The rise of man
From the introduction
The subject of this volume is the Social History of mankind, studied by the aid of the results of science and research which have accumulated so rapidly during the lifetime of the .present generation. The customs and beliefs of men form the basis of such inquiry; and the ideas of natural growth, and of guidance, lead us to look forward to the " far-off divine event," by showing us the purpose which we can discern in the past if we study the rise of man from the beginning of history in Asia.
Excerpt from the introduction
To Lucretius, and to his master, Epikouros, the universe seemed as sand blown by the wind and falling into new heaps mechanically. If this were true there would be no meaning in the study of human history. We should say with the Preacher, " There is no new thing under the sun" failing to recognise the purpose which, through countless ages, has directed the growth of higher things from lower forms.
But the increase of true knowledge enables us now to scan spaces of time of which the ancients had no conception and to trace the purpose running through the ages which they so often denied. Human history in its widest sense, studied on the basis of such principles, becomes one of the most fascinating of studies; and the key to history is found in the knowledge of the social customs of men, and of the beliefs as to the future on which those customs were founded.
We enter the twentieth century on a new period of intense activity an age when old ideas are losing their influence, and when men are striving to digest the new knowledge which has increased so rapidly in the last two centuries.
To the timid, it seems that general scepticism will be the final outcome, but a study of the past should reassure us as to the future. Take, for instance, two periods of European history when the conditions were not unlike those of our own time the second and the sixteenth centuries of the Christian Era. In each case, the western nations had gradually been educated by wider intercourse with the rest of the known world and were shaking themselves free from the prejudices of their old narrow barbarism.
Towards the close of the second century, all the conflicting forces which still struggle in our midst were in play. Scepticism and philosophy, mysticism and hypnotism, superstition and popular belief, seemed about to lead men to general indifference and despair. Yet the actual outcome was the rapid spread and final victory of the Christian faith. So again in the sixteenth century, a new Europe had been created by the spread of Asiatic education among the wild Teutons and Norsemen, and the same features of conflicting tendencies appeared on a larger and higher scale.
New knowledge spread north and west from Italy, and while some predicted a return to the ancient paganism, and others a final triumph of unbelief, the actual outcome was the birth of a purer Protestant faith. So too now, when the increase of science, and of intercourse with far lands, has broken down the narrow walls of ancient prejudice, we may expect that the outcome of the same forces will be the triumph of a yet purer and higher faith.
No one can read the current literature of the day without perceiving^ that among all classes, from the learned of our universities to the popular novelist, men are busy in the attempt to separate reality from error, to preserve vital truths while discarding ancient superstitions, and to attain some form of belief that shall satisfy both the head and the heart.
Those whose trust in purpose is founded on knowledge of history the history of the earth and the history of man will not share the fears which this great conflict creates. They will not regard the steady advance of man as being due to accident, and they will still see before they hope that is something to " grasp " in the future. One of the most notable features of human history, indeed, has been the steady growth of hope, and the gradual loss of fear. Man became stronger as he learned more of the world and of the great natural forces which first terrified his imagination.
He conquered the intense sadness and despair with which he once looked on death, and on the unknown future, and he has discovered that the ancient enthralling superstitions are vain fears due to wanting of trust in the eternal purpose. Living in countries where all can read and write, we can hardly appreciate the paralysing effect of such superstitions, or the timidity of mankind when ignorant of the realities which he strives to explain.
Those who have lived long among the peasantry of half-civilised countries will know how much happier and less anxious we now are in spite of all the great evils in our midst than are the ignorant, or the savage, or than were the ancients according to their own recorded words.
The Moslem peasant is not a savage. He has long been under the influence of a most ancient civilisation, but he has been unable, through ignorance, to free himself from the terrors which were once felt by all. He lives in an atmosphere of miracle, in constant dread of evil spirits, and ghosts of the wicked dead. If his horse kneels down it is because it sees a spirit. If he falls ill it is because the local Neby has smitten him in anger.
Every unexpected event is an omen of evil. His only reliance is placed on charms and lucky emblems, which he carries hidden under his shirt. I have seen the whole village of Gibeon convulsed with terror, by the smoke of a magnesium torch in the cave of its spring for was it not evident that the Neby had come down in a cloud and in wrath? The prophet, or the holy man who works miracles, wanders from village to village, preceded by drum and pipe, as of old, working himself into ecstasy, healing or smiting, predicting the future, repelling evil demons. Men pass their lives in continual fear of misfortune, of ghosts, sickness, wild beasts, darkness, thunder, witches, the evil eye, the ghoul, and the secret curse of the wronged.
What is true of Asia is equally true of the ignorant in Europe. The Italian peasant who believes in the Madonna and in his patron saint, believes yet more in the " strength " or witch, in the " Monacelli " or hooded gnomes of the valleys, in the " folletti " or fairies, who still in Tuscany retain the names and the characters of the old Etruscan gods. The belief in ghosts and fairies still prevails also in Ireland, where men naturally brave are afraid to go out in the dark. We are inclined to think of ancient superstition in its romantic aspect, as something beautiful and poetic; but life among such peasantry, like the study of ancient records, will convince us how ugly, savage, and hateful the beliefs of the past really were. Terrible crimes have been due, in Ireland and elsewhere, in quite recent times, to such superstitions. The nymphs in Roman belief were evil beings who stole children, and not merely beautiful guardians of the springs.
The gods of the Athenians demanded every year two human victims. The dark places of the earth were and are full of cruelty. An intense sadness, surviving to our middle ages, was created by the fear of death, which still creates despair among such peasantry. Heaven, they think, is for the few who know how to win favour. an ordinary ghost haunts the tomb, and women visit the cemetery once a week to tell the dead what the living are doing, lest they should come forth to see for themselves. There is no hope for the many of any future beyond the weary, empty existence of ghostland. And so it was in the past, as we shall have occasion to see later.
The ever-broadening hope of immortality was of very late origin among men, and so dear has it become to them, as a consolation in trouble, that their greatest fear now is lest it should be taken from them.
This fear lies at the root of all prejudice against the growth of actual knowledge; and irrational though it is an impediment to happiness and progress. The study of history and of science little as this is generally expected does more to remove such fear than anything else. Faith that is not in accord with knowledge may lead men far astray, as we willingly admit in studying the great religions of the past. Knowledge leads to humility, but it also leads to a stronger trust in eternal purpose, which is the essence of reasonable faith.
I. Natural . . ..
Ii. Prehistoric remains
I. Ancient. Ii. Medieval. Iii. Modern
Animism. Ii. Egypt
Iii. The Akkadians
V. The west Aryans vi. Persia vii. India
Viii. China and japan ix. America. X. Islam
I. History. Ii. The bible iii. Later books