Page images

Ona, which Signor Bovè himself declares to be harsh and guttural?

Niebuhr and Bunsen. Lest I should appear unfair in quoting Darwin only, let me tell you what happened to Niebuhr. The story was told me by my friend Bunsen, who was his secretary when Niebuhr was Prussian Minister at Rome. Niebuhr was very anxious to discover traces of Greek in Italian, as spoken by the common people in the South of Italy. He thought that the occupation of the country by the Greeks, when the South of Italy was called Magna Graecia, ought to have left at least a few vestiges behind, just as the occupation of Britain by the Romans can be proved by such words as chester in Dorchester, Lat. castrum ; coln in Lincoln, Lat. colonia ; cheese, Lat. caseus; street, Lat. strata, scil. via ? Finding himself one day with Bunsen in a small boat, and being caught by a storm, Niebuhr listened attentively to the sailors, who were rowing with all their might and shouting what sounded to Niebuhr's ears like tón. Listen,' he said to Bunsen, they call for πλόη οι εύπλοη (endova), a fair voyage. There you have a survival of the Greek spoken in Magna Graecia. Bunsen listened attentively. He saw that one of the sailors looked very English, and that the others simply repeated what he said and what seemed to them to possess a certain charm; and he soon discovered that what to Niebuhr sounded like πλόη Or εύπλοη, was really the English, · Pull away

I See Bovè, Patagonia, Terra del Fuoco, Rapporto del Tenente Giacomo Bovè. Parte prima. Genova, 1883.

2 G. P. Marsh, Origin and History of the English Language, p. 60.

· If such things can happen to Niebuhr and Darwin, we must not be surprised if they happen to smaller men ; and, to return to our subject, we must not be surprised if some missionaries find no trace of religion where anthropologists see the place swarming with ghosts and totems and fetishes ; while other missionaries discover deep religious feelings in savages whom anthropologists declare perfectly incapable of anything beyond the most primitive sensuous perceptions.

Lubbock v. Quatrefages. But though a certain bias must be admitted in writers on anthropology, that does not suffice to account for such books as Sir John Lubbock’s Prehistoric Times, as illustrated by Ancient Remains and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages, 1865, as compared with Quatrefages, L'espèce humaine, 1877, and Roskoff, Religionswesen der rohesten Naturvölker, 1880. Sir John Lubbock collects all the evidence that can possibly prove the existence even now of tribes without religion, while Quatrefages and Roskoff, sifting the same materials, show on the contrary that there is no trustworthy evidence whatsoever to support such a theoryl. Neither the facts adduced by Roskoff, nor the arguments founded on these facts, have ever been controverted, and until that has been done - and I doubt whether it can be--this controversy ought to be considered at an end.

My friend, Dr. Tylor, also made some time ago a very useful collection to show how the same people who by one missionary are said to worship either one or many

Introd. to the Science of Religion, p. 277.

gods, are declared by another to have no idea and no name of a Divine Being, and how even the same person sometimes makes two equally confident assertions which flatly contradict each other. Thus in one place Sparrmannis very doubtful whether the Hottentots believe in a Supreme Being, and tells us that the Khoi-Khoi themselves declared that they were too stupid to understand anything, and never heard of a Supreme Being; while in another place the same Sparrmann argues that the Khoi-Khoi must believe in a supreme, very powerful, but fiendish Being, from whom they expect rain, thunder, lightning and cold. Liechtenstein, again, while denying in one place that there is any trace of religious worship among the Khosa Kafirs, admits in another that they believe in a Supreme Being who created the world, though, if we are to believe Van der Kamp (died 1811), they have no name for such a being.

Preconceived Ideas. It may seem strange why there should be so much animus in these discussions, and why missionaries and anthropologists should not be satisfied with simply stating the facts, such as they are. But there is a reason for it. It seems important to some people to prove that religion is a necessity of the human mind, or, as it was formerly expressed, is innate, or, as Cicero says, is engraved by nature on our minds 2. To them, therefore, it seems of vital interest to prove that no race of men has ever been found without some kind

· Theophilus Hahn, Tsuni-Goam, the Supreme Being of the Khoi-Khoi, 1881, p. 45.

2 Cic. De Nat. D. i. 17, 45, Natura insculpsit in mentibus ut Deos aeternos et beatos haberemus.'

of religion, as little as any human beings have ever been found without the cravings of hunger and thirst. Other philosophers, on the contrary, like Professor Gruppe, are anxious to prove that religion is not an essential ingredient of human nature, but an acquired social habit; and in their eyes the actual existence of non-religious races acquires an immense importance, as confirming their view of human nature. In this they totally forget that all human beings, whether we call them savages or not, may formerly have had a whole pantheon of supernatural beings and have forgotten or surrendered it, just as the Hindus, in becoming Buddhists, surrendered their belief in the ancient Devas. But this would be against another article of the anthropologist faith, namely that savages, who are really far more changeable than civilised races, are stereotyped once for all, and unchangeable.

Sometimes these two parties change sides in a very strange way. When the Missionary wants to prove that no human being can be without some spark of religion, he sees religion everywhere, even in what is called totemism and fetishism ; while, if he wants to show how necessary it is to teach and convert these irreligious races, he cannot paint their abject state in too strong colours, and he is apt to treat even their belief in an invisible and nameless god, as mere hallucination. Nor is the anthropologist free from such temptations. If he wants to prove that, like the child, every race of men was at one time atheistic, then neither totems, nor fetishes, not even prayers or sacrifices are any proof in his eyes of an ineradicable religious instinct. If, on the contrary, he is anxious to show that the religions of the highest races are but

an evolution of lower types of faith, or, as Darwin would wish us to believe, that even animals possess something like religious feelings, then a sigh, a tear, a sudden silence, an involuntary interjection, or even a curse, become proof positive of the existence of germs of religion, though in a most rudimentary state.

We ought to be as cautious at least as Cicero, who, after he has introduced Velleius as upholding the universality of religion', makes Cotta say that such important questions cannot be settled by majorities, provided even that we knew the religions of all races of men . Though we know a good deal more of the world than was known at the time of Plutarch, yet we should probably hesitate to say what he says, “ that you may indeed find towns without walls, without letters, without kings, without houses, without wealth, not requiring coined money, ignorant of theatres and gymnasia. But there is no one who has seen or who ever will see a town without temples and without gods, not employing prayers, oaths, or oracles, and not perforining sacrifices to render thanks for good things or to avert misfortunes 3.'

The historian of religion must try to be as free as possible from all preconceived opinions. He may be convinced, as a philosopher, that it is impossible for any human being to be without something like what we mean by religion, but as every child is born both without religion and without language, the possibility at least ought to be admitted that some

i Cic. De Nat. Deor. i. 16, 43, Quae est enim gens, aut quod genus hominum quod non habeat sine doctrina anticipationem quandam deorum?'

? Cic., 1. (., iii. 4, 11, Placet igitur tantas res opinione stultorum judicari ?

3 Plutarch, Adi. Coloten, cap. 31.

« PreviousContinue »