Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/168

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154
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

curring there. As to the general study of customs, the work done for years past by such anthropologists as Professor Bastian, of Berlin, is producing substantial progress. Among recent works I will mention Dr. Karl Andree's "Ethnologische Parallelen," and Mr. J. A. Farrer's "Primitive Manners." In the comparison of customs and inventions, however, the main difficulty still remains to be overcome, how to decide certainly whether they have sprung up independently alike in different lands through likeness in the human mind, or whether they have traveled from a common source. To show how difficult this often is,. I may mention the latest case I have happened to meet with. The Orang Dongo, a mountain people in the Malay region, have a custom of inheritance that when a man dies the relatives each take a share of the property, and the deceased inherits one share for himself, which is burned or buried for his ghost's use, or eaten at the funeral feast. This may strike many of my hearers as quaint enough, and unlikely to recur elsewhere; but Mr. Charles Elton, who has special knowledge of our ancient legal customs, has pointed out to me that it was actually old Kentish law, thus laid down in law-French: "Ensement seient les chateus de gauylekendeys parties en treis apres le exequies e les dettes rendues si il y est issue mulier en vye, issi que la mort eyt la une partie, e les fitz e les filles muliers 1 autre jDartie e la femme la tierce partie."—("In like sort let the chattels of gavelkind persons be divided into three after the funeral and payment of debts, if there be lawful issue living, so that the deceased have one part, and the lawful sons and daughters the other part, and the wife the third part.") The Church had indeed taken possession, for pious uses, of the dead man's share of his own property; but there is good Scandinavian evidence that the original custom before Christian times was for it to be put in his burial-mound. Thus the right of the rude Malay tribe corresponds with that of ancient Europe, and the question which the evidence does not yet enable us to answer, is whether»the custom was twice invented, or whether it spread east and west from a common source, perhaps in the Aryan district of Asia.

It remains for me to notice the present state of comparative mythology, a most interesting but also most provoking part of anthropology. More than twenty years ago a famous essay, by Professor Max Müller, made widely known in England how far the myths in the classical dictionary and the story-books of our own lands might find their explanation in poetic nature-metaphors of sun and sky, cloud and storm, such as are preserved in the ancient Aryan hymns of the Veda. Of course it had been always known that the old gods and heroes were in some part personifications of nature—that Helios and Okeanos, though they walked and talked and begat sons and daughters, were only the Sun and Sea in poetic guise. But the identifications of the new school went further. The myth of Endymion became the simple nature-story of the setting Sun meeting Selene the Moon; and I well