Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/272

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own. The difficulty is that, in so representing them, we can never he more than partially right, and are frequently very wrong. The conception which any one frames of another's mind, is inevitably more or less after the pattern of his own mind—is automorphic; and in proportion as the mind of which he has to frame a conception differs from his own, his automorphic interpretation is likely to be wide of the truth.

That measuring other person's actions by the standards our own thoughts and feelings furnish, often causes misconstruction, is indeed a truth familiar even to the vulgar. But while among members of the same society, having natures nearly akin, it is seen that automorphic explanations are often erroneous, it is not seen with due clearness how much more erroneous such explanations commonly are, when the actions are those of men of another race, to whom the kinship in nature is comparatively remote. We do, indeed, perceive this, if the interpretations are not our own; and if both the interpreters and the interpreted are distant in thought and nature from ourselves. When, as in early English literature, we find Greek history conceived in terms of feudal institutions, and the heroes of antiquity spoken of as princes, knights, and squires, it becomes clear to us that the ideas concerning ancient civilization must have been utterly wrong. When we find Virgil adopted by Dante as his guide, and named elsewhere as one among the prophets who visited the cradle of Christ—when an illustrated psalter gives scenes from the life of Christ in which there repeatedly figures a castle with a portcullis—when even the Crucifixion is described by Langland in the language of chivalry, so that the man who pierced Christ's side with a spear is considered as a knight who disgraced his knighthood[1]—when we read of the Crusaders calling themselves "vassals of Christ;" we need no further proof that by carrying their own sentiments, and ideas, and habits, to the interpretation of social arrangements and transactions among the Jews, our ancestors were led into absurd misconceptions. But we do not recognize the fact that in virtue of the same tendency we are ever framing conceptions which, if not so grotesquely untrue, are yet very wide of the truth. How difficult it is to imagine mental states remote from our own so correctly that we can understand how they issue in individual actions, and consequently in social actions, an instance will make manifest.

The feeling of vague wonder with which he received his first lessons in the Greek mythology, will most likely be dimly remembered by every reader. If not in words, still in an inarticulate way, there passed through him the thought that belief in such stories was unaccountable. When, afterward, he read in books of travels details of the amazing superstitions of this or that race of savages, there was joined with a sense of the absurdity of such superstitions, more or less of astonishment at their acceptance by any human beings, however

  1. Warton's "History of English Poetry," vol. ii., p. 57, note.