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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/80

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58
Reviews.

of all the discussions which have taken place as to the origin and meaning of mythology in general. If his views remain unchanged, they are at least now stated after consideration of all that has been said on the other side, and should be studied by everyone who differs from him. When he first wrote he was a pioneer through an almost unknown domain, a domain peopled by all sorts of ghosts conjured up by the fantasy of previous ill-informed and deeply prejudiced writers. To him belongs the honour of first surveying the country, and in a large measure of clearing the ground. His book was not addressed to the antiquary, but to the thoughtful general reader. But though it is still intended chiefly for the latter, it is a necessary handbook for all inquirers into the beliefs of the American aborigines.

While we regret that on some points Dr. Brinton has not seen right to modify opinions expressed thirty years ago, before we knew quite so much of savage modes of thought as we do now, we must emphasise the importance of his contribution to the solution of some of the problems affecting traditions all over the world, such as the source of the Creation and Deluge myths, and the meaning—in America, at all events—of the mystical number four and of the Cross. Nobody who studies the folklore of the Red Race can fail to be struck with the fact that the number four occupies the place of the number three in the Old World; and we have very little doubt that Dr. Brinton supplies the key to its meaning. In the face of his explanation it is time that the interpretation placed by many English and French inquirers upon the Pre-Christian Cross were reconsidered. Not that the true interpretation of the symbol in the Old World is necessarily the same as in the New; but that it is susceptible of more interpretations than that which has so often been ascribed to it, with—in many cases—too little evidence.

Dr. Brinton's explanation of the Creation and Deluge myths we believe to be absolutely right; and it is an example of the value of an extensive philosophical culture applied to the facts of savage tradition. The explanation has the force and the certainty of an intuition.

Here, as everywhere in Dr. Brinton's writings, he insists on the unity of the Red Race and the independent origin of its culture. Intimately connected as these two questions are, they are distinct; and it is possible to hold the author's view of the one without the other. We believe, however, that on both he will