part of the narrative was, without exaggeration, one of the most important in human history. Whatever might be the result of the crush and conflict of the forces of civilization, there could be no doubt of the critical character of the age. Without entering into a discussion of the principles involved, every thoughtful student of historical movements could discern in the current aspect of the world the unmistakable beginnings of a great transformation. Human society was in the alembic; the civilized life of man was on trial. Every civil and political institution of the world was passing through an ordeal in which it was tested as if in furnace fires. That a new order would arise out of the cinders of the present order was as certain as the progress of the seasons, as inevitable as the astronomical changes in the skies.
The common reader is prone to have his attention fixed upon the thing itself without reference to the principle of the thing, or the significance of the larger fact of which the thing is but a fragment. There has thus come to pass, in modern times, a sort of diurnal history, a knowledge of which, instead