Reading the lives of great men oft reminds us that it is frequently the historian who makes history, who sets up a hero with a pen stroke and dims some famous name with an erasure. It is his race, color, or previous condition of mental servitude which often leads him, in his vigorous renovation of the past, to arrive at some rather startling conclusions.
Not long ago some hyphenated historical societies revealed their discoveries that there were no real Americans in American history. The German-American Society declared that "up to the end of the Nineteenth Century the country was populated and cultivated principally by Teutons". Without the Swedes and the Germans, we are told, "the adoption of our constitution and union of our states would not have been accomplished". An Irish Society, reporting on "The Irishman as the Builder of the Nation", has disclosed a Celtic ancestor for George Washington; while Jewish-Americans in commemorating the death of General Solomon announced him as the real hero of Gettysburg, "the only man who did not dodge when Lee's guns thundered".
The records of the past in the United States and other countries show the effects of still other types of mental astigmatism in the observer. Revered traditions and enshrined heroes of America are protected above by the screaming eagle and on all sides by a cordon of staunch state legislatures, self-chosen guardians of national myths. Any history which puts in question an action of the United States may be thrown out of the schools as foreign propaganda. In the opposite camp are the "heretics" who tell us that whatever is, is probably not right, and who sometimes go afield to be consistent.
The results are perhaps most amusing when prophets write history and historians prophesy. Mr. Wells' facile pen was able to trace the entire history of the world from the monkey to the World War as little more than a preface to the Utopia which was fermenting in his brain. German historians have found the prophet's robes pleasant. The latest, Dr. Kemmerich, too engrossed in the past to heed the late war, predicts that in twenty years Germany will be the mightiest nation in Europe. But since he also predicts that a new Romanoff czar will appear at the same time, his judgement would seem to be deflected by enthusiasm for the conditions of the past rather than guided by keen prophetic insight. But why speculate on the future when there is still room for so much interesting speculation on the past?