Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/September 1874/Natural History of Man V
|←Notes||Popular Science Monthly Volume 5 September 1874 (1874)
Natural History of Man V
By Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefages de Bréau
|The Photosphere and Sun-Spots→|
GENTLEMEN: I resume my discourse for the fifth time on the same subject. You have already, on four different occasions, studied man; and, again, man is the subject of this lecture.
On the preceding occasions I ran over some of the general questions that arise concerning the history of the human race. Depending always and exclusively upon science, I have shown that this species is unique; that all men are of the same species; and that, in consequence of this fact, they ought to regard each other as brothers, whatever the color of the skin, whatever language they speak, whatever country they inhabit.
This species at first occupied a very limited part of the globe. It spread all over the globe at an earlier epoch than was formerly believed; more recent researches have demonstrated that man existed in France along with the hyena, the elephant, the rhinoceros—that is to say, along with animals seen, in our day, only in distant countries.
As man appeared at first on a restricted point of the globe, and is found to-day everywhere, it is evident that he has traveled in all directions from his centre of creation and peopled the earth by migration much as do the Europeans at the present time. These journeyings have exposed him to all the influences which can be encountered, on the surface of our planet, and he has become acclimated every-where as we see him to-day.
In the study of general questions relative to the history of our species, we had to ask what was the origin of man.
On this point I have been obliged to confess the insufficiency of actual knowledge. But, if I was not able to say whence man came, I could say, in the name of science, whence he did not come; I could affirm that our ancestor was not an animal—neither a monkey, nor a seal, nor any other animal whatever.
At our last meeting we commenced the study of the general characters presented by the human species, and we examined its physical characters; that is, those which may be drawn from the body studied in a state of health and of disease. We were led also to pass in review its exterior characters, its anatomic characters, physiological and pathological. We thus obtained an idea of the general nature of man, considered exclusively from an organic point of view. Well, this study of man, in his material relations, led us to the conclusion that there is but one human species, so that it confirmed the results at which we arrived in our first lectures.
But is the body all of man? And, after studying the material being that strikes our senses, is there nothing more to study? Science will answer.
When a naturalist studies ants, he is not content with describing the thorax, the abdomen, the jaws, and the legs. He shows also how they construct their ant-hill, and to what use its chambers are destined; its galleries, where so many and such divers things are stored; he shows, further, how they raise their larvae and their young ones; how they hold in captivity the plant-lice destined to furnish an aliment which they secrete, as do the cows and sheep we keep in our stables.
When a naturalist gives the history of bees, he does not limit himself to a description of their body and wings; he is careful to show how they build their hives, gather and knead the wax to construct the comb in which they deposit honey, the first sweet known to man. He calls the attention of the reader or listener to that unique female, always alone in each hive; he shows the respect and care that all the bee-workers have for this female, who is at once their queen and their mother.
In other words, the naturalist studies the instincts of the ants and the bees.
When he attempts the history of man, shall he put aside that which in him represents these instincts? Evidently not.
Consequently he must not stop with the body. He must consider the intelligence which is in us, and which, up to a certain point, we have in common with animals; he must show that it is this element of our being which recognizes the outer world, which judges, which aspires. His work will be very imperfect, if he neglects this something of which the nature escapes us, but of which the power is such, that through it man has not only vanquished all animals, whatever their defenses, their size, or their strength, but he has overcome and made to work, as his servants, even the immutable forces of the inanimate world, achieving all distances, thanks to the railroad! outstripping time, thanks to the telegraph! and even annihilating pain, thanks to chloroform!
Then, along with the material characters which we studied at our last lecture, we now take up intellectual characters.
It is our distinct intention, in taking up characters of a nature so new, still to remain exclusively on the ground of science.
We know the existence of faculties, and we shall point out their most general manifestations; but we shall have no concern with the nature of these faculties. In a word, we are not philosophers. Here, as in preceding lectures, we shall remain a man of science—a naturalist, and nothing else.
It will be impossible for me to examine these characters in detail. I shall neglect several, and limit myself to saying something on language, on writing, on the fundamental forms of society, on industry, and on dress.
I. Language.—It will not be denied that the most essential of all the manifestations of intelligence is language.
"Animals have voice, man alone has speech." This phrase is from an ancient philosophic naturalist—from the great Aristotle, who lived some four centuries before our era; it is as true to-day as it was more than two thousand years ago. In fact, man alone possesses articulate speech.
But, you all know that the manifestations of speech vary from people to people. Each of these manifestations—the languages, as we call them—constitutes one of the most essential characters of the different human groups. You all know a German, a Spaniard, an Englishman, by his language. But this is not the limit of the scientific importance of this character. Unhappily, I cannot here enter into details. I shall only attempt to show you, in a few words, how the study of language throws light on the history of human groups, even in the case of those who have lost all historic data.
You know that in France other languages than French are spoken, and that, on all sides of us, we find the Gascon in the south, the bas-Breton in Brittany, the Alsatian in Alsace, etc. Whence comes this diversity of language among a people at present so remarkably homogeneous?
History answers this question. It teaches us that, until a certain epoch, Languedoc, Alsace, Brittany, formed so many separate states, having each its own language. From this fact we are enabled to draw important consequences.
When we encounter a group actually designated by a single name, and when we find in this group secondary groups speaking diverse languages, we may almost to a certainty conclude that formerly all these secondary groups had their individual life, their political independence.
The study of language conducts us still further.
When, in place of mere juxtaposition, each remaining in the place it has occupied for an indefinite time, the different nations, from any cause whatever, come to be mixed together, they each bring their language; and, in consequence of the fusion, each brings his part of the language that becomes common. A language so formed is a mixed language, which consists of words and turns of phrases recalling the mother-languages which gave it birth.
Here, again, history shows us that this thing has actually been done. The English language, for example, has words and expressions which bring to mind the languages of all the faces that have been mixed and confounded in that isle.
Consequently, when we enter for the first time a country of which we know not the history, and find a population presenting in its language words and phrases borrowed from other languages, on the right and on the left, we are authorized to conclude that this population results from the mixture of anthropological elements, which imply the linguistic elements themselves.
We may go still further.
Language, you know, changes—is transformed with time. The French language of our day is not the French of five centuries ago; the Frenchman of to-day must study specially and with dictionaries before he can read the French of the past.
So, language alters, changes, even when there has been no displacement of population. And all the more when immigration intervenes; if mixtures occur, the language will be altered, and a new language will arise. This new language may differ so much from the primitive one as to appear at first to have no resemblance to it. This may happen not only for one people and for one language, but for many. A language may also become the mother of many different languages. But these daughter languages always preserve something in common with that from which they descended; and men who have made these questions the object of continued study, the linguists, know very well how to discover the filiation. They know how to rise from derivative languages to their primitive tongues. In this way they attach together people that were thought to be very distinct because they spoke languages that at first seemed very different.
It is by this study, wholly recent, but which for some years has advanced with the stride of a giant, that we are able to unite in one source most of the people who now cover almost the whole of Europe; such as, on the one hand, the French, the Germans, the Swedes, and the Spanish; and, on the other, the people who inhabit Persia and the valley of the Ganges. These people constitute what is called the Aryan race.
More marvelous still, thanks to the comparison of languages, a philosopher of Geneva, M. Adolph Pictet, was able to trace a sort of history of the primitive Aryans, the common parents of Europeans, Persians, and Indians. He retraced their manner of life, and, although they left no historical data, he has shown almost in detail the point of civilization at which they had arrived.
I cannot, you know, enter into details relative to this science, at once so recent and already so immense that it has been called comparative linguistic science. I can only indicate the great divisions, because, perhaps I shall, by-and-by, have to refer to them.
All the languages spoken on the surface of the earth have been divided into three fundamental groups; these are the monosyllabic languages, the agglutinative languages, and the flexible languages.
The monosyllabic languages are the most imperfect. Each of their words consists of one syllable. As an example, I will name the Chinese, which is a monosyllabic language, par excellence. In this language each word presents itself with a sense perfectly absolute, and the delicacies of our language, even the distinctions of time, of place, of going, of coming, etc., can be translated only by a kind of paraphrase.
The agglutinative tongues form the second stage of language; here there are words, placed after the fundamental conception, which serve to modify the primitive sense—roots, to employ the expression in use. As examples of agglutinative languages, I will name the negro languages, and those spoken by yellow people, and also by very small numbers of white people.
Finally, the highest development of language is that of flexible language, so named because, by simple changes in the termination of a word, we can change and modify the absolute sense, and make it express divers shades of meaning, thus: I speak now; I shall speak to-morrow. Almost all the white races speak flexible languages.
II. Writing.—Speech is evidently the first element in the formation of societies; writing is the most essential element of the progress of these societies. It is speech fixed. This alone permits the transmission of the results of our efforts to the most distant descendants—of the accumulation of the treasures that each generation has separately acquired. I should like to dwell upon its history; but I should be drawn too far, and so, for writing as for language, I can only indicate a few facts.
Almost with the lowest savages we find means to aid the memory, and serve as souvenirs of events to which more or less importance is attached. These are called mnemonic signs. They are sometimes stones, sometimes pieces of wood shaped in divers ways. A mode of appeal to the memory, found in both the Old and the New World, consists in uniting packages of strings of different colors, on which are made knots of divers forms. These are called quippus. Ton make, so to speak, a quippu every time you tie a knot in your handkerchief to enable you to recall something.
Picturing objects, men, events, in a more or less faithful manner, is not writing; it is what is called pictography. Such are those gross representations employed even to-day by the Indians of North America to transmit information (Figs. 1 and 2.)
|Fig. 1.||Fig. 2.|
|Indian Bark-letter.||Indian Bark-letter.|
When the object figured has a conventional signification, we may say that writing has begun. For example, the idea of prudence would be represented by a serpent, that of force by a lion. This manner of translating thought is symbolic, ideographic writing. It presents many stages. The hieroglyphics seen on Egyptian and Mexican monuments belong here. But all these signs do not constitute veritable writing.
In reality, this appears only when the signs employed represent the sounds of the language. After reaching this point, writing again presents two very different stages. Each syllable may have its particular character; or, better still, the elements of the syllable may be represented. This last form constitutes writing, properly speaking. It is this that we employ. The collection of signs we call an alphabet; and this alphabet, which constitutes the first step of elementary instruction, is certainly one of the most marvelous inventions of the human mind. So almost all the ancients attributed to it a divine origin.
III. Primitive Forms of Society.—As I just said to you, it is by language that societies begin, and by writing that they make the greatest progress in civilization. But, before they attain civilization, they have long halting-places to get over, and, regarding the ensembles of the human races, we see three very distinct kinds of primitive society.
The lowest degree of human association is people that hunt and fish; and this inferiority is easily explained. A society composed entirely of hunters cannot be numerous, because it must live on the game it kills. Therefore, a great space is needed to nourish a sparse population. Besides, the hunter's chances are for the day; he is never sure of a living for to-morrow. This incessant uncertainty prevents him from directing his intelligence toward more elevated subjects. Hunters, besides, have incessantly to watch their hunting-grounds to prevent encroachments. In other words, the hunter is the image of war. Wars easily arise between neighboring populations placed in identical conditions. These wars are without mercy, for each prisoner is one more mouth to feed; kill him, then. Hence, hunting-tribes are almost inevitably courageous, sometimes heroic, but warlike and cruel.
As soon as man domesticates certain animals—cattle, sheep, or llamas—as soon as he becomes pastoral, his to-morrow is assured. He can at once begin to occupy himself with something besides his food; and we see societies of this kind begin to make progress. However, pastoral people need vast spaces for their animals; these promptly exhaust the herbage of a canton; it becomes needful to go elsewhere after food for the animals which supply milk and flesh, the nourishment of the master, and so a pastoral population cannot exist in great numbers. They easily become nomadic. In their migrations the hordes meet and dispute by force of arms for the precious pasturage. War breaks them up; but prisoners may be utilized by the conqueror, and their food will not be a great sacrifice. They are spared, and slavery is born.
Society takes its third form, when man finds that the vegetable kingdom furnishes more abundant and reliable food than that obtained from animals—when he becomes an agriculturist. Besides, agriculture gives him leisure. His manners soften. War, when it breaks out, becomes less cruel. Prisoners employed to work in the field can render services more and more considerable. Slavery becomes serfdom. Relieved from imperious material necessities, the intelligence of the master awakens and enlarges. A true civilization may arise and grow among agriculturists.
Centuries ago Europeans attained a social state permitting the degree of civilization of which we are so proud, and this leads me to make an observation.
Too often, under the influence of our actual superiority, we disdain the people who are behind, whether in the pastoral state or in the state of hunters. We proclaim them incapable of reaching our level.
This opinion is nowhere justified. Forget not that we have passed by the same halting-places. Forget not, above all, that many civilizations have preceded our own. Two thousand years before our era the Chinese raised monuments that still excite the admiration of travelers, cultivated the mulberry, raised the silk-worm, and possessed notions of astronomy. Egyptian civilization is still more ancient. You saw proof of this at the Universal Exposition. In the temple raised under the direction of N. Mariette you must have admired, among other things, that magnificent statue of Chefren placed at the bottom of the hall, and which dates 4,000 years before our era. At this time we were true savages, covered with the skins of beasts, and carrying on our persons, under the pretext of embellishing ourselves, paints and tattooing like those of the most backward races of our own day. The effect of this should be, on the one hand, to awaken our modesty, and on the other to render us indulgent to people who are yet at the point which we have escaped.
IV. Industries.—It is in the midst of primitive societies that industries are born and flourish. However low a people may be, it always has its own proper industries. Man is essentially an industrious being.
All industries suppose utensils; and the matter of which these utensils are made furnishes the means of determining to a certain extent the degree of civilization attained by people whom we know only by traces they have left.
In the beginning we see stone alone used to fabricate utensils and weapons; for these two things proceed together. Everywhere, man is at first content to shape more or less perfectly matter furnished him by the soil. Look at these samples of stones (Fig. 3) which have served as hatchets, whether for domestic use or war. You see they are fashioned very simply. These objects came from our soil; they served our first ancestors and attest the truth I have just stated.
In proportion as man progresses, he is not content simply to shape the stone; he polishes it. His first attempts in this way are coarse enough. At first the edge of the hatchet alone is polished. Later the entire hatchet, and sometimes in a remarkable manner (Fig. 4).
The hatchets as well as the knives are generally of silex, that is, of that species of stone which formerly served as flint in striking fire. Its hardness explains why it was chosen for these purposes. When it began to fail they could employ others. Finally they fell back on shells, and it is impossible not to admire some of their works executed with such imperfect instruments, with fragments of stone less hard than our silex, and the débris of marine shells. After stone, appeared the metals; but not iron, of which we know so well the uses and which alone has made possible the miracles of our modern industry. Copper and bronze preceded iron; in America copper, in our Europe bronze, came after stone.
Finally, iron made its appearance, and many evidences prove that from its first discovery its value was understood. In the gymnastic plays celebrated by Achilles on the tomb of his friend Patroclus, at the epoch of the Trojan War, twelve centuries before our era, a mass of iron is proposed as a prize, and Achilles himself speaks of its importance.
The diversity of material employed in utensils marks the true stages in the history of ancient peoples. At this time we generally admit as distinct periods the age of stone, the age of bronze, the age of iron. The age of stone is divided into two periods, according as the utensils and weapons were polished or only shaped. It is to this most ancient period that the population belonged which lived in Europe with the elephant and rhinoceros.
I must refer you to the special history of the several races for further details of their industries. But I will add a few facts to the preceding. Let us speak a word about the warlike industries.
Wherever human society exists, we find instruments of war. After the need of food, it seems the most pressing want of man is to kill or enslave his kind. We may say that man is warlike being.
Among the lowest people of the globe we find offensive and defensive arms; and everywhere those at the bottom of the scale astonish us by the ingenuity of these arms. The Australians, certainly a most inferior people, use a not very large but very thick shield. Their skill in parrying strokes is most remarkable, as all travelers admit. The same people use curious weapons; one, called the boomerang (Fig. 5), is a bit of hard wood, very flat, sharp, and more or less curved. The inhabitants know how to throw this little piece of wood so that, after it has struck the enemy or the game, it rises in the air, turns, and falls into the hand of the thrower. The boomerang realizes, then, the enchanted arms spoken of in the old fables—arms which after having struck the mark, come back themselves to their possessor.
V. Dress.—If I point out some facts relative to dress, it is to show you how much of connection, of real resemblance, there is between the most savage and the most civilized people.
Everywhere and always man has sought to embellish himself. Sometimes by acting on himself, sometimes by borrowing the elements of his dress from without. In the tombs discovered from time to time which inclose the remains of men with their stone hatchets, used in France against the elephant and rhinoceros, in those tombs, I say, we find collars (Fig. 6) made of morsels of shells or small corals
which had not, in the eyes of their possessors, a less value than the precious stones have for us. We might almost define man as a being who ornaments himself; and certainly here is a great difference separating him from the animals. I shall not dwell on the different materials taken from the exterior world to cover our bodies and embellish us. Were you to see a woman of Tahiti in grand costume, you would remark that when our grandmothers had contrived the panniers, and the women of our day the crinoline, they only borrowed from the children of the South Sea a part of their attire.
It is worthy of attention that, under the pretext of embellishing himself, man has almost always sought to modify his own body. So the Chinese women, in order to make their feet very small, cripple themselves in so grave a manner that often the little children succumb in the operation. The bones of the heel, in place of elongating behind, are violently displaced and directed downward, so that the women walk on their own heels as on the heels of their shoes. The toes are likewise turned under, the big toe alone being in place. Our women do not go so far; but you know women who, to make the feet small, fear not to give themselves corns, and many men do the same.
At the Philippines, the group of isles that you see at the east of Asia, is a people whose women attach great importance to having the largest possible fist. To make it large, they swaddle the arms, which consequently remain slender, while the fist enlarges in a fashion very repulsive to our European eyes.
But the head seems to have been, by preference, the object of these strange caprices, probably because it is the part of the body most evident and most important. Some people seek to change completely the form of the cranium. For this purpose they place on the heads of children, immediately after birth, contrivances which project them forward or backward, and then, by pressing tightly behind and before, the head is made flat. There is a people on the western side of America which surrounds the head of the infant with a bandage so as to give it the form of a sugar-loaf.
I must remind you that among ourselves the ears are still pierced to suspend ornaments from them. If men have generally renounced this fashion, women remain very faithful to it. But all the other parts of the visage have been submitted to the same mutilations, the nose, the lips, the cheeks themselves have been pierced, always to suspend or introduce into the openings some morsel of wood, of stone, of bone, as ornament.
|Fig. 7.||Fig. 8.|
|Head of New-Zealander.||Head of New-Zealander.|
The face and the forehead are frequently decorated with divers tattooings (Figs. 7 and 8), made sometimes by pricking, sometimes by cutting the skin. At the Marquesas Isles, not only the countenance, but the entire body, is tattooed. You see here a warrior (Fig. 9) of that country, and perhaps you think him covered with a motley costume; no, it is simply tattooing.
Jest not too much at these ornaments of savages. Our ancestors wore the same, and the fashion is not wholly effaced with us. More than one of you, doubtless, has on the arm or on the breast some red or blue figure representing a heart pierced, two swords crossed, an anchor, or a hammer, symbols of your profession.
Along with these tattooings incrusted in the skin by various processes, we may place also the paintings. Here, again, is a means of embellishing that every people has practiced and practices still. Sometimes
these paintings have precise significations; there are the paintings of war, the paintings of peace, the paintings of fêtes etc. We do not go so far; but we must not forget that the most civilized Europeans have painted and still paint the countenance. Our grand-mothers habitually used white, and, above all, red; they put on patches, that is to say, small rounds of court-plaster to give beauty to the skin by contrast. And to-day, you know, our fashionable women tint themselves so well that a word has been invented on this subject. So we find, in our most elevated classes, that which seems so strange in savages.
The head of hair offers the same considerations. With savages as with us, it is an object of no less special care. Negroes, Hottentots, Polynesians, etc., stiffen their hair with grease, and color it with powders
red, yellow, white, etc. (Fig. 10.) Everywhere they decorate it with flowers, feathers of all sorts, brilliant crystals, grains of glass. Well, our fathers pomaded and powdered themselves; our women pomade themselves, and put flowers, feathers, and diamonds, in their hair, which are, after all, only crystals, more or less dear. And as to our pomades, whatever name we give them, they always have, for foundation, the oil of almonds, or the fat of pork. You see that, between the article used by savages and that we make ourselves, there is no great difference.
III. Moral and Religious Characters.—We pass to another order of characters. By his body, I repeat, man is an animal, nothing more, nothing less; by his intelligence he is infinitely superior to animals. But, to judge by fundamental phenomena, the nature of our intelligence does not differ from that which they manifest.
Are we, then, only a more intelligent kind of animal? I have already answered this question. No; we are not animals, we are something else; for, besides the phenomena which we have in common with them, we have our special character, connected with faculties, of which we find not the least trace in the most elevated animals. These faculties are morality and religion.
I. Morality.—Among all people, in all races, there are expressions which mean good and bad, honest man and scoundrel; consequently, all men have the abstract notion of good and evil.
Objections have been made to this idea that morality was an attribute of man; or, rather, difficulties have been raised on the subject. Some say, for example, that animals know also what is good and what is bad. This is true for our most perfect domestic animals, as the dog. Thanks to our superior intelligence, we have accustomed them to that which is good and bad for us. But leave them in a savage state, and you will never find them doing any thing to which you can attach the notion here implied. Man is certainly the only being that we see war against pain—physical evil—that he may reach moral good.
It has been said again that morals differ from people to people, and the attempt has been made to draw from this an inference that morality is not characteristic of man. The facility itself is here confounded with its manifestations. We forget that the same sentiment can be expressed by very different and sometimes opposite acts. I will take, for example, those which testify to politeness and the respect we pay to superiors. In the same case, the European rises and uncovers his head; the Turk, on the contrary, remains with the head covered, and the Polynesian sits. These contrary acts are not less, the one than the other, acts of deference.
We must place ourselves at this point of view to judge of morality. We must, in such cases, and, above all, when it is a question of inferior peoples, forget our own notions on this subject, and seek after the general ideas of the people we are studying. We must recur to what has taken place with us at certain epochs, and then we shall find that there is not as much difference as we imagined between the most civilized and the most savage people. We shall return to the subject in treating the history of races. To-day I can only say a few words relative to three chief principles: Respect for property, respect for the life of others, and respect for one's self.
I. Respect for Property.—It has been said that the notion of property does not exist among savage people. This is an error. With them, arms, utensils, instruments, are strictly personal property, as with us; but some travelers have been deceived by the existence, among hunting-tribes, of another kind of property, communal property, if I may so speak. Among these people the ground does not belong to the individual but to the entire tribe. Under this relation the property is so well known that war is the consequence of the least violation of the hunting limits.
Certain races have been accused of being essentially thievish. This reproach is brought particularly upon the negroes of the Gulf of Guinea, and upon the Polynesians. They have been accused of stealing even the nails of the ship. But let me remind you what iron is for people who do not have it. It is more precious to them than gold. Well, suppose there should arrive among us a ship, gold clad and nailed with diamonds and rubies. Do you believe it would go out intact from our ports? Remark further, that, among the negroes of Guinea and Polynesia, those who steal of their comrade are dishonored and punished as they would be with us. They have the idea of respect for property the same as ourselves.
II. Respect for Life.—Everywhere the life of man is sacred; everywhere the murderer is punished; but, with ourselves, circumstances determine the nature of the act. Nobody would treat as an assassin him who beats fairly in a duel; the soldier who has killed with his hand a great number of enemies is decorated; very far from being punished, he is recompensed. With savages the formula is still more elastic. For him the stranger is always an enemy; besides, vengeance is in his eyes a virtue, and when he has a murder to avenge he cares little to strike the murderer himself. Provided he furnishes a member of his family or his tribe, his vengeance is satisfied; whence results the bad blood between European travelers and the Polynesians in particular. These people have too often complained of violence exercised by Europeans, who have left without being punished. The savage watches for those who come after the really guilty, sets a trap for them, and massacres the innocents. He applies his moral law, and we find the theory horrible. But forget not our middle age; we have got the start a little, but, in our day, if the vendetta were not abolished in Corsica; it would be the same, as it was the same in Scotland between clan and clan.
For the rest, gentlemen, the question of respect for the life of others is one of those that I least like to enter upon, because I cannot speak without blushing for the white race. You know that it rules everywhere, but some of you do not know, perhaps, that everywhere devastation and massacre have marked its steps round the world. It seems that it has used its superiority to annihilate its sister races, and reign on their tombs.
III. Respect for Self.—I have shown you that the evils of which we accuse the savages exist with us. Permit me to show you among them the good of which civilized people pretend to have the monopoly. The sentiments of honor and of modesty are certainly two of the most noble and most delicate of the respect due to one's self. We find these two sentiments developed sometimes in a high degree in the most savage peoples.
It is evident that the idea of modesty must vary from one region to another; it cannot be the same among people forced by the climate to go naked, and among those who are compelled, by the rigors of climate, to wear clothes. We ought, in this respect, to look for marked differences, and to take account of these exigencies; besides, from the nature of the subject, I cannot enter into details, and I will only say that more than one traveler has expressed his astonishment to find more of true modesty among naked savages than among civilized and well-clothed people.
Honor is, perhaps, the sentiment which is most uniformly manifested among these people. To obey the sense of honor, they hesitate not to provoke torments, to brave, and even to solicit, death. A young Kaffre chief is condemned to death; he may be pardoned on the condition of losing his ostrich-feather, which for him represents epaulets; he demands, as a favor, to be thrown to the crocodiles rather than be dishonored. The red-skin made a prisoner, attached to the post of torture, defies his enemies to extract from him the least sign of suffering.
That which we call chivalric generosity exists among the most savage peoples. Two Irishmen quarreled one day with some Australians; they were without arms. Instead of profiting by this advantage, the savages gave them arms, that they might defend themselves.
In our war at Tahiti, Admiral Bruet, commander of the French forces, took a bath one day in a river of the interior of the isle, while a well-armed chief belonging to the enemy was concealed near by. When peace was gained, this chief came to see the admiral, and easily showed him that for nearly two hours his life had been in his power. "Why did you not draw?" said the admiral. "I should have been dishonored in the eyes of my people," replied the native, "if I had killed by surprise a chief such as thou."
See how the people called savages often conduct themselves. Would we do better?
You see, gentlemen, and you may fearlessly say, to the honor of our species, that morality, in its more serious as well as in its more delicate aspects, is found among all men; and, decisively, man is a moral being.
II. Religion.—I come now to another order of considerations, that it will perhaps surprise you to hear me discuss. I have said, at different times, that I wished to be a man of science, that I did not wish to enter here upon either philosophy or theology, and yet I am going to speak of religion. I shall continue faithful to my programme. It is as a naturalist that I shall take up the subject. As for morality, I showed the existence of the faculty; then I pointed out some general facts, reserving the special facts for the history of races. To-day, as heretofore, I shall avoid with care the dogmatic and the theologic side of the discussion.
The first fact to establish is the universality of the manifestations which belong to religion. In every country, with all peoples, in all races, we find the belief in beings superior to man, and influencing his destiny for good or evil. Everywhere we find the belief in another life succeeding to the actual life. These two notions lie at the foundation of all religions, and whoever admits them is religious. We can say, then, of man generally, that he is certainly religious.
Objections have been made to the generality of this character. Let us rapidly examine the case.
Some authors affirm that there exist atheistic people. They have cited in proof the Australians of whom I have already spoken, and the Bushmen. These are mistaken assertions; but this error may be explained. Three causes, acting together or separately, have contributed to a misunderstanding of the religious beliefs of the inferior races of humanity.
The first is the beliefs of travelers. When these travelers are missionaries, having an ardent faith but a narrow intelligence, they are easily led not to accept, as true, religious beliefs so different from their own. Often, in their eyes, these beliefs are a work of the devil; they put them aside, or do not take the trouble to discover them, and they offer us, as atheistic, people who certainly are not.
Ignorance of the language often leads to regarding a people as atheistic. A traveler encounters a savage tribe; he puts questions, well or ill, often by signs alone, on the Deity, or on the soul; the natives do not understand, and reply by some gesture of negation, and the traveler concludes that they believe neither in God nor immortality.
But, the great cause which has often led to the conclusion I am opposing, is the disdain of Europeans for savages. Generally, the European, proud of his knowledge, and overrating his superiority, judges in advance their incapacity to attain to notions a little elevated. He takes no great pains to discover what he believes does not exist. At the first failure he thinks himself right in concluding that these inferior races are incapable of attaining to the notion of God and of a future life.
Happily there are some tolerant missionaries who have studied them more closely, and laymen who have been able to see brothers in these inferior representatives of the human family. Thanks to the intelligence of these patient, clear-headed men, we now know that these Australians, that were said to have no idea of God, have in reality a rudimentary mythology, which sometimes recalls our own European superstitions. We now know that the Bushmen deify their great men, and address prayers to them. As to the Bushmen, they have a remarkable idea of the Divinity. They regard him as a great chief, who resides in heaven. They say of him: "We see him not with the eyes; we feel him in the heart."
This last phrase, which I quote literally, was obtained by travelers who lived in the midst of these people. They show that sometimes the people justly placed in the lowest rank of the human races may have, along with the strangest superstitions, religious notions remarkably elevated. This fact is often presented when we examine the religion of different peoples. We find, it is true, much that is bizarre many strange and shocking things, but we find also behind these absurdities ideas and beliefs which astonish us by their seriousness, by their elevation, by the resemblance they offer to that which is believed by more advanced people.
The negroes of Guinea may serve to illustrate this subject. All travelers have spoken of their absurd beliefs, all have spoken of their fetishes. They tell us how these people prostrate themselves before serpents, trees, bits of wood, bone, etc., carefully wrapped up, and on which their priests have performed certain ceremonies. There are few who would seek that which might be found at the bottom of all this. Those who have made the search have found religious ideas, very superior to these appearances; the belief in divinities of different orders, living in the skies, and presided over by a sovereign creator who made every thing. When we look still further, as M. d'Avezac has done, we find prayers conceived in terms such as a European, a Christian, might repeat without blushing. In the case of these negroes, as in our own, we must distinguish between religion and superstition, two extremely different things, which are too often confounded. I will add but a few words.
Gentlemen, I close to-day the first part of the lectures that I have undertaken to give you. Let me formulate the last conclusions.
We have asked only general questions, those which bear on the entire human race, and which may consequently conduct us to the foundation of the nature of man. We have asked them exclusively from the point of view of natural science; we have studied man as we study an animal or a plant. The result of this examination is to show in man a résumé of the entire creation.
In him we find phenomena exactly parallel to those encountered in minerals, in plants; consequently, all the forces acting in minerals and plants we find in man.
By his body, from an anatomical and physical point of view, man is an animal, nothing more, nothing less; hence all the animal forces act in him.
But is it by his body that man has acquired that empire that we have seen he possesses? You know very well it is not; you know very well that, if he reigns over all around him, over inanimate Nature as over organized Nature, he owes it to his intelligence, of like nature, but immensely superior to that of animals.
Finally, man has his own attributes—faculties that belong exclusively to him—morality and religion. Well, these exclusively human faculties seem admirably to complete this exceptional being. It is these that ennoble him, and justify the incontestable empire that he claims over the globe; for it is these which, along with the sentiment of punishment, give birth to the idea of duty, the thought of responsibility.
Here, gentlemen, is the summing up that one is led to make of man when he is studied exclusively from knowledge by the naturalist. I hope you will find that you have lost nothing.