Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/July 1878/Evolution of Ceremonial Government VI

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616913Popular Science Monthly Volume 13 July 1878 — Evolution of Ceremonial Government VI1878Herbert Spencer




WHAT the obeisance implies by acts, the form of address says in words. If the two have a common root, this is to be anticipated; and that they have a common root is demonstrable. Instances occur in which the two are used indifferently, as being the one equivalent to the other. Speaking of Poles and Slavonic Silesians, Captain Spencer remarks:

"Perhaps no distinctive trait of manners more characterizes both than their humiliating mode of acknowledging a kindness, their expression of gratitude being the servile "Upadam do nog" (I fall at your feet), which is no figure of speech, for they will literally throw themselves down and kiss your feet for the trilling donation of a few halfpence."

Here, then, the attitude of the conquered man beneath the conqueror is either actually assumed or verbally assumed; and, when used, the oral representation is a substitute for the realization in act. Other cases show us words and deeds similarly associated: as when a Turkish courtier, accustomed to make humble obeisances, addresses the sultan, "Centre of the Universe! Your slave's head is at your feet;" or as when a Siamese, whose servile prostrations occur daily, says to his superior, "Lord Benefactor, at whose feet I am;" to a prince, "I the sole of your foot;" to the king, "la dust-grain at your sacred feet." Still better when a Siamese attendant on the king says, "High and excellent lord of me thy slave, I ask to take the royal commands, and to place them on my brain, on the top of my head," we have verbally indicated that absolutely-subject attitude in which the head is under the victor's foot.

Nor are there wanting instances from nearer countries showing this substitution of professed for performed obeisances. In Russia, even in these days of moderated despotism, a petition begins with the words, "So-and-so strikes his forehead" (on the ground); and petitioners are called "forehead-strikers." At the court of France, as late as 1577, it was the custom of some to say, "I kiss your grace's hands," and of others to say, "I kiss your lordship's feet." Even at the present time in Spain, where Orientalisms descending from the past still linger, we read: "When you get up to take leave, if of a lady, you should say, 'My lady, I place myself at your feet;' to which she will reply, 'I kiss your hand, sir.'"

From what has gone before, such origins and such characters of forms of address might, indeed, be anticipated. Along with other ways of propitiating the victor, the master, and the ruler, will naturally come speeches which, beginning with confessions of defeat by verbal assumption of its attitude, will develop into varied phrases acknowledging the state of servitude. The implication, therefore, is that forms of address in general, descending as they do from these originals, will express, clearly or vaguely, ownership by, or subjection to, the person addressed.

Of propitiatory speeches, there are some which, instead of describing the prostration entailed by defeat, describe the resulting state of being at the mercy of the person addressed. One of the strangest of these occurs among the cannibal Tupis. While on the one hand a warrior shouts to his enemy, "May every misfortune come upon thee, my meat!" on the other hand the speech required from the captive Hans Stade on approaching a dwelling was, "I, your food, have come." A verbal surrender of life takes other forms in other places. It is asserted that, during ancient times in Russia, petitions to the czar commenced with the words, "Do not order our heads to be cut off, O mighty lord, for presuming to address you, but hear us!" And, though I do not get direct verification for this statement, it receives indirect support from the still-current saying, "Whoso goes to the czar risks his head," as also from the lines—

"My soul is God's,
My land is mine,
My head's the Czar's,
My back is thine!"

Then, again, instead of professing to live only by permission of the superior, actual or pretended, who is spoken to, we find the speaker professing to be personally a chattel of his, or to be holding property at his disposal, or both. Africa, Polynesia, and Europe, furnish examples. "When a stranger enters the house of a Serracolet (inland negro), he goes out and says, 'White man, my house, my wife, my children, belong to thee.'" In the Sandwich Islands a chief, asked respecting the ownership of a house or canoe possessed by him, replies, "It is yours and mine." In France, in the fifteenth century, a complimentary speech made by an abbe on his knees to the queen when visiting a monastery was, "We resign and offer up the abbey with all that is in it, our bodies, as our goods." And at the present time in Spain, where politeness requires that anything admired by a visitor shall be offered to him, "the correct place of dating [a letter] from should be. . . . from this your house, wherever it is; you must not say from this my house, as you mean to place it at the disposition of your correspondent."

But these modes of addressing a real or fictitious superior, indirectly asserting subjection to him in body and effects, are secondary in importance to the direct assertions of slavery and servitude; which, beginning in barbarous days, have persisted during civilization down to the present time.

Biblical narratives have familiarized us with the word "servant," as habitually applied to himself by a subject or inferior, when speaking to a ruler or superior. In our days of freedom, the associations established by daily habit have obscured the fact that "servant," as used in translations of old records, means "slave"—implies the condition fallen into by a captive taken in war. Consequently, when, as frequently in the Bible, the phrases "thy servant" or "thy servants" are uttered before a king, they must be taken to signify that same state of subjugation which is more circuitously signified by the phrases quoted in the last section. Clearly this self-abasing word was employed, not by attendants only, but by conquered peoples, and by subjects at large; as we see when the unknown David, addressing Saul, describes both himself and his father as Saul's servants. And kindred uses of the word to rulers have continued down to modern times.

Very early, however, professions of servitude, originally made only to one of supreme authority, came to be made to those of subordinate authority. Brought before Joseph in Egypt, and fearing him, his brethren call themselves his servants or slaves; and not only so, but speak of their father as standing in a like relation to him. Moreover, there is evidence that this form of address extended to the intercourse between equals, where a favor was to be gained; as witness Judges xix. 19. How among European peoples a like diffusion has taken place, need not be shown further than by exemplifying some of the stages. Among French courtiers in the sixteenth century it was common to say, "I am your servant and the perpetual slave of your house;" and among ourselves in past times there were used such indirect expressions of servitude as—"Yours to command," "Ever at your worship's disposing," "In all serviceable humbleness," etc. While in our days, rarely made orally save in irony, such forms have left only their written representatives—"Your obedient servant," "Your humble servant:" mostly reserved for occasions when distance is to be maintained, and for this reason often having inverted meanings.

That for religious purposes the same propitiatory words are used, is a familiar truth. In Hebrew history men are described as servants of God, just as they are described as servants of the king. Neighboring peoples are said to serve their respective deities just as slaves are said to serve their masters. And there are sundry cases in which these relations to the visible ruler and to the invisible ruler are expressed in parallel ways; as where we read that "the king hath fulfilled the request of his servant," and elsewhere that "the Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob." Hence, as now used in worship, the expression "thy servant" has a history parallel to the histories of all other elements of religious ceremonial.

And here, perhaps, better than elsewhere, may be noted the fact that the phrase "thy son," used to a ruler, or superior, or other person, is originally equivalent to "thy servant." When we remember that in the rudest societies children exist only on sufferance of their parents, and that in patriarchal groups, whence the civilized societies of Europe have descended, the father had life and death power over his children, we see that professing to be another's son was like professing to be his servant or slave. There are ancient instances showing us the equivalence; as when "Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser, King of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me." And we are not without more modern instances, furnished by those mediaeval times when, as we have seen, rulers offered themselves for adoption by more powerful rulers: so assuming the condition of filial servitude and calling themselves sons; as did Theodebert I. and Childebert II. to the Emperors Justinian and Maurice. Nor does there lack evidence that in some places this expression of subordination spreads like the rest, until it becomes a complimentary form of speech. "A Samoan cannot use more persuasive language than to call himself the son of the person addressed."

From those complimentary phrases which express abasement of self, we pass to those which exalt another person. Either kind taken alone is a confession of relative inferiority; and this confession becomes the more emphatic when the two kinds are joined, as they ordinarily are.

At first it does not seem likely that words of eulogy may, like other propitiations, be traced back to the behavior of the conquered to the conqueror; but we are not without proof that they do thus originate, certainly in some cases. To the victorious Rameses II. his defeated foes preface their prayers for mercy by the laudatory words—"Prince guarding thy army, valiant with the sword, bulwark of his troops in day of battle, king mighty of strength, great Sovran, Sun powerful in truth, approved of Ra, mighty in victories, Rameses Miamon." Obviously there is no separation between such praises uttered by the vanquished and those subsequently coming from them as a permanently subjugated people, or those commonly made by subjects to their militant and despotic rulers. We pass without break to glorifying words like those addressed to the King of Siam—"Mighty and august lord! Divine Mercy!" "The Divine Order!" "The Master of Life!" "Sovereign of the Earth!" etc.: or like those addressed to the sultan—"The Shadow of God!" "Glory of the Universe!" or like those addressed to the Chinese Emperor—"Son of Heaven!" "The Lord of Ten Thousand Years!" or like those some two years since addressed by the Bulgarians to the Emperor of Russia—"O blessed Czar!" "Blissful Czar!" "Orthodox powerful Czar!" or like those with which, in the past, speeches to the French monarch commenced—"O very benign! O very great! O very merciful!" And then along with these propitiations by direct flattery there go others in which the flattery is indirectly conveyed by affected admiration of whatever the ruler says: as when the courtiers of the King of Delhi held up their hands, crying, "Wonder, wonder!" after any ordinary speech: or in broad day, if he said it was night, responded, "Behold the moon and the stars!" or as when Russians in past times exclaimed, "God and the prince have willed!" "God and the prince know!"

Eulogistic phrases, first thus used to supreme men, of course descend to men in less authority, and so downward. Illustrations are supplied by those current in France during the sixteenth century—to a cardinal, "the very illustrious and very reverend;" to a bishop, "the very reverend and very illustrious;" to a duke, "the very illustrious and very reverend lord, my much-honored master;" to a marquis, "my very illustrious and much-honored lord;" to a doctor, "the virtuous and excellent." And from our own past days may be added such complimentary forms of address to those of lower rank as—"the right worshipful," to knights and sometimes to esquires; "the right noble," "the honorable-minded," used to gentlemen; and, even to aldermen and men addressed as Mr., such laudatory prefixes as "the worthy and worshipful," "the worshipfull, vertuous, and most worthy." Along with flattering epithets there spread flatteries more involved in form, especially observable in the East, where both are extreme. On a Chinese invitation card the compliment, gravely addressed to an ordinary person, is—"To what an elevation of splendor will your presence assist us to rise!" Tavernier, from whom I have quoted the above example of scarcely credible flattery from the court of Delhi, adds, "This vice passeth even unto the people;" and, instancing the way in which he was himself classed with ancient men of the most transcendent powers, adds. that even his military attendant, compared to the greatest of conquerors, was described as making the world tremble when he mounted his horse: a description harmonizing with the instance Mr. Roberts gives of Oriental compliment to an ordinary person—"My lord, there are only two who can do anything for me: God is the first, and you are the second."

On reading that in Tavernier's time a usual expression in the East was—"Let the king's will be done," recalling the parallel expression—"Let God's will be done," we are reminded that various of the glorifying speeches addressed to kings are identical with those addressed to deities. Where the militant type is highly developed, and where divinity is ascribed to the monarch, not only after death but before, as of old in Egypt and Peru, and as now in Japan, China, and Siam, it naturally results that the words of eulogy addressed to the visible ruler and the ruler who has become invisible are substantially the same. Having reached the extreme of hyperbole to the king when living, they cannot go further to the king when dead and deified. And the substantial identity thus initiated continues through subsequent stages with deities whose origins are no longer traceable.

Into the complete obeisance we saw that there enter two elements, one implying submission and the other implying liking; and into the complete form of address there enter two analogous elements. With words which seek to propitiate by abasing self or elevating the person addressed, or both, are joined words suggestive of attachment to the person addressed—wishes for his life, health, and happiness.

Professions of interest in another's well-being and good fortune are, indeed, of earlier origin than professions of subjection. Just as those huggings and kissings and pattings which indicate liking are used as complimentary observances by ungoverned or little-governed savages, who have no obeisances that signify submission, so friendly speeches precede speeches alleging subordination. Among the Snake Indians of North America, a stranger is accosted with the words, "I am much pleased, I am much rejoiced;" and in South America, among the Araucanians, whose social organization, though more advanced, has not yet been developed by militancy into the coercive type, the formality on meeting, which "occupies ten or fifteen minutes," consists of detailed inquiries about the welfare of each and his belongings, joined with elaborate felicitations and condolences.

Of course this element of the salutation persists while there grow up the acts and phrases expressing subjection. Along with servile obeisances we saw that good wishes and congratulations are addressed to a superior among negro nations, alike of the coast and the interior; and among the Fulahs and the Abyssinians inquiries concerning personal welfare and the welfare of belongings are elaborate. It is in Asia, however, where militant types of society are more highly developed, that the highest developments of these speeches occur. Beginning with such hyperbolic utterances as—"O king, live forever!" we descend to addresses between equals which, in like exaggerated ways, signify great sympathy; as among the Arabs, who indicate their anxiety by rapidly repeating, "Thank God, how are you?" for some minutes, and who, when well-bred, occasionally interrupt the subsequent conversation by again asking, "How are you?" or as among the Chinese, who thus directly assert their affection, on an ordinary visiting billet presented to the porter when making a call, "The tender and sincere friend of your lordship, and the perpetual disciple of your doctrine, presents himself to pay his duty and make his reverence even to the earth." Among Western peoples, in whose social organizations personal power has never reached so great a height, professions of liking and solicitude have been less exaggerated; and they have decreased as freedom has increased. In the fourteenth century, in France, at the royal table, "every time the herald cried, 'The king drinks!' every one made vœux and cried, 'Long live the king!'" And, though both abroad and at home the same or an allied form of wish is still used, it recurs with nothing like the same frequency. So, too, is it with the good wishes expressed in social intercourse. Though the exclamation, "Long life to your honor!" may still be heard, it is heard among a race who, till late times under personal rule, are even now greatly controlled by their loyalty to representatives of old families; while in parts of the kingdom longer emancipated from feudal forms, and disciplined by industrialism, the ordinary expressions of interest, abridged to "How do you do?" and "Good-by," are uttered in a manner that conveys not much more feeling than is entertained. It is interesting to note that along with these phrases, very generally diffused, in which divine aid is invoked on behalf of the person saluted—as in the "May God grant you his favors" of the Arab, "God keep you well" of the Hungarian, "God protect you" of the negro; and along with those which express interest by inquiries after state of health and strength and fortune, which are also wide-spread—there are some which take their character from surrounding conditions. One is the Oriental "Peace be with you," descending from turbulent times when peace was the great desideratum; another is the "How do you perspire?" alleged of the Egyptians; and a still more curious one is, "How have the mosquitoes used you?" which, according to Humboldt, is the morning salutation on the Orinoco.

There remain to be noted those modifications of language, grammatical and other, which, by implication, exalt the person addressed or abase the person addressing. These have certain analogies with other elements of ceremony. We have seen that, where subjection is extreme, the ruler, if he does not keep himself invisible, must, when present, not be looked at, on pain of death; and, from the idea that it is an unpardonable liberty to gaze at an exalted person, there has arisen in some countries the usage of turning the back on a superior. Similarly the practice of kissing the ground before a reverenced person, or kissing some object belonging to him, implies that the subject person is so remote in station that he may not take the liberty of kissing even the foot or the dress. And in a kindred spirit the linguistic forms used in compliment have, in part, the trait that they avoid direct relations with the person addressed.

Special modifications of language, having, as their common result, the maintenance of a distance between superiors and inferiors, are widely diffused, and make their appearance in some comparatively early social stages. Of the superior people among the Abipones we read that "the names of men belonging to this class end in in; those of the women, who also partake of these honors, in en. These syllables you must add even to substantives and verbs in talking with them." Again, "the Samoan language contains 'a distinct and permanent vocabulary of words which politeness requires to be made use of to superiors, or on occasions of ceremony.' "Among the Javans, "on no account is any one, of whatever rank, allowed to address his superior in the common or vernacular language of the country." And of the ancient Mexican language we are told by Gallantin that there is "a special form called Reverential, which pervades the whole language, and is found in no other. . . . this is believed to be the only one [language] in which every word uttered by the inferior reminds him of his social position."

The most general of the indirectnesses which etiquette introduces into forms of address appears to have its root in the primitive superstition respecting proper names. Conceiving that a man's name forms part of his individuality, and that possession of his name gives some power over him, savages almost everywhere are reluctant to disclose names, and consequently avoid that use of them in speech by which they are made known to hearers. Whether this is the sole cause, or whether, apart from this, utterance of a man's name is felt to be a kind of liberty taken with him, the fact is that among all races names acquire a kind of sacredness, and taking a name in vain is interdicted: especially to inferiors when addressing superiors. One curious result is that, as, in early stages, personal names are derived from objects, the names of objects have to be disused and others substituted. Among the Caffres "a wife may not publicly pronounce the i-gama [the name given at birth] of her husband or any of his brothers; nor may she use the interdicted word in its ordinary sense. . . . The chief's i-gama is withdrawn from the language of his people." Again, "the hereditary appellation of the chief of Pango-Pango [in Samoa] being now Maunga, or Mountain, that word must never be used for a hill in his presence, but a courtly term. . . substituted." And then, where there exist proper names of a developed kind, there are still kindred restrictions on the general use of them; as in Siam, where "the name of the king must not be uttered by a subject: he is always referred to by a periphrasis, such as 'the master of life,' 'the lord of the land,' 'the supreme head;' "and as in China, where "the 'old man of the house,' 'excellent honorable one,' and 'venerable great prince,' are terms used by a visitor to designate the father of his host."

Allied with avoidance of the proper name in addressing a superior, there is, as sundry of the above instances show, avoidance of the personal pronouns; which also establish with the individual addressed a relation too direct to be allowed where distance is to be maintained. In Siam, as already exemplified, when asking the king's commands the pronominal form is, as much as possible, evaded; and that this usage is general among the Siamese is shown by the remark of Père Bruguière, that "they have personal pronouns, but rarely use them." Among the Chinese, also, this style of address descends into ordinary intercourse. "If they are not intimate friends, they never say I and You, which would be a gross incivility. But instead of saying, I am very sensible of the service you have done me, they will say, The service that the Lord or the Doctor has done for his meanest Servant, or his Scholar, has greatly affected me."

We come next to those perversions in the uses of pronouns which serve to exalt the superior and abase the inferior. "'I' and 'me' are expressed by several terms in Siamese; as (1) between a master and slave; (2) between a slave and master; (3) between a commoner and a nobleman; (4) between persons of equal rank; while there is, lastly, a form of address which is only used by the priests." Still more developed is this system among the excessively ceremonious Japanese. "In Japan all classes have an 'I' peculiar to themselves, which no other class may use; and there is one exclusively appropriated by the Mikado. . . and one confined to women. . . . There are eight pronouns of the second person peculiar to servants, pupils, and children." Though in the West the distinctions established by abusing pronominal forms have not been so much elaborated, yet they have been sufficiently marked. In Germany "in old times. . . all inferiors were spoken to in the third person singular, as 'er':" that is, an oblique form by which the inferior was not directly addressed, but merely referred to, as though in speaking to another person served to disconnect him from the speaker. And then we have the converse fact that "inferiors invariably use the third person plural in addressing their superiors:" a form which, while dignifying the superior by pluralization, increases the distance of the inferior by its relative indirectness; and a form which, beginning as a propitiation of those in power, has, like the rest, spread till it has become a general propitiation. In our own speech, lacking such misuse of pronouns as serves to humiliate, there exists only that substitution of the "you" for the "thou," which, once a complimentary exaltation, has now by diffusion through all ranks wholly lost its ceremonial meaning. Evidently it retained some ceremonial meaning at the time when the Quakers persisted in using "thou;" and that in still earlier times it was employed to ascribe dignity is inferable from the fact that during the Merovingian period in France, when the habit was but partially established, the kings ordered that they should be addressed in the plural. Whoever fails to think that calling him "you" once served to exalt the person addressed, will be aided by contemplating this perversion of speech in its primitive and more emphatic shape; as in Samoa, where they say to a chief, "Have you two come?" or, "Are you two going?"

Since they state in words what obeisances express by acts, forms of address, of course, have the same general relations to social types. The parallelisms must be briefly noted. Speaking of the Dakotas, who are politically unorganized, and who had not even nominal chiefs till the whites began to make distinctions among them, Burton says, "Ceremony and manners, in our sense of the word, they have none;" and he instances the entrance of a Dakota into a stranger's house with a mere exclamation meaning "Well!" Bailey remarks of the Veddahs, that in addressing others "they use none of the honorifics so profusely common in Singhalese; the pronoun 'to,' 'thou,' being alone used, whether they are addressing each other, or those whose position would entitle them to outward respect." These cases will sufficiently indicate the general fact that where there is no subordination, speeches which exalt the person spoken to and abase the person speaking do not arise. Conversely, where personal government is absolute, verbal self-humiliations and verbal exaltations of others assume exaggerated forms. Communities such as we find in Siam, where every subject is a slave of the king, are those in which the inferior calls himself dust under the feet of the superior, while ascribing to the superior transcendent powers, and where the forms of address, even between equals, avoid naming the person addressed. It is in social organizations like that of China, where there is no check on the power of the "Imperial Supreme," that the phrases of adulation and humility, first used in intercourse with rulers and afterward spreading, have elaborated to such extremes that in inquiring another's name the form is, "May I presume to ask what is your noble surname and your eminent name?" while the reply is, "The name of my cold (or poor) family is——, and my ignoble name is——." Or, again, if we ask where occur the most elaborate misuses of pronouns initiated by ceremony, we find them among the Japanese, over whom chronic wars long ago established a despotism which acquired divine prestige.

So, too, on comparing the Europe of past times, characterized by social structures developed by, and fitted for, perpetual fighting, with modern Europe, in which, though fighting on a large scale occurs, it is the temporary rather than the permanent form of social activity, we observe that complimentary expressions, now less used, are also less exaggerated. Nor does the contrast fail when we put side by side the modern European societies that are organized in greater degree for war, like those of the Continent, and our own society, not so well organized for war; or when we put side by side the regulative parts of our own society, which are developed by militancy, with the industrial parts. Flattering superlatives and expressions of devotion are less profuse here than they are abroad; and, much as the use of complimentary language has diminished among our ruling classes in recent times, there still remains a greater use of it than among the industrial classes—especially those of the industrial classes who have no direct relations with the ruling classes.

These connections are obviously, like previous ones, necessary. Should any one say that along with the enforced obedience which military organization implies, and which characterizes the whole of a society framed for military action, there naturally go forms of address not expressing submission, and if, conversely, he should say that along with the active exchanging of produce, money, services, etc., freely carried on, which characterizes the life of an industrial society, there naturally go exaggerated eulogies of others and servile depreciations of self, his proposition would be manifestly absurd; and the absurdity of this hypothetical proposition serves to bring into view the truth of the actual proposition opposed to it.