- Historic Sites
Postscripts To History
April 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 3
The oil painting, now hanging in the Harvard Club of New York, is on loan there from the owner, the Museum of the City of New York, which provided the label for it. Our mistake here was in accepting without question that label, which read: “The Naval Parade in Honor of Admiral George Dewey, 1889.” Obviously, 1889 was wrong, which we simply attributed to carelessness; it should have been the tip-off. We have since looked up the account of the Sampson-Schley parade in Harper’s Weekly for September 3, 1898. On page 864 there is the New York , Admiral Sampson’s flagship, as it leads the way.
Our picture, alas, shows the 1898 parade, which makes all of Captain Beach ‘s observations correct; they are further substantiated in the diagrams and pictures accompanying the Harper’s Weekly article just mentioned—although no explanation is offered for the speed cones. Harper’s does not show a union jack at the bow of the New York .
Strangely enough, there was another Hudson River naval parade very much like the one in 1898 one year later, and this 1899 parade did honor Admiral Dewey. That too was covered in depth by Harper’s Weekly (September 30, 1899), and it was there that we got what we assumed was the right order of ships in the Pansing painting.
The long delay before Dewey’s return must be accounted for by the fact that his fleet remained for a long period in the Philippines and then made a triumphal progress homeward across the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, etc., with frequent stops for adulation.
While on the uncomfortable subject of mistakes in our magazine, we must mention one that occurred in the gallery of stars of the 1920*5 that graced our December, 1972, issue. It has been called to our attention by no less an authority than Miss Lillian Gish that the lovely young girl peering tragically into the floodlights on the bottom of page 47 is not Dorothy Gish, as we claimed, but rather Lillian herself. (That is Dorothy above, keeping up with the news in showbiz.) Photographer James Abbe, who took both pictures, has this to say about the confusion: As for the Lillian-Dorothy mix-up: as they both derived from the same womb, equally talented, equally lovable, I don’t see why Lillian ever brought up the subject. She immediately wrote me an oldtimes letter, and I don’t mind taking the blame. I was an old and good friend of their mother. I recall such incidents as when their age-old parrot, who knew us all by our given names, raised as a BOY parrot, startled us each and all (including George Jean Nathan) by dropping an egg on the floor of his cage. Miracles like that should never be questioned.
So much of history is a catalogue of wars and disasters that we are sometimes tempted to agree with Hegel’s bitter statement that “peoples and government have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deducible from it.” If this is true, then there seems to be little reason for reading history or, in fact, for doing anything at all save waiting gloomily for a wave of inevitable events to overtake and crush us. But we are in the business of publishing a magazine devoted to history and feel that there’s more to be gained from it than a sense of general hopelessness. Part of what the past can teach us was touched on by Henry B. Veatch, a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, in his article entitled “The What and the Why of the Humanities,” which appeared in a recent issue of The Key Reporter , the bulletin of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Professor Veatch writes: With respect to history, my view is that one does not study history to acquire any mere parcel of names and dates, or even of economic forces and cultural changes, but rather, as Sir Henry Savile wrote in the preface to his translation of Tacitus in 1591, because “there is no learning so proper for the direction of the life of man as Historié.” It is no less than in and through the study of history that we are able to learn what it is to be human and what the true values in life are, what we are to live for and how we must need conduct ourselves, if we are to achieve that distinctive excellence that befits us as human beings. In short, what is here being suggested is that the humanistic and, if you will, the humanizing, knowledge that comes from history is a moral or ethical knowledge. For as Bolingbroke once remarked—admittedly not an authority distinguished for his own morality, but still one worth listening to—“History is philosophy teaching by examples how to conduct ourselves in all the situations of private and public life.”
… What is further implicit in what is here being claimed for that humanistic and moral knowledge that comes from history is that it is indeed a knowledge. The judgments upon human folly and human wisdom which, as historians, or even as mere students of history, we pass on the characters and events of history…these judgments are not just our own arbitrary personal assessments which we bring to the facts, as it were from the outside, and which are but our way of adorning or dressing up the facts. No, they are judgments that are determined by the facts themselves.