Materials of Human History

I have now accomplished the task which I set myself to do. I have shown to the best of my ability what kind of place in universal history Africa deserves to hold. I have shown that not only Egypt has assisted the development of man by educating Greece, Carthage by leading forth Rome to conquest, but that even the obscure Sudan, or land of the negroes, has also played its part in the drama of European life.

The slave-trade must be estimated as a war; though cruel and atrocious in itself, it has, like most wars, been of service to mankind. I shall leave it to others to trace cut in detail the influence of the negro in the human progress. It will be sufficient to observe that the grandeur of West Indian commerce in the last generation, and of the cotton manufacture at the present time, could not have been obtained without the assistance of the negro: and that the agitation on his behalf, which was commenced by Granville Sharp, has assisted much to expand the sympathies, and to educate the heart of the Anglo- Saxon people, who are somewhat inclined to pride of colour and prejudice of race. Respecting the prospects of the negro, it is difficult for me to form an opinion; but what I have seen of the Africans in their native and semi-civilised condition inclines me to take a hopeful view. The negroes are imitative in an extraordinary degree, and imitation is the first principle of progress. They are vain and ostentatious, ardent for praise, keenly sensitive of blame. Their natural wants, indeed, are few; they inherit the sober appetites of their fathers who lived on a few handfuls of rice a day; but it will, I believe, be found that when they enjoy the same inducements to work as other men, when they can hope to distinguish themselves in the Parliament, the pulpit, or in social life, they will become as we are, the slaves of an idea, and will work day and night to obtain something which they desire, but do not positively need. Whether the negroes are equal in average capacity to the white man, whether they will ever produce a man of genius, is an idle and unimportant question; they can at least gain their livelihood as labourers and artisans; they are therefore of service to their country; let them have fair play, and they will find their right place whatever it may be: As regards the social question, they will no doubt, like the Jews, intermarry always with their own race, and will thus remain apart. But it need not be feared that they will become hostile to those with whom they reside. Experience has shown that, whenever aliens are treated as citizens, they become citizens, whatever may be their religion or their race, It is a mistake to suppose that the civilised negro calls himself an African, and pines to return to his ancestral land. If he is born in the States, he calls himself an American he speaks with an American accent; he loves and he hates with an American heart.

It is a question frequently asked of African travellers, What is the future of that great continent? In the first place, with respect to the West Coast, there is little prospect of great changes taking place for many years to come. The commerce in palm oil is important, and will increase. Cotton will be received in large quantities from the Sudan. The East Coast of Africa, when its resources have been developed, will be a copy of the West Coast. It is not probable that European colonies will ever flourish in these golden but unwholesome lands. The educated negroes will in time monopolise the trade, for they can live at less expense than Europeans, and do not suffer from the climate. They may perhaps at some future day possess both coasts, and thence spread with Bible and musket into the interior. This prospect, however, is uncertain, and in any case exceedingly remote.

That part of Africa which lies above the parallel 1O North belongs to the Eastern Question. What ever may be the ultimate destiny of Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco, will be shared by the regions of the central Niger, from Haussa to Timbuctoo.

That part of the continent which lies below the parallel 2O South, already belongs in part, and will in time entirely belong to settlers of the Anglo-Saxon race. It resembles Australia, not only in its position with respect to the Equator, but also in its natural productions. It is a land of wool and mines, without great navigable rivers, interspersed with sandy deserts, and enjoying a wholesome though sultry air. Whatever may be the future of Australia will also be the future of Southern Africa.

Between these two lines intervenes a region inhabited for the most part by pagan savages, thinly scattered over swamp and forest. This concealed continent, this unknown world, will at some far-off day, if my surmises prove correct, be invaded by three civilising streams; by the British negroes from the coasts by the Mohammedan negroes in robe and turban from the great empires of the Niger region; and by the farmers and graziers and miners of South Africa.

When, therefore, we speculate on the future of Africa, we can do no more than bring certain regions of that continent within the scope of two general questions; the future of our colonies, and the future of the East; and these lead us up to a greater question still, the future of the European race.

Upon this subject I shall offer a few remarks; and it is obvious that in order to form some conception of the future it is necessary to understand the present and the past. I shall therefore endeavour to ascertain what we have been and what we are. The monograph of Africa is ended. I shall make my sketch of history complete, adding new features, passing quickly over the parts that have been already drawn. I shall search out the origin of man, determine his actual condition, speculate upon his future destiny, and discuss the nature of his relations towards that unknown Power of whom he is the offspring and the slave. I shall examine this planet and its contents with the calm curiosity of one whose sentiments and passions, whose predilections and antipathies, whose hopes and fears, are not interested in the question. I shall investigate without prejudice; I shall state the results without reserve.

What are the materials of human history? What are the earliest records which throw light upon the origin of man? All written documents are things of yesterday, whether penned on prepared skins, papyrus rolls, or the soft inner bark of trees; whether stamped on terra-cotta tablets, carved on granite obelisks, or engraved on the smooth surface of upright rocks. Writing, even in its simplest picture form, is an art which can be invented only when a people have become mature.

The oldest books are therefore comparatively modern, and the traditions which they contain are either false or but little older than the books themselves. All travellers who have collected traditions among a wild people know how little that kind of evidence is worth. The savage exaggerates whenever he repeats, and in a few generations the legend is transformed.

The evidence of language is of more value. It enables us to trace back remotely divided nations to their common birth- place, and reveals the amount of culture, the domestic institutions, and the religious ideas which they possessed before they parted from one another. Yet languages soon die, or rather become metamorphosed in structure as well as in vocabulary; the oldest existing language can throw no light on the condition of primeval man.

The archives of the earth also offer us their testimony: the graves give up their dead, and teach us that man existed many thousand years ago, in company with monstrous animals that have long since passed away; and that those men were savages, using weapons and implements of stone, yet possessing even then a taste for ornament and art, wearing shell bracelets, and drawing rude figures upon horns and stones. The manners and ideas of such early tribes can best be inferred by a study of existing savages. The missionary who resides among such races as the Bushmen of Africa or the Botocudos of Brazil may be said to live in pre-historic times.

But as regards the origin of man, we have only one document to which we can refer; and that is the body of man himself. There, in unmistakable characters, are inscribed the annals of his early life. These hieroglyphics are not to be fully deciphered without a special preparation for the task: the alphabet of anatomy must first be mastered, and the student must be expert in the language of all living and fossil forms. One fact, however, can be submitted to the uninitiated eye, and it will be sufficient for the purpose. Look at a skeleton and you will see a little bone curled downwards between the legs, as if trying to hide itself away. That bone is a relic of pre-human days, and announces plainly whence our bodies come. We are all of us naked under our clothes, and we are of all us tailed under our skins. But when we descend to the man-like apes, we find that, with them as with us, the tail is effete and in disuse; and so we follow it downwards and downwards until we discover it in all its glory in the body of the fish; being there present, not as a relic or rudimentary organ, as in man and the apes; not a mere appendage, as in the fox; not a secondary instrument, a spare hand, as in certain monkeys, or a fly-flapper, as in the giraffe; but as a primary organ of the very first importance, endowing the fish with its locomotive powers. Again, we examine the body of the fish, and we find in it also rudimentary organs as useless and incongruous as the tail in man; and thus we descend step by step, until we arrive at the very bottom of the scale.

The method of development is still being actively discussed, but the fact is placed beyond a doubt. Since The Origin of Species appeared, philosophical naturalists no longer deny that the ancestors of man must he sought for in the lower kingdom. And, apart from the evidence which we carry with us in our own persons, which we read in the tail-bone of the skeleton, in the hair which was once the clothing of our bodies, in the nails which were once our weapons of defence, and in a hundred other facts which the scalpel and the microscope disclose; apart from the evidence of our own voices, our incoherent groans and cries, analogy alone would lead us to, believe that mankind had been developed from the lowest forms of life. For what is the history of the individual man? He begins life as an ambiguous speck of matter which can in no way be distinguished from the original form of the lowest animal or plant. He next becomes a cell; his life is precisely that of the animalcule. Cells cluster round this primordial cell, and the man is so far advanced that he might be mistaken for an undeveloped oyster; he grows still more, and it is clear that he might even be a fish; he then passes into a stage which is common to all quadrupeds, and next assumes a form which can only belong to quadrupeds of the higher type. At last the hour of birth approaches; coiled within, the dark womb he sits, the image of an ape; a caricature and, a prophecy of the man that is to be. He is born, and for some time he walks only on all- fours; he utters only inarticulate sounds; and even in his boyhood his fondness for climbing trees would seem to be a relic of the old arboreal life. Since, therefore, every man has been himself in such a state that the most experienced observer could not with the aid of the best microscopes have declared whether he was going to be man or plant, man or animalcule, man or mollusc, man or lobster, man or fish, man or reptile, man or bird, man or quadruped, man or monkey; why should it appear strange that the whole race has also had its animalcule and its reptile days? But whether it appears strange or not, the public must endeavour to accustom its mind to the fact which is now firmly, established, and will never be overthrown.

Not only are the bodies, but also the minds of man constructed on the same pattern as those of the lower animals. To procure food; to obtain a mate; and to rear offspring; such is the real business of life with us as it is with them. If we look into ourselves we discover propensities which declare that our intellects have arisen from a lower form; could our minds be made visible we should find them tailed. And if we examine the minds of the lower animals, we find in them the rudiments of our talents and our virtues. As the beautiful yet imperfect human body has been slowly developed from the base and hideous creatures of the water and the earth, so the beautiful yet imperfect human mind has been slowly developed from the instincts of the lower animals. All that is elevated, all that is lovely in human nature has its origin in the lower kingdom. The philosophic spirit of inquiry may be traced to brute curiosity, and that to the habit of examining all things in search of food. Artistic genius is an expansion of monkey imitativeness. Loyalty and piety, the reverential virtues, are developed from filial love. Benevolence and magnanimity, the generous virtues, from parental love. The sense of decorum proceeds from the sense of cleanliness; and that from the instinct of sexual display. The delicate and ardent love which can become a religion of the heart, which can sanctify and soften a man's whole life; the affection which is so noble, and so pure, and so free from all sensual stain, is yet derived from that desire which impels the male animal to seek a mate; and the sexual timidity which makes the female flee from the male is finally transformed into that maiden modesty which not only preserves from vice, but which conceals beneath a chaste and honourable reticence the fiery love that burns within; which compels the true woman to pine in sorrow, and perhaps to languish into death, rather than betray a passion that is not returned.

There is a certain class of people who prefer to say that their fathers came down in the world through their own follies rather than to boast that they rose in the world through their own industry and talents. It is the same shabby-genteel sentiment, the same vanity of birth which makes men prefer to believe that they are degenerated angels, rather than elevated apes. In scientific investigations such whims and fancies must be set aside. It is the duty of the inquirer to ascertain the truth, and then to state it as decisively and as clearly as he can. People's prejudices must not be respected but destroyed. It may, however, be worth while to observe, for the comfort of weak souls, that in these new revelations of science human nature is not in any way degraded. A woman's body is not less lovely because it was once a hideous mass of flesh. A woman's modesty is not less noble because we discover that it was once a mere propensity, dictated, perhaps, by the fear of pain. The beauty of the mind is not less real than the beauty of the body, and we need not be discouraged because we ascertain that it has also passed through its embryonic stage. It is Nature's method to take something which is in itself paltry, repulsive, and grotesque, and thence to construct a masterpiece by means of general and gradual laws; those laws themselves being often vile and cruel. This method is applied not only to single individuals, but also to the whole animated world; not only to physical but also to mental forms. And when it is fully realised and understood that the genius of man has been developed along a line of unbroken descent from the simple tendencies which inhabited the primeval cell, and that in its later stages this development has been assisted by the efforts of man himself, what a glorious futurity will open to the human race! It may well be that our minds have not done growing, and that we may rise as high above our present state as that state is removed from the condition of the insect and the worm. For when we examine the human mind we do not find it perfect and mature; but in a transitional and amphibious condition. We live between two worlds; we soar in the atmosphere; we creep upon the soil; we have the aspirations of creators and the propensities of quadrupeds. There can be but one explanation of this fact. We are passing from the animal into a higher form; and the drama of this planet is in its second act. We shall now endeavour to place the first upon the stage, and, then passing through the second, shall proceed to speculate upon the third. The scene opens with the Solar System. Time uncertain; say, a thousand million years ago.

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