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100 Years Ago: February 1923


This is the ninety-seventh entry in my series of reports on one-hundred-year-old National Geographic Magazines.



The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “A Thousand Miles Along the Great Wall” and was written by Adam Warwick, author of “The Mongols, People of the Wilderness” in the National Geographic Magazine.  The article contains twenty-seven black-and-white photographs, of which seven are full-page in size.  It also contains two sketch maps.  The first is a full-page map of northern China on page 116 showing the Great Wall.  The second map, on page 118, superimposes the Great Wall upon the northeastern United State.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

The cover states that this article contains “30 Illustrations” but the photos and sketches only add up to twenty-nine.  The thirtieth illustration might be the “Special Supplement: Panorama of the Great Wall of China (Size, 45½ x 9½ inches)” that came with this issue.  This pictorial supplement gets top billing in the cover’s table of contents above the articles.

Pictorial courtesy of Philip Riviere.

According to astronomers, the only work of man which would be visible to the human eye from the moon was the Great Wall of China.  The material used in its construction could build a barrier around the equator eight feet high and three feet thick.  In 1790, it was estimated that the Wall contained more bricks than in all the buildings in the United Kingdom.  Historians called that mighty rampart as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”  It had survived all the others save one, the Great Pyramid of Kufu at Gizeh.  The Great Wall differed from the other famous works of antiquity in that it served a utilitarian purpose.  It had a mighty purpose, serving as a barrier to keep the barbarians of the north from overrunning China.  The idea was not ridiculous, in an era when bows and arrows and twisted pikes were the weapons of invaders.  Then earth and stone were real deterrents against armies that were simply cavalry hordes.  Walls dividing rival feudal kingdoms or protecting them from foreign enemies were mentioned in the Chinese Chronicles as early as the fifth century B. C.  It was probable that portions of those walls were utilized by Chin Shih Huang Ti (contemporary of Hannibal), who extended and linked them together when he built his “Long Rampart,” stretching from Shanhaikwan, on the seacoast, to Minchow, in distant Kansu in order to protect himself and his empire from the Huns, who he so long unsuccessfully tried to overcome in the field.  Begun in 219 B. C., the barrier was completed in 204 B. C.  Thus, it was 15 years in building, seven of which were after the emperor’s death.  Three hundred thousand troops, besides prisoners of war and all the criminals in the land were impressed for the work.  As for the cost of the Wall, no figures had been preserved.

A weaker man might well have hesitated to plan an undertaking which, though popular, entailed great suffering on the people.  But Chin Shih Huang Ti was one of the strongest characters in Chinese history or, indeed, in any history.  He left behind an example of personal activity unequaled among oriental sovereigns.  He was, furthermore, the autocrat who united China by subjugating a group of warring states from 246 to 210 B. C.  Unfortunately, Chinese classical historians were prone to describe the deeds and characters of their great men with uncompromising finality as good or bad, with strange indifference to motives.  They had declared anathema the name of this great molder of an empire because he burned the classics and buried 500 scholars alive when the latter dared criticize him for proclaiming himself the “Only First,” thus sweeping away the past.  Still, no unworthy ruler could have established two principles of government destined to endure in his native land for thousands of years – the supremacy of an emperor and the non-employment of officials in their native provinces.  The impression he made on following ages was great and lasting.  With his “high-pointed nose, slit eyes, pigeon breast, wolf voice, tiger heart, and stingy, graceless, cringing character,” as the native historians portrayed him, he was the classical type of a Chinese military leader.  Yet he was not a great soldier himself, but simply a great fisher of men, to whose genius in choosing able lieutenants was due the first standing army in China, an army of several hundred thousand men, which he raised, equipped, and maintained in a peace-loving country to defend his Great Wall.

Wonderful stories and legends about the building of the Long Rampart included the story of how a magic white horse was supposed to mark the line of the Barrier.  The animal was allowed to wander freely, and wherever it went the builders followed, uphill and down dale, where no horse but a “magic horse” could find a foothold.  Another legend described how “a compassionate God in Heaven gave the workmen abnormal strength and they were able to satisfy the king.  Despite the time and labor expended upon it, Chin Shih Huang Ti’s mud barrier soon crumbled away.  There was so little left of it by the sixth century A. D. that the Wei and Tsi dynasties spoke of building, not of rebuilding, the Great Wall.  They also added a new loop between Peking and Kalgan, and the link running due south through Shansi.  It was significant that when the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty occupied the Chinese throne (1260 to 1368 A. D.) not a word about the Great Wall was mentioned in their annals.  Marco Polo never even mentioned it.  But when the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644 A. D.) ousted the descendants of Genghis Khan from the Dragon Throne, the Great Wall again assumed much importance.  The restorations of that period were solid and even elegant.  Long stretches were encased in brick or strengthened with blocks of stone.  It was under the Mings that the defenses of the Wall were most fully developed.  More than 20,000 towers and over 10,000 signal beacons were added.  Almost every reign saw new defense work erected.  After the advent of the Manchus, the Great Wall had fallen into disrepair.  Yet despite of its decay, the Great Wall remained a magnificent monument, which left a powerful impression on even the most frivolous minds.  One end of the wall rose out of the sea near Shanhaikwan and started inland in a westerly direction.  Shanhaikwan was neither a large nor important city, but was once the key to North China.  There, for thirty years the Manchus were kept at bay, and there, a battle was fought in 1644.

In 1923, the spot that once resounded with blares of war trumpets was disturbed by the whistle of a train following a track that actually ran through the Wall.  It would have been impossible to get permission to cut a hole through the wall for a railway, but fortunately one already existed.  Legend had it that a prince disappeared and his beautiful wife went in search of him.  A fairy bade her to cut her hand and follow the drops of blood.  She did and her blood brought her to his body lying in an opening that had been made miraculously in the barrier.  Throughout the ages, that opening was never closed.  It remained for a prosaic railroad to desecrate the spot where the beautiful girl found her dead lover.  Beyond Shanhaikwan the Great Wall started off toward the mountains.  Soon it began to climb the steep slopes.  Thereafter for the first 300 miles of its course it was never on a plain, but rose steadily to the height of nearly a mile above sea-level.  No description could convey an adequate idea of the immensity or grandeur of the Great Wall of China, as it writhed along the mountain peaks, giving an impression of infinite power and at the same time of infinite calm and peace.  For great stretches along the wall there were no villages nor any signs of human habitation.  It seemed a useless waste to have built a barrier where inaccessibility alone would have insured safety.  In many places there was a sheer drop of several hundred feet from the base of the Rampart.  The approach to the towers were often obstructed by huge boulders, making it difficult to judge from a distance where the wall began and the mountain ended.  They seemed, indeed, to have grown into one another.  It seemed unlikely that even permanent Chinese garrisons were stationed in such places.  A solitary sentry would suffice to guard long distances in those inaccessible regions, especially since an elaborate system of beacon fires was perfected to bring reinforcements against any threatened point.

Now and then, in the lower levels, one found a village leaning against the Wall.  Happy was the hamlet that lied near a river or a shallow lagoon.  The greatest drawback to the stages in the higher altitudes was usually the lack of water for a much-desired bath.  In some places water must be carried from a long distance in wooden buckets on donkey back.  Along the first few hundred miles of the Wall the country folk were miserably poor; they wrested a life from the stony soil with great difficulty.  Often, they were too poor to afford a beast of burden and harnessed themselves to their primitive plows.  Yet everywhere one met honest, smiling faces.  Along their route, the author’s party found many shrines dedicated to many gods, and especially to the guardian spirits of the Wall itself.  Many of those shrines were neglected and rain poured through grass-grown roofs on the heads of broken idols; but they had their share of incense and adoration in the distant days, when that region was more thickly populated.  Of those temples that remained intact a curious cave shrine in the hills not far from Shanhaikwan had been enlarged and dedicated to the Eighteen Genii.  Scarcely less worthy of notice was a fine temple farther on, near Hsifengkow, with a large idol whose gilded countenance was full of mystery and the divine calm of perfect repose.  Hsifengkow was the first important pass across the mountains and was marked by a barrier gate.  Not far away was the Imperial burial ground, known as the Tung Ling, or Eastern Mausolea, where five of the Manchu sovereigns lied, including Chien Lung, Kang His, and the Dowager Empress Tzu His, whose magnificent sepulcher was in course of construction for more than 30 years.  A wooded enclosure of firs was the haunt of many rare animals, including a little-known species of monkey.  Another large forest a day’s journey south of the Wall, at Ningwufu, there were roe, deer, Peking stag, leopard, wild pig, and David’s squirrel.

Between Kupehkow and the next important pass at Tushihkow, the wall divided into two loops.  One, the outer, passed through the Tushihkow and, crawling westward into the eye of the setting sun, continued to Kalgan – a quaint medieval city known as the Gateway to Mongolia.  Beyond that little gray town, it wandered along the Mongolian plateau where, to the north, the picturesque Children of the Wilderness tended their flocks and herds.  [See: “The People of the Wilderness,” May 1921, The Geographic.]  The Barrier there was for the most part in ruins, often no more than a ridge of stones and clay intersected by small square towers far less impressive than those in the eastern section.  To the south lied the city of Tatungfu, an important commercial center.  It was there that a rock temple contained a colossal figure of Buddha carved in stone.  That and other sculptures in the neighborhood dated back from the fourth century A. D. and were made under the Northern Wei dynasty.  Those colossal monuments rivaled in imposing proportions the famous Buddhist sculptures of the Lung Men Valley, near Honanfu, dating from about the same period.  Farther west, the Long Rampart was pierced by the Shahukow (gate), an important customs station on the big trade route between the Mongolian mart of Kueihuacheng (the “Blue City”) and China proper.  Thence it was but a short distance to the point where the outer loop of the Wall joined the inner loop.  The latter, commonly known as the southern loop, had more historic interest than the former.  It was not the work of Chin Shih Huang Ti, but was built several hundred years later and rebuilt by the Mings in 1487.  It passed near the Ming Tombs, one of the grandest royal sepulchers in the world.  There Yung Loh (1402 to 1424 A. D.) the sovereign who laid out the city of Peking as a Chinese capital, had a tomb which even in decay remained a marvel.

Scarcely less known than the Ming Mausolea was the tourist-ridden Nankow Pass which led from the plain to the first terrace of the mountains above it and at one time was guarded by five additional walls and gates.  That narrow defile used to be and remained to some extent the caravan route to Mongolia.  It was first opened up, according to legend, by the deities known as the Five Tiger Ghosts, patrons of artillery, who blew a passage through the rocks with their cannon.  In 1923, a railway which was a fine feat of engineering ran through the gorge, and from the train window the traveler caught a glimpse of camel caravans toiling up by the road or shaggy Mongolian ponies being driven down from the plains.  The famous archway at Chuyungkwan (dating from 1345 A. D.) had inscriptions carved in six different languages.  The neighboring fort once ranked as one of the first-class fortresses along the great Wall, as a tablet erected by a Manchu emperor testified.  That stronghold turned back the Chin Tatars (1125-1234 A. D.) and twice also its defenders resisted the Mongols under Genghis Khan (1215 A. D.).  But the mighty captain, unwilling to accept defeat, brought his forces to bear against the famous Yenmen, or “Goose Gate” Pass, in Shansi, on the same southern loop of the Wall.  The whole of the Nankow Valley was wild, rugged and exceedingly picturesque, with subsidiary walls for secondary defense climbing down into it.  The Great Wall crossed the caravan road squarely at the Pa Ta Ling, as that place was commonly called; but the wooden gate, which was closed at night, had disappeared.  As that was an important pass, capable of admitting carts and horsemen, big guard posts were stationed in many of those towers equipped to withstand a siege of several months.  Treasures of antique cannon and small arms were discovered recently [in 1923] in one of those bastions.  When that loop of the wall was first built in 555 A. D., 6,900 workmen were employed per mile, or 180,000 workmen for the 300 mile section.

Continuing southward beyond Nankow, the Inner Loop passed near the Hsiling, or Western Mausolea, of the Manchu dynasty.  Thence it continued in the same direction toward Linchu, following along the tops of mountains in an unequalled natural setting.  The “southern stump” branched off there, running down through the curious loess country along the Chihli-Shansi frontier.  Close by was the sacred mountain of Wutai Shan.  Wutai was one of the Four Famous Hills of Buddhist China and intimately connected with the beginnings of Buddhism in the Middle Kingdom.  It had, in the course of time, become a seat of Lamaism.  The author made a special excursion down the southern stump of the Great Wall to visit the quaint old city of Taiyuanfu, with its curious leaning pagoda dating back to the Sung dynasty (960-1260 A. D.).  At Taiyuanfu also was seen the start of the great highway which crossed the Inner Loop at Yenmen, or “Goose Gate,” entered China, and from there, through the Shahukow, in the Outer Loop, wound away toward the plain – a true highway of adventure and romance.  A little beyond Soping the two loops of the Great Wall united near the Yellow River, which encircled the wild Ordos country.  The Yellow River separated the Great Wall into two distinct sections, eastern and western.  Only the eastern had been described here, because that portion of the Barrier was the most characteristic of its original purpose and the best preserved.  That was a true defense rampart, intended to exclude foreign encroachment upon Chinese soil.  The western section, beyond the Yellow River, differed not only in its construction, but in the very purpose for which it was intended.  It was not a barrier intended to exclude the foreigner, but, on the contrary, a protective rampart for the trade road between China and the Far West.  Zunder the great Han dynasty (206 B. C. to 220 A. D.) the Wall extended even farther than Chiayukwan, far into the deserts of central Asia.

That elaborate safeguard for foreign communications was all the more interesting to note, since the Chinese had always been credited with an exclusiveness which, as a matter of fact, was really inaugurated by the Ming dynasty.  The policy of the Mings was plainly shown in their neglect of the western part of the Great Wall and their architectural efforts to strengthen and adorn the eastern section; also, in the building of subsidiary walls near Lanchowfu, running toward the Tibetan marches.  There was little left of the great Barrier where it followed the southern border of the Ordos Desert, save an earth and gravel mound a few feet high, and once historic towers were mere rubbish heaps.  Its grandeur and glory ended after the first 1,000 miles, though shorn of its battlements, it meandered on via Lanchowfu, Liangchowfu, Kanchow, and Suchow to its end, beyond the last-named city, near the Chiayu fortress, on the frontier between Inner China and Sin-Kiang, or Eastern Turkestan.  There was little, if any, interest in following that crumbling mound; even along the first 1,000 miles of its glory there was no royal road for those who would explore the Great Wall.  Despite the discomfort of native inns and fatigue from long hours of walking or riding ponies, there were many pleasurable thrills along the way.  The storm-cloud effects of midsummer were beautiful and full of unexpected charm.  Scarcely less lovely was the trip along the Wall in early autumn season, when the shrubs had donned their brightest raiment and there was a riot of color throughout the valleys and on the parallel slopes of the mountains.  But the best of all seasons was winter, when the bare, jagged mountain peaks over which the Wall passed were smoothed under a coverlet of snow.

At all times and at all seasons, the Great Wall gave the impression of being a boundary between two worlds – not only a natural boundary, but a racial boundary as well.  As a practical measure of protection, the Great Wall was never really effective.  China was overwhelmed again and again, in spite of it, by the huge racial movements of the Tatar hordes, which for 2,000 years devastated Asia and even troubled Europe from time to time; but it did prove valuable as a rampart against petty raids.  Only a man with stout heart and tremendous military resources would dare attempt passage of a barrier whose watch towers in the accessible passes were only 100 yards apart and even in the remotest wilds were never more than a mile from one another.  In 1923, the idea of the Great Wall as a defensive fortification was entirely abandoned.  It was left frankly undefended, though the gates at the passes were still closed at night as a measure of protection against local disturbances for the cities near them.  Not even a corporal’s guard paced the Rampart for hundreds of miles.  But the simple people believed that Chin Shih Huang Ti’s Rampart, stretched along the frontiers like a huge fossil dragon, protected China from evil influences.  Gradually crumbling to pieces, yet still majestic in its ruin, slipping down stone by stone into the valleys, the Monster, alas, seemed to be losing his power to even do that.


At the bottom of the last page of the first article (page 143) is a notice with the heading “Index for July-December, 1922, Volume Ready”.  The one-line text of the notice states “Index for Volume XLII (July-December, 1922) will be mailed to members upon request.”


The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Battle-Line of Languages in Western Europe” and was written by A. L. Guerard.  It has the internal subtitle: “A Problem in Human Geography More Perplexing Than That of International Boundaries.”  The article contains thirty-six black-and-white photographs, of which nineteen are full-page in size.  One of those full-page photos serves as the frontispiece for this article.

Traveling through Europe in 1923 was inconvenient at stations that marked the boundaries between European states.  Papers were scrutinized, luggage opened and searched, and a thick bundle of greasy notes changed hands.  The ordeal of crossing customs lines between European countries was but the symbol of a worse ordeal when crossing that invisible and very real line, a linguistic boundary.  When one reached a country where your speech no longer had currency, it was one's ideas that had to be dumped from your language and into another.  It was a crude and rushed process; and much was “lost in translation.”  Few Americans realized what the curse of Babel meant in terms of discomfort and even of danger.  Language remained the worst frontier in Europe, the most complicated, the most impassable, the hardest to adjust, and the most fertile in conflicts and hatred.  Americans were accustomed to the broad lines upon which our Western civilization was built; from ocean to ocean and from pole to pole only three languages prevailed: English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  (The survival of French in Quebec and the West Indies hardly affected the general truth of that statement.)  In northern Asia and eastern Europe, a single master key opened the civilization of 150,000,000 men.  But in Western Europe (the whole of Europe minus Russia) the geographical domain of even the major languages was, according to our American ideas, pitifully small.  The largest, the area of German speech, was smaller than our single State of Texas.  What are 200 miles to the modern traveler?  Two hundred miles was the distance from New York to Boston, or to Washington – a matter of six hours by fast train.  Soon it would be a two-hour commercial airplane ride.  Now if one drew a circle of 200 miles radius with any European capital (except Rome), one would find that at least four different languages were reached.

And it was indeed a prison.  Beyond its wall reigned incomprehension, diffidence, and hatred.  If a man landed on the wrong side of the language boundary, the very accent of his speech marked him for a foreigner, frequently for an enemy.  He was fair game for the crook and an object of suspicion to the police.  The simplest transactions of practical life became a series of pitfalls.  The telephone turned into a mockery.  What was the use of being connected to Berlin or Rome if you could not speak German or Italian?  No doubt that very uncertainty added to the romance of life.  Restaurant orders were gotten wrong; directions led to the wrong place.  At times it was thrilling, but if one had some definite purpose, those adventures soon lost their humor.  Western Europe was considerably smaller in area than the U. S., and it rejoiced in the possession of some 40 languages.  By languages the author meant, not local patois, which were innumerable, but only those which were advancing political and cultural claims to recognition; those taught in schools, and which books and papers were printed; those for which men were willing to fight.  The linguistic map of Europe was not so complex as it first seemed.  True there were 40 languages and countless patios, but four-fifths of the population spoke languages that belonged to three main groups – Slavic, Romanic, and Germanic.  Those kinships among languages facilitated comprehension.  Serbs and Bulgarians understood one another easily enough.  German came more easily to a Scandinavian or a Dutchman than to a Frenchman; and the Italians in Buenos Aires quickly mastered Spanish.  But it was wise not to lay too much stress on those language affinities.  Many languages were “related, but not on speaking terms.”  Two of the most important languages in Europe had developed in such a way as to become strangers in their own families.  English bour only a distant likeness to the other Germanic tongues.  French had moved far from its Latin origin.

If the author erred on the number of languages being 40, he erred on the side of optimism.  Italian, for instance, was counted as only one language, but Italian dialects had a very real existence, and a man who knew only standard Italian would not find it easy to understand a conversation in the streets of Venice or Naples.  Even if one admitted that language affinities relieved the situation to some extent, they were far from helping in our worst difficulties.  The former Hapsburg Empire, with an area barely one-fifteenth that of the U. S., had German, three groups of Slavic languages, two Romance languages, and Magyar.  To learn a related language was no child’s play, but to learn language totally unrelated to your own was a tremendous undertaking.  It was not surprising, therefore, that people gave up the attempt, and that, century after century, a French village stood a few miles from a German village, with very little infiltration from one language into the other.  The author had assigned the number of languages spoken in western Europe, and the small area allotted even the most important of those.  But confusion grew worse confounded when populations of different speech jostled one another in the same territory.  No map could do full justice to such a situation, the result of conquest, migration, or infiltration.  Frequently the dominant population belonged to one linguistic group, the common people to another.  Poles were held down by the Prussians, but they lorded it in their turn, over White Russians, Lithuanians, and Ruthenians.  When the receding Turkish flood left Transylvania in Hungarian hands, a Rumanian-speaking peasant population was dominated by Magyar Szeklers.  In the Banat, Rumanians, Serbians, Germans, and Magyar were hopelessly entangled.

Perhaps the most extreme case was provided by the city of Saloniki and its immediate hinterland in Macedonia.  The place was Turkish for centuries and was [in 1923] under Greek rule; but the languages of its former and current rulers were only used by a minority.  Rumanian and Albanian tribes hovered near, and the chief element in the city was Jewish.  But those Jews, exiled from Spain ages ago, still spoke a Spanish jargon, instead of Germanized Yiddish.  There, as in Constantinople, the language was none of those conflicting tongues, but French, in schools and in the most widely read papers.  Saloniki had nothing on our melting pot, New York.  Both were the most heterogeneous agglomerations.  Yet no one worried about our language difficulty.  It adjusted itself over time.  But the comparison between Europe and America was wide of the mark.  Europe might have been a witches’ caldron; it was not a melting pot.  Our immigrants came of their own accord into a land of promise.  There was every inducement for them to seek assimilation.  There was nothing to hinder; no new dynasty to serve, no bitterness of former wars to forget.  They were only expected to behave decently, and to cherish the ideal of liberty under law.  Therefore, assimilation was proceeding so fast that in most cases the second generation did not know the language of its forebears.  Very different indeed was the situation of a compact group of men, rooted in the soil, having their own traditional rights, aspirations, and organizations, a cohesive force binding land, people, language, church, and school together.  Such groups, though small, were almost ineradicable.  French civilization was credited with a wonderful “contagious power.”  But despite that magnetic quality, despite a centralized policy which was meant to grind minorities out of existence, groups resisted assimilation with a tenacity which was purely passive, and yet amazing.

French was driving back Breton, Flemish, and Basque, no doubt, but at a rate which was counted in terms of centuries, not of years.  Similarly, our North American civilization found it surprisingly difficult to absorb blocks of alien population when they were compact; when they had their own local traditions and were imbedded deep in the soil.  Quebec would remain, apparently for all time, an impregnable French island in an Anglo-Saxon world.  After three-quarters of a century, there were thousands of New Mexicans who had retained their habits and their language.  Even the handful of French colonists in Louisiana had managed to hold their own for 120 years.  Those examples gave us the true European note.  Transylvania, for instance, was not a melting pot like the Bowery; the minorities clung more passionately to their separate existence than even the French in Quebec.  Our chief instrument of Americanization had been the little red schoolhouse.  Our mighty nation was kneaded together by the hands of the “schoolmarm.”  But there was nothing in Europe that exactly corresponded to that unifying factor.  The schools taught the national language, and the best that they could achieve would have been to bring the linguistic map of Europe into harmony with the political map.  That would have been a simplification, but it would still have left some twenty nations with twenty languages.  They were very far from that goal.  But even that process of simplification had been made almost impossible by the provisions of the treaties of 1919-1920.  Ethnic groups were guaranteed the free use of their language in schools, church, and local administration.  The smaller languages in minor countries, in autonomous provinces, in enclaves, were now entrenched in international law.  The policy was undoubtedly a well-meaning one.  The perpetuation of the European Babel was the lesser of the two evils.  Minor languages could not be killed and refused to commit suicide.

As a result of scientific discovery, the Continent was shrinking.  The human voice could be carried in a few seconds, the human body in a few hours, all over central Europe.  The economic interdependence of all European countries was no longer denied.  Under such forces international barriers should have crumbled away, including the most definite and lasting of them all, the barrier of speech.  The experience of the last hundred years was not reassuring.  The nineteenth century was an epoch of scientific, industrial, and democratic progress, but also one of riotous nationalism, and there was no sign that national exclusiveness and pride had in the least abated in the twentieth century.  Many nations had revived and struggled for recognition, for the last hundred years; and every little group became loudly assertive and exclusive.  Nationalism had no doubt been a great power for good, but it also exacted a heavy price.  In reviving the Czech language as a vehicle of culture, the Bohemians erected a new barrier between themselves and the rest of the world.  Catalonia refused to speak Castilian, a language of worldwide availability.  In 1830, French was the sole language of Belgium.  But the Flemish would have no peace until they had secured for their Dutch dialect full equality with French.  Those problems did not exist in Rumania.  There was no Rumanian literature until half a century prior.  French was the language of all educated people in Rumania.  French and Rumanian were cognate languages.  It seemed as if the wise thing to have done was to adopt French as the official language of the new state.  But that was incompatible with the fierce pride of a new nationality.

One of the most curious instances of that craving for national differentiation in the linguistic domain was provided by the Norwegians.  It seemed bad enough that Scandinavian, spoken in five countries should have been divided into at least two branches.  The author desired to see the rise of a Pan-Scandinavian, overriding local idioms, in the same way as the King’s English was superseding provincial forms.  But Norway chose another path.  She was getting along well enough with Danish as her official language, when some patriot discovered that the use of Danish was the badge of previous servitude.  So, against Danish, a new “national” tongue was set up, the Landsmaal.  Although it called itself the Norwegian Popular Language, it was an artificial combination, a composite dialect, based on old Norse peasant patios.  It was not spoken spontaneously anywhere, but it was taught, it was gaining ground, and it might become the sole medium of expression in Norway.  Local dialects alone were truly racy of the soil; they provided amore exquisitely attuned instrument than the semi-artificial language imposed by a central government.  The aesthetic value of a language depended upon the subtle harmony between the author and his public.  But there were two aspects to a language.  It was an instrument of art; it was also a business tool.  From the latter point of view, the value of a language depended upon its diffusion.  So, the tendency toward a concentration of languages was checked by the pride of the nationalist and the scruples of the poet.  “Natural evolution” might reduce major language to four – English, French, German, and Spanish; it might even lead to the survival of English alone.  But man was not homo economicus, whose sole aim was to get goods from the cheapest sources and sell them in the highest market. Man was an absurd and noble compound of traditions and passions.  One of those traditions was to cling to his native speech.

There was nothing less “natural” than a line of frontier poles across a level country or at a right angle to a river.  Wind, water, plants, and birds ignored such “foolish” separations.  But men would die rather than see such a line moved; and the linguistic boundary was defended as fiercely as the political one.  Such was the situation in Europe: some 40 languages having secured recognition.  That situation was manifestly out of harmony with modern needs.  The smaller nations of Europe could no longer live in isolation.  Even France, the largest nation of western Europe, recognized the need of close international cooperation.  The life of Europe could not be normal until it was organized, like that of North America, upon a continental scale.  But the subjugation of all states by one state, of all languages by one language, was a dream, and certainly not a beautiful dream.  The passionate pride of historical groups, great or small, must be respected.  The solution was the adoption of an auxiliary language for international relations.  The lack of a common medium created material obstacles and perpetuated historical misunderstandings.  The “unspeakable” enemy was the enemy with whom we could not talk.  Whenever people from different countries came together, they had to decide upon a method of intercourse.  Sometimes they decided upon several languages, or they restricted themselves to a couple.  Anyone who had attended an international gathering in Europe knew how tedious the method was.  Before the war, as many as five languages were officially recognized: English, French, German, Italian, and the language of the country in which the meeting was held.  Speeches were repeated five times – four times by interpreters.  Despite that tremendous language handicap, international gatherings, diplomatic, scientific, economic, religious, and social, were being held with increasing frequency.

Agencies were attempting to evolve order out of the European chaos.  The World Congress of International Societies (Brussels, 1920), the Paris Chamber of Commerce, many members of the French Institute, the Congress of Red Cross Societies, the British, French, and American Associations of Science, had endorsed the efforts to solve the language problem.  The Finnish Parliament had voted a subsidy in favor of the movement.  Sweden had delegated a committee to urge the matter upon the League of Nations.  There was at Bern a Union for the Creation of an International Language Bureau.  The International Research Council had appointed a committee, of which an American, Dr. Cottrell, was chairman.  At the request of thirteen members of the Assembly of the League of Nations, the Undersecretary General of the League, Dr. Nitobe, prepared a report upon the present condition of the problem.  An auxiliary language was needed to make communications easy among those teeming millions who, whether they liked it or not, were all members of one great economic society of nations.  It needed to respect the independence and the pride of all existing dialects.  It would not abolish, but transcend, frontiers.  Every patois would remain, as long as men cherished it, the language of the home, of poetry, and of prayer.  But by the side of the local language there was room for a simple, convenient, neutral instrument, common to all, through which men would realize that the stranger might be a fellow-worker and a friend.  In our splendid western isolation, we were apt to misunderstand the bitterness of the need for an international language in Europe, and to ignore or belittle the efforts made in that direction.  It was a practical problem in human geography which deserved to enlist our sympathy.



The third item listed on this month’s cover is entitled “Daily Life in Calabria” and has no byline.  It is not an article, but “16 Illustrations in Duotone” documented on the cover.  These “Duotones” appear to be photo-engravings, formerly known photogravures.  They use acid-etched metal plates to transfer special ink to paper.  The ink has a slight brownish tint to it.  The sixteen black-and-white images are all full-page in size.

A list of the caption titles of these Duotones is as follows:

  • “A Shepherd from the Toe of Italy’s Boot”
  • “Such Types as an Artist Seeks”
  • “Before the Cathedral of St. Andrew: Amalfi”
  • “Calabrian Peasants at Saracena”
  • “Stalwart Maids of Atrani”
  • “Chatting Beneath a Wayside Shrine at Dragonea”
  • “Her Cask is Filled with Calabrian Wine”
  • “San Francisco Di Paola Stands Guard Over His Home City”
  • “An Itinerant Hardware Store in Naples”
  • “A Firewood Donkey Train from the Forest Near La Cava Dei Tirreni”
  • “Funeral Procession Leaving a Church at Dragonea”
  • “Advertising Her Wares at La Cava Dei Tirreni”
  • “A Point of Vantage”
  • “Amalfi’s Waterfront is One of the Loveliest in All Italy”
  • “A Neapolitan Chair and Basket Vendor Who Makes Personal Deliveries”
  • “Calabrian Water-Carriers from Paola”



The third and final article in this month’s issue is entitled “Encircling Navajo Mountain with a Pack-Train” and was written by Charles L. Bernheimer.  It has an internal subheading, “An Expedition to a Hitherto Untraversed Region of Our Southwest Discovers a New Route to Rainbow Natural Bridge.”  The article contains thirty-three black-and-white photographs taken by the author.  Fourteen of those photos are full-page in size.  The article also contains a sketch map of the Route to Rainbow Natural Bridge on page 198.

Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

It was “the land that God forgot” according to the author’s guides.  Such was the broad desert country east of the Colorado River, south of the San Juan River, west of Navajo Mountain, and north of the Little Colorado River, stretching along the Arizona-Utah border.  It was a desert of unique character – it was neither flat nor sterile.  A disorderly, unsymmetrical rock jumble, rugged beyond description, dissolved into a well-ordered canyon enclosed by cliffs, a thousand or more feet high.  Caves, often chains of caves, hundreds of feet deep and wide, smooth walled and having a southerly exposure, were the dwelling-places of prehistoric races of men.  Those barren, waterless, and soilless rock masses, suddenly disappeared and the author was confronted with an oasis.  A cleft of rock served as a gateway to a veritable Garden of Eden, green, well-watered, and flourishing.  Then there were the desert flats, sage covered and interesting in their temporary monotony.  Rare minerals abounded for the geologist; unusual plants for the botanist; cliff ruins, pottery, basketry, and rock inscriptions for the anthropologist; color and form effects for the artist; and an educational opportunity for the student.  But permeating all, there was a sense of physical loneliness.  Animal life was scant.  In the very heart of that expanse towered the oft-described Rainbow Natural Bridge (RNB).  [See: National Geographic Magazine; “Colossal Natural Bridges of Utah,” September 1904; “The Great Natural Bridges of Utah,” March 1907, and February 1910; and “The Great Rainbow Natural Bridge of Southern Utah,” November 1911.]  Were it located elsewhere than in that cross-bedded sandstone country, it would have been a freak, but in its own setting it was a natural and logical phenomenon.  On the northwestern slope of Navajo Mountain, it partially spanned one of the canyons which lied deep in the eroded flanks of the monstrous radiating buttresses that descended from the sides of that 10,000-foot mountain.

Four miles farther down, the streamlet which contributed to the bridge’s formation joined a similar watercourse emanating from Forbidden Canyon, and three miles farther on the two, united, emptied into the Big Colorado River.  In order to reach the RNB in 1920, the author climbed Navajo Mountain, but finally had to skirt it by a circuitous trail to the east.  In 1921, he organized his expedition to reach the RNB by a route west of Navajo Mountain utilizing the Forbidden Canyon.  He failed by an estimated seven or eight miles.  Forbidden Canyon proved impassable for a pack-train.  That forced the author to wait another year to accomplish his objective.  It was clear that Forbidden Canyon was not an avenue of approach; it was to rugged and snarly.  For many years it had been the author’s ambition to find a passage west of Navajo Mountain to the RNB, thus penetrating one of the most appalling rock jumbles on the continent.  That feat was consummated by his expedition of 1922.  John Wetherill, of Kayenta, Arizona, discovered the RNB in 1909.  He was the author’s guide on his expeditions, the goal of which was to discover a feasible route to the RNB by circumnavigating Navajo Mountain.  A secondary goal was to locate and study the cliff ruins of the ancient inhabitants along the way.  Of those ruins, they found a great number.  The author’s party consisted of seven men and 28 horses and mules.  Two days of scouting from their camp near the southwest point of Navajo Mountain resulted in them finding a route that skirted its western flank.  Two mountain buttresses were to be crossed as well as three canyons lying in their depths.  Those feats accomplished, they arrived at a deep cut, south of No Name Mesa, which they named Half Dome Canyon.  It was necessary to follow that cut longitudinally.  They struck a very old, disused Indian trail. They climbed out of Half Dome Canyon in a northeasterly direction to reach what they named The Saddle, a ridge connecting Navajo Mountain and No Name Mesa.

It was a difficult climb up The Saddle for man and beast, and an equally difficult climb down the other side into what they named Cliff Canyon.  It required complete concentration to take them down some 2,500 feet, over a sheer and apparently impassable slope.  It was late afternoon when they reached the bottom of Cliff Canyon.  The heat was “July-esque.”  The streamlet at its bottom was dry.  Their animals had had no water since morning and there was no grazing on the wayside.  They pitched camp and used the little water they had for the animals the following morning.  Next morning, they shifted their camp a mile farther down the Cliff Canyon into a small grove of cedar and pinons.  They named it Painted Rock Camp because of the drawings in three colors – red, yellow, and black – on the rock face nearby, above the cliff-ruin site.  There they had splendid water for drinking, rock pools for bathing, and the animals had fair grazing.  The latter was important in conserving the 1,500 pounds of oats they brought from Kayenta, where they did their outfitting.  On June 30 they commenced reconnoitering to the east.  One group went to find and opening in the easterly cliffs, while the other, including the author, went downstream to confirm that Cliff Canyon Brook emptied into Forbidden Canyon.  It did.  At a cave, which they named Charcoal Cave because of its many fireplaces, they turned back, after digging through the refuse pile for artifacts.  In the meantime, two days of searching on the part of the other group resulted in the discovery of a very likely opening in the easterly canyon wall.  They resolved to dig or blast their way through it.  They hoped their supply of dynamite, TNT, and black powder would be sufficient.  That meant that, besides trail-making, it was necessary for them to widen the cleft in two places to allow their animals to squeeze through.  That, however, was the lesser problem ahead of them.  They needed to blast a vertical rock mass and fill in the forty-foot hole beyond it.

For nine days they were camped at Painted Rock, two miles distant.  Six days were consumed in making a trail over a distance of a mile; four of those days were taken up in blasting a way through some 400 feet.  July 9 was a red-letter day.  Their trail was finally finished, and they all rode over it.  They named it Redbud Pass, because they discovered large numbers of redbud trees there.  They reached Bridge Canyon and the RNB without the necessity of dismounting and dragging their animals after them.  The feat was accomplished, and it only remained for them to get their outfit through.  They accomplished it three days later, thus locating the “Northwest Passage” as the author referred to it and completing the “circumnavigation” Navajo Mountain.  The journey included some other side-trips not included in the story above but which the author felt needed mentioning.  These included: the perilous ascent of No Name Mesa by some of the men (not including the author), excursions in Forbidden Canyon, and explorations in Nasja and Beaver canyons.  The circling of Navajo Mountain, an intimate contact with hundreds of square miles of continental U. S. never before visited by white man, photographing and mapping the district, as well as the location of a great number of prehistoric sites and ruins, were the goals long visualized and ultimately achieved by the 1922 expedition.  The author credited the woodcraft of all the men and the generalship of the head guide, John Wetherill, for the feat being accomplished.



Tom Wilson

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