Historical Reprints History Early History of Mankind

Early History of Mankind

Early History of Mankind
Catalog # SKU3846
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Edward B. Tylor
ISBN 10: 0000000000
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Early History
of Mankind

Edward B. Tylor

IN studying the phenomena of knowledge and art, religion and mythology, law and custom, and the rest of the complex whole which we call Civilization, it is not enough to have in view the more advanced races, and to know their history so far as direct records have preserved it for us.



The explanation of the state of things in which we live has often to be sought in the condition of rude and early tribes; and without a knowledge of this to guide us, we may miss the meaning even of familiar thoughts and practices. To take a trivial instance, the statement is true enough as it stands, that the women of modern Europe mutilate their ears to hang jewels in them, but the reason of their doing so is not to be fully found in the circumstances among which we are living now. The student who takes a wider view thinks of the rings and bones and feathers thrust through the cartilage of the nose; the weights that pull the slit ears in long nooses to the shoulder; the ivory studs let in at the corners of the mouth; the wooden plugs as big as table-spoons put through slits in the under lip; the teeth of animals stuck point outwards through holes in the cheeks; all familiar things among the lower races up and down in the world. The modern earring of the higher nations stands not as a product of our own times, but as a relic of a ruder mental condition, one of the many cases in which the result of progress has been not positive in adding something new, but negative in taking away something belonging to an earlier state of things.

It is indeed hardly too much to say that Civilization, being a process of long and complex growth, can only be thoroughly understood when studied through its entire range; that the past is continually needed to explain the present, and the whole to explain the part. A feeling of this may account in some measure for the eager curiosity which is felt for descriptions of the life and habits of strange and ancient races, in Cook's Voyages, Catlin's 'North American Indians,' Prescott's 'Mexico' and 'Peru,' even in the meagre details which antiquaries have succeeded in recovering of the lives of the Lake-dwellers of Switzerland and the Reindeer Tribes of Central France. For matters of practical life these people may be nothing to us; but in reading of them we are consciously or unconsciously completing the picture, and tracing out the course of life, of what has been so well said to be, after all, our most interesting object of study, mankind.

Though, however, the Early History of Man is felt to be an attractive subject, and great masses of the materials needed for working it out have long been forthcoming, they have as yet then turned to but little account. The opinion that the use of facts is to illustrate theories, the confusion between History and Mythology, which is only now being partly cleared up, an undue confidence in the statements of ancient writers, whose means of information about times and places remote from themselves were often much narrower than those which are, ages later, at our own command, have been among the hindrances to the growth of sound knowledge in this direction. The time for writing a systematic treatise on the subject does not seem yet to have come; certainly nothing of the kind is attempted in the present series of essays, whose contents, somewhat miscellaneous as they are, scarcely come into contact with great part of the most important problems involved, such as the relation of the bodily characters of the various races, the question of their origin and descent, the development of morals, religion, law, and many others. The matters discussed have been chosen, not so much for their absolute importance, as because, while they are among the easiest and most inviting parts of the subject, it is possible so to work them as to bring into view certain general lines of argument, which apply not only to them, but also to the more complex and difficult problems involved in a complete treatise on the History of Civilization. These lines of argument, and their relation to the different essays, may be briefly stated at the outset.

In the first place, when a general law can be inferred from a group of facts, the use of detailed history is very much superseded. When we see a magnet attract a piece of iron, having come by experience to the general law that magnets attract iron, we do not take the trouble to go into the history of the particular magnet in question. To some extent this direct reference to general laws may be made in the study of Civilization. The four next chapters of the present book treat of the various ways in which man utters his thoughts, in Gestures, "Words, Pictures, and Writing. Here, though Speech and Writing must be investigated historically, depending as they do in so great measure on the words and characters which were current in the world thousands of years ago, on the other hand the Gesture-Language and Picture-Writing may be mostly explained without the aid of history, as direct products of the human mind. In the following chapter on "Images and Names," an attempt is made to refer a great part of the beliefs and practices included under the general name of magic, to one very simple mental law, as resulting from a condition of mind which we of the more advanced races have almost outgrown, and in doing so have undergone one of the most notable changes which we can trace as having happened to mankind. And lastly, a particular habit of mind accounts for a class of stories which are here grouped together as "Myths of Observation," as distinguished from the tales which make up the great bulk of the folk-lore of the world, many of which latter are now being shown by the new school of Comparative Mythologists in Germany and England to have come into existence also by virtue of a general law, but a very different one.

But it is only in particular parts of Human Culture, where the facts have not, so to speak, travelled far from their causes, that this direct method is practicable. Most of its phenomena have grown into shape out of such a complication of events, that the laborious piecing together of their previous history is the only safe way of studying them. It is easy to see how far a theologian or a lawyer would go wrong who should throw history aside, and attempt to explain, on abstract principles, the existence of the Protestant Church or the Code Napoleon. A Romanesque or an Early English cathedral is not to be studied as though all that the architect had to do was to take stone and mortar and set up a building for a given purpose. The development of the architecture of Greece, its passage into the architecture of Rome, the growth of Christian ceremony and symbolism, are only part of the elements which went to form the state of things in which the genius of the builder had to work out the requirements of the moment. The late Mr. Buckle did good service in urging students to look through the details of history to the great laws of Human Development which lie behind; but his attempt to explain, by a few rash generalizations, the complex phases of European history, is a warning of the danger of too hasty an appeal to first principles.

As, however, the earlier civilization lies very much out of the beaten track of history, the place of direct records has to be supplied in great measure by indirect evidence, such as Antiquities, Language, and Mythology. This makes it generally difficult to get a sound historical basis to work on, but there happens to be a quantity of material easily obtainable, which bears on the development of some of the more common and useful arts. Thus in the eighth and ninth chapters, the transition from implements of stone to those of metal is demonstrated to have taken place in almost every district of the habitable globe, and a progress from ruder to more perfect modes of making fire and boiling food is traced in many different countries ; while in the seventh, evidence is collected on the important problem of the relation which Progress has borne to Decline in art and knowledge in the history of the world.

In the remote times and places where direct history is at fault, the study of Civilization, Culture-History as it is conve- niently called in Germany, becomes itself an important aid to the historian, as a means of re-constructing the lost records of early or barbarous times. But its use as contributing to the early history of mankind depends mainly on the answering of the following question, which runs through all the present essays, and binds them together as various cases of a single problem.

When similar arts, customs, beliefs, or legends are found in several distant regions, among peoples not known to be of the same stock, how is this similarity to be accounted for ? Sometimes it may be ascribed to the like working of men's minds under like conditions, and sometimes it is a proof of blood relationship or of intercourse, direct or indirect, between the races among whom it is found. In the one case it has no historical value whatever, while in the other it has this value in a high degree, and the ever-recurring problem is how to distinguish between the two. An example on each side may serve to bring the matter into a clearer light.

The general prevalence of a belief in the continuance of the soul's existence after death, does not prove that all mankind have inherited such a belief from a common source. It may have been so, but the historical argument is made valueless by the fact that certain natural phenomena may have suggested to the mind of man, while in a certain stage of development, the idea of a future state, and this not once only, but again and again in different regions and at different times. These phenomena may prove nothing of the kind to us, but that is not the question. The reasoning of the savage is not to be judged by the rules which belong to a higher education; and what the ethnologist requires in such a case, is not to know what the facts prove to his own mind, but what inference the very differently trained mind of the savage may draw from them.

The belief that man has a soul capable of existing apart from the body it belongs to, and continuing to live, for a time at least, after the body is dead and buried, fits perfectly in such a mind with the fact that the shadowy forms of men and women do appear to others, when the men and women themselves are at a distance, and after they are dead. We call these apparitions dreams or phantasms, according as the person to whom they appear is asleep or awake, and when we hear of their occurrence in ordinary life, set them down as subjective processes of the mind. We do not thiiik that the phantom of the dark Brazilian who used to haunt Spinoza was a real person; that the head which stood before a late distinguished English peer, whenever he was out of health, was a material object ; that the fiends which torment the victim of delirium tremens, are what and where they seem to him to be; that any real occurrence corresponds to the dreams of the old men who tell us they were flogged last night at school.

It is only a part of mankind, however, who thus disconnect dreams and visions from the objects whose forms they bear. Among the less civilized races, the separation of subjective and objective impressions, which in this, as in several other matters, makes the most important difference between the educated man and the savage, is much less fully carried out. This is indeed true to some extent among the higher nations, for no Greenlander or Kaffir ever mixed up his subjectivity with the evidence of his senses into a more hopeless confusion than the modern spiritualist. As the subject is only brought forward here as an illustration, it is not necessary to go at length into its details. A few picked examples will bring into view the two great theories of dreams and visions, current among the lower races. One is, that when a man is asleep or seeing visions, the figures which appear to him come from their places and stand over against him; the other, that the soul of the dreamer or seer goes out on its travels, and comes home with a remembrance of what it has seen.

The Australians, says Sir George Grey, believe that the nightmare is caused by an evil spirit. To get rid of it they jump up, catch a lighted brand from the fire, and with various muttered imprecations fling it in the direction where they think the spirit is. He simply came for a light, and having got it, he will go away.1 Others tell of the demon Koin, a creature who has the appearance of a native, and like them is painted with pipe-clay and carries a fire-stick. He comes sometimes when they are asleep and carries a man off as an eagle does his prey. The shout of the victim's companions makes the demon let him drop, or else he carries him off to his fire in the hush. The unfortunate black tries to cry out, but feels himself all but choked and cannot. At daylight Koin disappears, and the native finds himself brought safely back to his own fireside.2 Even in Europe, such expressions as being .ridden by a hag, or by the devil, preserve the recollection of a similar train of thought. In the evil demons who trouble people in their sleep, the Incubi and Succubi, the belief in this material and personal character of the figures seen in dreams comes strongly out, perhaps nowhere more strikingly than among the natives of the Tonga Islands.3 "Whoso seeth me in his sleep," said Mohammed. "seeth me truly, for Satan cannot, assume the similitude of my form."

412 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover - Print size, 12 point font

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