Recent events may have caused you to wish you were not so reliant on swindlers and clowns for your knowledge of Asia. If so, you may be nourished by rumination of this cud from saner days. First, a little Kipling, a man than whom there are few saner guides to everything east of Suez (from “One Viceroy Resigns,” 1890).
“You’ll never plumb the oriental mind,
And if you did, it isn’t worth the toil.
Think of a sleek French priest in Canada;
Divide by twenty half-breeds. Multiply
By twice the Sphinx’s silence. There’s your East.”
Second, a little something from Alfred Thayer Mahan, the last American geopolitician who did not dream of a global empire seated on the Potomac. Chewing the last half of the sentence may not be sweet, but it will be salubrious (from The Problem of Asia, 1900).
“We and our posterity have much to hope from the fact that our present world of civilization consists of strong opposing nationalities, and is not one huge, consolidated imperium, such as that of which Caesar laid the foundation, driven thereto because the individual declension of the Roman citizen had destroyed the material from which the more healthful organism of earlier days could have been reconstituted.”
Third, a generous sample of a long admonitory poem by the American travel writer, John L. Stoddard (from “Orient to Occident,” 1906).
“You thought me sunk in lethargy, too deeply drugged with sleep
To notice how your armored fleets kept creeping o’er the deep,
Too indolent to organize, too feeble to resist,
Too timid to return the blow of Europe’s mailed fist;
And Asia’s conquest seemed to you a matter of such ease
That all your kings knew perfectly the part which each would seize.
Of such a “sluggish, inert mass” why should you be afraid?
You wanted ports and provinces for purposes of trade,
And monster “spheres of influence,” whose wealth could be controlled
And plundered by your Governments to fill their vaults with gold;
Hence, since it seemed so probable that none of us would fight,
Why should you even hesitate to prove that Might makes Right?
And yet perhaps it had been well, before you formed your plan,
To study Asia’s history from Persia to Japan;
For though the sleeping Orient, like grain before the blast,
May bow its head, it rights itself when once the storm is past.
How often has the Occident invaded our domains
And boasted of its victories! Yet of them what remains?
Seems India exceptional? Fools, judge not by a day!
The horologe of centuries moves slowly in Cathay.
The brilliant son of Macedon saw, crushed and pale with fear,
The vanquished East from Babylon to Egypt and Cashmere;
But though the conquered Orient lay helpless, as his slave,
Of Alexander’s influence how much survived his grave?
Of Rome’s prodigious armaments, to Asian conquests led,
Where is there now a souvenir save relics of the dead?
And of the vast Crusading hosts, which in their madness rose
And hurled themselves repeatedly upon their Moslem foes,
What is to-day the net result? A thousand years have passed,
But none of all their vaunted gains proved great enough to last;
The Savior’s tomb, Jerusalem, and all the sacred lands
Connected with the Christian faith are still in Asian hands!”
And, last of all, a snippet from “Ode to Miletus,” a poem by the Englsh writer Walter Savage Landor. Incidentally, the humidity of rain relaxes the strings of a lute and leaves them limp (from Pericles and Aspasia, 1836).
“Restless is Wealth; the nerves of Power
Sink, as a lute’s in rain;
The gods lend only for an hour
And then call back again.”