Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/319

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301
PERSONIFICATION.

but scant sense of meaning on modern minds, and we are apt to say, as we might of some counterfeit bronze from Naples, 'For a sham antique how cleverly it is done.' Entering into the mind of the old Norseman, we guess how much more of meaning than the cleverest modern imitation can carry, lay in his pictures of Hel, the death-goddess, stern and grim and livid, dwelling in her high and strong-barred house, and keeping in her nine worlds the souls of the departed; Hunger is her dish, Famine is her knife, Care is her bed, and Misery her curtain. When such old material descriptions are transferred to modern times, in spite of all the accuracy of reproduction their spirit is quite changed. The story of the monk who displayed among his relics the garments of St. Faith is to us only a jest; and we call it quaint humour when Charles Lamb, falling old and infirm, once wrote to a friend, 'My bed-fellows are Cough and Cramp; we sleep three in a bed.' Perhaps we need not appreciate the drollery any the less for seeing in it at once a consequence and a record of a past intellectual life.

The distinction of grammatical gender is a process intimately connected with the formation of myths. Grammatical gender is of two kinds. What may be called sexual gender is familiar to all classically-educated Englishmen though their mother tongue has mostly lost its traces. Thus in Latin not only are such words as homo and femina classed naturally as masculine and feminine, but such words as pes and gladius are made masculine, and biga and navis feminine, and the same distinction is actually drawn between such abstractions as honos and fides. That sexless objects and ideas should thus be classed as male and female, in spite of a new gender — the neuter or 'neither' gender — having been defined, seems in part explained by considering this latter to have been of later formation, and the original Indo-European genders to have been only masculine and feminine, as is actually the case in Hebrew. Though