Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/73

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


CHAPTER II.
THE NEW WORLD.


The story of the Age of Discovery naturally merges in that of the New World, the principal fruit of the strenuous labours to which that Age owes its name. The history, in the wider sense, of the New World begins in the remotest ages; for the habits of life and thought displayed among its aborigines at the time of the Discovery, and its indigenous languages, which stand nearer to the origin of speech than any group of languages in the Old World, carry the ethnologist back to a stage far more archaic than is indicated in any other quarter of the globe. Its history, in so far as history is a mere record of specific facts and events known to have taken place in particular districts, in a definite succession, and admitting of being distinctly connected with particular peoples and personages, is extremely limited. Its modern historical period, in fact, coincides very nearly with that of the Old World's "modern" history,—a circumstance partly due to the fact that its advanced peoples, though by no means devoid of the historical instinct, possessed but limited means of keeping historical records; and partly to the circumstance that their history, such as it was, consisted in changes of ascendancy happening in comparatively quick succession, in the course of which the memory of events connected with past dominations soon lapsed into oblivion, or dwelt but faintly and briefly in the remembrance of those peoples who happened to be dominant at the Spanish Conquest. Although the general series of American migrations, beginning with the entry of man into the New World from the Old in the remote age when Asia and America, afterwards parted by the shallow Strait of Behring, were continuous, has passed out of knowledge, it may be assumed to have proceeded on the principle of the stronger tribe expelling the weaker from districts yielding the more ample supplies of food. There is good reason to conclude that the peoples and tribes of low stature who still occur sporadically in various parts of America, represent the earliest immigrants. At the Discovery tribes and nations of tall stature, great physical strength and endurance, and a certain degree of advancement in the arts of life, were dominant in all the