Descriptive Ethnology/Anthropologie Der Naturvölker


1. By R. G. LATHAM. 2 vols. London. 1859.
2. Von Dr. T. WAIZ. 2 Bänder. Leipzig. 1860.
SOME writers have the remarkable faculty of making the subject which they may happen to treat forever more distasteful and wearisome to their readers. Whether the cause be in the style, or the point of view, or the method of treatment, or in all together, they seem able to force the student away in disgust from the whole field on which they labor, with vows never again to cross it.
Such an author, it seems to us, is preeminently R. G. Latham, in his treatment of Ethnology. Happy the man who has any such philosophic interest in Human Races, that he can ever care to hear again of the subject, after perusing Mr. Latham's various volumes on “ Descriptive Ethnology.” We wonder that the whole English reading public has not consigned the science to the shelf of Encyclopædias of Useful Knowledge, or of Year-Books of Fact, or any other equally philosophic and connected works, after the treatment which this modern master of Ethnology has given to the subject.
Such disconnected masses of facts are heaped together in these works, such incredible dulness is shown in presenting them, such careful avoidance of any generalization or of any interesting particular, such a bald and conceited style, and such a cockneyish and self-opinionated view of human history, as our soul wearies even to think of. Mr. Latham disdains any link of philosophy, or any classification, among his “ten thousand facts,” as being a fault of the “German School” (whatever that may be) of Ethnology. It seems to him soundly “ British ” to disbelieve all the best conclusions of modern scholarship, and to urge his own fanciful or shallow theories. He treats all human superstitions and mythologies as if he were standing in the Strand and judging them by the ideas of modern London. His is a Cockney's view of antiquity. He cannot imagine that a barbarous and infant people, groping in the mysteries of the moral universe, might entertain some earnest and poetic views which were not precisely in the line of thought of the Londoners of the nineteenth century, and yet which might be worth investigating. To his mind, there is no grand march of humanity, slow, but certain, towards higher ideals, through the various lines of race, — but rather innumerable ripples on the surface of history, which come and pass away without connection and without purpose.
The reader wades slowly through his books, and leaves them with a feeling of intense disgust. Such a vast gathering of facts merely to produce this melancholy confusion of details ! You feel that his eminence in the science must be from the circumstance that no one else is dull enough and patient enough to gather such a museum of facts in regard to human beings. The mind is utterly confused as to divisions of human races, and is ready to conclude that there must be almost as many varieties of man as there are tribes or dialects, and that Ethnology has not yet reached the position of a science.
The reader must pardon the bitterness of our feelings; hut we are just smarting from a prolonged perusal of all Mr. Latham's works, especially the two volumes whose title is given above ; and that we may have sympathy, if only in a faint degree, from our friends, we quote a few passages, taken at random, though we cannot possibly thus convey an adequate conception of the infinite dulness of the work.
The following is his elegant introduction : —
“ I follow the Horatian rule, and plunge, at once, in medias res. I am on the Indus, but not on the Indian portion of it. I am on the Himalayas, but not on their southern side. I am on the northwestern ranges, with Tartary on the north, Bokhara on the west, and Hindostan on the south. I am in a neighborhood where three great religious meet: Mahometanism, Buddhism, Brahminism, I must begin somewhere; and here is my beginning.” — Vol. i. p. 1.
The following is his analysis of the beautiful Finnish Kalevala : —
“ Wainamoinen is much of a smith, and more of a harper. Illmarinen is most of a smith. Lemminkainen is much of a harper, and little of a smith. The hand of the daughter of the mistress of Pohjola is what, each and all, the three sons of Kalevala strive to win,— a hand which the mother of the owner will give to any one who can make for her and for Pohjola Sampo. Wainamoinen will not; but he knows of one who will, — Illmarinen. Illmarinen makes it, and gains the mother’s consent thereby. But the daughter requires another service. He must hunt down the elk of Tunela. We now see the way in which the actions of the heroes are, at one and the same time, separate and connected. Wainamoinen tries; Illmarinen tries (and eventually wins); Lemminkainen tries. There are alternations of friendship and enmity. Sampo is made and presented. It is then wanted back again.
“ ‘ Give us,’ says Wainamoinen, ‘if not the whole, half.’
“‘Sampo,’ says Louki, the mistress of Pohjola, ‘ cannot be divided.'
“'Then let us steal it,’ says one of the three.
“‘Agreed,’ say the other two.
“ So the rape of Sampo takes place. It is taken from Pohjola, whilst the owners are sung to sleep by the harp of Lemminkainen; sung to sleep, but not for so long a time as to allow the robbers to escape. They are sailing Kalevalaward, when Louki comes after them on the wings of the wind, and raises a storm. Sampo is broken, and thrown into the sea. Bad days now come. There is no sun, no moon. Illmarinen makes them of silver and gold. He had previously made his second wife (for he lost his first) out of the same metals. However, Sampo is washed up, and made whole. Good days come. The sun and moon shine as before, and the sons of Kalevala possess Sampo.”—Vol. i., pp. 433, 434.
This, again, is Mr. Latham’s profound and interesting view of Buddhism:
“ Buddhism is one thing. Practices out of which Buddhism may be developed are another. It has been already suggested that the Ideas conveyed by the terms Sramanœ and Gymnosophistœ are just as Brahminic as Buddhist, and, vice versa, just as Buddhist as Brahminic.
“The earliest dates of specific Buddhism are of the same age as the earliest dates of specific Brahministn.
“ Clemens of Alexandria mentions Buddhist pyramids, the Buddhist habit of depositing certain bones in them, the Buddhist practice of foretelling events, the Buddhist practice of continence, the Buddhist Semnai or holy virgins. This, however, may be but so much asceticism, He mentions this and more. He supplies the name Bouta; Bouta being honored as a god.
“ From Cyril of Jerusalem we learn that Samnaism was, more or less, Manichæan,— Manichæanism being, more or less, Sanuunst. Terebinthus, the preceptor of Manes, took the name Baudas. In Epiphanius, Terebinthus is the pupil of Scythianus.
“ Suidas makes Terebinthus a pupil of Baudda, who pretended to be the son of a virgin. And here we may stop to remark, that the Mongol Tshingiz-Khan is said to be virginborn; that, word for word, Scythianus is Sak ; that Sakya Muni (compare it with Manes) is a name of Buddha.
“ Be this as it may, there was, before A. D. 300,—
“ 1. Action and reaction between Buddhism and Christianity.
“ 2. Buddhist buildings.
“ 3. The same cultus in both Bactria and India.
“ Whether this constitute Buddhism is another question.” — Vol. ii. p. 317.
And more of an equally attractive and comprehensible character.
We assure the reader that these extracts are but feeble exponents of the peculiar power of Mr. Latham’s works,—a power of unmitigated dulness. What his views are on the great questions of the science — the origin of races, the migrations, the crossings of varieties, and the like — no mortal can remember, who has penetrated the labyrinth of his researches.
An author of a very different kind is Professor Waiz, whose work on Anthropology has just reached this country : a writer as philosophic as Mr. Latham is disconnected ; as pleasing and natural in style as the other is affected ; as simply open to the true and good in all customs or superstitions of barbarous peoples as the Englishman is contemptuous of every thing not modern and European. Waiz seems to us the most careful and truly scientific author in the field of Ethnology whom we have had since Prichard, and with the wider scope which belongs to the intellectual German.
The bane of this science, as every one knows, has been its theorizing, and its want of careful inductive reasoning from facts. The classifications in it have been endless, varying almost with the fancies of each new student; while every prominent follower of it has had some pet hypothesis, to which he desired to suit his facts. Whether the a priori theory were of modern miraculous origin or of gradual development, of unity or of diversity of parentage, of permanent and absolute divisions of races or of a community of blood, it has equally forced the author to twist his facts.
Perhaps the basest of all uses to which theory has been put in this science was in a well-known American work, where facts and fancies in Ethnology were industriously woven together to form another withe about the limbs of the wretched African slave.
Waiz has reasoned slowly and carefully from facts, considering in his view all possible hypotheses, — even, for instance, the development-theory of Darwin, — and has formed his own conclusion on scientific data, or has wisely avowed that no conclusion is possible.
The classification to which he is forced is that which all profound investigators are approaching, — that of language interpreted by history. He is compelled to believe that no physiological evidences of race can be considered as at all equal to the evidences from language. At the same time, he is ready to admit that even this classification is imperfect, as from the nature of the case it must be; for the source of the confusion lies in the very unity of mankind. He rejects in toto Professor Agassiz's “ realm-theory,” as inconsistent with facts. The hybrid-question, as put by Messrs. Gliddon and Nott, meets with a searching and careful investigation, with the conclusion that nothing in facts yet ascertained proves any want of vitality or power of propagation in mulattoes or in crosses of any human races.
The unity of origin and the vast antiquity of mankind are the two important conclusions drawn.
His second volume is entirely devoted to the negro races, and is the most valuable treatise yet written on that topic.
The whole work is mainly directed towards Naturvölker, or “ Peoples in a State of Nature,” and therefore cannot be recommended for translation, as a general textbook on the science of Ethnology, — a book which is now exceedingly needed in all our higher schools and colleges ; but as a general treatise, with many new and important facts, scientifically treated, it can be most highly commended to the general scholar.