Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/66

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the persecuted remnants of tribes who have seen happier days.[1] The traditions of the lower races of their ancestors' better life may sometimes be real recollections of a not far distant past. The Algonquin Indians look back to old days as to a golden age when life was better than now, when they had better laws and leaders, and manners less rude.[2] And indeed, knowing what we do of their history, we may admit that they have cause to remember in misery happiness gone by. Well, too, might the rude Kamchadal declare that the world is growing worse and worse, that men are becoming fewer and viler, and food scarcer, for the hunter, and the bear, and the reindeer are hurrying away from here to the happier life in the regions below.[3] It would be a valuable contribution to the study of civilization to have the action of decline and fall investigated on a wider and more exact basis of evidence than has yet been attempted. The cases here stated are probably but part of a long series which might be brought forward to prove degeneration in culture to have been, by no means indeed the primary cause of the existence of barbarism and savagery in the world, but a secondary action largely and deeply affecting the general development of civilization. It may perhaps give no unfair idea to compare degeneration of culture, both in its kind of operation and in its immense extent, to denudation in the geological history of the earth.

In judging of the relations between savage and civilized life, something may be learnt by glancing over the divisions of the human race. For this end the classification by families of languages may be conveniently used, if checked by the evidence of bodily characteristics. No doubt speech by itself is an insufficient guide in tracing national descent, as witness the extreme cases of Jews in England, and three-parts negro races in the West Indies, nevertheless speaking

  1. 'Early History of Mankind,' p. 187.
  2. Schoolcraft, 'Algic Res.,' vol. i. p. 50.
  3. Steller, 'Kamtschatka,' p. 272.