Page images

action, from the young robin which cruelly pecks to death the robin two generations older than himself. An equally wide-spread and similar impulse may fairly be assumed to account for actions so nearly identical in barbarian and in bird. The only appreciable difference is, that, as regards the savage, it would seem that Custom (which must have originally sprung out of an instinct, or at least have been in harmony with it) has so long been stereotyped, that the act of human parricide is generally performed with unruffled calmness of demeanour, and even with some display of tenderness towards the father or mother, who is buried alive in Polynesia as kindly, as he, or she, would have been put to bed by an affectionate son or daughter in England. *

The same dispassionateness in the performance of the dreadful act seerns indeed to have prevailed so far back as historical records extend, and we cannot (as it were) actually catch the brutal Heteropathy in the fact of murder. Herodotus says the Masagetæ used in his time to kill, boil and eat their superannuated relations, holding

* Sir J. Lubbock (Origin of Civilization, p. 248) quotes from “Fiji and the Fijians” an instance in which Mr. Hunt was invited by a young man to attend his mother's funeral. Mr. Hunt joined the procession and was surprised to see no corpse, when the young man pointed out his mother, who was walking along with them as gay and lively and apparently as much pleased as anybody present. To Mr. Hunt's remonstrance, the young man only replied, that “she was their mother, and her sons ought to put her to death, now she had lived long enough.” Eventually the old woman was ceremoniously strangled.


such to be the happiest kind of death.* Ælian describes the Sardinians as killing their fathers with clubs as an honourable release from the distresses of age. The Wends, even after the introduction of Christianity, are accused of cannibal practices of the like kind; and (Mr. Tylor adds) there still existed in Sweden in many churches, so late as 1600, certain ancient clubs "known as ätta-clubbor, or family-clubs, wherewith in old days the aged and hopelessly sick were solemnly killed by their kinsfolk.

Nevertheless, taking into consideration the law pervading the brute creation, and (as we shall presently see) the yet perceptible destructive impulse in the children of civilized regions, there seems to be ground for attributing the remote origin of all such practices, however tenderly performed within historic times, to the fierce instinct of the earliest savage, whom the sight of pain and helplessness excited just as it excites the bird or beast. In the wild animal, it still acts simply and unimpaired. In the man, even in his lowest present condition, it has been stereotyped into a custom.

* See an article on Primitive Society, by E. Tylor : Contemp. Review, April, 1873. Mr. Tylor traces the custom to the necessities of wandering tribes, and says that after there is no longer the excuse of necessity, the practice may still go on, partly from the humane intent of putting an end to lingering misery, but perhaps more through the survival of a custom inherited from harder and ruder times. Necessity may explain desertion, but surely hardly murder and cannibalism ?

Nor is it by any means only in the case of aged parents that the Heteropathy of the savage betrays itself. No similar custom of deliberate murder of the infirm has had room to grow up in the case of wives, who are of course usually younger than their husbands; and we do not therefore hear of a regular system of strangling them when permanently diseased or incapacitated. They are only starved, beaten and overtaxed with toil, till they expire in the way unhappily not unfamiliarly known to English coroners' juries as “ Death from natural causes, accelerated by want of food and harsh treatment.” But if Heteropathy acts only indirectly on sickly wives, it exhibits itself in full force on puling and superfluous infants. Custom, among numberless savages, and even among nations so far advanced in civilization as the ancient Greeks and modern Chinese, has regularly established child-murder precisely in those cases in which the helplessness threatens to prove permanent, and which, consequently, leave the destructive sentiment full play, though they would call forth the most passionate instincts of pity and protection among ourselves. A puny and deformed boy is, in the ruder state of society, an unendurable object to his parents, who, without troubling themselves about Spartan principles concerning the general interests of the community, silence his pitiful baby-wails at once and for ever. Needless to add, no mercy can be expected for a daughter born where women are (to use Mr. Greg's phrase) “redundant.” She is exposed or drowned with less pity than a humane Englishman feels for a fly in his milkjug:*

* See the Marquis de Beauvoir's hideous account of an evening walk outside the walls of Canton, with scores of dead and dying infants lying beside the path. A recent official Chinese Ukase on the subject of infanticide, translated in the correspondence of the Times, sufficiently corroborates these statements, and shews also, happily, some desire on the part of the Government to put a stop to the practice. It is issued by the provincial Treasurer of Hupei, who begins by quoting stock examples from Chinese history of the piety of daughters, and proceeds to ask how it comes to pass, since in the present day girls are doubtless equally devoted, that “the female infant is looked upon as an enemy from the moment of its birth, and no sooner enters the world than it is consigned to the nearest pool of water ? Certainly, there are parents who entertain an affection for their female infants and rear them up, but such number scarcely 20 or 30 per cent. The reasons are either (1) that the child is thrown away in disgust because the parents have too many children already; or (2) that it is drowned from sheer chagrin at having begotten none but females; or, lastly, in the fear that the poverty of the family will make it difficult to devote the milk to her own child, when the mother might otherwise hire herself out as a wet-nurse. Now all these are the most stupid of reasons. All that those have to do who are unable through poverty to feed their children is to send them to the Foundling Hospital, where they will be reared up until they become women and wives, and where they will always be sure of enjoying a natural lifetime. With regard to the question of means or no means of bringing up a family, why the bare necessaries of life for such children do not cost much. There are cases enough of poor lads not being able to find a wife all their lives long, but the Treasurer has yet to hear of a poor girl who cannot find a husband, so that there is even less cause for anxiety on that score. But there is another way of looking at it. Heaven's retribution is sure, and cases are common where repeated female births have followed those when the infants have been drowned ; that is, man Of the feelings of savages towards their sick and wounded companions, we rarely hear any anecdotes.* I have failed to meet one illustrative of Pity or Tenderness. Their Emotions on witnessing the pleasures, feastings and marriages of others, seem usually to par

loves to slay what Heaven loves to beget, and those perish who set themselves against Heaven, as those die who take human life. Also they are haunted by the wraiths of the murdered children, and thus not only fail to hasten the birth of a male child, but run a risk of making victims of themselves by their behaviour. The late Governor, hearing that this wicked custom was rife in Hupei, set forth the law some time ago in severe prohibitory proclamations; notwithstanding this, many poor districts and out-of-theway places will not allow themselves to see what is right, but obstinately cling to their old delusion. Hia Chien-yin, a graduate from Kianghia, and others have lately petitioned that a proclamation be issued once more prohibiting this practice in strong terms. Wherefore you are now required and requested to acquaint yourselves all, that male and female infants being of your own flesh and blood, you may be visited by some monstrous calamity if · you rear only the male and drown the female children. If these exhortations are looked upon any more as mere formal words, and if any people with conscious wickedness neglect to turn over a new leaf, they will be punished.

“Beware and obey! Beware!”

* Dr. Johnson loq. : “Pity is not natural to man. Children are always cruel. Savages are always cruel. Pity is acquired and improved by the cultivation of reason. We may have uneasy sensations from seeing a creature in distress, without pity; have not pity unless we wish to relieve them. When I am on my way to dine with a friend, and, finding it late, have bid the coachman make haste, if I happen to attend when he whips his horses, I may feel unpleasantly that the animals are put to pain, but I do not wish him to desist. No, Sir, I wish him to drive on.”—Main's Boswell, p. 120.

for we

« PreviousContinue »