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The Pageant of America

ISSUE:  Autumn 1930

The Pageant of America: A Pictorial History of the United States. Edited by R. H. Gabriel. 15 Vols. 1. Adventure in the Wilderness. By C. Wisler, C. L. Skinner, and W. Wood. 2. The Lure of the Frontier. ’ By R. H. Gabriel. 3. Toilers of Land and Sea. By R. H. Gabriel. 4, The March of Commerce, By M. Keir. 5. The Epic of Industry. By M. Kcir. 6. The Winning of Freedom. By W. Wood and R. H. Gabriel. 7. In Defense of Liberty. By W. Wood and R. H. Gabriel. 8. Builders of the Republic. By F. A. Ogg. 9. Makers of a New Nation. By J. S. Bassctt. 10. American Idealism. By L. A. Weigle. 11. The American Spirit in Letters, By S. T. Williams. 12. The American Spirit in Art. By F. J. Mather, Jr., C. R. Morcy, and W. J. Henderson. 13. The American Spirit in Architecture. By T. F. Hamlin. 14. The American Stage. By O. S. Coad and E. Mims, Jr. 15. Annals of American Sports. By J. A. Krout. New Haven: The Yale University Press.

One of the most interesting and well executed series of historical works in recent years is “The Chronicles of America” in fifty volumes, issued in various forms. Two by-products of that very successful series are the Chronicles of America Photoplays, which have been shown to millions of men, women, and children—especially school children; and “The Pageant of America,” sub-entitled “A Pictorial History of the United States.” The combined title is fully descriptive; but the subtitle conveys a false impression. How easy it would have been to publish merely a “picture gallery,” to throw on the screen of the page only an illustrative record of American life! Pictorial histories of the United States often irritate more than they please: the text is cluttered with illustrations with apparently no connection with the text. One searches the text in vain for any allusion to the illustrations; and often the picture, when it does illustrate the text, does not even appear opposite the page of text to which it refers. The text is one story, the illustrations another; the two run roughly parallel, with only occasional points of contact.

“The Pageant of America” avoids the obvious and perturbing defects, just described. It is, actually, a history of the United States, running back to its earliest tangible origins. The volumes are written by highly competent authorities, as single authors or in collaboration. This work, while making no flamboyant claims for novelty or constructive research in original sources, as respecting the text, nevertheless is entitled to strong approbation for certain of the volumes as genuine contributions to knowledge. Conspicuous as composite summaries of a vast amount of scattered information and knowledge, not hitherto brought together in compact form of ready access to the general reader, the following volumes must be accorded particular praise: “Annals of American Sport,” by John Allen Krout; “The American Stage,” by Oral Sumner Coad and Edwin Mims, Jr.; “The American Spirit in Art,” by Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., Charles Rufus Morey, and William James Henderson; “American Idealism,” by Luther A. Weigle; “Toilers of Land and Sea,” by Ralph Henry Gabriel, the general editor of the series; “The March of Commerce,’7rjy Malcolm Keir; and “The Epic of Industry,” also by Malcolm Keir.

“The Pageant of America” is a superb series of books, judged from any standpoint: format, content, scholarship, editorial supervision, general co-ordination and integration of availables. It is a readable, popular history of the United States, comprehensive in horizon yet specific in detail. It is, incomparably, the most lavishly illustrated history of this country ever published or likely to be published in many a year. The text describes the illustrations, either by caption or by particular or by immediately accompanying letterpress. The illustrations range from the eleventh century, with a page from the Latin manuscript of Adam of Bremen, containing the first mention of Vinland, virtually down to the publication of the last volume to be issued. For seven years a competent research staff made exhaustive investigation in hundreds of libraries, universities, museums, repositories of historical data of every description, in this and nine foreign countries. Innumerable photographs were made of the material objects; many special maps were executed especially for this work by Gregor Noetzel, staff member of the American Geographical Society; and a number of paintings were made for this series alone. Moreover a very large number of portraits and paintings of historic scenes have been reproduced; and fortunately the number of imaginative portraits is exceedingly small. In all, the fifteen volumes contain more than ten thousand illustrations, Each volume contains upwards of seven hundred illustrations, and sixty thousand words of text. The paper, especially made for this series, is soft and artistic in appearance; and the illustrations, many, of them minute, are for the most part reproduced with clear definition of detail. One reason for this is that the illustrations were printed from the original half-tones, although this greatly increased the time required for bringing out the elaborate work.

The work is its own excuse for being. Here history tells itself. One almost feels that this work makes the teacher, the lecturer, superfluous. A Martian, forming his first acquaintance of the United States by means of these volumes, would gain a very respectable notion of our civilization from the pictures alone. Unfortunately, on account of its bulk, this work cannot well be used as a text; but for any teacher of American history, whether in high school, college, or university, it is an indispensable work of reference. It is the best “machine” yet devised for exciting the unawakened interest of the American boy and girl in the history of our country.

The work is an impressive pageant of the triumphant sweep of American progress. It is a grand review of national rise and advance. It is idealistic, throughout; and stresses those features of American life and culture deserving of emulation. There are two noticeable faults of the work, which constitute the defects of its qualities. The illustrations do not exhibit the darker and more reprehensible aspects of American life, as clearly contrary to the pervasively, bouyant and deliberately optimistic spirit. Moreover, the deeper currents of American life—the development of thought, the rise of philosophy, the birth-pangs and growing-pains of the national epos—these defy the art of pic-turization.


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