Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/823

This page has been validated.

Prof. Burnham, and Dr. See; and a journal of high value, the Astrophysical Journal is published through the University Press, under the editorship of Prof. George E. Hale, of the University of Chicago, and Prof. James E. Keeler, of the Allegheny Observatory. In its pages will be found many valuable observations and investigations conducted by the university force.


WHOEVER has studied in its particulars the history of the past knows well that human ferocity is an unfathomable abyss. Who could enumerate all the means invented by men to exterminate each other in turn, from the spear and the yataghan to shrapnel, from hemlock to prussic acid, from Greek fire to dynamite? Were we to try and calculate, even roughly, the number of human beings who have died a violent death at the hands of their own kind, even during that period alone which has elapsed since the dawn of history, the total reached would be undoubtedly monstrous. Nor must we be blinded as to the feelings of our ancestors by the growth of a certain gentleness of manners which has for scarcely a century past been refining human society in Europe; one of our ancestors' chief amusements consisted in the destruction of other men—the extermination of other human beings. Homicide has been at all times, in all forms, and under all conditions, individual and collective, a fierce passion of the human race, a most common incident of everyday life, inspiring no one with any feeling of horror whatsoever. It is sufficient to recall the fact that among people who reached a noteworthy stage of civilization, such as the Romans, war, which is a systematic homicide, or, in other words, ferocity reduced to a science, could be regarded as a financial speculation and a perfectly legitimate one for the educated classes to engage in; and that what is called history is little more than an interminable series of murders, individual and collective, one more ferocious than the other.

The present age has witnessed so important an amelioration of habits that we are apt to forget that it is of very recent date, and to see in the ferocity displayed by our ancestors something contrary to human nature—so much so that we have come to stigmatize all actions of an excessively savage character as "inhuman" and "brutal." A closer analysis will, however, show that this is an illusion; inasmuch as murderous ferocity, by which I mean the passion for destroying life, would seem to be a characteristic