Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/775

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LITERARY NOTICES.

caught the fancy of most nations, such as that of "The Master Thief," or "The Giant who had no Heart in his Body." His conclusions, which we are not altogether inclined to accept, are, "that the Tell myth was known, in its general features, to our Aryan ancestors before ever they left their primitive dwelling-place in Central Asia;" and that the Popular Tales

"have been handed down from parent to child for more than a hundred generations; that the primitive Aryan cottager, as he took his evening meal yava and sipped his fermented mead, listened with his children to the stories of Boots, and Cinderella, and the Master Thief, in the days when the squat Laplander was master of Europe, and the dark-skinned Sudra was as yet unmolested in the Punjab."

This is Dr. Dasent's view, and, to a certain extent, that of a still greater authority, Prof. Max Müller. For our part, we are rather of the opinion of Prof. Benfy and his school, and are inclined to recognize, in at least most of the longer and more dramatic of our fireside and nursery romances, mere echoes of tales told long ago by Indian story-tellers. But Mr. Fiske's creed is likely to be the more popular of the two, and he has defined and justified it in a manner which all must praise. His remarks on the vexed question of the Homeric poems can scarcely offend even those critics who are least inclined to identify Athene and Helen with the dawn or any other atmospheric phenomenon; for he is fully conscious of a truth which has been over-looked by the more enthusiastic writers on the subject—that tales and traditions in their present forms are seldom capable of being straightway resolved into perfect Nature-myths, and that in many cases they have been moulded into their present forms by composers or adapters who were perfectly innocent of mythical meaning—that, as he justly remarks:

"The primitive meaning of a myth fades away as inevitably as the primitive meaning of a word or phrase; and the rabbins who told of a worm which shatters rocks no more thought of the writhing thunderbolts, than the modern reader thinks of oyster-shells when he sees the word ostracism, or consciously breathes a prayer as he writes the phrase good-by."

The second chapter of Mr. Fiske's book is devoted to "The Descent of Fire," and seems to have been originally intended as a review of Prof. Kuhn's admirable essay on that subject, or of Mr. Kelly's "Indo-European Folklore," a book based upon the works of Kuhn, Grimm, and Mannhardt. The third chapter is to a great extent borrowed from Mr. Baring-Gould's writings on "Werewolves and Swan-Maidens," and is rather inferior to the rest of the book in the matter of critical rejection. It is followed by a chapter on "Light and Darkness," which contains several interesting studies of the numerous evil spirits to which the fancy of different peoples has given rise, and especially of "the mediæval conception of the devil." The fifth chapter, on "The Myths of the Barbaric World," will probably prove the most novel and amusing of all to the general reader, but it makes no pretence of offering any thing that is new to students who are acquainted with Mr. Tylor's works, and with those less known, but valuable books, Brinton's "Myths of the New World," Callaway's "Zulu Nursery Tales," and Bleek's "Hottentot Fables."—Athenæum.

Coffee: Its History, Cultivation, and Uses. By Robert Hewitt, Jr. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1872.

This claims to be the first book in the language exclusively on the subject of coffee, of the history, cultivation, and uses, of which it gives much information. The introduction of coffee into the great capitals of Europe, and the history of their cafés, as well as the old coffee-houses in New York, are described in several entertaining pages. Java and South America are the two principal coffee-producing countries, the former furnishing the most highly-prized bean, which is unequalled for delicacy of aroma and the mild oily richness of the beverage. The latter, however, furnishes the most important staple, and its influence as a branch of industry and an element of commerce is shown by the fact that no less than 244,000,000 pounds of Rio coffee were consumed in the United States in a single year, which makes us the largest coffee-consuming nation in the world. Numerous methods of preparing coffee are mentioned in the volume,