Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization/Chapter 3

CHAPTER III.

THE GESTURE-LANGUAGE.—(continued)

There is another department of the gesture-language which has reached nearly as high a development as that in use among the deaf-mutes. Men who do not know one another's language are to each other as though they were dumb. Thus Sophocles uses ἄγλωσσος, "tongueless," for "barbarian," as contrasted with "Greek ;" and the Russians, to this day, call their neighbours the Germans, "Njemez,"—that is, speechless, njemou meaning dumb. When men who are thus dumb to one another have to communicate without an interpreter, they adopt all over the world the very same method of communication by signs, which is the natural language of the deaf-mutes.

Alexander von Humboldt has left on record, in the following passage, his experiences of the gesture-language among the Indians of the Orinoco, in districts where it often happens that small, isolated tribes speak languages of which even their nearest neighbours can hardly understand a word:—" 'After you leave my mission,' said the good monk of Uruana, 'you will travel like mutes.' This prediction was almost accomplished; and, not to lose all the advantage that is to be had from intercourse even with the most brutalized Indians, we have sometimes preferred the language of signs. As soon as the native sees that you do not care to employ an interpreter, as soon as you ask him direct questions, pointing the object out to him, he comes out of his habitual apathy, and displays a rare intelligence in making himself understood. He varies his signs, pronounces his words slowly, and repeats them without being asked. His amour-propre seems flattered by the consequence you accord to him by letting him instruct you. This facility of making himself understood is above all remarkable in the independent Indian, and in the Christian missions I should recommend the traveller to address himself in preference to those of the natives who have been but lately reduced, or who go back from time to time to the forest to enjoy their ancient liberty."[1]

It is well known that the Indians of North America, whose nomade habits and immense variety of languages must continually make it needful for them to communicate with tribes whose language they cannot speak, carry the gesture-language to a high degree of perfection, and the same signs serve as a medium of converse from Hudson's Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Several writers make mention of this "Indian pantomime," and it has been carefully described in the account of Major Long's expedition, and more recently by Captain Burton.[2] The latter traveller considers it to be a mixture of natural and conventional signs, but so far as I can judge from the one hundred and fifty or so which he describes, and those I find mentioned elsewhere, I do not believe that there is a really arbitrary sign among them. There are only about half-a-dozen of which the meaning is not at once evident, and even these appear on close inspection to be natural signs, perhaps a little abbreviated or conventionalized. I am sure that a skilled deaf-and-dumb talker would understand an Indian interpreter, and be himself understood at first sight, with scarcely any difficulty. The Indian pantomime and the gesture-language of the deaf-and-dumb are but different dialects of the same language of nature. Burton says that an interpreter who knows all the signs is preferred by the whites even to a good speaker. "A story is told of a man, who, being sent among the Cheyennes to qualify himself for interpreting, returned in a week and proved his competence: all that he did, however, was to go through the usual pantomime with a running accompaniment of grunts."

In the Indian pantomime, actions and objects are expressed very much as a deaf-mute would show them. The action of beckoning towards oneself represents to "come;" darting the two first fingers from the eyes is to "see;" describing in the air the form of the pipe and the curling smoke is to "smoke;" thrusting the hand under the clothing of the left breast is to "hide, put away, keep secret." "Enough to eat" is shown by an imitation of eating, and the forefingers and thumb forming a C, with the points towards the body, are raised upward as far as the neck; "fear," by putting the hands to the lower ribs, and showing how the heart flutters and seems to rise to the throat; "book," by holding the palms together before the face, opening and reading, quite in deaf-and-dumb fashion, and as the Moslems often do while they are reciting prayers and chapters of the Koran.

One of our accounts says that "fire" is represented by the Indian by blowing it and warming his hands at it; the other that flames are imitated with the fingers. The latter sign wae in use at Berlin, but I noticed that the children in another school did not understand it till the sign of blowing was added. The Indian and the deaf-mute indicate "rain" by the same sign, bringing the tips of the fingers of the partly-closed hand downward, like rain falling from the clouds, and the Indian makes the same sign do duty for "year," counting years by annual rains. The Indian indicates "stone," if light, by picking it up, if heavy, by dropping it. The deaf-mute taps his teeth with his finger-nail to show that it is something hard, and then makes the gesture of flinging it. The Indian sign for mounting a horse is to make a pair of legs of the two first fingers of the right hand, and to straddle them across the left fore-finger; a similar sign among the deaf-and-dumb means to "ride."

Among the Indians the sign for "brother" or "sister" is, according to Burton, to put the two first finger-tips (that is, I suppose, the fore-fingers of both hands) into the mouth, to show that both fed from the same breast; the deaf-mute makes the mere sign of likeness or equality suffice, holding out the fore- fingers of both hands close together, a sign which, according to James, also does duty to indicate "husband" or "companion." This sign of the two forefingers is understood everywhere, and some very curious instances of its use in remote parts of the world are given by Marsh[3] in illustration of Fluellen's "But 'tis all one, 'tis so like as my fingers is to my fingers." It belongs, too, to the sign-language of the Cistercian monks.

Animals are represented in the Indian pantomime very much as the deaf-and-dumb would represent them, by signs characterizing their peculiar ears, horns, etc., and their movements. Thus the sign for "stag" among the deaf-and-dumb, namely, the thumbs to both temples, and the fingers widely spread out, is almost identical with the Indian gesture. For the dog, however, the Indians have a remarkable sign, which consists in trailing the two first fingers of the right hand, as if they were poles dragged along the ground. Before the Indians had horses, the dogs were trained to drag the lodge-poles on the march in this way, and in Catlin's time the work was in several tribes divided between the dogs and the horses; but it appears that in tribes where the trailing is now done by horses only, the sign for "dog" derived from the old custom is still kept up.

One of the Indian signs is curious as having reflected itself in the spoken language of the country. "Water" is represented by an imitation of scooping up water with the hand and drinking out of it, and "river" by making this sign, and then waving the palms of the hands outward, to denote an extended surface. It is evident that the first part of the sign is translated in the western Americanism which speaks of a river as a "drink," and of the Mississippi, par excellence, as the "Big Drink."[4] It need hardly be said that spoken language is full of such translations from gestures, as when one is said to wink at another's faults, an expression which shows us the act of winking accepted as a gesture-sign, meaning to pretend not to see. But the Americanism is interesting as being caught so near its source.

I noted down a few signs from Burton as not self-evident, but it will be seen that they are all to be explained. They are, "yes," wave the hands straightforward from the face; "no," wave the hand from right to left as if motioning away. These signs correspond with the general practice of mankind, to nod for "yes," and shake the head for "no." The idea conveyed by nodding seems to correspond with the deaf-and-dumh sign for "truth," made by moving the finger straightforward from the lips, apparently with the sense of "straightforward speaking," while the finger is moved to one side to express "lie," as "sideways speaking." The understanding of nodding and shaking the head as signs of assent and denial appears to belong to uneducated deaf-and-dumb children, and even to those who are only one degree higher than idiots. In a very remarkable dissertation on the art of thrusting knowledge into the minds of such children, Schmalz assumes that they can always make and understand these signs.[5] It is true they may have learnt them from the people who take care of them.

This explanation is, however, somewhat complicated by the Indian signs for "truth," and "lie," given by Burton, who says that the fore-finger extended from the mouth means to "tell truth," "one-word;" but two fingers mean to "tell lies," "double tongue." So to move two fingers before the left breast means, "I don't know," that is to say, "I have two hearts." I found that deaf-and-dumb children understood this Indian sign for "lie " quite as well as their own.

"Good," wave the hand from the mouth, extending the thumb from the index, and closing the other three fingers. This is like kissing the hand as a salutation, or what children call "blowing a kiss," and it is clearly a natural sign, as it is recognized by the deaf-and-dumb language. Dr. James gives the Indian sign as waving the hand with the back upward, in a horizontal curve outwards, the well-known gesture of benediction. At Berlin, a gesture like that of patting a child on the head, accompanied, as of course all these signs are, with an approving smile, is in use. Possibly the ideas of stroking or patting may lie at the bottom of all these signs of approving and blessing.

"Think," pass the fore-finger sharply across the breast from right to left, meaning of course that a thought passes through one's heart.

"Trade, exchange, swop," cross the fore-fingers of both hands before the breast. This sign is also used, Captain Burton says, to denote Americans, or indeed any white men, who are generally called by the Indians west of the Rocky Mountains, "shwop," from their trading propensities. As given by Burton, the sign is hardly intelligible. But Dr. James describes the gesture of which this is a sort of abridgment, which consists in holding up the two fore-fingers, and passing them by each other transversely in front of the breast so that they change places, and nothing could be clearer than this.

The sign in the Berlin gesture-language for "day" is made by opening out the palms of the hands. I supposed it to be an arbitrary and meaningless sign, till I found the Indian sign for "this morning" to consist in the same gesture. It refers, perhaps to awaking from sleep, or to the opening out of the day.

As a means of communication, there is no doubt that the Indian pantomime is not merely capable of expressing a few simple and ordinary notions, but that, to the uncultured savage, with his few and material ideas, it is a very fair substitute for his scanty vocabulary. Stansbury mentions a discourse delivered in this way in his presence, which lasted for some hours occupied in continuous narration. The only specimen of a connected story I have met with is a hunter's simple history of his day's sport, as Captain Burton thinks that an Indian would render it in signs. The story to be told is as follows:—"Early this morning, I mounted my horse, rode off at a gallop, traversed a kanyon or ravine, then over a mountain to a plain where there, was no water, sighted bison, followed them, killed three of them, skinned them, packed the flesh upon my pony, remounted, and returned home." The arrangement of the signs described is as follows:—I—this morning—early—mounted my horse—galloped—a kanyon—crossed—a mountain—a plain—drink—no!—sighted—bison—killed—three—skinned—packed flesh—mounted—hither." There is perhaps nothing which would strike a deaf-and-dumb man as peculiar in the sequence of these signs; but it would be desirable for a real discourse, delivered by an Indian in signs, to be taken down, especially if its contents were of a more complex nature.

Among the Cistercian monks there exists, or existed, a gesture-language. As a part of their dismal system of mortifying the deeds of the body, they held speech, except in religious exercises, to be sinful. But for certain purposes relating to the vile material life that they could not quite shake off, communication among the brethren was necessary, so the difficulty was met by the use of pantomimic signs. Two of their written lists or dictionaries are printed in the collected edition of Leibnitz's works,[6] one in Latin, the other in Low German; they are not identical, but appear to be mostly or altogether derived from a list drawn up by authority.

A great part of the Cistercian gesture-signs are either just what the deaf-and-dumb would make, or are so natural that they would at once understand them. Thus, to make a roof with the fingers is "house;" to grind the fists together is "corn;" to "sing" is indicated by beating time; to "bathe" is to imitate washing the breast with the hollow of the hand; "candle," or "fire," is shown by holding up the fore-finger and blowing it out like a candle; a "goat" is indicated by the fingers hanging from the chin like a beard; "salt," by taking an imaginary pinch and sprinkling it; "butter," by the action of spreading it in the palm of the hand. The deaf-and-dumb sign used at Berlin and other places to indicate "time" by drawing the tip of the fore-finger up the arm, is in the Cistercian list "a year;" it is Sicard's sign for "long," and the idea it conveys is plainly that of "a length" transferred from space to time. To "go" is to make the two first fingers walk hanging in the air (Hengestu se dahl und rörest se, betekend Gahen), while the universal sign of the two fore-fingers stands for "like" (Hölstu se even thosamen, dat betekent like). The sign for "beer" is to put the hand before the face and blow into it, as if blowing off the froth (Thustu de hand vor dem anschlahe dat du darin pustest, dat bedüdt gut Bier). Wiping your mouth with the whole hand upwards (cum omnibus digitis terge buccam sursum), means a country clown (rusticus).

To put the fore-finger against the closed lips is " silence," but the finger put in the mouth means a "child." These are two very natural and distinct signs; but then the finger to the lips for "silence" may serve also quite fitly to show that a child so represented is an infant, that is, that it cannot speak. The confusion of the signs of "childhood" and "silence" once led to a curious misunderstanding.
Fig. 1.
The infant Horus, god of the dawn, was appropriately represented by the Egyptians as a child with his fingers to his lips, and his name as written in the hieroglyphics (Fig. 1) may be read Har-(p)-chrot, "Horus-(the)-son."[7] The Greeks mistook the meaning of the gesture, and (as it seems) Grecizing this name into Harpokrates, adopted him as the god of silence.

To conclude, the Cistercian lists contain a number of signs which at first sight seem conventional, but yet a meaning may be discerned in most or all of them. Thus, it seems foolish to make two fingers at the right side of one's nose stand for "friend;" but when we see that placed on the left side, they stand for "enemy," it becomes clear that it is the opposition of right and left that is meant. So the little finger to the tip of the nose means "fool," which seemingly poor sign is explained by the fore-finger being put there for "wise man." The fact of such a contrast as wise and foolish being made between the fore- finger and the little finger, corresponds with the use of the thumb and little finger for "good" and "bad" by the deaf-and- dumb, and makes it likely that both pairs of signs may be natural, and independent of one another. The sign of grasping the nose with the crooked fore-finger for "wine," suggests that the thought of a jolly red nose was present even in so unlikely a place. The sign for "the devil," gripping one's chin with all five fingers, shows the enemy seizing a victim. In a mediæval picture, an angel may be seen taking a man by the chin with one hand, and pointing up to heaven with the other. Thus, in a Hindoo tale, Old Age in person comes to claim his own. "In time then, when I had grown grey with years, Old Age took me by the chin, and in his love to me said kindly, 'My son, what doest thou yet in the house?'"[8]

There is yet another development of the gesture-language to be noticed, the stage performances of the professional mimics of Greece and Rome, the pantomime par excellence. To judge by two well-known anecdotes, the old mimes had brought their art to great perfection. Macrobius says it was a well-known fact that Cicero used to try with Roscius the actor, which of them could express a sentiment in the greater variety of ways, the player by mimicry or the orator by speech, and that these experiments gave Roscius such confidence in his art, that he wrote a book comparing oratory with acting.[9] Lucian tells a story of a certain barbarian prince of Pontus, who was at Nero's court, and saw a pantomime perform so well, that though he could not understand the songs which the player was accompanying with his gestures, he could follow the performance from the acting alone. When Xero afterwards asked the prince to choose what he would have for a present, he begged to have the player given to him, saying that it was difficult to get interpreters to communicate with some of the tribes in his neighbourhood who spoke different languages, but that this man would answer the purpose perfectly.[10]

It would seem from these stories that the ancient pantomimes generally used gestures so natural that their meaning was selfevident, but a remark of St. Augustine's intimates that signs understood only by regular playgoers were also used. "For all those things which are valid among men, because it pleases them to agree that they shall be so, are human institutions. . . . So if the signs which mimes make in their performances had their meaning from nature, and not from the agreement and ordinance of men, the crier in old times would not have given out to the Carthaginians at the play what the actor meant to express, a thing still remembered by many old men by whom we use to hear it said; which is readily to be believed, seeing that even now, if any one who is not learned in such follies goes into the theatre, unless some one else tells him what the signs mean, he can make nothing of them. All men, indeed, desire a certain likeness in sign-making, that the signs should be as like as may be to that which is signified; but seeing that things may be like one another in many ways, such signs are not constant among men, unless by common consent."[11]

Knowing what we do of mimic performances from other sources, we can, I think, only understand by this that natural gestures were very commonly conventionalized and abridged to save time and trouble, and not that arbitrary signs were used; and such abridgments, like the simplified sign for trading or swopping among the Indians, as well as the whole class of epithets and allusions which would grow up among mimics addressing their regular set of playgoers, would not be intelligible to a stranger. Christians, of course, did not frequent such performances in St. Augustine's time, but looked upon them as utterly abominable and devilish; nor can we accuse them of want of charity for this, when we consider the class of scenes that were commonly chosen for representation.

There seem to have been written lists of signs used to learn from, which are now lost.[12] The mimic, it should be observed, had not the same difficulties to contend with as an Indian interpreter. In the first place, the stories represented were generally mythological, very usually love-passages of the gods and heroes, with which the whole audience was perfectly familiar; and, moreover, appropriate words were commonly sung while the mimic acted, so that he could apply all his skill to giving artistic illustrations of the tale as it went on. The pantomimic performances of Southern Europe may be taken as representing in some degree the ancient art, but it is likely that the mimicry in the modern ballet and the Eastern pantomimic plays falls much below the classical standard of excellence.

I have now noticed what I venture to call the principal dialects of the gesture-language. It is fit, however, that, gesture-signs having been spoken of as forming a complete and independent language by themselves, something should be said of their use as an accompaniment to spoken language. We in England make comparatively little use of these signs, but they have been and are in use in all quarters of the world as highly important aids to conversation. Thus, Captain Cook says of the Tahitians, after mentioning their habit of counting upon their fingers, that "in other instances, we observed that, when they were conversing with each other, they joined signs to their words, which were so expressive that a stranger might easily apprehend their meaning;"[13] and Charlevoix describes, in almost the same words, the expressive pantomime with which an Indian orator accompanied his discourse.[14]

Gesticulation goes along with speech, to explain and empha- size it, among all mankind. Savage and half-civilized races accompany their talk with expressive pantomime much more than nations of higher culture. The continual gesticulation of Hindoos, Arabs, Greeks, as contrasted with the more northern nations of Europe, strikes every traveller who sees them; and the colloquial pantomime of Naples is the subject of a special treatise.[15] But we cannot lay down a rule that gesticulation decreases as civilization advances, and say, for instance, that a Southern Frenchman, because his talk is illustrated with gestures, as a book with pictures, is less civilized than a German or an Englishman.

We English are perhaps poorer in the gesture-language than any other people in the world. We use a form of words to denote what a gesture or a tone would express. Perhaps it is because we read and write so much, and have come to think and talk as we should write, and so let fall those aids to speech which cannot be carried into the written language.

The few gesture-signs which are in common use among ourselves are by no means unworthy of examination; but we have lived for so many centuries in a highly artificial state of society, that some of them cannot be interpreted with any certainty, and the most that we can do is to make a good guess at their original meaning. Some, it is true, such as beckoning or motioning away with the hand, shaking the fist, etc., carry their explanation with them; and others may he plausibly explained by a comparison with analogous signs used by speaking men in other parts of the world, and by the deaf-and-dumb. Thus, the sign of "snapping-one's fingers" is not very intelligible as we generally see it; but when we notice that the same sign made quite gently, as if rolling some tiny object away between the finger and thumb, or the sign of flipping it away with the thumb-nail and fore-finger, are usual and well-understood deaf-and-dumb gestures, denoting anything tiny, insignificant, contemptible, it seems as though we had exaggerated and conventionalized a perfectly natural action so as to lose sight of its original meaning. There is a curious mention of this gesture by Strabo. At Anchiale, he writes, Aristobulus says there is a monument to Sardanapalus, and a stone statue of him as if snapping his fingers, and this inscription in Assyrian letters:—"Sardanapallus, the son of Anacyndaraxes, built in one day Anchiale and Tarsus. Eat, drink, play ; the rest is not worth that!"[16]

Shaking hands is not a custom which belongs naturally to all mankind, and we may sometimes trace its introduction into countries where it was before unknown. The Fijians, for instance, who used to salute by smelling or sniffing at one another, have learnt to shake hands from the missionaries.[17] The Wa-nika, near Mombaz, grasp hands; but they use the Moslem variety of the gesture, which is to press the thumbs against one another as well,[18] and this makes it all but certain that the practice is one of the many effects of Moslem influence in East Africa.

It is commonly thought that the Red Indians adopted the custom of shaking hands from the white men.[19] This may be true; but there is reason to suppose that the expression of alliance or friendship by clasping hands was already familiar to them, so that they would readily adopt it as a form of salutation, if they had not used it so before the arrival of the Europeans. More than a century ago, Charlevoix noticed in the Indian picture-writing the expression of alliance by the figure of two men holding each other by one hand, while each grasped a calumet in the other hand.[20] In one of the Indian pictures given by Schoolcraft, close affection is represented by two bodies united by a single arm (see Fig. 6); and in a pictorial message sent from an Indian tribe to the President of the United States, an eagle, which represents a chief, is holding out a hand to the President, who also holds out a hand.[21] The last of these pictured signs may be perhaps ascribed to European influence, but hardly the first two.

We could scarcely find a better illustration of the meaning of the gesture of joining hands than in its use as a sign of the marriage contract. One of the ceremonies of a Moslem wedding consists in the bridegroom and the bride's proxy sitting upon the ground, face to face, with one knee on the ground, and grasping each other's right hands, raising the thumbs and pressing them against each other,[22] or in the almost identical ceremony in the Pacific Islands, in which the bride and bridegroom are placed on a large white cloth, spread on the pavement of a marae, and join hands.[23] This as evidently means that the man and wife are joined together, as the corresponding ceremony in the ancient Mexican and the modern Hindu wedding, in which the clothes of the parties are tied together in a knot. Among our own Aryan race, the taking hands was a usual ceremony in marriage in the Vedic period.[24] The idea which shaking hands was originally intended to convey, was clearly that of fastening together in peace and friendship; and the same thought appears in the probable etymology of peace, pax, Sanskrit paç, to bind, and in league from ligare.

Cowering or crouching is so natural an expression of fear or inability to resist, that it belongs to the brutes as well as to man. Among ourselves this natural sign of submission is generally used in the modified forms of bowing and kneeling; but the analogous gestures found in different countries not only give us the intermediate stages between an actual prostration and a slight bow, but also a set of gestures and ceremonies which are merely suggestive of a prostration which is not actually performed. The extreme act of lying with the face in the dust is not only usual in China, Siam, etc., but even in Siberia the peasant grovels on the ground and kisses the dust before a man of rank. The Arab only suggests such a humiliation by bending his hand to the ground and then putting it to his lips and forehead,—a gesture almost identical with that of the ancient Mexican, who touched the ground with his right hand and put it to his mouth.[25] Captain Cook describes the way of doing reverence to chiefs in the Tonga Islands, which was in this wise:—When a subject approached to do homage, the chief had to hold up his foot behind, as a horse does, and the subject touched the sole with his fingers, thus placing himself, as it were, under the sole of his lord's foot. Every one seemed to have the right of doing reverence in this way when he pleased; and chiefs got so tired of holding up their feet to be touched, that they would make their escape at the very sight of a loyal subject.[26] Other developments of the idea are found in the objection made to a Polynesian chief going down into the ship's cabin,[27] and to images of Buddha being kept there[28] in Siam, namely, that they were insulted by the sailors walking over their heads, and in the custom, also among the Tongans, of sitting down when a chief passed.[29] The ancient Egyptian may be seen in the sculptures abbreviating the gesture of touching the ground, by merely putting one hand down to his knee in bowing before a superior. A slight inclination of the body indicates submission or reverence, and becomes at last a mere act of politeness, not involving any sense of inferiority at all. This is brought about by that common habit of civilized man, of pretending to a humility that he does not feel, which leads the Chinese to allude to himself in conversation as "the blockhead" or "the thief," and makes our own high official personages write themselves, Sir, your most obedient humble servant, to persons whom they really consider their inferiors.

With regard to the position of the hands in prayer, there seems to have been a confusion of gestures distinct in their origin. With hands held out as if to touch or embrace a protector, to receive a gift, to ward off a blow, to present a helpless suppliant, unresisting or even offering his wrists for the cord,[30] the worshipper has means of expression which, when meaning becomes stiff in ceremony, he often misapplies. It is not unnatural that mercy or protection should be looked upon as a gift, and that the rustic Phidyle should hold out her supine hands to ask that her vines should not feel the pestilent south-west wind; but the conventionalizing process is carried much further when the hands clasped or with the finger-tips set together can be used to ask for a benefit which they cannot even catch hold of when it comes.

It is easy enough to give a plausible reason for the custom of taking off the hat as an expression of reverence or politeness, by referring it to times when armour was generally worn. To take off the helmet would be equivalent to disarming, and would indicate, in the most practical manner, either submission or peace. The practice of laying aside arms on entering a house appears in a quotation from the 'Boke of Curtayse,' which shows that in the Middle Ages visitors were expected to leave their weapons with the porter at the outer gate, and when they came to the hall door to take off hoods and gloves.

"When thou come tho hall dor to,
Do of thy hode, thy gloves also."[31]

That women are not required to uncover their heads in church or on a visit, is quite consistent with such an origin of the custom, as their head-dresses were not armour; and the same consistency may be observed in the practice of ladies keeping the glove on in shaking hands, while men very commonly remove it. When a knight's glove was a steel gauntlet, such a distinction would be reasonable enough.

This may indeed be fanciful. The practice of women having the head covered in church belongs to the earliest period of Christianity, and the reasons for adopting it were clearly specified. And the usage of men praying with the head uncovered, may have been an intentional reversal of the practice of covering the head in offering sacrifice among the Romans, and among the Jews in their prayers then and now. It does not seem to have been universal, and is even now not followed in the Coptic and Abyssinian churches, in which the Semitic custom of uncovering not the head but the feet is still kept up. This latter ceremony is of high antiquity, and may be plausibly explained as having been done at first merely for cleanliness, as it is now among the Moslems in their baths and houses, as well as in their mosques, that the ground may not be defiled.

There are, moreover, a number of practices found in different parts of the world, which throw doubt on these off-hand explanations of the customs of uncovering the head and feet, and would almost lead us to include both, as particular cases of a general class of reverential uncoverings of the body. Saul strips off his clothes to prophesy, and lies down so all that day and night.[32] Tertullian speaks against the practice of praying with cloaks laid aside, as the heathen do.[33] There was a well-known custom in Tahiti, of uncovering the body down to the waist in honour of gods or chiefs, and even in the neighbourhood of a temple, and on the sacred ground set apart for royalty, with which may be classed a very odd ceremony, which was performed before Captain Cook on his first visit to the island.[34]

The regulations concerning the fow or turban in the Tonga Islands are very curious, from their partial resemblance to European usages. The turban, Mariner says, may only be worn by warriors going to battle, or at sham fights, or at night-time by chiefs and nobles, or by the common people when at work in the fields or in canoes. On all other occasions, to wear a head-dress would be disrespectful, for although no chief should be present, some god might be at hand unseen. If a man were to wear a turban except on these occasions, the first person of superior rank who met him would knock him down, and perhaps even an equal might do it. Even when the turban is allowed to be worn, it must be taken off when a superior approaches, unless in actual battle, but a man who is not much higher in rank will say, "Toogo ho fow," that is, Keep on your turban.[35]

During the administration of the ordeal by poison in Madagascar, Ellis says that no one is allowed to sit on his long robe, nor to wear the cloth round the waist, and females must keep their shoulders uncovered.[36] A remarkable statement is made by Ibn Batuta, in his account of his journey into the Soudan, in the fourteenth century. He mentions as an evil thing which he has observed in the conduct of the blacks, that women may only come unclothed into the presence of the Sultan of Melli, and even the Sultan's own daughters must conform to the custom. He notices also, that they threw dust and ashes on their heads as a sign of reverence,[37] which makes it appear that the stripping was also a mere act of humiliation. With regard to the practice of uncovering the feet, when we find the Damaras, in South Africa, taking off their sandals, before entering a stranger's house,[38] the idea of connecting the practice with the ancient Egyptian custom, or of ascribing it to Moslem influence, at once suggests itself, but the taking off the sandals as a sign of respect seems to have prevailed in Peru. No common Indian, it is said, dared go shod along the Street of the Sun, nor might any one, however great a lord he might be, enter the houses of the sun with shoes on, and even the Inca himself went barefoot into the Temple of the Sun.[39]

In this group of reverential uncoverings, the idea that the subject presents himself naked, defenceless, poor, and miserable before his lord, seems to be dramatically expressed, and this view is borne out by the practice of stripping, or uncovering the head and feet, as a sign of mourning,[40] where there can hardly be anything but destitution and misery to be expressed.

The lowest class of salutations, which merely aim at giving pleasant bodily sensations, merge into the civilities which we see exchanged among the lower animals. Such are patting, stroking, kissing, pressing noses, blowing, sniffing, and so forth. The often described sign of pleasure or greeting of the Indians of North America, by rubbing each other's arms, breasts, and stomachs, and their own,[41] is similar to the Central African custom, of two men clasping each other's arms with both hands, and rubbing them up and down,[42] and that of stroking one's own face with another's hand or foot, in Polynesia;[43] and the pattings and slappings of the Fuegians belong to the same class. Darwin describes the way in which noses are pressed in New Zealand, with details which have escaped less accurate observers.[44] It is curious that Linnæus found the salutation by touching noses in the Lapland Alps. People did not kiss, but put noses together.[45] The Andaman Islanders salute by blowing into another's hand with a cooing murmur.[46] Charlevoix speaks of an Indian tribe on the Gulf of Mexico, who blew into one another's ears;[47] and Du Chaillu describes himself as having been blown upon in Africa.[48] Sir S. Baker describes the expression of thanks among the Kytch of the White Nile, by holding their benefactor's hand and pretending to spit upon it.[49] Natural expressions of joy, such as clapping hands in Africa,[50] and jumping up and down in Tierra del Fuego,[51] are made to do duty as signs of friendship or greeting.

There are a number of well-known gestures which are hard to explain. Such are various signs of hatred and contempt, such as lolling out the tongue, which is a universal sign, though it is not clear why it should he so, biting the thumb, making the sign of the stork's bill behind another's back (ciconiam facere), and the sign known as "taking a sight," which was as common at the time of Rabelais as it is now.

In modern India, as in ancient Rome, only a part of the signs we find described are such as can be set down at once to their proper origin.[52] One of the common gestures in India, especially, has puzzled many Europeans. This is the way of beckoning with the hand to call a person, which looks as though it were the reverse of the movement which we use for the purpose. I have heard, on native authority, that the apparent difference consists in the palm being outwards instead of inwards, but a remark made about the natives of the south of India by Mr. Roberts, who seems to have been an extremely good observer, suggests another explanation: "The way in which the people beckon for a person, is to lift up the right hand to its extreme height, and then bring it down with a sudden sweep to the ground."[53] It is evident that to make a sort of abbreviation of this movement, as by doing it from the wrist or elbow instead of from the shoulder, would be a natural sign, and yet would be liable to be taken for our gesture of motioning away. It is possible that something of this kind has led to the following description of the way of beckoning in New Zealand:— "In signals for those some way off to come near, the arm is waved in an exactly opposite direction to that adopted by Englishmen for similar purposes, and the natives in giving silent assent to anything, elevate the head and chin in place of nodding acquiescence."[54] The contrast between yes and no is variously made by different nations. The ancient Greeks used to nod (κατανεύω, ἐπινεύω) for yes, but to throw back the head (ἀνανεύω) for no; these signs may still be seen in Italy.[55] The Turk throws his head back with a cluck to express no, but can express yes by a movement like our shaking the head.[56] The Siamese priest's gestures in giving evidence, are raising his hat or fan to express yes, and lowering it to express no.[57]

Of signs used to avert the evil eye, some are connected with the ancient counter-charms, and others are of uncertain meaning, such as the very common one represented in old Greek and Roman amulets, the hand closed all but the fore-finger and little finger, which are held out straight. When King Ferdinand I. of Naples used to appear in public, he might be seen to put his hand from time to time into his pocket. Those who understood his ways knew that he was clenching his fist with the thumb stuck out between the first and second fingers, to avert the effect of a glance of the evil eye that some one in the street might have cast on him.

Enough has now been said to show that gesture-language is a natural mode of expression common to mankind in general. Moreover, this is true in a different sense to that in which we say that spoken language is common to mankind, including under the word language many hundreds of mutually unintelligible tongues, for the gesture-language is essentially one and the same in all times and all countries. It is true that the signs used in different places, and by different persons, are only partially the same; but it must be remembered that the same idea may be expressed in signs in very many ways, and that it is not necessary that all should choose the same. How the choice of gesture-signs is influenced by education and habit of life is well shown by a story told somewhere of a boy, himself deaf-and-dumb, who paid a visit to a Deaf-and-Dumb Asylum. When he was gone, the inmates expressed to the master their disgust at his ways. He talked an ugly language, they said; when he wanted to show that something was black, he pointed to his dirty nails.

The best evidence of the unity of the gesture-language is the ease and certainty with which any savage from any country can understand and be understood in a deaf-and-dumb school. A native of Hawaii is taken to an American Institution, and begins at once to talk in signs with the children, and to tell about his voyage and the country he came from. A Chinese, who had fallen into a state of melancholy from long want of society, is quite revived by being taken to the same place, where he can talk in gestures to his heart's content. A deaf-and-dumb lad named Collins is taken to see some Laplanders, who were carried about to be exhibited, and writes thus to his fellow-pupils about the Lapland woman:—"Mr. Joseph Humphreys told me to speak to her by signs, and she understood me. When Cunningham was with me, asking Lapland woman, and she frowned at him and me. She did not know we were deaf-and-dumb, but afterwards she knew that we were deaf-and-dumb, then she spoke to us about reindeers and elks and smiled at us much."[58]

The study of the gesture-language is not only useful as giving us some insight into the workings of the human mind. We can only judge what other men's minds are like by observing their outward manifestations, and similarity in the most direct and simple kind of utterance is good evidence of similarity in the mental processes which it communicates to the outer world. As, then, the gesture-language appears not to be specifically affected by differences in the race or climate of those who use it, the shape of their skulls and the colour of their skins, its evidence, so far as it goes, bears against the supposition that specific differences are traceable among the various races of man, at least in the more elementary processes of the mind.

  1. Humboldt and Bonpland, 'Voyage;' Paris, 1814, etc. vol. ii. p. 278.
  2. Edwin James, 'Major Stephen H. Long's Exped. Rocky Moun.'; Philadelphia, 1823, i. p. 378, etc. Capt. R. F. Burton, ' The City of the Saints,' London, 1861, p. 150, etc. See also Prinz Maximilian von Wied-Neuwied, 'Voyage dans l'Intérieur de l'Amérique du Nord;' Paris, 1840-3, vol. iii. p. 389. Buschmann, 'Spuren der Azt. Spr., etc.'; (Abh. der K. Akad. der Wisseusch. 1854) Berlin. 1859, p. 641.
  3. Marsh, 'Lectures on the English Language;' London, 1862, p. 486.
  4. J. R. Bartlett, 'Dictionary of Americanisms,' 2nd edit., Boston, 1859, s. v. "Drink."
  5. Schmalz, pp. 267–277. See Wedgwood, p. 91.
  6. Leibnitz, Opera Omnia, ed. Dutens; Geneva, 1768, vol. vi. part ii. p. 207, etc.
  7. Coptic khroti (ni) = filii, liberi, hroti = cognatus, filius. Old Eg. in Rosetta Ins. Compare S. Sharpe, Hist. of Egypt, 4th ed. vol. ii. p. 148. Wilkinson, 'Popular Account of the Ancient Egyptians;' London, 1854 vol. ii, p. 182.
  8. 'Mährchensammlung des Somadeva Bhatta' (trans, by Dr. H. Brockhaus); Leipzig, 1843, ii. p. 96.
  9. Macrob. Saturn, lib. ii. c. x.
  10. Lucian. De Saltatione, 64.
  11. Aug. Doct. Chr. ii. 25.
  12. Grysar, in Ersch and Gruber, art. "Pantomimische Kunst der Alten."
  13. Cook. First Voyage, in Hawkesworth's Voyages; London, 1773, vol. ii. p. 228.
  14. Charlevoix, vol. i p. 413.
  15. Wiseman, 'Essays;' London, 1853, vol. iii. p. 531.
  16. Strabo, xiv. 5, 9.
  17. Rev. Thos. Williams, 'Fiji and the Fijians,' 2nd ed.; London, 1860, vol. i. p. 153.
  18. Krapf, 'Travels, etc., in East Africa;' London, 1860, p. 138.
  19. H. R. Schoolcraft, 'Historical and Statistical Information respecting the History, etc., of the Indian Tribes of the U. S.;' Philadelphia, 1851, etc., part iii. pp. 212, 241 Burton, 'City of the Saints,' p. 144. But see also Schoolcraft, part iii. p. 263.
  20. Charlevoix, vol. v. p. 440.
  21. Schoolcraft, part i. pp. 403, 418.
  22. E. W. Lane, 'Modern Egyptians;' London, 1837, vol. i. p. 219.
  23. Rev. W. Ellis, 'Polynesian Researches;' London, 1830, vol. ii. p. 569.
  24. Ad. Pictet, 'Origines Indo-Européennes;' Paris, 1859–63, part ii. p. 336.
  25. A. v. Humboldt, 'Vues des Cordillères;' Paris, 1810, p. 83.
  26. Cook. Third Voyage, 2nd ed.; London, 1785, vol. i. pp. 267, 409.
  27. Cook, Third Voyage, vol. i. p. 265.
  28. Sir J. Bowring, 'Siam;' London, 1857, vol. i. p. 125.
  29. Cook, ib. p. 409.
  30. Wedgwood, 'Origin of Language;' London, 1866, p. 146. Grimm, D. M. p. 1200. Meiners, 'Allg. Gesch. der Religionen;' Hanover, 1806–7, vol. ii. p. 280.
  31. Wright, 'History of Domestic Manners,' etc.; London, 1862, p. 141.
  32. 1 Sam. xix. 24.
  33. Tert., 'De Oratione,' xii.
  34. Cook, 'First Voy. H.,' vol. ii. pp. 125, 153. Ellis, 'Polyn. Res.,' vol. ii. pp. 171, 352–3.
  35. Mariner, 'Tonga Islands;' vol. i. p. 158.
  36. Rev. W. Ellis, 'Hist. of Madagascar;' London, 1838, vol. i. p. 464.
  37. Ibn Batuta in 'Journal Asiatique,' 4me Série, vol. i. p. 221. Waitz, 'Introd. to Anthropology,' E. Tr. ed. by J. F. Collingwood; part i., London, 1863, p. 301.
  38. C. J. Andersson, 'Lake Ngami,' etc., 2nd ed.; London, 1856, p. 231.
  39. Prescott, 'History of the Conquest of Peru,' 2nd ed.; London, 1847, vol. i. pp. 97, 78.
  40. Micah i. 8. Ezekiel xxiv. 17. Herod, ii. 85. Rev. J. Roberts, 'Oriental Illustrations of the Sacred Scriptures,' 2nd ed. London, 1844, p. 492, etc.
  41. Charlevoix, vol. iii. p. 16; vol. vi. p. 189, etc.
  42. Burton, 'Lake Regions of Central Africa;' London, 1860, vol. ii. p. 69.
  43. Cook, 'Third Voy.,' vol. i. p. 179.
  44. Darwin, 'Journal of Res.,' etc.; London, 1860, pp. 205, 423. See W.v. Humboldt, 'Kawi-Spr.' vol. i. p. 77.
  45. Linnæus, 'Tour in Lapland;' London, 1811, vol. i. p. 315. See Kotzebue, 'Voyage,' vol. i. p. 192 (Esquimaux).
  46. Mouat, 'Andaman Islanders;' London, 1863, pp. 279–80.
  47. Charlevoix, vol. iii. p. 16.
  48. Du Chaillu, 'Equatorial Africa;' London, 1861, pp. 393, 430.
  49. Baker, 'Albert Nyanza;' London, 1866, vol. i. p. 72.
  50. Burton, 'Central Africa,' vol. ii. p. 69.
  51. Wilkes, U. 8. Exploring Exp.; London, 1845, vol. i. p. 127.
  52. Plin. xi. 103. Roberts, 'Oriental lllustr.,' pp. 87, 90, 285, 293, 461, 475, 491.
  53. 'Oriental lllustr.' p. 396.
  54. A. S. Thomson, 'The Story of New Zealand;' London, 1859, vol. i. p. 209. See Cook, 'First Voy. H.,' vol. ii. p. 311.
  55. Liddell and Scott; Liebrecht in Heidelb. Jahrb., 1868, p. 325.
  56. Bastian, vol. i. p. 395.
  57. Low in Journ. Ind. Archip., vol. i. p. 356.
  58. Dr. Orpen, 'The Contrast,' p. 177.