Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/428

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
412
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

according to the president of the section, seems more and more to confirm the theory adopted by Fustel de Coulanges in France and Spencer in England, that the belief in spirits lies at the basis of all religious systems. We thus see, to use his words, "that the group of theories and practices which constitute the great province of man's emotions and mental operations expressed in the term 'religion' has passed through the same stages, and produced itself in the same way, from rude early beginnings, as every other mental exertion." Mr. Brabrook mentions a work lately published by "a distinguished missionary of the Evangelical Society of Paris," the Rev. Mr. Coillard, in which an account is given of the superstitions prevailing among the natives of the upper Zambesi. The reverend gentleman tells of their belief in witchcraft, and gives a story of a young woman who was condemned to penal labor on suspicion of having bewitched, or tried to bewitch, another young woman who had taken her husband from her; the evidence of the crime being found in a dead mouse, which had been discovered in the second young woman's chamber. The missionary says: "She was made a convict. A few years ago she would have been burned alive. Ah, my friends, paganism is an odious and a cruel thing!" On which the president of the Anthropological Section observes: "Ah, Mr. Coillard, is it many years ago that she would have been burned alive or drowned in Christian England or Christian America? Surely the odiousness and the cruelty are not special to paganism any more than to Christianity." This is much to the point. If witchcraft is no longer a recognized crime in England or America, it is not because these lands are Christian, but because science is mixed with their Christianity. Even missionaries ought to know this.

A great many different sciences are grouped under the name "anthropology," but they all have their rallying point in man, whose nature and history they seek to explore. The fact is that all sciences should have the same rallying point; and we trust that the greater interest which is visibly being taken year by year in anthropological studies will tend to humanize in a beneficial degree the whole circle of human knowledge.

 

 

AN EXAMPLE OF SOCIAL DECADENCE.

That the incessant encroachment of the Government upon the rights of the individual will produce social decadence is a truth that most Americans have yet to learn. With a light heart they are constantly approving scheme after scheme for social regeneration that involves some restriction upon freedom, or an increase of taxation, or both. It is not perhaps singular that the history of similar schemes in the past should possess no lesson for them. When President Eliot, of Harvard University, says that the experience of the Italian republics has no value for us, it is not to be expected that persons with less capacity to interpret the records of other times should attach little or no importance to them. But they ought not most certainly to maintain the same attitude toward the experience of the nations of today. It is to blind their eyes to what does not rest upon hearsay or upon dubious documents—to what admits of the clearest demonstration at the hands of living witnesses.

For this reason we urge upon all students of social science the study of the condition of the inhabitants of the black-earth region of Russia. In that field, one of the largest and most fruitful in the world for investiga-