Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/170

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

chariots and horses to bring the dawn; so that here the fortunate owner of Chanticleer has brought him to a good market. Thus we see that the Breton peasant of our day has not even yet lost the mythic sense with which his remote Aryan ancestors could behold the chariots and horses of the dawn. But myth, though largely based on such half-playful metaphor, runs through all the intermediate stages which separate poetic fancy from crude philosophy embodied in stories seriously devised as explanations of real facts. No doubt many legends of the ancient world, though not really history, are myths which have arisen by reasoning on actual events, as definite as that which, some four years ago, was terrifying the peasant-mind in North Germany, and especially in Posen. The report had spread far and wide that all Catholic children with black hair and blue eyes were to be sent out of the country, some said to Russia, while others declared that it was the King of Prussia who had been playing cards with the Sultan of Turkey, and had staked and lost forty thousand fair-haired, blue-eyed children; and there were Moors traveling about in covered carts to collect them; and the schoolmasters were helping, for they were to have five dollars for every child they handed over. For a time the popular excitement was quite serious: the parents kept the children away from school and hid them, and when they appeared in the streets of the market-town the little ones clung to them with terrified looks. Dr. Schwartze, the well-known mythologist, took the pains to trace the rumor to its sources. One thing was quite plain, that its prime cause was that grave and learned body, the Anthropological Society of Berlin, who, without a thought of the commotion they were stirring up, had, in order to class the population as to race, induced the authorities to have a census made throughout the local schools, to ascertain the color of the children's skin, hair, and eyes. Had it been only the boys, to the Government inspection of whom for military conscription the German peasants are only too well accustomed, nothing would have been thought of it; but why should the officials want to know about the little girls' hair and eyes? The whole group of stories which suddenly sprang up were myths created to answer this question; and even the details which became embodied with them could all be traced to their sources, such as the memories of German princes selling regiments of their people to pay their debts, the late political negotiations between Germany and Russia, etc. The fact that a caravan of Moors had been traveling about as a show accounted for the covered carts with which they were to fetch the children; while the schoolmasters were naturally implicated, as having drawn up the census. One schoolmaster, who evidently knew his people, assured the terrified parents that it was only the children with blue hair and green eyes that were wanted—an explanation which sent them home quite comforted. After all, there is no reason why we should not come in time to a thorough understanding of mythology. The human mind is much what it used to be, and the