In the first program of his remarkable TV series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan is seen strolling through the halls of the great library of Alexandria, one of the true wonders of the ancient world. He pauses at one bin and pulls out a scroll on astronomy, by Aristarchus of Samos, which asserted that
the sun was the center of the solar system and that the earth revolved around it -- [quoteright]one of the many thousands of remarkable works lost when the library was deliberately destroyed. It is a touching and poignant scene...
I thought of this sequence when I was glancing over my library shelves and my eye happened to rest on my small collection of Scribner's Commentator. This magazine's short life began with the issue of July, 1941. The issue I should like to see (and surely never shall) is the one printed for distribution in mid-December 1941. It must have existed, but no one I know has ever seen one. Almost surely no one ever will.
Scribner's Commentator, as the name would imply, was formed from the merger of Scribner's and Commentator. The numbering of the issues surely followed the latter magazine, for that of July 1941 is Volume X, Number 3. What I had not realized when I subscribed -- but very quickly came to understand - was that the magazine had a pronounced isolationist bias, and was anti-British as well. Most newsstands would not carry it. As an example of its orientation, the July issue has a cover picture of Marshall Petain; the article about him ("The Real Petain") places him on nearly the same patriotic level for the French as George Washington holds for us. Even the poetry was made to serve the isolationist line; here is one verse from a poem, "To The President," by Amos Pinchot:
For you who choose the blackened paths of fate,
I write these lines to grave upon a stone:
'He stained the peace-deserving fields with hate,
To bend a nation's purpose to his own.'
O God, let folly and ambition cease
To rock the shining majesty of peace!
Like the majority of magazines of the period, the issues dated for any given month usually arrived about the middle of the preceding month. So when mid-November 1941 came, so did the December issue. The double-spread cartoon in the center shows a grinning FDR eagerly shoveling ships, planes and munitions, labeled "US Vital Resources," into a trough where three huge pigs -- Dictatorship Britain, Dictatorship Russia, and Dictatorship China -- are feeding. Watching on are the "85% of Americans opposed to War." In very large type on the inside front cover and both sides of the back are quotations from Wendell Wilkie, Jefferson, and Fulton J. Sheen. The Jefferson quotation, given without context, is "...Peace, then, has been our principle, peace is our interest, and peace has saved the world this only plant of free and rational government now existing in it." The rest of the magazine runs in a similar vein.
Then came 7 December 1941; America went to war. Mid-December arrived, but no Scribner's Commentator A month passed and still no magazine. Finally, toward the end of January 1942, the January issue arrived. Except for the title and format, it is not recognizable as the same magazine! A portrait of General MacArthur ("Defender of the Far East") appears on the front; the quotations on the back cover are from the Book of Common Prayer, Thomas Paine, and William Tyler Paige's The American Creed. The center spread features cartoons from Punch and the articles bear such timeless titles as "Are You Allergic?", "The Virtues of Thrift," "I Believe in God" (by Robert A. Millikan!) "Country Schoolteacher," and others of similar vital import.
Clearly, this was the issue printed for delivery to subscribers by December 15th. It is an issue (the last issue, by the way -- although there is no hint of this fact anywhere in it) thrown together to convince its readers that the editorial staff was just as much behind the war effort as any patriotic citizen. In fact, some of the staff were later arrested for being agents of the American Nazis.
So I would love to see the issue of Scribner's Commentator that was presumably printed up and ready for mailing on December 7, 1941, but which was, I assume, completely destroyed. If a copy still exists it would be worth a great deal as a collector's item; but I long ago gave up all hope of finding one.
Paul W. Healy is to rare magazines as Pierpont Morgan was to Gutenberg Bibles. Who else would have a complete file of a publication that expired after six months forty years ago?
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