Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

height, to which pious Parsees make pilgrimages from Gujerat and Moultan in order to behold the presence of their fire-god.

A period must, however, have occurred in prehistoric times. when the flaming stream of gas was extinguished, the lava stream grew cold, and man must have contemplated the artificial production of fire. The realization of this problem, a great event in the history of our civilization, was subsequently accounted for by the myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the king of gods. As this legend still endures as a national possession among the Ossets, or Irons, in the Caucasus, and the language of this hill tribe is of the Indo-Germanic family, it must have existed before the later dispersion of the Aryan races; but as in the glacial period fire was artificially produced at the source of the Schussen, far from any volcanic phenomena, we must not look to this myth for the traces of an historical event. On this point we may even appeal to Eschylus who, in the now lost conclusion of his trilogy, makes Prometheus say that he has lain in fetters for thirty thousand years,' 18 so that he also refers the theft of fire to a period far beyond the limits of man's memory.

The most primitive method of kindling fire has been retained by the Polynesians. A stick is rubbed obliquely up and down the groove of a stationary piece of wood until it begins to glow. Chamisso found fire-implements of this sort on the Sandwich Islands, and in the Radak group of Micronesia, 19 and they are common to the other Polynesians in Tahiti, New Zealand, the Samoan and Tongan groups, 20 and even in New Caledonia. Less muscular exertion was required by the fire-drills. The earliest contrivance of this kind is described by the Spaniards as in use in the Antilles and the shores of South America. Two pieces of wood were tied together, between which was jammed a pointed stick, which was revolved until fire was kindled.22 It was soon discovered, however, that a single piece of wood was

21

17 Naumann, Geognosie, vol. i.

18 Westphal, Prolegomenen zu Aeschylus Tragödien. Leipzic, 1869.

19 O. von Kotzebue's Entdeckungsreisen, vol. iii. Weimar, 1821.

20 Tylor, Early History of Mankind, p. 303.

21 Knoblauch in the Ausland. 1866.

22 Oviedo, Historia general de las Indias, lib. vi.

[ocr errors]

Fire-Drills.

sufficient for a framework, if a cavity was previously made for the reception of the fire-drill. This apparatus, one of the oldest inventions of our race, reappears in all parts of the world. We recognize it in well-known sculptures of the ancient Mexicans, 23 it is still used by the Indians of Guayana,24 and by the Botocudos of Brazil, 25 while in South Africa it is used by the Bushmen, 26 Kaffirs, and Hottentots,27 by the Veddahs in Ceylon,28 and by the aborigines of Australia.29 It must not be supposed that success in kindling fire is easy. The labour is so fatiguing that among the Botocudos at Belmont, several individuals were in the habit of relieving each other in the work of turning the drill. 30

Theophilus Hahn records the same of the Kaffirs, although they live in extremely dry regions. Hermann von Schlagintweit, in his excursions in the Himalayas, first noticed a fire apparatus of this sort among the Leptsha, which was peculiar in that the framework was made of hard, and the drill of soft wood. He also adds that the labour is very fatiguing, and that as the air is highly saturated with moisture, success is very uncertain. 32

141

When we realize the fact that the difficulty of kindling fire by friction is so great that even in such a dry region as South Africa, several persons take part in the fatiguing labour, the artificial production of fire presupposes a mutual understanding between the participators, from which fact we may draw the forcible and incontrovertible inference that language must have preceded the artificial preparation of fire; hence that the Suabians of the glacial period already mentioned must have been in possession of such a language, and that the psychical chasm separating man from animals even then existed. Yet the greatest interest attaches itself to the question whether the artificial production of fire was

23 Recently again figured by O. Caspari, Die Urgeschichte der Menschheit. Leipzic, 1873.

* C. F. Appun in the Ausland. 1872.

25

J. J. von Tschudi, Reisen durch Südamerika. Leipzig, 1860.

26 Fritsch, Eingeborne Südafrika's.

27 Kolben's Vorgeb. d. G. Hoffnung.

28 Emerson Tennent, Ceylon, vol. ii. 29 A. Lortsch in the Ausland, 1866.

30 The Prince of Wied, Reise nach Brasilien, vol. ii. p. 18. 31 Globus. Sept. 1871.

32 Reisen in Indien und Hochasien.

an invention, or only a discovery. Was some powerful thinker of primitive ages led to argue that as heat was generated by friction, fire might be obtained by a very great increase in degree of frictional heat? In that case the truth had dawned upon his mind that luminous heat is distinguished from latent heat only in its amount, and in the effect on the optic nerves, and his attempt to kindle a fire by friction would have received Nature's assent to an inquiry correctly propounded. In acuteness of intellect, such a Prometheus of the glacial period would have been in no way behind a Copernicus or a Kepler, a Champollion or a Grotefend, a Kirchhoff or a Faraday; we could be certain that the highest grade of intellectual power, manifesting itself now and again in individuals, is no greater in our day than it was in classical or biblical antiquity, and in those times no greater than in the glacial period. When we reflect thus we must remember that mediæval scholastics believed a diminution to have taken place of the powers of the human comprehension, so that even in the sphere of the exact sciences the mighty intellects of Greeks and Romans were regarded as unattainable prototypes. At the present time the Chinese, whose mental development has recently been very inactive, are persuaded that the intellectual powers of their thinkers of past ages far exceeded the present standard. The hypothesis of an increase or a diminution of human powers of comprehension varies, therefore, with the self-appreciation, or the absence of self-appreciation, of individual periods, so that at the present time, when, owing to the highly integrated state of society, every intellectual luminary, methodically fostered, is far more readily enabled to diffuse his splendour, we are inclined to assume that human sagacity is now in its meridian.

But mindful of the golden rule, that inferences must be made only from the known to the unknown, we confess that the first stages of civilization of our species are still far too obscure to invalidate the conjecture that a fortunate accident revealed the possibility of generating fire by means of friction. Yet we cannot suppose with Adalbert Kuhn, that a dry tendril, whirled round by a storm in the hollow of a branch, was ignited. We even doubt the physical possibility of the assertion of the Voguls of the Ural mountains, that a broken tree rubbing against a neigh

Fire-Drills.

143

bouring stem until it ignites, can cause a conflagration of the forest. As the same mode of producing fire and the same kindling apparatus have been found among all nations of both hemispheres, the accidental discovery must have resulted from an attempt to drill a hole: we meet with pierced implements -though only of horn-even among the relics of the inhabitants of Europe of the glacial period. Yet as one individual must have become exhausted before fire was kindled, and as the heat would be expended during each interruption, the fact that the drilling was continued without a pause still remains without explanation. But the list of possibilities cannot be exhausted, so that we cannot yet hope to understand the sequence of events in ages so remote.

The old frictional apparatus, uncertain in its result, and requiring for its management two workmen at the least, attained its highest development when it was discovered that the drill might be set in motion by a string caused to wind itself on and off. This invention spread over North America to the Sioux, or Dahcotas,33 as well as to the Iroquois.34 The Aleutians still more ingeniously sunk the point of the drill into the tinder, and held the upper end fast in their teeth by a mouthpiece made of bone. Chamisso saw tinder set on fire in a few seconds when the string was pulled quickly.35 All oriental nations made use of the same apparatus in ancient times. Even Pliny speaks of rubbing fire as of a wellknown fact.36 According to Adalbert Kuhn, the Brahminical Hindoos, by means of a string winding itself on and off, used to make a stick, called Pramantha, rotate between two pieces of wood, named Arani. This philologist leaves us to decide whether the name of Prometheus is to be derived from Pramatha, theft, or from the drill Pramantha, and at the same time reminds us that the Thurians formerly worshipped a Zeus Promantheus. However this may be, the ancient Greeks produced fire in the same manner as the Indians of the time of the Vedas, 37 Their pyreia or fire implements consisted of two parts, a base, named

33 Tylor, Early History of Mankind, p. 343.

34 Waitz, Anthropologie, vol. iii.

35 O. von Kotzebue's Reisen. Weimar, 1841.

36 Hist. nat. lib. ii. cap. 3, humani ignes.

37 A Kuhn, Die Herabkunft des Feuers. Berlin, 1859.

attrita inter se ligna.

eschara, of soft wood, ivy by preference, and the trypanon, answering to the drill, made of laurel wood. 38 This mode of kindling fire was retained till quite recently in Germany, for popular superstition attributed miraculous power to a fire generated by this ancient method. The English word wildfire also refers to the kindling of fire by the friction of wood. In Germany a cylinder of oak was revolved by a rope in the space between two oaken beams, in order to generate the so-called Nothfeuer (need-fire), which was supposed to avert epidemics. At Edessa, in Hanover, even in the year 1828, such a need-fire was kindled on the outbreak of the quinsy among the pigs, and the murrain among the COWS. 39 In other nations of the Indo-Germanic family, it was necessary that every fire with claims to sanctity should be kindled by friction. If the fire in the Temple of Vesta at Rome was allowed to die out by the neglect of a priestess, a new flame was kindled, not by flint and steel, though this had long been in use, but by friction on a consecrated board. 4° At the beginning of each of their short centuries, fire was rekindled by friction by the ancient Mexicans; in the same spirit the Suaheli extinguished their fire on the first day of the year, and kindled a new one with the fire-drill. 41 In Europe the striking of sparks from hard stones, with or without steel, is of post-Homeric antiquity; Pliny preserves for us the name of a supposed inventor. 42

As no people has yet been discovered in a fireless condition, the term savage is inapplicable, and has arisen from an erroneous view. Nor should we speak of the children of nature; we must at least term them half-civilized nations, for the natural condition of mankind is too distant for our observation, or even for our conception. Let us rather picture to ourselves some one who had never seen a rose, coming by chance upon a rose-bush in full bearing; side by side with the ripening fruit, he would see withered

38 Theophrastus, Hist. plantarum. v. 9.

39 Kuhn, Herabkunft des Feuers.

40 Hermann Göll, Die Geheimnisse der Vesta. Ausland, 1870.

41 Steere in the Journal of the Anthropol. Institute, vol. i.

42 The greater part of the above was published by the author in the Austria Zeitschrift für Kunst und Wissenschaft. 1872.

« ÎnapoiContinuați »