« Prev Chapter IV. The Dawn of Mind Next »


THE most beautiful witness to the Evolution of Man is the Mind of a little child. The stealing in of that inexplicable light—yet not more light than sound or touch—called consciousness, the first flicker of memory, the gradual governance of will, the silent ascendancy of reason—these are studies in Evolution the oldest, the sweetest, and the most full of meaning for mankind. Evolution, after all, is a study for the nursery. It was ages before Darwin or Lamarck or Lucretius that Maternity, bending over the hollowed cradle in the forest for a first smile of recognition from her babe, expressed the earliest trust in the doctrine of development. Every mother since then is an unconscious Evolutionist, and every little child a living witness to Ascent.

Is the Mind a new or an old thing in the world? Is it an Evolution from beneath or an original gift from heaven? Did the Mind, in short, come down the ages like the Body, and does the mother’s faith in the intellectual unfolding of her babe include a remoter origin for all human faculty? Let the mother look at her child and answer. “It is the very breath of God,” she says; “this Child-Life is Divine.” And she is right. But let her look again. That forehead, whose is it? It is hers. And the frown which darkened it just now? Is hers also. And that which caused the frown to darken, that something or nothing, behind the forehead, that flash of pride, or scorn, or hate? Alas, it is her very own. And as the years roll on, and the budding life unfolds, there is scarcely a mood or gesture or emotion that she does not know is borrowed. But whence in turn did she receive them? From an earlier mother. And she? From a still earlier mother. And she? From the savage-mother in the woods. And the savage-mother?

Shall we hesitate here? We well may. So Godlike a gift is intellect, so wondrous a thing is consciousness, that to link them with the animal world seems to trifle with the profoundest distinctions in the Universe. Yet to associate these supersensuous things with the animal kingdom is not to identify them with the animal-body. Electricity is linked with metal rods, it is not therefore metallic. Life is associated with protoplasm, it is not therefore albuminous. Instinct is linked with matter, but it is not therefore material; Intellect with animal matter, but is not therefore animal. As we rise in the scale of Nature we encounter new orders of phenomena, Matter, Life, Mind, each higher than that before it, each totally and forever different, yet each using that beneath it as the pedestal for its further progress. Associated with animal-matter—how associated no psychology, no physiology, no materialism, no spiritualism, has even yet begun to hint—may there not have been from an early dawn the elements of a future Mind? Do the wide analogies of Nature not make the suggestion worthy at least of inquiry? The fact, to which there is no exception, that all lesser things evolve, the suggestion, which is daily growing into a further certainty, that there is a mental evolution among animals from the Coelenterate to the Ape; the fact that the unfolding of the Child-Mind is itself a palpable evolution; the infinitely more significant circumstance that the Mind in a child seems to unfold in the order in which it would unfold if its mental faculties were received from the Animal world, and in the order in which they have already asserted themselves in the history of the race. These seem formidable facts on the side of those consistent evolutionists who, in the face of countless difficulties and countless prejudices, still press the lawful inquiry into the development of human faculty.

The first feeling in most minds when the idea of mental evolution is presented, is usually one of amusement. This not seldom changes, when the question is seen to be taken seriously, into wonder at the daring of the suggestion or pity for its folly. All great problems have been treated in this way. All have passed through the inevitable phases of laughter, contempt, opposition. It ought to be so. And if this problem is “perhaps the most interesting that has ever been submitted to the contemplation of our race,”4646Romanes, Mental Evolution in Man, p. 2. its basis cannot be criticized with too great care. But none have a right to question either the sanity or the sanctity of such investigations, still less to dismiss them idly on a priori grounds, till they have approached the practical problem for themselves, and heard at least the first few relevant words from Nature. For one has only to move for a little among the facts to see what a world of interest lies here, and to be forced to hold the judgment in suspense till the sciences at work upon the problem have further shaped their verdict. Thinkers who are entitled to respect have even gone further. They include mental evolution not only among the hypotheses of Science but among its facts and its necessary facts. “Is it conceivable,” asks Mr. Romanes, “that the human mind can have arisen by way of a natural genesis from the minds of the higher quadrumana? I maintain that the material now before us is sufficient to show, not only that this is conceivable, but inevitable.”47470p. cit., p. 213.

It is no part of the present purpose to discuss the ultimate origin or nature of Mind. Our subject is its development. At the present moment the ultimate origin of Mind is as inscrutable a mystery as the origin of Life. It is sometimes charged against Evolution that it tries to explain everything and to rob the world of all its problems. There does not appear the shadow of a hope that it is about to rob it of this. On the contrary the foremost scientific exponents of the theory of mental evolution are ceaselessly calling attention to the inscrutable character of the element whose history they attempt to trace. “On the side of its philosophy,” says Mr. Romanes, “no one can have a deeper respect for the problem of self-consciousness than I have; for no one can be more profoundly convinced than I am that the problem on this side does not admit of solution. In other words, so far as this aspect of the matter is concerned, I am in complete agreement with the most advanced idealist I am as far as any one can be from throwing light upon the intrinsic nature of the probable origin of that which I am endeavouring to trace.”4848Mental Evolution in Man, pp. 194–5. Mr. Darwin himself recoiled from a problem so transcendent: “I have nothing to do with the origin of the mental powers, any more than I have with that of life itself.”4949Origin of Species, p. 191. “In what manner,” he elsewhere writes, “the mental powers were first developed in the lowest organisms, is as hopeless an inquiry as how life itself first originated.”5050Descent of Man, p. 66.

Notwithstanding his appreciation of the difficulty of the ultimate problem, Mr. Darwin addressed his whole strength to the question of the Evolution of Mind—the Evolution as distinguished from its origin and nature; and in this he has recently had many followers, as well as many opponents. Among the latter stand the co-discoverer with him of Natural Selection, Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, and Mr. St. George Mivart. Mr. Wallace’s opposition, from a scientific point of view, is not so hostile, however, as is generally supposed. While holding his own view as to the origin of Mind, what he attacks in Mr. Darwin’s theory of mental evolution is, not the development itself, but only the supposition that it could have been due to Natural Selection. Mr. Wallace’s authority is frequently quoted to show that the mathematical, the musical and the artistic faculties could not have been evolved, whereas all he has really emphasized is that “they could not have been developed under the law of Natural Selection.”5151Darwinism, p. 469. In short the conclusion of Mr. Darwin which his colleague found “not to be supported by adequate evidence, and to be directly opposed to many well ascertained facts,” was not a general theorem, but a specific one. And many will agree with Mr. Wallace in doubting “that man’s entire nature and all his faculties, whether moral, intellectual, or spiritual, have been derived from their rudiments in the lower animals, in the same manner and by the action of the same general laws as his physical structure has been derived.”5252Ibid., p. 461.

The more this problem has been investigated, the difficulties of the whole field increase, and the off-hand acceptance of any specific evolution theory finds less and less encouragement. No serious thinker, on whichever side of the controversy, has succeeded in lessening to his own mind the infinite distance between the Mind of Man and everything else in Nature, and even the most consistent evolutionists are as unanimous as those who oppose them, in their assertion of the uniqueness of the higher intellectual powers. The concensus of scientific opinion here is extraordinary. “I know nothing,” says Huxley, in the name of biology, “and never hope to know anything, of the steps by which the passage from molecular movement to states of consciousness is effected.”5353Contemporary Review, 1871. “The two things,” emphasizes the physicist, “are on two utterly different platforms, the physical facts go along by themselves, and the mental facts go along by themselves.”5454Clifford, Fortnightly Review, 1874. “It is all through and for ever inconceivable,” protests the German physiologist, “that a number of atoms of Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and so on, shall be other than indifferent as to how they are disposed and how they move, how they were disposed and how they moved, how they will be disposed and how they will be moved. It is utterly inconceivable how consciousness shall arise from their joint action.”5555Du Bois-Reymond, Ueber die Grenzen des Naturerkennens, p 42. So impressed is even Mr. Lloyd Morgan, mental evolutionist though he be, with the gap between the Minds of Man and brute that his language is almost as strong: “I for one do not for a moment question that the mental processes of man and animals are alike products of evolution. The power of cognizing relations, reflection and introspection, appear to me to mark a new departure in evolution,”5656C. Lloyd Morgan, Nature, Sept. 1, 1892, p. 417. and “I am not prepared to say that there is a difference in kind between the mind of man and the mind of a dog. This would imply a difference in origin or a difference in the essential nature of its being. There is a great and marked difference in kind between the material processes which we call physiological and the mental processes we call psychical. They belong to wholly different orders of being. I see no reason for believing that mental processes in man differ thus in kind from mental processes in animals. But I do think that we have, in the introduction of the analytic faculty, so definite and marked a new departure that we should emphasize it by saying that the faculty of perception, in its various specific grades, differs generically from the faculty of conception. And believing, as I do, that conception is beyond the power of my favourite and clever dog, I am forced to believe that his mind differs generically from my own.”5757C. Lloyd Morgan, Animal Life and Intelligence, p. 350.

Should anyone feel it necessary either to his view of Man or of the Universe to hold that a great gulf lies here, it is open to him to cling to his belief. The present thesis is simply that Man has ascended. After all, little depends on whether the slope is abrupt or gentle, whether Man reaches the top by a uniform flight or has here and there by invisible hands to be carried across a bridgeless space. In any event it is Nature’s staircase. To say that self-consciousness has arisen from sensation, and sensation from the function of nutrition, let us say, in the Mimosa pudica or Sensitive Plant, may be right or wrong; but the error can only be serious when it is held that that accounts either for self-consciousness or for the transition. Mimosa can be defined in terms of Man; but Man cannot be defined in terms of Mimosa. The first is possible because there is the least fraction in that which is least in Man of that which is greatest in Mimosa; the last is impossible because there is nothing in Mimosa of that which is greatest in Man. What the two possess in common, or seem to possess, may be a basis for comparison, for what it is worth; but to include in the comparison the ninety-nine and nine-tenths per cent of what is over and above that common fraction is by no sort of reasoning lawful. Man, in the last resort, has self-consciousness, Mimosa sensation; and the difference is qualitative as well as quantitative.

If, however, it is a fallacy to ignore the qualitative differences arising in the course of the transition, it may be a mistake, on the other hand, to make nothing of the transition. If in the name of Science the advocate of the Law of Continuity demands that it be rectified, he may well make the attempt. The partial truth for the present perhaps amounts to this, that earlier phases of life exhibit imperfect manifestations of principles which in the higher structure and widened environment of later forms are more fully manifested and expressed, yet are neither contained in the earlier phases nor explained by them. At the same time, everything that enters into Man, every sensation, emotion, volition, enters with a difference, a difference due to the fact that he is a rational and self-conscious being, a difference therefore which no emphasis of language can exaggerate. The music varies with the ear; varies with the soul behind the ear; relates itself with all the music that ear has ever heard before; with the mere fact that what that ear hears, it hears as music; that it hears at all; that it knows that it hears. Man differs from every other product of the evolutionary process in being able to see that it is a process, in sharing and rejoicing in its unity, and in voluntarily working through the process himself. If he is part of it he is also more than part of it, since he is at once its spectator, its director, and its critic. “Even on the hypothesis of a psychic life in all matter we come to an alteration indeed, but not an abolition, of the contrast between body and soul. Of course on that hypothesis they are distinguished by no qualitative difference in their natures, but still less do they blend into one; the one individual ruling soul always remains facing, in an attitude of complete isolation, the homogeneous but ministrant monads, the joint multitude of which forms the living body.”5858Lotze, Microcosmus, p. 162.

With these preliminary cautions, let us turn for a little to the facts. The field here is so full of interest in itself that apart from its forming a possible chapter in the history of Man it is worth a casual survey.

The difficulty of establishing even the general question of Ascent is of course obvious. After Mind emerged from the animal state, for a long time, and in the very nature of the case, no record of its progress could come down to us. The material Body has left its graduated impress upon the rocks in a million fossil forms; the Spirit of Man, at the other extreme of time, has traced its ascending curve on the tablets of civilization, in the drama of history, and in the monuments of social life; but the Mind must have risen into its first prominence during a long, silent and dateless interval which preceded the era of monumental records. Mind - cannot be exhumed by Palaeontology or fully embalmed in unwritten history, and apart from the analogies of Embryology we have nothing but inference to guide us until the time came when it was advanced enough to leave some tangible register behind.

But so far as knowledge is possible there are mainly five sources of information with regard to the past of Mind. The first is the Mind of a little child; the second the Mind of lower animals; the third, those material witnesses—flints, weapons, pottery—to primitive states of Mind which are preserved in anthropological museums; the fourth is the Mind of a Savage; and the fifth is Language.

The first source—the Mind of a little child—has just been referred to Mind, in Man, does not start into being fully ripe. It dawns; it grows; it mellows; it decays. This growing moreover is a gradual growing, an infinitely gentle, never abrupt unfolding—the kind of growing which in every other department of Nature we are taught by Nature to associate with an Evolution. If the Mind of the infant had been evolved, and that not from primeval Man, but from some more ancient animal, it could not to more perfection have simulated the appearance of having so come.

But this is not all. The Mind of a child not only grows, but grows in a certain order. And the astonishing fact about that order is that it is the probable order of evolution of mental faculty as a whole. Where Science gets that probable order will be referred to by and by. Meantime, simply note the fact that not only in the manner but in the order of its development, the human Mind simulates a product of Evolution. The Mind of a child, in short, is to be treated as an unfolding embryo; and just as the embryo of the body recapitulates the long life-history of all the bodies that led up to it, so this subtler embryo in running its course through the swift years of early infancy runs up the psychic scale through which, as evidence from another field will show, Mind probably evolved. We have seen also that in the case of the body, each step of progress in the embryo has its equivalent either in the bodies, or in the embryos of lower forms of life. Now each phase of mental development in the child is also permanently represented by some species among the lower animals, by idiots, or by the Mind of some existing savage.

Let us turn, however, to the second source of information—Mind in the lower Animals.

That animals have “Minds” is a fact which probably no one now disputes. Stories of “Animal Intelligence” and “Animal Sagacity” in dogs and bees and ants and elephants and a hundred other creatures have been told us from childhood with redundant reiteration. The old protest that animals have no Mind but only instinct has lost its point. In addition to instincts, animals betray intelligence, and often a high degree of intelligence; they share our feelings and emotions; they have memories; they form percepts; they invent new ways of satisfying their desires, they learn by experience. It is true their Minds want much, and all that is highest; but the point is that they actually have Minds, whatever their quantity and whatever their quality.5959As to the exact point of the difference, Mr. Romanes draws the line at the exclusive possession by Man of the power of introspective reflection in the light of self-consciousness. “Wherein,” he asks, “does the distinction truly consist? It consists in the power which the human being displays of objectifying ideas, or of setting one state of mind before another state, and contemplating the relation between them. The power to think is—or, as I should prefer to state it, the power to think at all is—the power which is given by introspective reflection in the light of self-consciousness. . . . We have no evidence to show that any animal is capable of thus objectifying its own ideas; and, therefore, we have no evidence that any animal is capable of judgment. Indeed, I will go further and affirm that we have the best evidence which is derivable from what are necessarily ejective sources, to prove that no animal can possibly attain to these excellencies of subjective life.” Mr. Romanes proceeds to state the reason why. It is because of “the absence in brutes of the needful conditions to the occurrence of those excellencies as they obtain in themselves . . . the great distinction between the brute and the man really lies behind the faculties both of conception and prediction; it resides in the conditions to the occurrence of either.”—Mental Evolution in Animals, p. 175. If abstraction, as Locke says, “is an excellency which the faculties of brutes do by no means attain to,” we cannot on that account deny them Mind, but only that height of Mind which men have, and which Evolution would never look for in any living thing but Man. An Evolutionist would no more expect to find the higher rational characteristics in a wolf or a bear than to unearth the modern turbine from a Roman aqueduct.

Though the possession even of a few rudiments of Mind by animals is a sufficient starting point for Mental Evolution, to say that they have only a few rudiments is to understate the facts. But we know so little what Mind is that speculation in this region can only be done in the rough. On one hand lies the danger of minimizing tremendous distinctions, on the other, of pretending to know all about these distinctions, because we have learned to call them by certain names. Mind, when we come to see what it is, may be one; perhaps must be one. The habit of unconsciously regarding the powers and faculties of Mind as separate entities, like the organs of the body, has its risks as well as its uses; and we cannot too often remind ourselves that this is a mere device to facilitate thought and speech.

It is mainly to Mr. Romanes that we owe the working out of the evidence in this connection; and even though his researches be little more than a preliminary exploration their general results are striking. Realizing that the most scientific way to discover whether there are any affinities between Mind in Animals and Mind in Man is to compare the one with the other, he began a laborious study of the Animal world. His conclusions are contained in Animal Intelligence and Mental Evolution in Animals—volumes which no one can read without being convinced at least of the thoroughness and fairness of the investigation. That abundant traces were found of Mind in the lower animals goes without saying. But the range of mental phenomena discovered there may certainly excite surprise. Thus, to consider only one set of phenomena—that of the emotions—all the following products of emotional development are represented at one stage or another of animal life:


But this list is something more than a bare catalogue of what human emotions exist in the animal world. It is an arranged catalogue, a more or less definite psychological scale. These emotions did not only appear in animals, but they appeared in this order. Now to find out order in Evolution is of first importance. For order of events is history, and Evolution is history. In creatures very far down the scale of life—the Annelids—Mr. Romanes distinguished what appeared to him to be one of the earliest emotions—Fear. Somewhat higher up, among the Insects, he met with the Social Feelings, as well as Industry, Pugnacity, and Curiosity. Jealousy seems to have been born into the world with Fishes; Sympathy with Birds. The Carnivora are responsible for Cruelty, Hate, and Grief; the Anthropoid Apes for Remorse, Shame, the Sense of the Ludicrous, and Deceit.

Now, when we compare this table with a similar table compiled from a careful study of the emotional states in a little child, two striking facts appear. In the first place, there are almost no emotions in the child which are not here—this list, in short, practically exhausts the list of human emotions. With the exception of the religious feelings, the moral sense, and the perception of the sublime, there is nothing found even in adult Man which is not represented with more or less vividness in the Animal Kingdom. But this is not all. These emotions, as already hinted, appear in the Mind of the growing child in the same order as they appear on the animal scale. At three weeks, for instance, Fear is perceptibly manifest in a little child. When it is seven weeks old the Social Affections dawn. At twelve weeks emerges Jealousy, with its companion Anger. Sympathy appears after five months; Pride, Resentment, Love of Ornament, after eight; Shame, Remorse, and Sense of the Ludicrous after fifteen. These dates, of course, do not indicate in any mechanical way the birthdays of emotions; they represent rather stages in an infinitely gentle mental ascent, stages nevertheless so marked that we are able to give them names, and use them as landmarks in psychogenesis. Yet taken even as representing a rough order it is a circumstance to which some significance must be attached that the tree of Mind as we know it in lower Nature, and the tree of Mind as we know it in a little child, should be the same tree, starting its roots at the same place, and though by no means ending its branches at the same level, at least growing them so far in a parallel direction.

Do we read these emotions into the lower animals or are they really there? That they are not there in the sense in which we think them there is probably certain. But that they are there in some sense, a sense sufficient to permit us cautiously to reason from, seems an admissible hypothesis. No doubt it takes much for granted,—partly, indeed, the very thing to be proved. But discounting even the enormous limitations of the inquiry, there is surely a residuum of general result to make it at least worth making.

If we turn from emotional to intellectual development, the parallelism though much mole faint is at least shadowed. Again we find a list of intellectual products common to both Animal and Man, and again an approximate order common to both. It is true, Man’s development beyond the highest point attained by any animal in the region of the intellect, is all but infinite. Of rational judgment he has the whole monopoly. Wherever the roots of Mind be, there is no uncertainty as to where, and where exclusively, the higher branches are. Grant that the mental faculties of Man and Animal part company at a point, there remains to consider the vast distance—in the case of the emotions almost the whole distance—where they run parallel with one another. Comparative psychology is not so advanced a science as comparative embryology; yet no one who has felt the force of the recapitulation argument for the evolution of bodily function, even making all allowances for the differences of the things compared, will deny the weight of the corresponding argument for the evolution of Mind. Why should the Mind thus recapitulate in its development the psychic life of animals unless some vital link connected them?

A singular complement to this argument has been suggested recently—though as yet only in the form of the vaguest hint—from the side of Mental Pathology. When the Mind is affected by certain diseases, its progress downward can often be followed step by step. It does not tumble down in a moment into chaos like a house of cards, but in a definite order, stone by stone, or storey by storey. Now the striking thing about that order is, that it is the probable order in which the building has gone up. The order of descent, in short, is the inverse of the order of ascent. The first faculty to go, in many cases of insanity, is the last faculty which arrived; the next faculty is affected next; the whole spring uncoiling as it were in the order and direction in which, presumably, it had been wound up. Sometimes even in the phenomenon of old age the cycle may be clearly traced. “Just as consciousness is slowly evolved out of vegetative life, so is it, through the infirmities of old age, the gradual approach of death, and in advanced mental disease, again resolved into it. The highest, most differentiated phenomena of consciousness are the first to give way; impulse, instinct, and reflex movements become again predominant. The phrase ‘to grow childish’ expresses the resemblance between the first stage and the stage of dissolution.”6060Hoffding, Psychology, p. 92.

That the highest part of man should totter first is what, on the theory of mental evolution, one would already have expected. The highest part is the latest added part, and the latest added part is the least secured part. As the last arrival, it is not yet at home; it has not had time to get lastingly embedded in the brain; the competition of older faculties is against it; the hold of the will upon it is slight and fitful; its tenure as a tenant is precarious and often threatened. Among the older and more permanent residents, therefore, it has little chance. Hence if anything goes wrong, as the last added, the most complex, the least automatic of all the functions, it is the first to suffer.

We are but too familiar with cases where men of lofty intellect and women of most pure mind, seized in the awful grasp of madness, are transformed in a few brief months into beings worse than brutes. How are we to account, on any other principle than this, for that most shocking of all catastrophes the sudden and total break-up, the devolution, of a saint? That the wise man should become a chattering idiot is inexplicable enough, but that the saintly soul should riot in blasphemy and immorality so foul that not among the lowest races is there anything to liken to it—these are phenomena so staggering that if Evolution hold any key to them at all, its suggestion must come as at least a partial relief to the human mind. These are possibly cases of actual reversion, cases where all the beautiful later buildings of humanity had been swept away and only the elemental brute foundations left. Devolution is thus assumed to be a co-relative of Evolution. And as the morbid states of the Mind are more and more studied in this relation, it may yet be possible from the phenomena of insanity to lay bare to some extent the outline of intellectual ascent. In the present state both of psychology, and especially of our knowledge of the brain, nothing probably could be more precarious than this as an argument. The very statement involves modes of expression which exact science would rule out of court. The best that can be said is that it is a suggestion awaiting further light before it can even rank as a theory. Complex as the source of knowledge is, the Mind itself must ever be the final authority on its own biography. Analogy from lower nature may do much to confirm the reading; the mental history of the human race, from the rudiments of intellect in the savage to its development in civilized life, may contribute some closing chapters; but unless the Mind tell its own story it will never be fully told. Yet should it ever thus be told, the mystery of Mind itself would remain the same. For the most this could do would be to replace one mystery by a greater. For what greater mystery could there be than that within the mystery of the Mind itself there should lie concealed the very key to unlock its mystery?

To pass from this fascinating region to the material contributions of Anthropology is a somewhat abrupt transition. But this third line of approach to a knowledge of the earlier phases of Mind need not detain us long.

So patient has been the search over almost the whole world for relics of pre-historic Man, that vast collections are now everywhere available where the arts, industries, weapons, and, by inference, the mental development, of the earlier inhabitants of this planet can be practically studied. On the two main points at issue in the discussion of mental evolution these collections are unanimous. They reveal in the first instance, traces of Mind of a very low order existing from an unknown antiquity; and in the second place, they show a gradual improving of this Mind as we approach the present day. It may be that in some cases the evidence suggests a degenerating rather than an ascending civilization; but perturbations of this sort do not affect the main question, nor neutralize the other facts. Evolution is constantly confronted with statements as to the former glory of now decadent nations, as if that were an argument against the theory. Granting that nations have degenerated, it still remains to account for that from which they degenerated. That Egypt has fallen from a great height is certain; but the real problem is how it got to that height. When a boy’s kite descends in our garden, we do not assume that it came from the clouds. That it went up before it came down is obvious, from all that we know of kite-making. And that nations went up before they came down is obvious from all that we know of nation-making. The gravitation, moreover, which brings down nations is just as real as the gravitation which brings down kites; and instead of a falling nation being a stumbling block to Evolution, it is a necessity of the theory. The degeneration and extinction of the unfit are as infallibly brought about by natural laws as the survival of the fit. Evolution is by no means synonymous with uninterrupted progress, but at every turn means relapse, extinction, and decay.

It is pretty clear that, applying the old Argument from Design to the case of the most ancient human relics, Man began the Ascent of Civilization at zero. There has been a time in the history of every nation when the only supplements to the organs of the body for the uses of Man were the stones of the field and the sticks of the forest. To use these natural, abundant, and portable objects, was an obvious resource with early tribes. If Mind dawned in the past at all, it is with such objects that we should expect its first associations, and as a matter of fact it seems everywhere to have been so. Relics of a Stick Age would of course be obliterated by time, but traces of a Stone Age have been found, not in connection with the first beginnings of a few tribes only, but with the first beginnings—from the point that any representation is possible—of probably every nation in the world. The wide geographical use of stone implements is one of the most striking facts in Anthropology. Instead of being confined to a few peoples, and to outlying districts, as is sometimes asserted, their distribution is universal. They are found throughout the length and breadth of Europe, and on all its islands; they occur everywhere in Western Asia, and north of the Himalayas. In the Malay Peninsula they strew the ground in endless numbers; and again, in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, and the Coral Islands of the Pacific. Known in China, they are scattered broadcast throughout Japan, and the same is true of America, Mexico, and Peru. If a child playing with a toy spade is a proof that it is a child, a nation working with stone axes is proved to be a child-nation. Erroneous conclusions may easily be drawn, and indeed have been, from the fact of a nation using stone, but the general law stands. Partly, perhaps, by mutual intercourse, this use of stone became universal; but it arose, more likely, from the similarity in primitive needs, and the available means of gratifying them. Living under widely different conditions, and in every variety of climate, all early peoples shared the instincts of humanity which first called in the use of tools and weapons. All felt the same hunger; all had the instinct of self-preservation; and the universality of these instincts and the commonness of stone led the groping Mind to fasten upon it, and make it one of the first steps to the Arts. A Stone Age, thus, was the natural beginning. In the nature of things there could have been no earlier. If Mind really grew by infinitely gradual ascents, the exact situation the theory requires is here provided in actual fact.

The next step from the Stone Age, so far as further appeal to ancient implements can guide us is also exactly what one would expect. It is to a better Stone Age. Two distinct grades of stone implements are found, the rough and the smooth, or the unground and the ground. For a long period the idea never seems to have dawned that a smooth stone made a better axe than a rough one. Mind was as yet unequal to this small discovery, and there are vast remains representing long intervals of time where all the stone implements and tools are of the unground type. Even when the hour did come, when savage vied with savage in putting the finest polish on his flints, his inspiration probably came from Nature. The first lapidary was the sea; the smoothed pebble on the beach, or the rounded stone of a mountain stream, supplied the pattern. There is no question that the rough stone came earlier than the ground stone. Thus the implements of the Drift Period, those of the Danish Mounds, the Bone Caves, and the gravels of St. Acheul are mostly unground, while those of the later Lake-Dwellers are almost wholly of the smooth type.

To follow the Stone Age upward into the Bronze Period, and from that to the Age of Iron, is not necessary for the present purpose. For at this point the order of succession passes from shell-mound and crannog, into living hands. There are nations with us still who have climbed so short a distance up the psychic scale as to be still in the Age of Stone—peoples whose mental culture and habits are often actual witnesses to the mental states of early Man. These children of Nature take up the thread of mental progress where the Troglodyte and Drift Man left it; and the modern traveller, starting from the civilization of Europe can follow Mind downwards step by step, in ever descending order, tracing its shadings backwards to a first simplicity, till he finds himself with the still living Lake-dweller of Nyasaland or the Bushman of the African forest. Time was when these humble tribes, with their strange and artless ways, were mere food for the curious. Now the study of the lower native races has risen to the first rank in comparative psychology; and the student of beginnings, whether they be the beginnings of Art or of Ethics, of Language or of Letters, of Law or of Religion, goes to seek the roots of his science in the ways, traditions, faiths, and institutions of savage life.

This leads us, however, to the fourth of the sources from which we were to gather a hint or two with regard to the past of Mind—the savage. No one should pronounce upon the Evolution of Mind till he has seen a savage. By this is not meant the show savage of an Australian town, or the quay Kaffir of a South African port, or the Reservation Indian of a Western State; but the savage as he is in reality, and as he may be seen to-day by any who care to look upon so weird a spectacle. No study from the life can compare with this in interest or in pathos, nor stir so many strange emotions in the mind of a thoughtful man. To sit with this incalculable creature in the heart of the great forest; to live with him in his natural home as the guest of Nature; to watch his ways and moods and try to resolve the ceaseless mystery of his thoughts—this, whether the existing savage represents the primitive savage or not, is to open one of the workshops of Creation and behold the half-finished product from which humanity has been evolved.

The world is getting old, but the traveller who cares to follow the daybreak of Mind for himself can almost do so still. Selecting a region where the wand of western civilization has scarcely reached, let him begin with a cruise in the Malay Archipelago or in the Coral Seas of the Southern Pacific. He may find himself there even yet on spots on which no white foot has ever trod, on islands where unknown races have worked out their destiny for untold centuries, whose teeming peoples have no name, and whose habits and mode of life are only known to the outer world through a ship’s telescope. As he coasts along, he will see the dusky figures steal like shades among the trees, or hurry past in their bark canoes, or crouch in fear upon the coral sand. He can watch them gather the bread-fruit from the tree and pull the cocoa-nut from the palm and root out the taro for a meal which, all the year round and all the centuries through, has never changed. In an hour or two he can compass almost the whole round of their simple life, and realize the gulf between himself and them in at least one way—in the utter impossibility of framing to himself an image of the mental world of men and women whose only world is this.

Let him pass on to the coast of Northern Queensland, and, landing where fear of the white man makes landing possible, penetrate the Australian bush. Though the settlements of the European have been there for a generation, he will find the child of Nature still untouched, and neither by intercourse nor imitation removed by one degree from the lowest savage state. These aboriginal peoples know neither house nor home. They neither sow nor reap. Their weapons are those of Nature, a pointed stick and a knotted club. They live like wild things on roots and berries and birds and wallabies, and in the monotony of their life and the uncouthness of their Mind represent almost the lowest level of humanity.6161The situation is dramatic, that from end to end of the region occupied by these tribes, there stretches the Telegraph connecting Australia with Europe. But what is at once dramatic and pathetic is that the natives know it only in its material relations —as so much wire, the first metal they have ever seen, to cut into lengths for spear-heads.

From these rudiments of mankind let him make his way to the New Hebrides, to Tanna, and Santo, and Ambrym, and Aurora. These islands, besides Man, contain only three things, coral, lava, and trees. Until but yesterday their peoples had never seen anything but coral, lava, and trees. They did not know that there was anything else in the world. One hundred years ago Captain Cook discovered these islanders and gave them a few nails. They planted them in the ground that they might grow into bigger nails. It is true that in other lands a very rich life and a very wide world could be made out of no more varied materials than coral, lava, and trees; but on these Tropical Islands Nature is disastrously kind. All that her children need is provided for them ready-made. Her sun shines on them so that they are never either cold or hot; she provides crops for them in unexampled luxuriance, and arranges the year to be one long harvest; she allows no wild animals to prowl among the forests; and surrounding them with the alienating sea she preserves them from the attacks of human enemies. Outside the struggle for life, they are out of life itself. Treated as children, they remain children. To look at them now is to recall the long holiday of the childhood of the world. It is to behold one’s natural face in a glass.

Pass on through the other Cannibal Islands and, apart from the improvement of weapons and the construction of a hut, throughout vast regions there is still no sign of mental progress. But before one has completed the circuit of the Pacific the change begins to come. Gradually there appear the beginnings of industry and even of art. In the Solomon Group and in New Guinea, carving and painting may be seen in an early infancy. The canoes are large and good, fish-hooks are manufactured, and weaving of a rude kind has been established. There can be no question at this stage that the Mind of Man has begun its upward path. And what now begins to impress one is not the poverty of the early Mind, but the enormous potentialities that lie within it, and the exceeding swiftness of its Ascent towards higher things. When the Sandwich Islands are reached, the contrast appears in its full significance. Here, a century ago, Captain Cook, through whom the first knowledge of their existence reached the outer world, was killed and eaten. To-day the children of his murderers have taken their place among the civilized nations of the world, and their Kings and Queens demand acknowledgment at modern Courts.

Books have been given to the world on the Mind of animals. It is strange that so little should have been written specifically on the Mind of the savage. But though this living mine has not yet been drawn upon for its last contribution to science, facts to suggest and sustain a theory of mental evolution are everywhere abundant. Waiving individual cases where nations have fallen from a higher intellectual level the proof indicates a rising potentiality and widening of range as we pass from primitive to civilized states. It is open to debate whether during the historic period mere intellectual advance has been considerable, whether more penetrating or commanding intellects have ever appeared than those of Job, Isaiah, Plato, Shakespeare. But that is matter of yesterday. What concerns us now to note is that the Mind of Man as a whole has had a slow and gradual dawn: that it has existed, and exists to-day, among certain tribes at almost the lowest point of development with which the word human can be associated; and that from that point an Ascent of Mind can be traced from tribe to nation in an ever increasing complexity and through infinitely delicate shades of improvement, till the highest civilized states are reached. In the very nature of things we should have expected such a result. For this is not only a question of faculty. In a far more intimate sense than we are apt to imagine, it is a question of a gradually evolving environment. Every infinitesimal enrichment of the soil for Mind to grow in meant an infinitesimal enrichment of the Mind itself. “It needs but to ask what would happen to ourselves were the whole mass of existing knowledge obliterated, and were children with nothing beyond their nursery-language left to grow up without guidance or instruction from adults, to perceive that even now the higher intellectual faculties would be almost inoperative, from lack of the materials and aids accumulated by past civilization. And seeing this, we cannot fail to see that development of the higher intellectual faculties has gone on pari passu with social advance alike as cause and consequence; that the primitive man could not evolve these higher intellectual faculties in the absence of a fit environment; and that in this, as in other respects, his progress was retarded by the absence of capacities which only progress could bring.”6262Herbert Spencer, Principles of Sociology, Vol. I, pp. 90, 91.

The last testimony is that of Language. It has already been pleaded in excuse for the absence of actual proof for mental evolution that Mind leaves no material footprints by which the palaeontologist can trace its upward path. Yet this is not wholly true. The flints and arrow-heads, the celts and hammers, of early Man are fossil intelligence; the remains of primitive arts and industries are petrified Mind. But there is one mould into which Mind has run more large and beautiful than any of these. When its contents are examined they carry us back not only to what men worked at with their hands, but to what they said to one another as they worked and what they thought as they spoke. That mould is Language. Language, says Jean Paul, is “ein Worterbuch erblasster Metaphern”—a dictionary of faded metaphors. But it is much more. A word is a counter of the brain, a tangible expression of a mental state, an heirloom of the wealth of culture of a race. And an old word, like an ancient coin, speaks to us of a former currency of thought, and by its image and superscription reveals the mental life and aspiration of those who minted it. “Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embalmed and preserved. It is the embodiment, the incarnation, of the feelings and thoughts and experiences of a nation, yea often of many nations, and of all which through long centuries they have attained to and won. It stands like the Pillars of Hercules, to mark how far the moral and intellectual conquests of mankind have advanced, only not like those pillars, fixed and immovable, but even itself advancing with the progress of these. The mighty moral instincts which have been working in the popular mind have found therein their unconscious voice; and the single kinglier spirits that have looked deeper into the heart of things have oftentimes gathered up all they have seen into some one word, which they have launched upon the world, and with which they have enriched it for ever—making in the new word a new region of thought to be henceforward in some sort the common heritage of all.”6363Trench, The Study of Words, p. 28.

What then, when we open this marvellous structure, is the revelation yielded us of the mental states of those who lived at the dawn of speech? An impression of poverty, great and pathetic. All fossils teach the same lesson—the lesson of life, beauty, structure, waning into a poverty-stricken past. Whether they be the shells which living creatures once inhabited, or the bones of departed vertebrate types, or the forms of words where wisdom lay entombed, the structures became simpler and simpler, cruder and cruder, less full of the richness and abundance of life as we near the birth of time. They tell of days when the world was very young, when plants were flowerless and animals backboneless, of later years when primeval Man prowled the forest and chipped his flints and chattered in uncouth syllables of battle and the chase. No words entered at that time into human speech except those relating to the activities, few and monotonous, of an almost animal lot. These were the days of the protoplasm of speech. There was no differentiation between verbs or adverbs, nouns or adjectives. The sentence as yet was not; each word was a sentence. There was no grammatical inflection but the inflection of the voice; the moods of the verb were uttered by intonation or grimace. The pronouns “him” and “you” were made by pointing at him and you. Man had even no word for himself, for he had not yet discovered himself. This fact, when duly considered, raises the witness of Language to the Ascent of Mind to an almost unique importance. Nothing more significant could be said as to Man’s mental past than that there was a time when he was scarcely conscious of himself, as a self. He knew himself, not as subject, but like a little child, as one of the objects of the external world. The words might have been written historically of mankind, “When I was a child, I spake as a child.”

This evidence will meet us again in other forms when we pass to consider the Evolution of Language itself. Meantime let us close this chapter by pointing out a relation of a much more significant order between Language and the whole subject of Mental Evolution. For the point is not only of special interest, but it touches upon, and helps to solve, one of the vital problems of the Ascent of Man.

The enormous distance travelled by the Mind of Man beyond the utmost limit of intelligence reached by any animal is a puzzling circumstance, a circumstance only equalled in strangeness by another—the suddenness with which that rise took place. Both facts are without a parallel in nature. Why, of the countless thousands of species of animals, each with some shadowy rudiment of a Mind, all should have remained comparatively at the same dead level, while Man alone shot past and developed powers of a quality and with a speed unknown in the world’s history, is a question which it is impossible not to raise. That by far the greatest step in the world’s history should not only have been taken at the eleventh hour, but that it took only an hour to do it—for compared with the time when animals began their first activities, the birth of Man is a thing of yesterday—seems almost the denial of Evolution. What was it in Man’s case that gave his mental powers their unprecedented start or facilitated a growth so rapid and so vast?

The factors in all Evolution, and above all in this, are too subtle to encourage one to speculate with final assurance on so fine a problem. Nevertheless, when it is asked, What brought about this sudden rise of intelligence in the case of Man? there is a wonderful unanimity among men of science as to the answer. It came about, it is supposed, in connection with the acquisition by Man of the power to express his mind, that is to speak. Evolution, up to this time, had only one way of banking the gains it won—heredity. To hand on any improvement physically was a slow and precarious work. But with the discovery of language there arose a new method of passing on a step in progress. Instead of sowing the gain on the wind of heredity, it was fastened on the wings of words. The way to make money is not only to accumulate small gains steadily, but to put them out at a good rate of interest. Animals did the first with their mental acquisitions: Man did the second. At a comparatively early date, he found out a first-rate and permanent investment for his money, so that he could not only keep his savings and put them out at the highest rate of interest, but have a share in all the gain that was made by other men. That discovery was Language. Many animals had hit upon an imperfect form of this discovery; but Man alone succeeded in improving it up to a really paying point. The condition of all growth is exercise, and till he could find a further field and a larger opportunity to work what little brains he had, he had little chance of getting more. Speech gave him this opportunity. He rapidly ran up a fortune in brain-matter, because he had found out new uses for it, new exercises of it, and especially a permanent investment for husbanding in the race each gain as it was made in the individual. When he did anything he could now say it; when he learned anything he could pass it on; when he became wise wisdom did not die with him, it was banked in the Mind of humanity. So one man lent his mind to another. The loans became larger and larger, the interest greater and greater; Man’s fortune was secured. In the mere Struggle for Life, his wits were sharpened up to a point; but unless he had learned to talk, he could never have passed very far beyond the animal.

Apart from the saving of time and the facility for increased knowledge, the acquisition of speech meant a saving of brain. A word is a counter for a thought. To use language is to make thinking easy. Hence the release of brain energy for further developments in new directions. In these and other ways speech became the main factor in the intellectual development of mankind. Language formed the trellis on which Mind climbed upward, which continuously sustained the ripening fruits of knowledge for later minds to pluck. Before the savage’s son was ten years old he knew all that his father knew. The ways of the game, the habits of birds and fish, the construction of traps and snares—all these would be taught him. The physical world, the changes of season, the location of hostile tribes, the strategies of war, all the details and interests of savage life would be explained. And before the boy was in his teens he was equipped for the Struggle for Life as his forefathers had never been even in old age. The son, in short, started to evolve where his father left off. Try to realize what it would be for each of us to begin life afresh, to be able to learn nothing by the experiences of others, to live in a dumb and illiterate world, and see what chance the animal had of making pronounced progress until the acquisition of speech. It is not too much to say that speech, if mental evolution is to come to anything or is to be worth anything, is a necessary condition. By it alone, in any degree worth naming, can the fruits of observation and experience of one generation be husbanded to form a new starting point for a second, nor without it could there be any concerted action or social life. The greatness of the human Mind, after all, is due to the tongue, the material instrument of reason, and to Language, the outward expression of the inner life.

« Prev Chapter IV. The Dawn of Mind Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection