Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/April 1898/Scientific Literature

1391716Popular Science Monthly Volume 52 April 1898 — Scientific Literature1898

Scientific Literature.


In no way can one appreciate more clearly the remarkable advance in ethnographic studies than by comparing the great work of Professor Ratzel[1] on The History of Mankind with the early works of Pritchard and Wood. The illustrated work of the Rev. J. G. Wood on the Natural History of Man represented the state of our knowledge on the subject at the time it was compiled, in a popular way to be sure, but nevertheless the reader had presented to him in a graphic way a light sketch of the habits, manners, and customs of the various peoples of the world. There were blunders, of course, such as classifying the Japanese with the uncivilized races! In the work of Ratzel we have a popular exposition of the subject from the same standpoint. It is a compact storehouse of facts, and the infinite lines of research shown in this remarkable compilation of data give one a just idea of the tremendous strides the science of ethnology has taken within a quarter of a century. A book bearing the indorsement of Professor Virchow and introduced to English readers by a prefatory chapter from the pen of Dr. E. B. Tylor must be one of importance and merit, and so it is. It has an unusually large number of illustrations of the weapons, utensils, toys, totems, etc., of all the races of the world. The portraits are derived from the very best sources, while maps and brightly colored plates make up a veritable ethnographic museum, and this feature alone renders the book indispensable to American students. Much of the material illustrated is derived from museums which have come into existence within recent times.

The work is so valuable that it seems an ungracious task to point out omissions. It is, however, necessary to call attention to the very evident fact that the author has derived his material almost exclusively from European sources. In that portion of the work dealing with the native races there are but few references to the work of American students. He shows no evidence of ever having seen the magnificent series of volumes issued by the United States Bureau of Ethnology, by far the most important of the General Government's publications. When one recalls the valuable contributions of Mason on the Throwing Stick; Cushing on Zuni Fetiches; The Sign Language and Petrographs, by Mallery; Mortuary Customs, by Yarrow; Burial Mounds, by Thomas; Central Eskimos, by Boas; Point Barrow Eskimos, by Murdoch; Chiriqui Art in Shell and Pottery and other papers, by Holmes; Pueblo Architecture, by Mindeleff; Masks, Labrets, etc., by Dall; and the contributions by Powell, Stevenson, Henshaw, Matthews, Bourke, Hoffman, Mooney, Turner, Dorsey, McGee, Fewkes, and others which enrich these volumes, and a host of American workers in other lines of investigation, as Morgan, Bandelier, Mrs. Nuttall, Brinton, Culin, and many others, one realizes how clearly Ratzel has restricted himself to the work of European students. It is true many of these memoirs were not published when the first edition of this work appeared in 1884; but when the second German edition was published in 1895 most of these memoirs had appeared and many of them had been widely noticed in European journals, and the lavish generosity of our Government in the distribution of its publications must have placed them on the shelves of every leading library in Europe. The author in several instances confounds Japan with China by including both countries under certain general statements, and in one case the word Japan appears when it should read Java.

There is no evidence that the author recognizes the lowly origin of man. Dealing with the most pregnant facts as to man's evolution, he questions whether the savage is lower than other races considered civilized. For this reason perhaps the early stages of man are not considered, and therefore one must look elsewhere for the evidences of prehistoric man. Not a cranium or a human bone, unless it represents a trophy or a fetich, is given. It is true the work is for the general reader, but nowadays the general reader, at least in America and England, demands much more than he did twenty years ago.

The work is so full of interesting material that it is impossible in a review of this nature to do more than quote here and there. An illustration of the persistence of certain traits in man is shown in the Tedas or Tebus, which are supposed to be the Troglodytes described by Herodotus. "They are to-day no poorer, no richer, no wiser, no more ignorant than they have been these thousands of years; they have acquired nothing in addition to what they possessed then." He shows in contrast the Europeans emerging from savagery in an exalted place among the peoples of the world. By such a picture do we see the persistence of conditions identical in every respect to those of the animals below us. While a form of Brachiopod may persist nearly unchanged from the lowest geological horizons to the present day, other forms of life may pass through rapid changes and become extinct. A group may go through slow and even changes like the ammonites of the Jura and finally culminate in rapid and extraordinary modifications in form.

In contrasting the inertness of the Chinese with the progressive European nations, he quotes Voltaire as "hitting the point" when he says that "Nature has given the Chinese the organs for discovering all that is useful to them but not for going any further." Peschel presents these contrasts in a clearer way perhaps when he says: "Of all highly civilized nations the Chinese owe least to foreign promptings, whereas until the thirteenth century we—that is to say the Europeans, and especially the northern Europeans—owed almost everything but our language to the teaching of other nations. . . . Since our intellectual awakening, since we have come forward as the propagators of the treasures of culture, we have indefatigably toiled with the sweat of our brows in search of something, the very existence of which was unsuspected by the Chinese, and which they would think dear at a platter of rice. This invisible object we term causality. We have admired the Chinese for an incalculable number of inventions and have appropriated them, but we are not indebted to them for a single theory or a single glance into the connection or the first causes of phenomena."

The statement is made that Chinese ships are said to have been cast away on the northwest coast of America. In every case the junks which have been cast away on our western coast or found drifting in the North Pacific are Japanese junks, not Chinese. A reference is made to glazed tiles associated with ancient pottery having been exhumed in the Mississippi Valley near Natchez. As a matter of fact the tile is post-Columbian.

The arrangement of cuts is somewhat confusing; they are not always found with the text. As the cuts are not numbered, there is no way of referring to them in the text. On the other hand, a good legend accompanies each illustration, and usually full credit is given to its derivation. References to special works on the subject treated would have added greatly to the value of the book. Thus on page 287, Volume II, the author says in speaking of the Hottentots: "If we may believe Kolb, the fortunate hunter undergoes an 'alterative process' at the hands of some old fellow-tribesman in the form of a hydraulic application which does not bear more minute description." Is he referring to Peter Kolben's remarkable work on the Present State of the Cape of Good Hope, an English translation of which was published in 1731? A reference to Kolben's work would have given the student access to material which depicts the Hottentot before he had been seriously contaminated by contact with intrusive races, and would have explained the curious ceremonies connected with marriage and other rites and functions.

In regard to the dwarf tribes of Africa he says: "It is a pity that Stanley. . . has shown his usual tendency to exaggeration. With the dwarfs he has jumbled up children or misshapen beings such as negro chiefs keep at their courts for entertainment." Among the interesting generalizations is this one: "It has been correctly said that among negroes as elsewhere morality seems to stand in inverse ratio to the quantity of clothing, so that tribes that go naked are, so long as they remain untouched by foreign influence, the most chaste; those that are most clothed the least so." The missionaries can not or will not see the significance of this truth, and instantly demand a sudden change in habits engendered under a tropical sun, with the inevitable result of physical and moral degeneration of their converts.

His treatment of the African races is by far the most exhaustive, and the mass of new material in statement and in illustration will be of the greatest value to the American student.

  1. The History of Mankind. By Prof. Friedrich Ratzel. Translated by A. J. Butler, M. A. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1897. Two volumes, pp. 483 and pp. 502. Price, $8.