Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/275

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not a single peak covered with everlasting snow; it has no great streams, volcanoes, or deserts, and so healthful is its climate that during 1.000 years it was visited only by one great epidemic—the plague described by Thucydides. Here, says Buckle, man did not feel himself overpowered by Nature. Here it was possible for those myths to have their rise which still delight us with their undying charm, and this because, instead of personifying the destroying forces of Nature, they rather glorify whatever is purely human. True, even Grecian mythology is haunted by many monstrous shapes, which, though an abomination to the eye of the comparative anatomist, even yet in some measure disfigure the imaginations of our artists. Yet even against the worst of these monsters man could hold his own, as Ulysses against Scylla; often he triumphs over them, as Bellerophon over the Chimæra, Theseus over the Minotaur; and, by insensible gradations, ending in the pleasing personifications of the spirits of tree, and mountain, and spring, these creatures of the artistic imagination of the Greeks at last become perfectly human figures.

It is an easy thing to carry still further these ideas of Buckle's—which have also been put forward by Lecky—and to deduce the monotheism of the Semites from their inhabiting a desert region, where Nature, in its majestic uniformity, presented itself to them lacking in color and form. It is not to be denied that in this idea of an agreement between religious forms and the aspects of Nature there is a certain degree of truth; still, like many another of Buckle's deductions, this theory bears the impress of a rather superficial rationalism. Buckle overlooks a multitude of complex intermediate facts. He makes the connection between forms of religion and the aspects of Nature far too direct. In particular, in deducing Hindoo mythology from the assumed terrifying aspects of Nature in India, he surely errs. Between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean are thousands of square miles of fertile and now very thickly-populated country, where Nature offers nothing at all to excite the imagination in an unwonted degree. And to the originators of the Brahmanic faith what was a mountain-range which they had no occasion to cross, or an ocean which they had no occasion to navigate? Can any one suppose that, had the Jews been transplanted to the region between the Indus and the Ganges, they would have excogitated the Brahmanic, or the Koraks the Hellenic religion, had they migrated to the Peloponnesus? This brings us to a point on which neither Buckle nor Lecky has bestowed sufficient attention. If we were to maintain that the general psychological character of any given portion of the human race results from (among many other conditions) the local impressions under which they have developed, and that, again, from this psychological character, combined with many other circumstances, has come its form of religion, we should be stating with more correctness the causal connection between these two orders of phenomena.