Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

some

are corrupted. The effect of any considerable change on a nation is thus an intensifying and accumulating effect. With its maximum power it acts on prepared and congenial individuals ; in them it is seen to produce attractive results, and then the habits creating those results are copied far and wide. And, as I believe, it is in this simple but not quite obvious way, that the process of progress and of degradation may generally be seen to run.

No. IV.

NATION-MAKING.

All theories as to the primitive man must be very uncertain. Granting the doctrine of evolution to be true, man must be held to have a common ancestor with the rest of the Primates. But then we do not know what their common ancestor was like. If ever we are to have a distinct conception of him, it can only be after long years of future researches and the laborious accumulation of materials, scarcely the beginning of which now . xists. But science has already done something for us. It cannot yet tell us our first ancestor, but it can tell us much of an ancestor very high up in the line of descent. We cannot get the least idea (even upon the full assumption of the theory of evolution) of the first man; but we can get a very tolerable idea of the Paulo-prehistoric man, if I may so say—of man as he existed some short time (as we now reckon shortness), some ten thousand years, before history began. Investigators whose acuteness and diligence can hardly be surpassedSir John Lubbock and Mr. Tylor are the chiefs among them—have collected so much and explained so much that they have left a fairly vivid result.

That result is, or seems to me to be, if I may sum it up

in my own words, that the modern pre-historic men -those of whom we have collected so many remains, and to whom are due the ancient, strange customs of historical nations (the fossil customs, we might call them, for very often they are stuck by themselves in real civilisation, and have no more part in it than the fossils in the surrounding strata)-pre-historic men in this sense were 'savages without the fixed habits of savages;' that is, that, like savages, they had strong passions and weak reason; that, like savages, they preferred short spasms of greedy pleasure to mild and equable enjoyment; that, like savages, they could not postpone the present to the future; that, like savages, their ingrained sense of morality was, to say the best of it, rudimentary and defective. But that, unlike present savages, they had not complex customs and singular customs, odd and seemingly inexplicable rules guiding all human life. And the reasons for these conclusions as to a race too ancient to leave a history, but not too ancient to have left memorials, are briefly these :-First, that we cannot imagine a strong reason without attainments; and, plainly, pre-historic men had not attainments. They would never have lost then if they had. It is utterly incredible that whole races of men in the most distant parts of the world (capable of

[ocr errors]

counting, for they quickly learn to count) should have lost the art of counting, if they had ever possessed it. It is incredible that whole races could lose the elements of common sense, the elementary knowledge as to things material and things mental--the Benjamin Franklin philosophy, if they had ever known it. Without some data the reasoning faculties of man cannot work. As Lord Bacon said, the mind of man must 'work upon stuff.' And in the absence of the common knowledge which trains us in the elements of reason as far as we are trained, they had no stuff.' Even, therefore, if their passions were not absolutely stronger than ours, relatively they were stronger, for their reason was weaker than our reason. Again, it is certain that races of men capable of postponing the present to the future (even if such races were conceivable without an educated reason) would have had so huge an advantage in the struggles of nations, that no others would have survived them. A single Australian tribe (really capable of such a habit, and really practising it) would have conquered al Australia almost as the English have conquered it. Suppose a race of long-headed Scotchmen, even as ignorant as the Australians, and they would have got from Torres to Bass's Straits, no matter how fierce was the resistance of the other Australians. The whole territory would have been theirs, and theirs only. We cannot imagine innumerable races to have lost, if they had onco had it, the most useful of all habits of mind-the

[ocr errors]

habit which would most ensure their victory in the incessant contests which, ever since they began, men have carried on with one another and with nature, the habit, which in historical times has above any other received for its possession the victory in those contests. Thirdly, we may be sure that the morality of pre-historic man was as imperfect and as rudimentary as his reason. The same sort of arguments apply to a self-restraining morality of a high type as apply to a settled postponement of the present to the future upon grounds recommended by argument. Both are so involved in difficult intellectual ideas (and a high morality the most of the two) that it is all but impossible to conceive their existence among people who could not count more than five-who had only the grossest and simplest forms of language—who had no kind of writing or readingwho, as it has been roughly said, had 'no pots and no pans'—who could indeed make a fire, but who could hardly do anything else—who could hardly command nature any further. Exactly also like a shrewd farsightedness, a sound morality on elementary transactions is far too useful a gift to the human race ever to have been thoroughly lost when they had once attained it. But innumerable savages have lost all but completely many of the moral rules most conducive to tribal welfare. There are many savages who can hardly be said to care for human life—who have scarcely the family feelings—who are eager to kill all old people

« ÎnapoiContinuați »