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The White Man’s Burden! Need It Be So Heavy?
by [?]

It is a delightful stroll on a sunny summer morning from the Hague to the Huis ten Bosch, the little “house in the wood,” built for Princess Amalia, widow of Stadtholter Frederick Henry, under whom Holland escaped finally from the bondage of her foes and entered into the promised land of Liberty. Leaving the quiet streets, the tree- bordered canals, with their creeping barges, you pass through a pleasant park, where the soft-eyed deer press round you, hurt and indignant if you have brought nothing in your pocket–not even a piece of sugar–to offer them. It is not that they are grasping–it is the want of attention that wounds them.

“I thought he was a gentleman,” they seem to be saying to one another, if you glance back, “he looked like a gentleman.”

Their mild eyes haunt you; on the next occasion you do not forget. The Park merges into the forest; you go by winding ways till you reach the trim Dutch garden, moat-encircled, in the centre of which stands the prim old-fashioned villa, which, to the simple Dutchman, appears a palace. The concierge, an old soldier, bows low to you and introduces you to his wife–a stately, white-haired dame, who talks most languages a little, so far as relates to all things within and appertaining to this tiny palace of the wood. To things without, beyond the wood, her powers of conversation do not extend: apparently such matters do not interest her.

She conducts you to the Chinese Room; the sun streams through the windows, illuminating the wondrous golden dragons standing out in bold relief from the burnished lacquer work, decorating still further with light and shade the delicate silk embroideries thin taper hands have woven with infinite pains. The walls are hung with rice paper, depicting the conventional scenes of the conventional Chinese life.

You find your thoughts wandering. These grotesque figures, these caricatures of humanity! A comical creature, surely, this Chinaman, the pantaloon of civilization. How useful he has been to us for our farces, our comic operas! This yellow baby, in his ample pinafore, who lived thousands of years ago, who has now passed into this strange second childhood.

But is he dying–or does the life of a nation wake again, as after sleep? Is he this droll, harmless thing he here depicts himself? And if not? Suppose fresh sap be stirring through his three hundred millions? We thought he was so very dead; we thought the time had come to cut him up and divide him, the only danger being lest we should quarrel over his carcase among ourselves.

Suppose it turns out as the fable of the woodcutter and the bear? The woodcutter found the bear lying in the forest. At first he was much frightened, but the bear lay remarkably still. So the woodman crept nearer, ventured to kick the bear–very gently, ready to run if need be. Surely the bear was dead! And parts of a bear are good to eat, and bearskin to poor woodfolk on cold winter nights is grateful. So the woodman drew his knife and commenced the necessary preliminaries. But the bear was not dead.

If the Chinaman be not dead? If the cutting-up process has only served to waken him? In a little time from now we shall know.

From the Chinese Room the white-haired dame leads us to the Japanese Room. Had gentle-looking Princess Amalia some vague foreshadowing of the future in her mind when she planned these two rooms leading into one another? The Japanese decorations are more grotesque, the designs less cheerfully comical than those of cousin Chinaman. These monstrous, mis-shapen wrestlers, these patient-looking gods, with their inscrutable eyes! Was it always there, or is it only by the light of present events that one reads into the fantastic fancies of the artist working long ago in the doorway of his paper house, a meaning that has hitherto escaped us?