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

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Presidential Address.

have to admit that fitness or ability to survive consists sometimes in a capacity to grovel; though at other times, and doubtless more characteristically for the human race, it consists in a power of rising to the occasion.

In the present case, however, we cannot ignore considerations of value, since the object of our discussion precisely is to weigh two types of savagery the one against the other. Our own moral point of view cannot be treated as irrelevant. On the contrary, we may be sure that if a European philosopher is led to contrast the morality of a warrior of the Five Nations with that of a feeble Wood-Vedda to the advantage of the latter, it is because he seems to see his own peace-loving tendencies reflected in the lamb-like behaviour of that lowly Arcadian. But any analogy that may be perceived between the unmorality of some savage Arcady and the morality of the Gospel is utterly superficial. Let us listen rather to the honest "Naturalist on the Amazons," who, fond as he is of his Brazilian forest-folk, yet dispassionately observes: "With so little mental activity, and with feelings and passions slow of excitement, the life of these people is naturally monotonous and dull, and their virtues are, properly speaking, only negative: but the picture of harmless, homely contentment they exhibit is very pleasing."[1] Mere innocence does not amount to positive merit as we judge it who are the inheritors and sustainers of a culture elaborated in the world's area of central struggle and most typical characterization. As well describe the negative freedom of a wild beast in terms of Shelley's Ode to Liberty as decorate the savage of the mild and furtive type with the inappropriate crown of a Christian saint. Let these poor by-products of human evolution continue to exist and vegetate by all means. Yet we must set a value on their survival, not for any purposes of moral edification, but simply for the purposes of an all-embracing science—as well as for pity's sake.

  1. H. W. Bates, The Naturalist on the River Amazons, 277.