Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/692

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

supposes a life in society of a cyclic duration, for the isolated infant still does not speak. The first words were probably cried or sung. Our very young children still sing before speaking, and even begin with singing their first articulated sounds; and not till they are three or four years old is their speaking voice clearly distinguished from their singing voice.

As in the human species the singing voice is much the most ancient, it has also left very deep impressions on our mentality. Certain cries, certain timbres or modulations of the voice, will today awaken in the most civilized man latent and profound impressions, and excite emotions that seize the hearer's very heart. From this psychic basis bequeathed to us by our ancestors, from this mental paleontology, are derived our taste for music and its emotional power. Those cries, those passionate accents, have more power over us than the most moving discourse, because they have been, through the long chain of ancestral generations, the expression of intense feeling of which we have not ceased to be susceptible. At the bottom, traced back to its origin, music is nothing more than the aesthetic imitation of particularly expressive vocal emissions; consequently its psychical roots go down very deep into the past, to the time when man began to be differentiated from the animal. It is, therefore, very much of course that in all races song should constitute one of the principal elements of primitive æsthetics. This is a fact that we have been able to verify everywhere, even among the most inferior types of men, as among the Pécherais of Terra del Fuego, whose song constitutes in itself alone all their æsthetic expression. Yet this is a rare, an exceptional fact; for usually, in primitive æsthetics, song is closely associated with gestures and mimicry, which, from the origin of our species, were probably secondary to the voice not yet spoken, illustrating the significance of the cry; for vocal sounds and gestures are equally reflexive acts, and the voice is only the result of muscular contractions, of laryngeal gestures.

The more rudimentary articulated language is, the more necessary to it is the aid of mimicry. Our children gesticulate long before they have learned how to talk, and they continue to do so long afterward; and we first succeed in communicating with them by means of gestures. Even the adult man, of the highest civilization, rarely confines himself to articulate language alone. Nearly always gestures are added automatically to the words, to sustain them, as comment, or to moderate or intensify the expression. The refined rhetoric of artists in speech makes great use of mimicry, and the ancient rhetors of Rome esteemed action very highly. The literary æsthetics of all primitive peoples, therefore, comprised at once song, speech, and gestures. Thus we have seen the men of all countries and all races beginning in literary