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THE EARLY CONDITION OF MAN.* By Sir JOHN LUBBOCK, Bart., F.R.S., President of the Entomological
In addition to the different opinions which have always been held as to whether man constitutes one or many species, there are two very different views as to the primitive condition of the first men, or first beings, worthy to be so called. Many writers have considered that man was at first a mere savage, and that our history has on the whole been a steady progress towards civilisation, though at times, and at some times for centuries, the race has been stationary, or even has retrograded. Other authors of no less eminence have taken a diametrically opposite view. According to them, man was from the commencement pretty much what he is at present: if possible, even more ignorant of the arts and sciences than now, but with mental qualities not much inferior to our own. Savages they consider to be the degenerate descendants of far superior ancestors. Of the recent supporters of this theory, the late Archbishop of Dublin was amongst the most eminent. In the present memoir I propose briefly to examine the reasons which led Dr. Whately to this conclusion, and still more briefly to notice some of the facts which seem to me to render it untenable. Dr. Whately enunciates his opinions in the following words :—“That we have no reason to believe that any community ever did, or ever can, emerge, unassisted by external helps, from a state of utter barbarism, into anything that can be called civilisation. Man has not emerged from the savage state; the progress of any
* Read before the British Association at Dundee, 1867. VOL. VI.NO. XX.
community in civilisation, by its own internal means, must always have begun from a condition removed from that of complete barbarism, out of which it does not appear that men ever did or can raise themselves.” One might at first feel disposed to answer that fifty cases could be cited which altogether discredit this assertion. Even without going beyond the limits of our own island, we might regard the history of England itself a sufficient answer to such a statement. Archbishop Whately, however, was far too skilful a debater not to have foreseen such an argument. “The ancient Germans,” he says, “who cultivated corn, though their agriculture was probably in a very rude state, who not only had numerous herds of cattle, but employed the labour of brutes, and even made use of cavalry in their wars . ... these cannot with propriety be reckoned savages, or if they are to be so called (for it is not worth while to dispute about a word), then I would admit that in this sense men may advance, and in fact have advanced, by their own unassisted efforts, from the savage to the civilised state.” This limitation of the term “savage” to the very lowest representatives of the human race, no doubt renders Dr. Whately's theory more tenable, by increasing the difficulty of bringing forward conclusive evidence against it. The Archbishop, indeed, expresses himself throughout his argument as if it would be easy to produce the required evidence in opposition to his theory, supposing that any race of savages ever raised themselves to a state of civilisation. The manner in which he has treated the case of the Mandans, a tribe of North American Indians, however, effectually disposes of this hypothesis. This unfortunate tribe is described as having been decidedly more civilised than those by which they were surrounded. Having then no neighbours more advanced than themselves, they were quoted as furnishing an instance of savages who had civilised themselves without external aid. In answer to this, Archbishop Whately asks“First, How do we know that these Mandans were of the same race as their neighbours? Second, How do we know that theirs is not the original level from which the other tribes have fallen? Thirdly and lastly, supposing that the Mandans did emerge from the savage state, how do we know that this may not have been through the aid of some strangers coming among them—like the Manco-Capac of Peru—from some more civilised country, perhaps long before the days of Columbus." Supposing however, for a moment, and for the sake of argument, that the Mandans, or any other race, were originally savages and had civilised themselves, it would still be manifestly, from the very nature of the case, impossible to bring forward the kind of evidence demanded by Dr. Whately. No doubt he “may confidently affirm that we find no one recorded instance of a tribe of savages, properly so styled, rising into a civilised state, without instruction and assistance from people already civilised.” Starting with the proviso that savages, properly so styled, are ignorant of letters, and laying it down as a condition that no civilised example should be placed before them, the existence of any such record is an impossibility. Its very presence would destroy its value. In another passage Archbishop Whately says, indeed—“If man generally, or some particular race, be capable of self-civilisation, in either case it may be expected that some record, or tradition, or monument, of the actual occurrence of such an event, should be found.” So far from this, the existence of any such record would, according to the very hypothesis itself, be impossible. Traditions are shortlived and untrustworthy. A “monument” which could prove the actual occurrence of a race capable of self-civilisation, I confess myself unable to imagine. What kind of a monument would the Archbishop accept as proving that the people which made it had been originally savage, that they had raised themselves, and had never been influenced by strangers of a superior race? Evidently the word “monument” in the above passage was used only to round off the sentence. But, says Archbishop Whately, “We have accounts of various savage tribes, in different parts of the globe, who have been visited from time to time at considerable intervals, but have had no settled intercourse with civilised people, and who appear to continue, as far as can be ascertained, in the same uncultivated condition ;” and he adduces one case, that of the New Zealanders, who “seem to have been in quite as advanced a state when Tasman discovered the country, in 1642, as they were when Cook visited it, one hundred and twenty-seven years after.” We have been accustomed to see around us an improvement so rapid that we forget how short a period a century is in the history of the human race. Even taking the ordinary chronology, it is evident that if in six thousand years a given race has only progressed from a state of utter savagery to the condition of the Australian, we could not expect to find much change in one more century. Many a fishing village, even on our own coast, is in very nearly the same condition as it was one hundred and twenty-seven years ago. Moreover, I might fairly answer that, according to Whately's own definition of a savage state, the New Zealanders would certainly be excluded. They cultivated the ground, they had domestic animals, they constructed elaborate fortifications, and made excellent canoes, and were certainly, in his sense, not in a state of utter barbarism. Or I might argue that a short visit like that of Tasman could give little insight into the true condition of a people. I am, however, the less disposed to question the statement made by Archbishop Whately, because the fact that many races are now practically stationary is in reality an