Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 26, 1915.djvu/23

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Presidential Address.

Indeed, if we belong to the party of those who look with jaundiced eye on the flaunting triumphs of this age of machines—machines which at this present moment are proving their quality mainly as instruments of destruction—we may be too ready to yield to the converse fallacy, namely, that of identifying the morals of the primaeval forest with those of the Garden of Eden. For fallacy it surely is to overlook the fact that a great many savages are bloodthirsty and cruel, even if other savages be mild and innocuous in the extreme. The problem thereupon arises: Which of these two types, the bloodthirsty or the mild, is the higher and better, as judged from an ethical standpoint? When we turn aside from the burning questions of this distressful hour, and contemplate in a calm spirit, and as it were from a distance, the various dispositions and fortunes of the wild folk of the earth, shall we award the palm of moral worth to the warlike or to the peaceful among them? Or, if it turn out that there is something unsatisfactory in the actual moral state of each alike, which of the two must be held to exhibit the greater promise of growth, the richer possibilities of ultimate moral expansion? Does innocence prove the more blessed condition from first to last? Or is the savagery that deservedly carries with it the suggestion of ruthlessness and ferocity more prolific notwithstanding of human good in the long run?

On the one hand, then, there is no difficulty in gathering together a cloud of witness on behalf of the claims of the mild type of savage. The Hottentots, for instance, were considered by Kolben to be "certainly the most friendly, the most liberal, and the most benevolent people to one another that ever appeared on the earth."[1] Of the Let-htas Colquhoun writes, "They have no laws or rulers, and the Karens say they do not require any, as the Let-htas never

  1. P. Kolben, The Present State of the Cape of Good Hope, i. 334, ap. Sir J. Lubbock (Lord Avebury), Prehistoric Times, 342, who shares his admiration.