Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/162

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Here we come incidentally upon a further abridgment of the original prostration; whence results one of the most widely-spread obeisances. As from the entirely prone posture we pass to the posture of the Mohammedan worshiper with forehead on the ground, so from this we pass to the posture on all-fours, and from this, by raising the body, to simple kneeling. That kneeling is, and has been in countless places and times, a form of political homage, a form of domestic homage, and a form of religious homage, needs no showing. We will note only that it is, and has been everywhere, associated with coercive government; as in Africa, where "by thus constantly practising genuflection upon the hard ground, their" (the Dahomas') "knees in time become almost as hard as their heels;" as in Japan, where "on leaving the presence of the emperor, officers walk backward on their knees;" as in China, where "the viceroy's children. . . . as they passed by their father's tent, fell on their knees and bowed three times, with their faces toward the ground;" and as in mediaeval Europe, where serfs knelt to their masters, feudal vassals to their suzerains, and, in 1444, the Duchess Isabella de Bourbon, visiting the queen, went on her knees thrice during her approach.

Not dwelling on the transition from descent on both knees to descent on one knee, which, less abject, comes a stage nearer the erect attitude, it will suffice to note the transition from kneeling on one knee to bending the knee. That this form of obeisance is an abridgment is well shown us by the Japanese:

"On meeting, they show respect by bending the knee; and when they wish to do unusual honor to an individual they place themselves on the knee and bow down to the ground. But this is never done in the streets, where they merely make a motion as if they were going to kneel. When they salute a person of rank, they bend the knee in such a manner as to touch the ground with their fingers."

We are shown the same thing equally well, or better, in China, where, among the specified gradations of obeisance, the third is defined as bending the knee, and the fourth as actually kneeling. Without accumulating evidence it will be manifest that what still survives among ourselves as the courtesy with the one sex, and what until recently survived with the other sex as the scrape (made by a backward sweep of the right foot), are both of them vanishing forms of the going down on one knee.

There remains only the accompanying bend of the body. This, while on the one hand the first motion passed through in making a complete prostration, is, on the other hand, the last motion that survives as the prostration becomes stage by stage abridged. In various places we meet indications of this transition. "Among the Soosoos, even the wives of a great man, when speaking to him, bend their bodies, and place one hand upon each knee; this is done also when pass-