The Soul of the Far East



A MAN’S personal equation, as astronomers call the effect of his individuality, is kin, for all its complexity, to those simpler algebraical problems which so puzzled us at school. To solve either we must begin by knowing the values of the constants that enter into its expression. Upon the a b c’s of the one, as upon those of the other, depend the possibilities of the individual x.

Now the constants in any man’s equation are the qualities that he; has inherited from the past. What a man does follows from what he is, which in turn is mostly dependent upon what his ancestors have been; and of all the links in the long chain of mind-evolution, few are more important and more suggestive than language. Actions may at the moment speak louder than words, but methods of expression have as tell-tale a tongue for bygone times as ways of doing things.

If it should ever fall to my lot to have to settle that exceedingly vexed Eastern question, — not the emancipation of ancient Greece from the bondage of the modern Turk, but the emancipation of the modern college student from the bond of ancient Greek, — I should propose, as a solution of the dilemma, the addition of a course in Japanese to the college list of required studies. It might look, I admit, like begging the question for the sake of giving its answer, but the answer, I think, would justify itself.

It is from no desire to parade a fresh hobby-horse upon the university curriculum that I offer the suggestion, but because I believe that a study of the Japanese language would prove the most valuable of ponies in the academic pursuit of philology. In the matter of literature, indeed, we should not be adding very much to our existing store, but we should gain an insight into the genesis of speech that would put us at least one step nearer to being present at the beginnings of human conversation. As it is now, our linguistic learning is with most of us limited to a knowledge of Aryan tongues, and in consequence we not only fall into the mistake of thinking our way the only way, which is bad enough, but, what is far worse, by not perceiving the other possible paths we quite fail to appreciate the advantages or disadvantages of following our own. We are the blind votaries of a species of ancestral language - worship, which, with all its erudition, tends to narrow our linguistic scope. A study of Japanese would free us from the fetters of any such family infatuation. The inviolable rules and regulations of our mother tongue would be found to be of relative application only. For we should discover that speech is a much less categorical matter than we had been led to suppose. We should actually come to doubt the fundamental necessity of some of our most sacred grammatical constructions ; and even our reverenced Latin grammars would lose that air of awful absoluteness which so impressed us in boyhood.

An encouraging estimate of a certain missionary puts the amount of study needed by the Western student for the learning of Japanese as sufficient, if expended nearer home, to equip him with any three modern European languages. It is certainly true that a completely strange vocabulary, an utter inversion of grammar, and an elaborate system of honorifics combine to render its acquisition anything but easy. In its fundamental principles, however, it is alluringly simple.

In the first place, the Japanese language is pleasingly destitute of personal pronouns. Not only is the obnoxious “I” conspicuous only by its absence; the objectionable antagonistic “you" is also entirely suppressed, while the intrusive “he” is evidently too much of a third person to be wanted. Such invidious distinctions of identity apparently never thrust their presence upon the simple early Tartar minds. I, you, and he, not being differences due to nature, demanded, to their thinking, no recognition of man.

There is about this vagueness of expression a freedom not without its charm. It is certainly delightful to be able to speak of yourself as if you were somebody else, choosing mentally for the occasion any one you may happen to fancy, or, if you prefer, the possibility of soaring boldly forth into the realms of the unconditioned.

To us, at first sight, however, such a lack of specification appears wofully incompatible with any intelligible transmission of ideas. So communistic a want of discrimination between the meum and the tuum — to say nothing of the claims of a possible third party — would seem to be as fatal to the interchange of thoughts as it proves destructive to the trafficking in commodities. Such, nevertheless, is not the result. On the contrary, Japanese is as easy and as certain of comprehension as is English. On ninety occasions out of a hundred, the context at once makes clear the person meant.

In the very few really ambiguous cases, or those in which, for the sake of emphasis, a pronoun is wanted, certain consecrated expressions are introduced for the purpose. For eventually the more complex social relations of increasing civilization compelled some sort of distant recognition. Accordingly, compromises with objectionable personality were effected by circumlocutions promoted to a pronoun’s office, becoming thus propronouns, as it were. Very non-committal expressions they are, most of them, such as : “ the augustness,” meaning you ; “ that honorable side,” or “ that corner,” denoting some third person, the exact term employed in any given instance scrupulously betokening the relative respect in which the individual spoken of is held; while with a candor, an indefiniteness, or a humility worthy so polite a people, the I is known as “selfishness,” or “a certain person,” or “the clumsy one.”

Pronominal adjectives are manufactured in the same way. “The stupid father,”1 “the awkward son,” “the broken-down firm,” are “mine.” Were they “yours,” they would instantly become “the august, venerable father,” “ the honorable son,” “the exalted firm.”

Even these lame substitutes for pronouns are paraded as sparingly as possible. To the Western student, who brings to the subject a brain throbbing with personality, hunting in a Japanese sentence for personal references is dishearteningly like “ searching in the dark for a black hat which is n’t there ; ” for the brevet pronouns are commonly not on duty. To employ them with the reckless prodigality that characterizes our conversation would strike the Tartar mind like interspersing his talk with unmeaning italics. He would regard such discourse much as we do those effusive epistles of a certain type of young woman to her most intimate female friends, in which every other word is emphatically underlined.

For the most part, the absolutely necessary personal references are introduced by honorifics ; that is, by honorary or humble expressions. Such is a portion of the latter’s duty. They do a great deal of unnecessary work besides.

These honorifics are, taken as a whole, one of the most interesting peculiarities of Japanese, as also of Korean, just as, taken in detail, they are one of its most dangerous pitfalls. For silence is indeed golden compared with the chagrin of discovering that a speech which you had meant for a compliment was, in fact, an insult, or the vexation of learning that you have been industriously treating your servant with the deference due a superior, — two catastrophes sure to follow the attempts of even the most cautious of beginners. The language is so thoroughly imbued with the honorific spirit that the exposure of truth in all its naked simplicity is highly improper. Every idea requires to be more or less clothed in courtesy before it is presentable ; and the garb demanded by etiquette is complex beyond conception. To begin with, there are certain preliminary particles which are simply honorific, serving no other purpose whatsoever. In addition to these there are for every action a small infinity of verbs, each sacred to a different degree of respect. For instance, to our verb “ to give ” corresponds a complete social scale of Japanese verbs, each conveying the idea a shade more politely than its predecessor; only the very lowest meaning anything so plebeian as simply “ to give.” Sets of laudatory or depreciatory adjectives are employed in the same way. Lastly, the word for “ is,” which strictly means “ exists,” expresses this existence under three different forms, — in a matter-offact, a flowing, or an inflated style; the solid, liquid, and gaseous states of conversation, so to speak, to suit the person addressed. But three forms being far too few for the needs of so elaborate a politeness, these are supplemented by many interpolated grades.

Terms of respect are applied not only to those mortals who are held in estimation higher than their fellows, but to all men indiscriminately as well. The grammatical attitude of the individual toward the speaker is of as much importance as his social standing, I being beneath contempt and you above criticism.

Honorifics are used not only on all possible occasions for courtesy, but at times, it would seem, upon impossible ones; for in some instances the most subtle diagnosis fails to reveal in them a relevancy to anybody. That the commonest objects should bear titles because of their connection with some particular person is comprehensible, but what excuse can be made for a phrase like the following: “It respectfully does that the august seat exists,” all of which simply means “ is,” and may be applied to anything, being the common word — in Japanese it is all a single word — for that apparently simple idea. It would seem a sad waste of valuable material. The real reason why so much distinguished consideration is shown the article in question lies in the fact that it is treated as existing with reference to the person addressed, and therefore becomes ipso facto august.

Here is a still subtler example. You are, we will suppose, at a tea-house, and you wish for sugar. The following almost stereotyped conversation is pretty sure to take place. I translate it literally, simply prefacing that every teahouse girl, usually in the first blush of youth, is generically addressed as “ elder sister,” — another honorific, at least so considered in Japan.

You clap your hands. (Enter teahouse maiden.)

You. Hai, elder sister, augustly exists there sugar?

The T. H. M. The honorable sugar, augustly is it ?

You. So, augustly.

The T. H. M. Hè (indescribable expression of assent).

(Exit tea-house maiden.)

Now, the “ augustlys” go almost without saying, but why is the sugar honorable ? Simply because it is eventually going to be offered to you. But she would have spoken of it by precisely the same respectful title, if she had been obliged to inform you that there was none, in which case it never could have become yours. Such is politeness. We may note, in passing, that all her remarks and all yours, barring your initial question, meant absolutely nothing. She understood you perfectly from the first, and you knew she did; but then, if all of us were to say only what were necessary, the delightful art of conversation would soon be nothing but a science.

The average Far Oriental, indeed, talks as much to no purpose as his Western cousin, only in his chit-chat politeness replaces personalities. With him self is suppressed, and an ever-present regard for others is substituted in its stead.

A lack of personality is, as we have seen, the occasion of this courtesy; it is also its cause.

That politeness should be one of the most marked results of impersonality may appear surprising, yet a slight examination will show it to be a fact. Looked at a posteriori, we find that where the one trait exists the other is most developed, while an absence of the second seems to prevent the full growth of the first. This is true both in general and in detail. Courtesy increases, as we travel eastward round the world, coincidently with a decrease in the sense of self. Asia is more courteous than Europe, Europe than America. Particular races show the same concomitance of characteristics. France, the most impersonal nation of Europe, is at the same time the most polite.

Considered a priori, the connection between the two is not far to seek. Impersonality, by lessening the interest in one’s self, induces one to take an interest in others. Introspection tends to make of man a solitary animal, the absence of it a social one. The more impersonal the people, the more will the community supplant the individual in the popular estimation. The type becomes the interesting thing to man, as it always is to nature. Then, as the social desires develop, politeness, being the means to their enjoyment, develops also.

A second omission in Japanese etymology is that of gender. That words should be credited with sex is a verbal anthropomorphism that would seem to a Japanese exquisitely grotesque, if so be that it did not strike him as actually immodest. For the absence of gender is simply symptomatic of a much more vital failing, a disregard of sex. Originally, as their language bears witness, the Japanese showed a childish reluctance to recognizing sex at all. Usually a single sexless term was held sufficient for a given species, and did duty collectively for both sexes. Only where a consideration of sex thrust itself upon them, beyond the possibility of evasion, did they employ for the male and the female distinctive expressions. The more intimate the relation of the object to man, the more imperative the discriminating name. Hence human beings possessed a fair number of such special appellatives ; for a man is a palpably different sort of person from his grandmother, and a mother-in-law from a wife. But it is noteworthy that the artificial affinities of society were as carefully differentiated as the distinctions due to sex, while ancestral relationships were deemed more important than either.

Animals, though treated individually most humanely, are vouchsafed but scant recognition on the score of sex. With them both sexes share one common name, and commonly, indeed, this answers quite well enough. In those few instances where sex enters into the question in a manner not to be ignored, particles denoting “ male ” or “ female ” are prefixed to the general term. How comparatively rare is the need of such specification can be seen from the way in which, with us, in many species, the name of one sex alone does duty indifferently for both. That of the male is the one usually selected, as in the case of the dog or horse. If, however, it be the female with which man has most to do, she is allowed to bestow her name upon her male partner. Examples of the latter description occur in the use of “ cows ” for “ cattle ” and “ hens ” for “ fowls.” A Japanese can say only “fowl,” defined, if absolutely necessary, as “he-fowl” or “ she-fowl.”

Now such a slighting of one of the most potent springs of human action, sex, with all that the idea involves, is not due to a pronounced mysogynism on the part of these people, but to a much more effective neglect, a great underlying impersonality. Indifference to woman is but included in a much more general indifference to mankind. The fact becomes all the more evident when we descend from sex to gender. That Father Ocean does not, in their verbal imagery, embrace Mother Earth, with that subtle suggestion of humanity which in Aryan speech the gender of the nouns hints without expressing, is not due to any lack of poesy in the Far Oriental speaker, but to the essential impersonality of his mind, embodied now in the very character of the words he uses. A Japanese noun is a crystallized concept, handed down unchanged from the childhood of the Japanese race. So primitive a conception does it represent that it is neither a total nor a partial symbol, but rather the outcome of a first vague generality. The word “ man,” for instance, means to them not one man, still less mankind, but that indefinite idea which struggles for embodiment in the utterance of the infant. It represents not a person, but a thing, a material fact quite innocent of gender. This early state of semi-consciousness the Japanese never outgrew. The world continued to present itself to their minds as a collection of things. Nor did their subsequent Chinese education change their view. Buddhism simply infused all things with the one universal spirit.

As to inanimate objects, the idea of supposing sex where there is not even life is altogether too fanciful a notion for the Far Eastern mind.

Impersonality first fashioned the nouns, and then the nouns, by their very impersonality, helped keep impersonal the thought and fettered fancy. All those temptings to poesy which to the Aryan imagination lie latent in the sex with which his forefathers humanized their words never stir the Tartar nor the Chinese soul. They feel the poetry of nature as much as, indeed much more than, we ; but it is a poetry unassociated with man. And this, too, curiously enough, in spite of the fact that to explain the cosmos the Chinamen invented, or perhaps only adapted, a singularly sexual philosophy. For possibly, like some other portions of their intellectual wealth, they stole it from India. The Chinese conception of the origin of the world is based on the idea of sex. According to their notions the earth was begotten. It is true that with them the cosmos started in an abstract something, which self-produced two great principles ; but this pair once obtained, matters proceeded after the analogy of mankind. The two principles at work were themselves abstract enough to have satisfied the most unimpassioned of philosophers. They were simply a positive essence and a negative one, correlated to sunshine and shadow, but also correlated to male and female forces. Through their mutual action were born the earth and the air and the water ; from these, in turn, was begotten man. The cosmical modus operandi was not creative nor evolutionary, but sexual. The whole scheme suggests an attempt to wed abstract philosophy with primitive concrete mythology.

The same sexuality distinguishes the Japanese demonology. Here the physical replaces the philosophical; instead of principles we find allegorical personages, but they show just the same pleasing propensity to appear in pairs.

This attributing of sexes to the cosmos is not in the least incompatible with an uninterested disregard of sex where it really exists. It is one thing to admit the fact as a general law of the universe, and quite another to dwell upon it as an important factor in every-day affairs.

How slight is the Tartar tendency to personification can be seen from a glance at these same Japanese gods. They are a combination of defunct ancestors and deified natural phenomena. The evolving of the first half required little imagination, for fate furnished the material ready made ; while in conjuring up the second moiety, the spirit-evokers showed even less originality. Their results were neither winsome nor sublime. The gods whom they created they invested with very ordinary humanity, the usual endowment of aboriginal deity, together with the customary superhuman strength. If these demigods differed from others of their class, it was only in being more commonplace, and in not meddling much with man. Even such personification of natural forces, simple enough to be selfsuggested, quickly disappeared. The various awe-compelling phenomena soon ceased to have any connection with the anthropomorphic noumena they had begotten. For instance, the sun goddess, we are informed, was one day lured out of a cavern, where she was sulking in consequence of the provoking behavior of her younger brother, by her curiosity at the sight of her own face in a mirror, ingeniously placed before the entrance for the purpose. But no Japanese would dream now of casting any such reflections, however flattering, upon the face of the orb of day. The sun has become not only quite sexless to him, but as devoid of personality as it is to any Western materialist. Lesser deities suffered a like unsubstantial transformation. The thunder god, with his belt of drums, upon which he beats a devil’s tattoo until he is black in the face, is no longer even indirectly associated with the storm. As for dryads and nymphs, the beautiful creatures never inhabited Eastern Asia. Anthropoid foxes and raccoons, wholly lacking in those engaging qualities that beget love, and through love remembrance, take their place. Even Benten, the naturalized Venus, who, like her Hellenic sister, is said to have risen from the sea, is a person quite incapable of inspiring a reckless infatuation.

Utterly unlike was this pantheon to the pantheon of the Greeks, the personifying tendency of whose Aryan mind was forever peopling nature with halfhuman inhabitants. Under its quickening fancy the very clods grew sentient. Dumb earth awoke at the call of its desire, and the beings its own poesy had begotten made merry companionship for man. Then a change crept over the face of things. Faith began to flicker, for want of facts to feed its flame. Little by little the fires of devotion burnt themselves out. At last great Pan died. The body of the old belief was consumed. But though it perished, its ashes preserved its form, an unsubstantial presentment of the past, to crumble in a twinkling at the touch of science, but keeping yet to the poet’s eye the lifelike semblance of what once had been. The dead gods still live in our language and our art. Even to-day the earth about us seems semi-conscious to the soul, for the memories they have left.

But with the Far Oriental the exorcising feeling was fear. He never fell in love with his own mythological creations, and so he never embalmed their memories. They were to him but explanations of facts, and had no claims upon his fancy. His ideal world remained as utterly impersonal as if it had never been born.

The same impersonality reappears in the matter of number. Grammatically, number with them is unrecognized. There exist no such things as plural forms. This singularity would be only too welcome to the foreign student, were it not that in avoiding the frying-pan the Tartars fell into the fire. For what they invented in place of a plural was quite as difficult to memorize, and even more cumbrous to express. Instead of inflecting the noun and then prefixing a number, they keep the noun unchanged and add two numerals; thus at times actually employing more words to express the objects than there are objects to express. One of these numerals is a simple number; the other is what is known as an auxiliary numeral, a word as singular in form as in function. Thus, for instance, “two men” become amplified verbally into “ man two individual,” or, as the Chinaman puts it, in pidgin English, “ two piecey man.” For in this respect Chinese resembles Japanese, though in very little else, and pidgin English is nothing but the literal translation of the Chinese idiom into Anglo-Saxon words. The necessity for such elaborate qualification arises from the excessive simplicity of the Japanese nouns. As we have seen, the noun is so indefinite a generality that simply to multiply it by a number cannot possibly produce any definite result. No exact counterpart of these nouns exists in English, but some idea of the impossibility of the process may be got from our word “ cattle,” which, prolific though it may prove in fact, remains obstinately incapable of verbal multiplication. All Japanese nouns being of this indefinite description, all require auxiliary numerals. But as each one has its own appropriate numeral, about which a mistake is unpardonable, it takes some little study merely to master the etiquette of these handles to the names of things.

Nouns are not inflected, their cases being expressed by postpositions, which, as the name implies, follow, in becoming Japanese inversion, instead of preceding the word they affect. To make up, nevertheless, for any lack of perplexity due to an absence of inflections, adjectives, en revanche, are most elaborately conjugated. Their protean shapes are as long as they are numerous, representing not only times, but conditions. There are, for instance, the root form, the adverbial form, the indefinite form, the attributive form, and the conclusive form, the two last being conjugated through all the various voices, moods, and tenses, to say nothing of all the potential forms. As one change is superposed on another, the adjective ends by becoming three or four times its original length. The fact is, the adjective is either adjective, adverb, or verb, according to occasion. In the root form it also helps to make nouns; so that it is even more generally useful than as a journalistic epithet with us. As a verb, it does duty as predicate and copula combined. For such an unnecessary part of speech as a real copula does not exist in Japanese. In spite of the shock to the prejudices of the old school of logicians, it must be confessed that the Tartars get on very well without any such couplings to their trains of thought. But then we should remember that in their sentences the cart is always put before the horse, and so needs only to be pushed, not pulled along.

The want of a copula is another instance of the primitive character of the tongue. It has its counterpart in our own baby-talk, where a quality is predicated of a thing simply by placing the adjective in apposition with the noun.

That the Japanese word which is commonly translated “is” is in no sense a copula, but an ordinary intransitive verb, referring to a natural state, and not to a logical condition, is evident in two ways. In the first place, it is never used to predicate a quality directly. A Japanese does not say, “ The scenery is fine,” but simply, “ Scenery, fine.” Secondly, wherever this verb is indirectly employed in such a manner, it is followed, not by an adjective, but by an adverb. Not “ She is beautiful,” but “ She exists beautifully,” would be the Japanese way of expressing his admiration. What looks at first, therefore, like a copula turns out to be merely an impersonal intransitive verb.

A negative noun is, of course, an impossibility in any language, just as a negative substantive, another name for the same thing, is a direct contradiction in terms. No matter how negative the idea to be given, it must be conveyed by a positive expression. Even a void is grammatically quite full of meaning, although unhappily empty in fact. So much is common to all tongues, but Japanese carries its positivism yet further. Not only has it no negative nouns ; it has not even any negative pronouns nor pronominal adjectives, — those convenient keepers of places for the absent. “ None ” and “nothing” are unknown words in its vocabulary, because the ideas they represent are not founded on observed facts, but upon metaphysical abstractions. Such terms are human-born, not earth-begotten concepts, and so to the Far Oriental, who looks at things from the point of view of nature, not of man, negation takes another form. Usually it is introduced by the verbs, because the verbs, for the most part, relate to human actions, and it is man, not nature, who is responsible for the omission in question. After all, it does seem more fitting to say, “ I am ignorant of everything,” than “ I know nothing.” It is indeed you who are wanting, not the thing.

The question of verbs leads us to another matter bearing on the subject of impersonality ; namely, the arrangement of the words in a Japanese sentence. The Tartar mode of grammatical construction is very nearly the inverse of our own. The fundamental rule of Japanese syntax is, that qualifying words precede the words they qualify ; that is, an idea is elaborately modified before it is so much as expressed. This practice places the hearer at some awkward preliminary disadvantage, inasmuch as the story is nearly over before he has any notion what it is all about; but really it puts the speaker to much more trouble, for he is obliged to fashion his whole sentence complete in his brain before he starts to speak. This is largely in consequence of two omissions in Tartar etymology. There are in Japanese no relative pronouns and no temporal conjunctions; conjunctions, that is, for connecting consecutive events. The want of these words precludes the admission of afterthoughts. Postscripts in speech are impossible. The functions of relatives are performed by position, explanatory or continuative clauses being made to precede directly the word they affect. Ludicrous anachronisms, not unlike those experienced by Alice in her lookingglass journey, are occasioned by this practice. For example, “The merry monarch who ended by falling a victim to profound melancholia ” becomes “To profound melancholia a victim by falling ended merry monarch,” and the sympathetic hearer weeps first and laughs afterward, when chronologically he should be doing precisely the opposite.

A like inversion of the natural order of things results from the absence of temporal conjunctions. In Japanese, though nouns can be added, actions cannot ; you can say “ hat and coat,” but not “ dressed and came.” Conjunctions are used only for space, never for time. Objects that exist together can be joined in speech, but it is not allowable thus to connect consecutive events. “ Having dressed, came ” is the Japanese idiom. To speak otherwise would be to violate the unities. For a Japanese sentence is a single rounded whole, not a bunch of facts loosely tied together. It is as much a unit in its composition as a novel or a drama is with us. Such artistic periods, however, are anything but convenient. In their nicely contrived involution they strikingly resemble those curious nests of Chinese boxes, where entire shells lie closely packed one within another, — a very marvel of ingenious and perfectly unnecessary construction. One must be antipodal to entertain the idea; for as it is, it is the idea that entertains us.

On the same general plan, the nouns precede the verbs in the sentence, and are in every way the more important parts of speech. The consequence is that in ordinary conversation the verbs come so late in the day that they not infrequently get left out altogether. For the Japanese are much given to docking their phrases, a custom the Germans might do well to adopt. Now, nouns denote facts, while verbs express action, and action, as considered in human speech, is mostly of human origin. In this precedence accorded the impersonal, element in language over the personal we observe again the comparative importance assigned the two. In Japanese estimation, the first place belongs to nature, the second only to man.

As if to mark beyond a doubt the insignificance of the part man plays in their thought, sentences are usually subjectless. Although it is a common practice to begin a phrase with the central word of the idea, isolated from what follows by the emphasizing particle “ wa ” (which means “ as to,” the French “ quant à”), the word thus singled out for distinction is far more likely to be the object of the sentence than its subject. The habit is analogous to the use of our phrase “ speaking of,” —that is, simply an emphatic mode of introducing a fresh thought; only that with them, the practice being the rule and not the exception, no correspondingly abrupt effect is produced by it. Ousted thus from the post of honor, the subject is not even permitted the second place. Indeed, it usually fails to put in an appearance anywhere. You may search through sentence after sentence without meeting with the slightest suggestion of such a thing. When so unusual an anomaly as a motive cause is directly adduced, it owes its mention, not to the fact of being the subject, but because for other reasons it happens to be the important word of the thought. The truth is, the Japanese conception of events is only very vaguely subjective. An action is looked upon more as happening than as being performed, as impersonally rather than personally produced. The idea is due, however, to anything but philosophic profundity. It springs from the most superficial of childish conceptions. For the Japanese mind is quite the reverse of abstract. Its consideration of things is concrete to a most primitive degree. The language reflects the fact. The few abstract ideas these people now possess are not represented by pure Japanese, but by imported Chinese expressions. The word “ thing” itself exemplifies this. There are in common use two words for thing, “ koto ” and “ mono.” Mono is employed always for actual objects; koto as invariably for abstract ideas. Now mono is pure Japanese, koto an adopted Chinese term. The islanders got such notions from their foreign education, and they imported idea and word at the same time. As for mono, concrete thing, it is often applied quite without insult to men.

Summing up, as it were, in propria persona the impersonality of Japanese speech, the word for “ man,” “ hito,” is identical with, and probably originally the same word as, “ hito,” the numeral “ one; ” a noun and a numeral, from which Aryan languages have coined the only impersonal pronoun they possess. On the one hand, we have the German “ mann ; ” on the other, the French “ on.”

Such, then, is the mould into which, as children, these people learn to cast their thought. What an influence it must exert upon their subsequent views of life we have but to ask of our own memories to know. With each one of us, if we are to advance beyond the steps of the last generation, there comes a time when our growing ideas refuse any longer to fit the childish grooves in which we were taught to let them run. How great the wrench is when this supreme moment arrives we have all felt too keenly ever to forget. We hesitate, we delay, to abandon the beliefs which, dating from the dawn of our being, seem to us even as a part of our very selves. From the religion of our mother to the birth of our boyish first love, all our early associations send down roots so deep that long after our minds have outgrown them our hearts refuse to give them up. Even when reason conquers at last, sentiment still throbs at the voids they necessarily have left.

In the Far East, this fondness for the old is further consecrated by religion. The worship of ancestors sets its seal upon the traditions of the past, to break which were impious as well as sad. The golden age, that time when each man himself was young, has lingered on in the lands where it is always morning, and where man has never passed to his prosaic noon. Befitting the place is the mind we find there. As its language so clearly shows, it still is in that early impersonal state to which we all awake first before we become aware of that something we later know so well as self.

Particularly potent with these people is their language, for a reason that also lends it additional interest to us, — because it is their own. Among the mass of foreign thought the Japanese imitativeness has caused the nation to adopt, here is one thing which is indigenous. Half of the present speech, it is true, is of Chinese importation, but conservatism has kept the other half pure. From what it reveals we can see how each man starts to-day with the same impersonal outlook upon life the race had reached centuries ago, and which it has since kept unchanged. The man’s mind has done likewise.

Percival Lowell.

  1. Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain, The Japanese Language.