Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

rounding circumstances upon the constitution of the parents, is not enough to account for all the difference between them and their child. Extreme variation in any direction is very hard to understand. Why commonplace parents should have a genius for their son, or why, on the other hand, a father and mother normally constructed should give birth to a six-fingered child remains for the present a mystery. Mr. Bagehot assumes the fact of variation as one of his data, merely noting that, when the variation has once occurred, it is transmitted to offspring.

We are now in a position to appreciate our author's theory. We may divide the existence of man on the globe, in a rough way, into three periods. First came the long epoch indicated by the tools and remains discovered lately in such abundance-the stone age, the iron age, the bronze age, the age of the flint implements and the refuse heaps. Sir John Lubbock and Mr. Tylor have collected facts enough to give us a fairly definite idea of the miserable condition of our race during these many centuries—a condition now paralleled only by such modern tribes as the Digger Indians and the Australians. With this period Mr. Bagehot deals only in passing. Then comes his special subject, the time “just before the dawn of history-coeval with the dawn perhaps it would be right to say—for the first historians saw such a state of society, though they saw other and more advanced states too; a. period of which we have distinct descriptions from eye-witnesses, and of which the traces and consequences abound in the oldest law.” Then emerge historical times, whose annals are used only to illustrate and confirm this conjectural account of an age without written records.

Now, what do science and the laws of human nature, as we see them in operation around us, teach us as to the condition of our race, say ten thousand years before the dawn of history? .

If there is one illusion which modern research has effectually dispelled, it is that of a Golden Age. That tendency which seems inevitable and universal among men, and which all the force of disciplined reason sometimes fails to counteract, the tendency to glorify the past at the expense of the present, is in utter contradiction to the facts. Our evidence, though in many details imperfect, is sufficient to indicate the broad outlines of pre-historic life. We will suppose that the first step has been

made, that the distinction of races has been established, that a' bond unites children of the same mother. We have now, taking mankind just at this point, three guides to his condition. First, the immense number of facts to be inferred from the relics of Ancient Man discovered all over Europe. Sir John Lubbock and Mr. Maclennan have given a very full account of them. Secondly, the life of savage tribes, now or lately existing, as described by travelers and ethnologists. Thirdly, an axiom which necessarily results from the competition of early societies; namely, that where an institution or an acquisition, mental or physical, would certainly have given its possessors a notable advantage in the struggle for life, there the wide-spread existence and prosperity of men not possessing this advantage is an almost certain proof that it had not yet been attained to by any portion of the race.

If one-armed people existed almost everywhere on every continent; if people were found in every intermediate stage, some with the mere germ of the second arm, some with the second arm half grown, some with it nearly complete, we should then argue, 'the first race cannot have had two arms, because men have always been fighting, and as two arms are a great advantage in fighting, one-armed and half-armed people would immediately have been killed off the earth; they never could have attained any numbers. A diffused deficiency in a warlike power, is the best attainable evidence that the prehistoric men did not possess that power.''

From these three sources of information we may conclude that “prehistoric men 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, prehistoric men had not attainments. They never would have lost them if they had. It is utterly incredible that whole races of men in the most distant parts of the world

(capable of 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 practicing it) would have conquered all Australia almost as the English have conquered it. We cannot imagine innumerable races to have lost, if they had once had it, the most useful of all habits of mind—the habit which would most insure 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 prehistoric 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 no kind of writing and reading-who, 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 far-sightedness, a sound morality on elementary tranactions 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 (their own parents included) as soon as they get old and become a burden-who have scarcely the sense of truth-who, probably from a constant tradition of terror, wish to conceal everything, and would (as observers say) rather lie than not'—whose ideas of marriage are so vague and slight that the idea of communal marriage' (in which all the women of the tribe are common to all the men, and them only) has been invented to replace it. Now, if we consider how cohesive and how fortifying to human societies are the love of truth and the love of parents, and a stable marriage tie, how sure such feelings would be to make a tribe which possessed them wholly and soon victorious over tribes which were destitute of them, we shall begin to comprehend how unlikely it is that vast masses of tribes throughout the world should have lost all these moral h lps to conqsuest, not to speak of others. If any reasoning is safe as to prehistoric nian, the reasoning which imputes to him a deficient senseof morals is safe, for all the arguments suggested by all our late researches converge upon, and concur in teaching it."

So prehistoric religions must have been founded on “luck," just as savage religions now are, because the superstitious lookingout for omens and regulating the conduct by them is an immense military disadvantage. The tribe whose courage depended upon the flight of birds or eclipses of the sun would evidently have little chance in a war with less superstitious enemies. And as all the surviving tribes believed in these omens, it is evident that those who did not survive believed in them too.

If, then, prehistoric men were like savages—that is, if they had “the character of children, with the passions and strength of men”—what was their great necessity? What was requisite to transform these unstable, violent, impulsive animals into the firm, self-restrained, reasonable men of civilization ?

“Law," says Mr. Bagehot, “rigid, definite, precise law, is the primary want of early mankind—that which they need above anything else, that which is requisite before they can gain anything else. But it is their greatest difficulty, as well as their first requisite—the thing most out of their reach, as well as the most beneficial to them if they reach it." How the step was made from isolation to united action is not clear. Maine suggests that the family bond was the first to restrain the undisciplined instincts of man. However this may be, there is no doubt that when once family relations are fairly established, when once descent is traced through the father as well as the mother, and the patria potestas acknowledged, an advantage has been conferred upon this germ of a community, which will speedily put the members of it into possession of the best land all over the world. Isolated men may survive on islands and barren mountains, but the fertile plains will be occupied by families like those of Lot and of Abraham. The families which are overcome will be made hewers of wood and drawers of water. The ancient Jewish records show us just such a stage of society. The patriarchal household, with its wives and its slaves, subject in all things to the will of the husband and father, is the opening chapter of history. But our present point is, that a law-making power has been set up—not the power of a mere despot, used in caprice or cruelty, but that of the head of a household, employed generally to protect his dependents, but armed in case of disobedience with the death penalty, and fortified by the sanctions of a rude religion. So, as families grew into houses, houses into tribes, and tribes into peoples, the bonds of authority were continually tightening. A constant and tremendous struggle was going on between the savage nature inherited by man and the strenuous power which had laid its hand upon every action of his life. But with each generation the resistance to law became weaker. The lesson of self-restraint and obedi. ence, painfully learned by the father, was transmitted as an aptitude to the son, whose education, carried a step further, was again embodied in the brain and nerves of the grandson. Drill is Mr. Bagehot's name for this process—a social drill which has been going on century after century, and of which modern nations are the latest result.

Law and order, then, will ultimately triumph in every large community. Though nations may frequently be at war with each other, the internal affairs of each State will rest upon a firm basis of authority. Stability has been secured ; and now the question is. •Will mankind advance or remain stationary ?

We need not prove that the laws and customs which have so bound together the race, are not likely to be wise, just or liberal. Wisdom was hardly to be expected from the prehistoric ruler ; justice and liberality would be rather a hindrance than a help to him. What was necessary was fixity; an unalterable rule, enforced by the strongest sanctions, and extending over all the important concerns of life. Distinction between temporary and permanent law, between civil and religious authority, there was none. King and priest were one; and the priest-king was accounted a deity. Disobedience to him was treason and sacrilege combined; and his commands extended to the most minute partic

« VorigeDoorgaan »