Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/174

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physical actions, the savage would be perfectly at home in the proceedings, for such things are part and parcel of his recognized system of nature. The part of the affair really strange to him would be the introduction of such arts as spelling and writing, which do belong to a different state of civilization from his. The issue raised by the comparison of savage, barbaric, and civilized spiritualism, is this: Do the Red Indian medicine-man, the Tatar necromancer, the Highland ghost-seer, and the Boston medium, share the possession of belief and knowledge of the highest truth and import, which, nevertheless, the great intellectual movement of the last two centuries has simply thrown aside as worthless? Is what we are habitually boasting of and calling new enlightenment, then, in fact a decay of knowledge? If so, this is a truly remarkable case of degeneration, and the savages whom some ethnographers look on as degenerate from a higher civilization, may turn on their accusers and charge them with having fallen from the high level of savage knowledge.

Throughout the whole of this varied investigation, whether of the dwindling survival of old culture, or of its bursting forth afresh in active revival, it may perhaps be complained that its illustrations should be chosen so much among things worn out, worthless, frivolous, or even bad with downright harmful folly. It is in fact so, and I have taken up this course of argument with full knowledge and intent. For, indeed, we have in such enquiries continual reason to be thankful for fools. It is quite wonderful, even if we hardly go below the surface of the subject, to see how large a share stupidity and unpractical conservatism and dogged superstition have had in preserving for us traces of the history of our race, which practical utilitarianism would have remorselessly swept away. The savage is firmly, obstinately conservative. No man appeals with more unhesitating confidence to the great precedent-makers of the past; the wisdom of his ancestors can control against the most obvious evidence his own opinions and actions. We listen with pity to the