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Practical results of the study of Primitive Culture ---Its bearing least upon
Positive Science, greatest upon Intellectual, Moral, Social, and Political
It now remains, in bringing to a close these investigations on the relation of primitive to modern civilization, to urge the practical import of the considerations raised in their
Granted that archæology, leading the student's mind back to remotest known conditions of human life, shows such life to have been of unequivocally savage type; granted that the rough-hewn flint hatchet, dug out from amidst the bones of mammoths in a drift gravel-bed to lie on an ethnologist's writing-table, is to him a very type of primitive culture, simple yet crafty, clumsy yet purposeful, low in artistic level yet fairly started on the ascent toward highest development—what then ? Of course the history and præ-history of man take their proper places in the general scheme of knowledge. Of course the doctrine of the world-long evolution of civilization is one which philosophic minds will take up with eager interest, as a theme of abstract science. But beyond this, such research has its practical side, as a source of power destined to influence the course of modern ideas and actions. To establish a connexion between what uncultured ancient men thought and did, and what cultured modern men think and do, is not a matter of inapplicable theoretic knowledge, for it raises the issue, how far are modern opinion and conduct
based on the strong ground of soundest modern knowledge, or how far only on such knowledge as was available in the earlier and ruder stages of culture where their types were shaped. It has to be maintained that the early history of man has its bearing, almost ignored as that bearing has been by those whom it ought most stringently to affect, on some of the deepest and most vital points of our intellectual, industrial, and social state.
Even in advanced sciences, such as relate to measure and force and structure in the inorganic and organic world, it is at once a common and a serious error to adopt the principle of letting bygones be bygones. Were scientific systems the oracular revelations they sometimes all but pretend to be, it might be justifiable to take no note of the condition of mere opinion or fancy that preceded them. But the investigator who turns from his modern text-books to the antiquated dissertations of the great thinkers of the past, gains from the history of his own craft a truer view of the relation of theory to fact, learns from the course of growth in each current hypothesis to appreciate its raison d'être and full significance, and even finds that a return to older starting-points may enable him to find new paths, where the modern track seems stopped by impassable barriers. It is true that rudimentary conditions of arts and sciences are often rather curious than practically instructive, especially because the modern practitioner has kept up, as mere elementary processes, the results of the ancient or savage man's most strenuous efforts. Perhaps our toolmakers may not gain more than a few suggestive hints from a museum of savage implements, our physicians may only be interested in savage recipes so far as they involve the use of local drugs, our mathematicians may leave to the infant-school the highest flights of savage arithmetic, our astronomers may only find in the star-craft of the lower races an uninstructive combination of myth and commonplace. But there are departments of knowledge, of not less consequence than mechanics and medicine, arithmetic and
astronomy, in which the study of the lowest stages, as influencing the practical acceptance of the higher, cannot be thus carelessly set aside.
If we survey the state of educated opinion, not within the limits of some special school, but in the civilized world at large, on such subjects especially as relate to Man, his intellectual and moral nature, his place and function among his fellow-men and in the universe at large, we see existing side by side, as if of equal right, opinions most diverse in real authority. Some, vouched for by direct and positive evidence, hold their ground as solid truths. Others, though founded on crudest theories of the lower culture, have been so modified under the influence of advancing knowledge, as to afford a satisfactory framework for recognized facts; and positive science, mindful of the origin of its own philosophic schemes, must admit the validity of such a title. Others, lastly, are opinions belonging properly to lower intellectual levels, which have held their place into the higher by mere force of ancestral tradition; these are survivals. Now it is the practical office of ethnography to make known to all whom it may concern the tenure of opinions in the public mind, to show what is received on its own direct evidence, what is ruder ancient doctrine reshaped to answer modern ends, and what is but timehonoured superstition in the garb of modern knowledge.
Topic after topic shows at a glimpse the way in which ethnography bears on modern intellectual conditions. Language, appearing as an art in full vigour among rude tribes, already displays the adaptation of childlike devices in self-expressive sound and pictorial metaphor, to utter thoughts as complex and abstruse as savage minds demand speech for. When it is considered how far the development of knowledge depends on full and exact means of expressing thought, is it not a pregnant consideration that the language of civilized men is but the language of savages, more or less improved in structure, a good deal extended in vocabulary, made more precise in the dictionary definition of words?
The development of language between its savage and cultured stages has been made in its details, scarcely in its principle. It is not too much to say that half the vast defect of language as a method of utterance, and half the vast defect of thought as determined by the influence of language, are due to the fact that speech is a scheme worked out by the rough and ready application of material metaphor and imperfect analogy, in ways fitting rather the barbaric education of those who formed it, than our own. Language is one of those intellectual departments in which we have gone too little beyond the savage stage, but are still as it were hacking with stone celts and twirling laborious friction-fire. Metaphysical speculation, again, has been one of the potent influences on human conduct, and although its rise, and one may almost say also its decline and fall, belong to comparatively civilized ages, yet its connexion with lower stages of intellectual history may to some extent be discerned. For example, attention may be recalled to a special point brought forward in this work, that one of the greatest of metaphysical doctrines is a transfer to the field of philosophy from the field of religion, made when philosophers familiar with the conception of object-phantoms used this to provide a doctrine of thought, thus giving rise to the theory of ideas. Far more fully and distinctly, the study of the savage and barbaric intellect opens to us the study of Mythology. The evidence here brought together as to the relation of the savage to the cultured mind in the matter of mythology has, I think, at any rate justified this claim. With a consistency of action so general as to amount to mental law, it is proved that among the lower races all over the world the operation of outward events on the inward mind leads not only to statement of fact, but to formation of myth. It gives no unimportant clues to the student of mental history, to see by what regular processes myths are generated, and how, growing by wear and increasing in value at secondhand, they pass into pseudohistoric legend. Poetry is full of myth, and he who will
understand it analytically will do well to study it ethnographically. In so far as myth, seriously or sportively meant, is the subject of poetry, and in so far as it is couched in language whose characteristic is that wild and rambling metaphor which represents the habitual expression of savage thought, the mental condition of the lower races is the key to poetry—nor is it a small portion of the poetic realm which these definitions cover. History, again, is an agent powerful, and becoming more powerful, in shaping men's minds, and through their minds their actions in the world; now one of the most prominent faults of historians is that, through want of familiarity with the principles of mythdevelopment, they cannot apply systematically to ancient legend the appropriate tests for separating chronicle from myth, but with few exceptions are apt to treat the mingled mass of tradition partly with undiscriminating credulity and partly with undiscriminating scepticism. Even more injurious is the effect of such want of testing on that part of traditional or documentary record which, among any section of mankind, stands as sacred history. It is not merely that in turning to the index of some book on savage tribes, one comes on such a suggestive heading as this, 'Religion-see Mythology. It is that within the upper half of the scale of civilization, among the great historic religions of the world, we all know that between religion and religion, and even to no small extent between sect and sect, the narratives which to one side are sacred history, may seem to the other mythic legend. Among the reasons which retard the progress of religious history in the modern world, one of the most conspicuous is this, that so many of its approved historians demand from the study of mythology always weapons to destroy their adversaries' structures, but never tools to clear and trim their own. It is an indispensable qualification of the true historian that he shall be able to look dispassionately on myth as a natural and regular product of the human mind, acting on appropriate facts in a manner suited to the intellectual state of the people producing it,