Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/695

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
677
ORIGIN OF LITERARY FORMS.

poetic form suffices to give any idea a great authority. "Among the Indians," says an old missionary, "a verse, even when quoted inappropriately, gives a great weight to reasoning, and if it contains a comparison that seems to illustrate some circumstances of the subject under discussion the very best reasoning can not have equal force with the comparison."[1] In the same way Arabian orators fancy they obtain great force for their speeches by larding them with citations in verse; and the Greek writers believed it necessary to give the poetic form to every elevated subject, even to their philosophical systems.

During the primitive period of literary evolution abstract literature does not come in question; moreover, poetry in words is never separated from song, and rarely from mimicry; and this becomes dancing when the motions are controlled by a musical rhythm. Frequently, also, in these archaic festivals the words sung are only an accessory.

The characteristic traits of the clan, the first social unity, are now well known to us. The primitive clan is a small group, in which the individual exists only as an integrant part of the whole, where consequently all individual acts are subordinated to the interests and needs of the social body, where no one is abandoned but no one is free, where property is more or less common, and where sexual unions are subject to regulations that seem to us strange and even immoral, for they have usually a character of restricted, regulated promiscuity. These narrow associations have been real psychical laboratories to the human race, in which languages, indispensable for mutual understanding and the concentration of efforts, and myths have been created, besides common feelings, and particularly altruistic feelings, without which no society could endure.

In the communal clan there is little place for person and for literature, and literary æsthetics necessarily takes the shape of a collective spectacle—of those choral dances, those opera-ballets, in which all the members of the clan are in turn actors and spectators, and in which mimicry and song are associated to represent scenes of common interest.

In these very rudimentary dances instrumental music figures at first only as an accessory, but its function goes on increasing in proportion as it is perfected. At first it is contented with a stick, such as the Australians strike on the ground to mark the measure; then the stick is replaced by the tom-tom, which fills the same office more perfectly. To the tom-tom are added in succession, first, wind instruments, then stringed instruments, both becoming gradually less primitive and better constructed, and at


  1. Lettre édifiantes, vol. xiii, p. 113.