Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/368

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
364
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

began to become habitual, must have been at best only partial, incomplete, and for a very few acts. The left-handed arrow-chippers, basket-weavers, club-wielders, sewing-women, etc., even if more numerous relatively than in civilized life, would perhaps attract little or at least less attention than now, and would be less discouraged, surely less taught to reverse the natural inclination.

In default of systematic banding and military training, also, the left-handed spearmen, bowmen, swordsmen and clubmen might not have much attention directed to themselves and sometimes might have an advantage over their single and dextral adversaries, e. g., in tilting. The preference in heraldry for dextral quarterings, etc., is by no means uniform.

But there was one overlooked factor which was doubtless decisive in setting up the trend toward dextrality. This was the development of sign-language synchronously, and even preceding that of spoken language. The ineffaceable relics of this long and arduous period exist in present day language, plainly in many savage tribes and customs, but the most striking proof is displayed in our so-called Roman numerals. The fingers of the hand held up, or counted off, were beyond question the beginnings of arithmetic, the means of barter, the method of stating the fundamental fact of number requisite in all thinking and doing. Military and intertribal dealings, especially made the custom powerful and even sacred. One finger was the origin of our figure one, the second equaling two, etc., up to five, or V, which fork was made by the thumb stuck up opposite the first I. When the counting was more than five, the other hand was made to represent the first five, the digits being added up to ten, when two forks were used, or the crossed thumbs, which constituted X., or ten.[1] The impressive ceremonies of warring and bartering tribes would stamp with distinctive approval the hand used in the sign-language, and henceforth it would become the honored one, the stamping and writing hand, and in time the sword-hand. The right was chosen as the sign and numbering hand because the left was naturally used for the highly important task of guarding the sinistrally-placed heart with the shield. War is the substance of all early history and of the savage aeons which preceded all history. Dr. Flint (The Sun, April 17, 1904) says that deaf-mutes may have an aphasia that prevents the use of the right hand in the sign-language.

Speech is the sole example of the higher functions, sensational or motor, which is single. Feet, legs, arms, hands, vision, hearing, all


  1. It does not matter with which hand the first numbering, in some cases, was done; the intelligent attention must have been directer to the action with the dextral or spear side. Homer and the earliest Greek vases show the right was ὲπὶ δόρν, the spear side, and ὲπˋ ὰσπίδα the shield side.