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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
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Tylor's "Anthropology"1 (S337: 1881)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A review of Edward B. Tylor's Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilisation prepared for the Nature issue of 14 July 1881. In this work, Wallace discusses his "mouth-gesture" theory of the origin of language, later developed in more detail in S518. The original printing included two illustrations, omitted here. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S337.htm

     [[p. 242]] To those readers whose knowledge of ethnology or anthropology has been derived from a perusal of Prichard's "Natural History of Man," or the compilations of Wood, Brown, Peschel, or Brace, the present work will present a surprising amount of freshness and originality. They will in fact find themselves introduced to a new and very captivating science. Instead of the disconnected, and often confusing accounts of the numerous races, families, and tribes into which mankind have been divided, with separate details of the appearance, manners, customs, houses, implements, weapons, and ornaments of each, the reader of the present work will be shown how [[p. 243]] mankind may be studied in a logical, connected, and far more interesting manner, by the method of comparison, and by tracing the growth or development of those faculties which more especially distinguish him from the lower animals. Everywhere he will find proofs of the essential unity of man; whether in the close similarity of the forms of the stone implements and weapons found in the most remote parts of the earth, and among the most varied races; in the identity of signs and gestures, and the striking resemblances even among the most diverse languages; or in the wonderful similarity and often identity, of habits, customs, ideas, beliefs, and religions among all savages, and the curious way in which traces of these can often be found in the very midst of modern civilised society.

     It is very difficult to give any adequate idea of a work of this kind, which, in a moderate compass, contains the essence and outcome of all modern research on the various branches of the study of man and civilisation; but we shall perhaps best exhibit its wide scope and systematic treatment by an enumeration of the subjects discussed in the several chapters, adding a few remarks or criticisms where called for.

     The first chapter contains a brief sketch of what we learn from history, archæology, and geology, as to man's antiquity and early condition; and in the next we are shown man's relation to the lower animals both in bodily structure and mental characteristics. These two chapters might, with advantage, have been considerably enlarged, as they constitute the foundation, and, to many persons, the most interesting portions of the modern study of man. The results hitherto arrived at by these branches of study, are, besides, both suggestive and important, and might, we think, have been more expressly referred to. The numerous remains now discovered of prehistoric man, and of his works, dating back to an undoubtedly vast antiquity, show us in no case any important deviation from the existing human type, nor any indication that his mental status was lower than (if so low as) that of many living races. At the same time the increasing rudeness of his implements as we go back, undoubtedly indicates that we have made some approach towards the period when he first emerged from the purely brute state and became "a tool-using animal." We find him in the remote past surrounded by a number of huge mammalia, including many carnivora of greater size and destructive power than any that now exist, and we know that at a still earlier period these animals were even more abundant and more destructive; yet man must have held his own against them during the time when he had not yet begun to make tools or use fire. How did he do this without the possession of some additional natural weapons or faculties, of which nevertheless we find no trace in the earliest remains yet discovered? Again, the whole bearing of the evidence as to the development of man, indicates that the point of union or of common origin of man and the anthropoid apes, is enormously remote. Each of the existing types of these great apes possesses some specially human characteristic wanting in the others (for an enumeration of which see Mivart's "Man and Apes"), and this indicates that the common origin of these apes is of less remoteness than the common origin of them all and of man. How immensely remote, then, must be this point of common origin, and what a long and complex series of diverging forms must have existed, always in sufficient numbers to hold their own against their numerous competitors and enemies! The evolutionist must postulate the existence of this long series of divergent forms, yet notwithstanding the richness of the Tertiary deposits in many parts of the world no trace whatever of their actual existence has yet been discovered. The extreme remoteness of the origin of man is also shown by the facts, that neither the size nor the form of the cranium of the prehistoric races shows any inferiority to those of existing savages, while the approximate equality of their mental powers is shown by the ingenious construction of weapons and implements, and the artistic talent which we find developed at a period when the reindeer and the mammoth inhabited the south of France. It has been argued that the inferiority of the early implements shows mental inferiority, but this is palpably illogical. Did Stephenson's first rude locomotive--the Rocket--show less mind in its constructor than the highly-finished products of our modern workshops? Or were the Greeks mentally inferior to us because they had rude cars instead of locomotives, and had no clocks, water-mills, steam-engines, or spinning-jennies? It is forgotten that arts are a growth, and have little relation to the mental status of the artificer. A number of European infants brought up among savages would not, probably, in many generations, invent even the commonest implements and utensils of their ancestral homes; and it is difficult to say how slow may have been the development of the arts in their earliest and by far most difficult stages. It is therefore by no means impossible that the makers even of the palæolithic implements may have been fully equal, mentally, to existing savages of by no means the lowest type.

     In the next chapter we have an excellent sketch of the chief races of man copiously illustrated by portraits, mostly from photographs and very characteristic. Among the best are those of the Andaman Islanders and the Dyaks, which we here reproduce. The Malays are less characteristic, this race being in fact better represented by the cut of the two Cochin Chinese at p. 98.

     The four chapters on Language, whether manifested by gestures and signs, by articulate speech, by pictures, or by written characters, are exceedingly interesting and instructive, especially the account of the gesture language and the illustrations of how connected stories may be told to the deaf-and-dumb quite independently of any knowledge of alphabetical or even verbal signs. Picture-writing, as exhibited in the works of savages, in Egyptian hieroglyphics and in the modern Chinese characters, is also well explained, and is so interesting that one wishes the subject were more fully gone into. In treating of the origin of language Mr. Tylor doubts the sufficiency of the theory that emotional, imitative, and suggestive sounds were the basis on which all languages were founded, though he gives tolerably full illustrations of how roots thus obtained became modified in an infinite variety of ways to serve the growing needs of mankind in expressing their wants or their feelings. He impresses on his readers the important fact that language is always growing and that new words are continually made "by choosing fit and proper sounds." He shows how words once imitative or emotional have been often so changed and modified as to have their original character totally concealed; yet he concludes, that--"it would be unscientific to accept all this as a complete explanation of the origin of language"--because "other causes may have helped." It seems, however, to the present writer, that the imitative and emotional origin of language is demonstrated by a body of facts almost as extensive and complete as that which demonstrates the origin of species by natural selection; and that the "other causes" are in both cases exceptional and subordinate. As the examples of imitative words given by Mr. Tylor are comparatively trivial and altogether inadequate, it may be well to call attention to the wide and far-reaching character of such words, and to show how much of the force, expressiveness, and beauty of our language (as of most others) depends upon them.

     Putting aside all mere representations of animal sounds--as the whinny of the colt, the mew of the cat, or the bleat of the sheep--let us consider what an immense number of natural sounds are named by words which we at once see to be appropriate representations or imitations of them. Such are--crash, whizz, fizz, hiss, creak, whistle, rattle, bang, clang, flop, thud, clap, roar, snore, [[p. 244]] groan, moan, wail, thunder. In other cases sights, sounds, or feelings, are represented by their accompanying or appropriate sounds. We see a splash, or a slop; we feel a thing to be smooth or rough, or to vibrate; and we shiver with cold or terror. Again, how many actions and qualities are represented by words expressing the sounds which sometimes accompany them--as knock, shock, crack, snap, ring, whisper, hush, sigh, sob, wash, squash, crush, crunch, rip, rend, grind, scratch, split, spit, cough, sneeze, wheeze. How characteristic are such words as sticky, flicker, flutter, hurry, flurry, stumble, hobble, wobble. Here we have not only sound, but motion and quality, represented by the arrangement of letters and syllables. How clearly do such words as slide, glide, and wave imply slow and continuous motion, the movement of the lips while pronouncing the latter word being a perfect double undulation. How curiously do the tongue and palate seem to be pulled apart from each other while pronouncing the words glue or sticky. How marked is the contrast between the harsh consonants used to express rough, rugged, and gritty, as compared with the soft flow of sounds in smooth, oily, even, polished. Look again at the sense of effort and feeling of grandeur in pronouncing the words strong, strength, power, might, as compared with the opposites, weak, faint; or the open-mouthed sounds of grand, huge, monstrous, vast, immense, giant, gigantic, as contrasted with the almost closed lips with which we say small, little, tiny, minute, pigmy, midget. So crawl and drag are pronounced slowly as compared with run, fly, or swim; while difficult and easy express their own meaning while we pronounce them. Many objects and substances have names curiously corresponding with their qualities. We have already noticed glue as indicating stickiness, but no less clearly is oil smooth; while brass and glass indicate resonance; tin a tinkling sound; lead and wood a dull sound or thud; in bell we imitate its sound, while the word jelly indicates the shaking of the substance. In ice we hear the interjectional sh of shivering with cold; in fire the flicker of the ascending flame. In other cases the motion of the breath gives an indication of meaning; in and out, up and down, elevate and depress, are pronounced with an inspiration and expiration respectively, the former being necessarily accompanied with a raising, the latter with a depression, of the head. When we name the mouth or lips we use labials; for tooth and tongue, dentals; for the nose and things relating to it, nasal sounds; and this peculiarity is remarkably constant in most languages, civilised and savage. Among the Malay races, for instance, we find such words as mulut, bawa, mohon, and moda for mouth; gigit, nisinen, nigni, and niki for teeth; and idong, ugerun and usnut, for nose. So in words for large we find a prevalence of broad sounds involving a wide opening of the mouth, as busar, bakè, bagut, lamu, elamo, ilahé, eräamei, aiyuk, mäina--and for small, words that are pronounced quickly and with slight opening of the lips, as kichil, chili, kidi, köi, roit, kemi, anan, kiiti, fek, didiki, all taken from languages of the Malay Archipelago.

     These few examples, which might be greatly increased, indicate the variety of ways in which, even now, after all the modifications and development which language has undergone, sound still corresponds to sense; and if the reader will turn to Dr. Farrar's suggestive little work on the "Origin of Language," he will find how wonderfully, by the help of analogy and metaphor, the uses and meanings of simple words and sounds have been indefinitely increased, so as to subserve the growing need of mankind to express more and more complex ideas. Mr. Tylor is rather unfortunate in his illustration of words for the form of which no cause can be assigned, when he says: "There is no apparent reason why the word go should not have signified the idea of coming, and the word come the idea of going." But, in accordance with the examples already [[p. 245]] given, there is a very good and sufficient reason. We pronounce come with a closure and contraction of the lips and usually during inspiration, go with open and protruding lips and usually during expiration. Now many savages point with the lips as we do with the finger, signifying there, by protruding the lips in the direction to be indicated; and any one who has seen this curious gesture must be struck with its close similarity to the protrusion of the lips in pronouncing the word go. The same difference of the nearly closed or open lips characterises the words for these two ideas in many other languages. In French we have viens and va, in German komm and geh, in Italian vieni and vai, showing that words in distinct languages differing greatly in spelling and pronunciation may yet have a common character in the mode of speaking which indicates their common meaning.

     The five following chapters treat of the Arts of Life, a subject which Mr. Tylor has to a great extent made his own, and which he discusses in a very interesting manner. The doctrine of development in the arts is however somewhat strained when it is implied that the modern gun is an outgrowth of the South American or Indian blow-tube; while the origin of bank notes, and the account of the rise and progress of mathematics are hardly anthropology.

     The next two chapters discuss the ideas of savage man as to the spirit-world, and the origin and development of myths; while the final chapter gives an admirable sketch of man as a social being, and of the development of that complex organism, Society. This thoughtful chapter cannot be epitomised, but the reader will find in it much curious information as to the sources of many of the customs, laws, and observances of civilised life, which are shown to be often traceable among the lowest savages. The following passage will serve to illustrate the author's style and treatment of his subject:--

     "Much of the wrong-doing of the world comes from want of imagination. If the drunkard could see before him the misery of next year with something of the vividness of the present craving, it would overbalance it. Oft-times in the hottest fury of anger, the sword has been sheathed by him across whose mind has flashed the prophetic picture of the women weeping round the blood-stained corpse. The lower races of men are so wanting in foresight to resist passion and temptation, that the moral balance of a tribe easily goes wrong, while they are rough and wantonly cruel, much as children are cruel to animals through not being able to imagine what the creatures feel. What we now know of savage life will prevent our falling into the fancies of the philosophers of the last century, who set up the 'noble savage' as an actual model of virtue to be imitated by civilised nations. But the reality is quite as instructive, that the laws of virtue and happiness may be found at work in simple forms among tribes who make hatchets of sharpened stones and rub sticks together to kindle fire. Their life, seen at its best, shows with unusual clearness the great principle of moral science, that morality and happiness belong together--in fact that morality is the method of happiness."

     The reader who wishes to know what is the outcome of modern research into the nature, characteristics, and early history of man; and into his progress in the arts of life, in morality, and in social economy, will find a store of valuable information and much suggestive remark in this carefully-written but unpretending volume.

Note Appearing in the Original Work

     1. "Anthropology: an Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization," by Edward B. Tylor, D.C.L., F.R.S. With Illustrations. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1881.) [[on p. 242]]

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