Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/319

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303
THE STUDY OF MAN.

THE STUDY OF MAN[1]
By ALEXANDER MACALISTER, M. D., F. R. S.

ON an irregular and unfenced patch of waste land, situated on the outskirts of a small town in which I spent part of my boyhood, there stood a notice hoard bearing the inscription, "A Free Coup," which, when translated into the language of the southron, conveyed the intimation, "Rubbish may be shot here." This place, with its ragged mounds of unconsidered trifles, the refuse of the surrounding households, was the favorite playground of the children of the neighborhood, who found a treasury of toys in the broken tiles and oyster-shells, the crockery and cabbage-stalks, which were liberally scattered around. Many a make-believe house and road, and even village, was constructed by these mimic builders out of this varied material, which their busy little feet had trodden down until its undulated surface assumed a fairly coherent consistence.

Passing by this place ten years later I found that its aspect had changed; terraces of small houses had sprung up, mushroomlike, on the unsavory foundation of heterogeneous refuse. Still more recently I notice that these in their turn have been swept away, and now a large factory, wherein some of the most ingenious productions of human skill are constructed, occupies the site of the original waste.

This commonplace history is, in a sense, a parable in which is set forth the past, present, and possible future of that accumulation of lore in reference to humanity to which is given the name Anthropology, and for the study of which this section of our Association is set apart. At first nothing better than a heap of heterogeneous facts and fancies, the leavings of the historian, of the adventurer, of the missionary, it has been for long, and alas is still, the favorite playground of dilettanti of various degrees of seriousness. But upon this foundation there is rapidly rising a more comely superstructure, fairer to see than the original chaos, but still bearing marks of transitoriness and imperfection, and I dare hazard the prediction that this is destined in the course of time to give place to the more solid fabric of a real science of anthropology.

We cannot yet claim that our subject is a real science in the sense in which that name is applied to those branches of knowledge, founded upon ascertained laws, which form the subjects of most of our sister sections; but we can justify our separate exist-


  1. Vice-presidential address before the Section of Anthropology of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.