Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/293

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MYTH BASED ON EXPERIENCE.

ocean in his avatar of the Boar, to bring up the submerged earth on his monstrous tusks; and here Baiame the creator, whose voice the rude Australians hear in the rolling thunder, will sit throned by the side of Olympian Zeus himself. Starting with the bold rough nature-myths into which the savage moulds the lessons he has learnt from his childlike contemplation of the universe, the ethnographer can follow these rude fictions up into times when they were shaped and incorporated into complex mythologic systems, gracefully artistic in Greece, stiff and monstrous in Mexico, swelled into bombastic exaggeration in Buddhist Asia. He can watch how the mythology of classic Europe, once so true to nature and so quick with her ceaseless life, fell among the commentators to be plastered with allegory or euhemerized into dull sham history. At last, in the midst of modern civilization, he finds the classic volumes studied rather for their manner than for their matter, or mainly valued for their antiquarian evidence of the thoughts of former times; while relics of structures reared with skill and strength by the myth-makers of the past must now be sought in scraps of nursery folk-lore, in vulgar superstitions and old dying legends, in thoughts and allusions carried on from ancient days by the perennial stream of poetry and romance, in fragments of old opinion which still hold an inherited rank gained in past ages of intellectual history. But this turning of mythology to account as a means of tracing the history of laws of mind, is a branch of science scarcely discovered till the nineteenth century. Before entering here on some researches belonging to it, there will be advantage in glancing at the views of older mythologists, to show through what changes their study has at length reached a condition in which it has a scientific value.

It is a momentous phase of the education of mankind, when the regularity of nature has so imprinted itself upon men's minds that they begin to wonder how it is that the ancient legends which they were brought up to hear with such reverent delight, should describe a world so strangely