« PreviousContinue »
Huxley has just asserted, "if any form of the doctrine of progressive development is correct, we must extend by long epochs the most liberal estimate that has yet been made of the antiquity of man. If any plea were wanting for founding this society, I would ask you to look at the different degrees of progress which the sciences of Geology and Anthropology have made during the last fifty years. While geologists have been dealing with demonstrated facts, most anthropologists have been idly speculating, and others employing themselves in the still less profitable task of attempting to show the identity of black and white by metaphysical subterfuges totally unworthy, not only of science, but of all serious consideration. Geology has within a few years become a great science, and the most ignorant or superstitious dare not assail her conclusions. But Anthropology has been totally stationary during this time. And why? Because the same method of inquiry has not been employed. We should, therefore, take a lesson from the geologist, and found a science on facts. This course seems so self-evident, that I ought to apologize for even mentioning such things, did I not know that one branch of Anthropology, i.e. the science of nations, or Ethnology, has been attempted frequently to be based on historical statements, etc., and we have had the “ Natural History of Man" written before we had any reliable facts on which to found that history.
Besides this, we find that the ethnologists have encumbered their science with all sorts of terms which are based merely on vague historical data, and frequently on myths. The whole of the nomenclature of the ethnologists is full of terms, the use of which imply a theory. We must be careful to avoid, as far as possible, the error into which they have fallen. I would strongly urge the necessity of rigid care in the acceptance of historical statements as a basis for our own science. The only portions of history, ancient or modern, which are of any use at all, are the observations which were made by contemporary historians. But these statements even are generally too vague to be of any value for science. As we do not now accept the opinion of any one traveller as the basis of science, so must we be careful not to accept the authority of any one historian. All our facts, as far as possible, should admit of verification, but with the exception of some of the statements in history relative to astronomical science, these statements do not admit of verification; and we must, therefore, not look to the historian to throw any great light on our science. We must study Archæology as a science, and merely use history as a
* Man's Place in Nature, 1863,
commentary. Ethnology, as now understood, has quite outgrown the narrow basis on which it was started. We must, therefore, enlarge and deepen our foundations ; collect a range of facts, and extend our sphere of observation, before we begin to fight some of the most popular ethnological questions of the day. Whatever might have been. the value of Dr. Prichard's works in their generation, it is certain that is no little disgrace to our science that these works are still the text-books of the day. It is true, however, that neither in France nor Germany are the text-books on this subject of a much more satis. factory character. All systematic works have one fault in common; that they leave the great foundations of the science entirely based on conjecture, while they discuss subjects which are at present of little consequence, and only tend to produce party warfare. An attempt has been made to divide all ethnologists into two parties, monogenists and polygenists: and each party is supposed to be bound to support the side to which they may be espoused. Such a state of things is most unfortunate for science, and no progress can be made until we give up such fruitless skirmishing. If we take a glance at any of the great physical questions connected with Man, we find that nearly all is speculation-much, simple mythology. If we go to Borneo, we get the myth of the creation of man from the dust of the earth, and that woman was made from the great toe of the man; and the Thibetians believe that mankind descended from the ape. * Both hypotheses are very imaginative, and perhaps have about the same amount of actual facts to support them. What we know is, that transformation of species has yet to be proved. No one (except Agassiz and his confrères) will deny the possibility of the descent of man from the ape by some unknown law of development: but the admission does not in the least give any countenance to such being at all proved by existing data. Oken's 'origin of man from the scum of the sea belongs to the same category of assumptions, and the speculations of Reichenbacht also require facts to support them. He says, “The soil in which the first man originated was an animal, and his first mother was an animal, and his first nourishment was the milk of an animal.” Very likely this was 80 ; but we shall want more evidence than this author gives us to accept such a statement for anything more than an hypothesis-supported by presumed analogy, but not by facts. We shall probably see what must have been the law of Man's origin long before we shall be able to
• Liuk, History of Mankind.
+ Über die Entstehung des Menschen.
demonstrate it. It will be our duty to test these hypotheses one against another-not by our own preconceived notions and theories, but by all the facts we can collect. We must always be ready to change our theories to suit our facts. As knowledge advances, it is absolutely necessary that the theories of every honest scientific man should change. True science cares nothing for theories, unless they accord with the facts. An hypothesis may be all very reasonable and beautiful, but unless it is supported by facts, we should always be prepared to give it up for one that is so supported; and as knowledge advances, so must the true scientific man change his theories. We should endeavour to be careful not to fancy we aid the cause of science when we absurdly give our support to theories that no longer can be reconciled with established facts. It will be a great misfortune to science, should students of nature ever become thus fondly wedded to their theories. Such conduct is to be expected from the ignorant, and consequently bigoted; but cannot be adopted by real seekers after truth. No doubt it is a weakness of our natures thus to cling to the theories of our youth; but we must be careful not to yield unreasonably to the charms of a first love. In our science, which, at present, is nearly all hypothesis, I think there is great need of this caution, and that we shall do well all to remember, that instead of having any cause of shame in giving up our unsupported theories, that it is something of which to be proud.
But having said so much, I ought, perhaps, to add, that it is the best plan to be very cautious in forming such positive theories, until we are warranted to do so by actual facts. We want speculation; but we must be careful always to make a rigid distinction between verified facts and speculation. It is the custom of the public to assert that a certain scientific man holds a certain opinion, theory, or hypothesis; but we must do all we can to let the thinking public know that such hypothesis is only held until we can get one that will more fully explain the facts. It is frequently asserted by scientific men on the Continent, that our cultivators of science are “priest-ridden," and afraid to give utterance to their real scientific opinions. I will not stay to inquire into the amount of truth in the assertion, or to show that its general application is a gross calumny. I hope the members of this society will join with me in endeavouring to prove that many of our Continental friends entirely mistake our honesty in fancying that " the fear of public scandal,” (as they call it), in any way daunts the inost free and open expression of honest opinion.
I have touched on the hypothetical views of Man's origin, and would wish distinctly to state, that it is not only the unity of origin from a single pair that is a pure hypothesis, but that the somewhat popular view of the plurality of original pairs, or the creation of Man in Nations, (as Agassiz and many others hold,) rests on no better evidence than the hypothesis of unity of origin. It has been sometimes asserted that there is less difficulty in assuming the plurality of origin than to explain how all races could have descended from one pair: but science has nothing to do with what is the easiest explanation, we want to know what is the truth.
The accomplished and zealous President of the Ethnological Society, in one of his recent papers, writes, “ that mankind consists of many originally created species, and that the hypothesis of unity of races is without foundation."* Mr. Crawfurd might have added, I think, with equal truth, that the hypothesis of "many originally created species" is equally without foundation.
It has recently become so much the fashion to assert original difference to explain every phenomenon connected with Man, that it has been found necessary to continually increase the number of protoplasts, until the last writer on the Classification of Man (Mr. Crawfurd), assumes upwards of forty distinct species. I think it well to quote the words of our great countryman, John Stuart Mill, on the subject. He goes so far as to say, “Of all the vulgar modes of escaping from the consideration of the effects of social and moral influences on the human mind, the most vulgar is that of attributing the diversities of conduct and character to inherent original natural differences.”+ All that can safely be asserted against the unity of the origin of mankind is, that there is no existing race or species which can be assumed to be the type of the original Man. The assumption of some ideal type of man from which all existing forms have arisen, is not based on any scientific data, and is merely speculation. It is a matter of uncertainty whether we shall ever be able to demonstrate by actual facts the modus operandi of Man's origin, but we may be able to ascertain the laws to which he owes his birth.
The remarks I have made respecting the necessity of having facts to support an hypothesis, find an apt illustration in that mythical and poetical subject—the place of Man's origin. There is not a continent, and hardly an island, which has not been asserted to be the birthplace of man. Not having facts to support any of these poetical dreams, we need not now concern ourselves with such a subject.
# Transactions of Ethnological Society, vol. i, p. 2. New Series, 1861, p. 554. + Principles of Political Economy, vol. i, p. 390.
We have some other questions that must be settled, before we come to the place of Man's origin; and in the meantime we may decline, as scientific students, to found any theory on mere tradition. Yet it is strange we should have a learned writer like Baron von Eckstein* fixing the place of man's origin. Writing only in 1860, he says, “Everything points to the region of the sources of the Indus, Oxus, Jaxartes, and Serika rivers. There or nowhere is the cradle. This suits the historian, the politician, the geologist, the geographer." But does this spot suit the anthropologist? If we agree with the geologist, the baron's dogmatic assertions might be of some value. Those friends of fiction will be greatly interested in a work by Dr. Schulthess,t in which he believes to prove most conclusively that Africa was the original Paradise. Whether it was in the neighbourhood of the Gaboon he does not say. Equally powerful claimants there are for different parts of Asia and the island of Ceylon. It is evident, therefore, that tradition is not so positive as to the place of Man's origin as some imagine.
It is necessary to decide the scope and object of our Society. We look upon Anthropology as the Science of Mankind. We shall therefore treat of every thing that will throw light on the physical or psychological history of Man. It will be essentially our object to trace the primitive history of Man. But in doing this we require the aid of the geologist, archæologist, anatomist, physiologist, psychologist, and philologist. It is, therefore, nearly impossible in the present imperfect state of our science to be master of all these subjects. The time also has, perhaps, not yet come when the different sciences can all be brought to bear on the history of mankind. It is frequently asserted that we want more observation before we can generalize on this subject. But I doubt if this be so. We have abundance of observations and facts of a certain kind; but the observations are valueless, because nearly all travellers only see what suits their own preconceived notions. Facts, too, we have in abundance, but they are not of the right sort. For science we must have exact details; but this is what we have not got. It must be our object to decide what are the facts we most want, and collect information on a systematic plan. No country has during the last three hundred years published more works of travel than ours, and no people have had the same opportunity of studying the different races of man: but, unfor
Baron von Eckstein in Zeitschrift für Völker psychologie; edited by Dr. Lazarus and Dr. Steinthal. Vol. i. part iv. 1860.
+ Das Paradies. Zurich, 1816.