Being desirous of learning the opinion of that excellent missionary and judicious scholar, the Rev. Mr. Ridley, upon the question, I wrote to ask him if he knew anything in the condition of the Australian natives that would sanction Archbishop Whately's argument. In his reply he says: "It is difficult to reconcile their actual ignorance of the use of clothes and houses, and no tribes that I ever saw had any idea when first discovered by white men of the use of either, with the supposition of pre-existing civilization." And yet he thought the highly developed language afforded a clue to another and higher condition formerly.
Dr. Von Martins, the Brazilian traveller, rather favoured the degeneration theory. Mr. Tylor, a philosophical writer, says: "I do not think that I have ever met with a single fact which seems to me to justify the theory." He could rather, with Sir John Lubbock, look forward hopefully to the rise of the race. "The course of development," said he, "of the lower civilization has been on the whole in a forward direction, though interfered with occasionally and locally by the results of degrading and destroying influences."The idea of a previously existing civilization known to the Australians and Tasmanians receives some support from the inquiry into their superstitions. Although that subject will be treated in extenso in a subsequent work upon the ethnology of those two races, it is sufficient to say that customs were retained, and traditions were taught, which evidently were fragments of knowledge belonging to other climes. The language, from its beauty and grammar, has been long regarded as the chief argument. The Rev. Dr. Lang says of it: "There is an adaptation for the expression of shades of thought decidedly indicative of a mental power and accuracy far beyond what the present habits of the people would lead one to suppose." But he cannot be so readily followed when he speaks of them as "originally a comparatively civilized people, strongly addicted to maritime pursuits, &c." He esteems them a race driven from "their own happy home," and "forced to become wild men," adopting as a matter of choice a mode of life originally one of necessity. Then he exclaims in wonder—"How has he completely lost his superior skill in navigation? How has he ceased entirely to be a cultivator of the soil?"