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LECTURE V NOTE E.—P. 184.

ALLEGED PRIMITIVE SAVAGERY OF MANKIND.

The hypothesis of man’s original savagery rests on certain unproved assumptions.

I. So far as it is a deduction from the law of evolution, it rests on the unproved assumption that man has developed by slow gradations from the condition of the animal. See on this the passages quoted in footnote to the Lecture, p. 182.

II. As respects existing savages, the hypothesis—

1. Rests on the unproved assumption that the state of existing savages represents (or most nearly represents) that of primitive man.901901Of course, from the evolutionist point of view, even savage life, as Tylor points out, would he “a far advanced condition.”—Prim. Culture, i. p. 33. Of late, says Max Muller, there has been a strong reaction in the study of uncivilsed races. “First of all, it has been shown that it was certainly a mistake to look upon the manners and customs, the legends and religious ideas, of uncivilised tribes as representing an image of what the primitive state of mankind must have been thousands of years ago, or what it actually was long before the be ginning of the earliest civilisation, as known to us from historical documents. The more savage a tribe, the more accurately was it supposed to reflect the primitive state of man-kind. This was no doubt a very natural mistake, before more careful researches had shown that the customs of savage races were often far more artificial and complicated than they appeared at first, and that there had been as much progression and retrogression in their historical development as in that of more civilised races. We know now that savage and primitive are very far indeed from meaning the same thing.”—Anthrop. Religion, pp. 149, 150.

Evidence is constantly accumulating, that behind the existing condition of savage races there stood a state of higher culture and civilisation. E.g. Dr. Tylor says: “Dr. Bastian has lately visited New Zealand and the Sandwich Islands, and gathered some interesting information as to native traditions. The documents strengthen the view which for years has been growing up among anthropologists as to the civilisation of the Polynesians. It is true that they were found in Captain Cook’s time living in a barbaric state, and their scanty clothing and want of metals led superior observers to class them as savages; but their beliefs and customs show plainly traces of descent from ancestors who in some way shared the higher culture of the Asiatic nations.”—Nature, 1881, p. 29. Tylor’s own pages furnish ample evidence of similar retrogression of the African and other tribes.—Primitive Culture, pp. 42, 43. On the extinct civilisations of Mexico and Peru, the mound-builders of the Mississippi Valley, and other evidences of earlier culture in America, see Reville’s Hibbert Lectures, 1884, The Native Religions of Mexico and Peru; Dawson’s Fossil 441Men and their Modern Representatives; Argyll’s Unity of Nature, pp. 429–437.

A fact of the greatest importance here is that pointed out by the Duke of Argyll, viz, that the degraded races of the world are those farthest from the centres of distribution of population. “It is a fact,” he says, “that the lowest and rudest tribes in the population of the globe have been found, as we have seen, at the farthest extremities of its larger continents, or in the distant islands of its great oceans, or among the hills and forests which in every land have been the last refuge of the victims of violence and misfortune.”—Unity of Nature, p. 426. See for illustrations, chap. x. of this work.

Whately’s statement stands yet un-overturned. “Facts,” he says, “are stubborn things; and that no authenticated instance can be produced of savages that ever did emerge unaided from that state is no theory, but a statement, hitherto never disproved, of a. matter of fact.”—Exeter Hall Lecture on the Origin of Civilisation.

2. It overlooks the higher elements which exist even in the present condition of savages. See these brought out as respects the African tribes, on the basis of Waltz’s Anthropology, in Max Muller’s Hibbert Lectures, 1878, On the Origin and Growth of Religion, pp. 106–113.

III. As respects prehistoric man, the main points are noticed in the Lectures.

1. Here, again, the assumption is unproved that these cave-men, etc., on whose rudeness the argument was founded, represented primitive man, and were not rather a degradation of an earlier type. Against this assumption is the fact of their distance from what seem to have been the original centres of distribution of the race, combined with the very different spectacle which mankind presents as we approach these centres. On the argument based on the antiquity of prehistoric man, see Note U., and cf. Reusch’s Nature and the Bible, ii. pp. 265–366 (Eng. trans.).

2. Many erroneous inferences may be drawn from stone implements and the like as to the intellectual and moral calibre of the people using them. See on this the most suggestive treatment in Sir Arthur Mitchell’s Rhind Lectures on “Past and Present,” and “What is Civilisation?” (1876 and 1878).

3. The greatest civilisations of antiquity do not show traces of an earlier period of barbarism. These civilisations certainly did not spring into existence ready-formed, but there is nothing to indicate any such slow rise from an antecedent state of savagery as the modern hypothesis supposes. This is peculiarly the case with the oldest civilisation—that of Egypt. “In Egypt,” says Canon Rawlinson, “it is notorious that there is no indication of any early period of savagery or barbarism. All the authorities agree that, however far we go back, we find in Egypt no rude or uncivilised time out of which civilisation is developed.” Origin of Nations, p. 13.902902On some supposed traces of prehistoric man in Egypt, see Dawson’s Egypt and Syria, pp. 128–136. The same writer says of Babylon: “In Babylon there is more indication 442of early rudeness. But, on the other hand, there are not wanting signs of an advanced state of certain arts, even in the earliest times, which denote a high degree of civilisation, and contrast most curiously with the indications of rudeness here spoken of” (ibid. p. 14). This progress of discovery in ancient Babylonia has carried back civilisation, and a high development of the arts (as of writing), to a quite unthought-of antiquity (e.g. at Nipur).


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