Page:Myth, Ritual, and Religion (Volume 2).djvu/341

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All this contention, whatever its weight, does not affect the thesis of the present argument. It is quite true that we know nothing directly of the condition, let us say, of the Australian tribes a thousand years ago. But neither do we know anything directly about the condition of the Indo-European peoples five hundred years before Philology fancies that she gets her earliest glimpse of them. We must take people as we find them, and must not place too much trust in our attempts to reconstruct their "dark backward." As to the past of savages, it is admitted by most anthropologists that certain tribes have probably seen better days. The Fuegians and the Bushmen and the Digger Indians were probably driven by stronger races out of seats comparatively happy and habits comparatively settled into their present homes and their present makeshift wretchedness.[1] But while degeneration is admitted as an element in history, there seems no tangible reason for believing that the highest state which Bushmen, Fuegians, or Diggers ever attained, and from which they can be thought to have fallen, was higher than a rather more comfortable savagery. There are ups and downs in savage as in civilised life, and perhaps "crowned races may degrade," but we have no evidence to show that the ancestors of the Diggers or the Fuegians were a "crowned race." Their descent has not been comparatively a very deep one; their presumed former height was not very high. As Mr. Tylor observes, "So far as history is to be our criterion, progression is primary and degradation secondary; culture must be gained before it can be lost." One thing about the past of savages we do know: it must have been a long past, and there must have been a period in it when the

  1. The Fuegians are not (morally and socially) so black as they have occasionally been painted. But it is probable that they "have seen better days." If the possession of a language with, apparently, a very superfluous number of words is a proof of high civilisation in the past, then the Fuegians are degraded indeed. But the finding of one piece of native pottery in an Australian burial-mound would prove more than a wilderness of irregular verbs.