It may be that the lowest extant savages are the nearest of existing peoples to the type of the first human beings. But on this point it is unnecessary for us to dogmatise. If we can show that, whether men began their career as savages or not, they have at least passed through the savage status or have borrowed the ideas of races in the savage status, that is all we need. We escape from all the snares of theories (incapable of historical proof) about the really primeval and original condition of the human family.
Once more, our theory naturally attaches itself the general system of Evolution. We are enabled to examine mythology as a thing of gradual development and of slow and manifold modifications, corresponding in some degree to the various changes in the general progress of society. Thus we shall watch the barbaric conditions of thought which produce barbaric myths, while these in their turn are retained, or perhaps purified, or perhaps explained away, by more advanced civilisations. Further, we shall be able to detect the survival of the savage ideas with least modification, and the persistence of the savage myths with least change, among the classes of a civilised population which have shared least in the general advance. These classes are, first, the rustic peoples, dwelling far from cities and schools, on heaths or by the sea; second, the conservative local priesthoods, who retain the more crude and ancient myths of the local gods and heroes after these have been modified or rejected by the purer sense of philosophers and national poets. Thus much of ancient myth is a woven warp and woof of three threads: