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THE PRIMITIVE STATE OF MANKIND.
AN ATTEMPT TO PROVE THAT THE ORIGINAL OR MOST ANCIENT CONDITION OF THE
HUMAN FAMILY WAS CIVILIZED AND NOT SAVAGE*
FEW subjects have given rise to more crude and unphilosophical speculation than the primeval state of mankind. That state is universally represented to have been, either comparatively rude and barbarous, or absolutely wild and savage. Almost the whole of our reading, whether of history, poetry or philosophy, has a tendency to create and to confirm this prejudice. So that we generally take the fact for granted without any investigation; and are fully persuaded of it before we condescend to canvass the logic by which it is so elaborately supported by its numerous advocates. That the Greek and Roman sophists should have entertained such a notion, or that the ignorant and self-sufficient freethinker of modern times should be no wiser, is not greatly to be wondered at. But that any enlightened Christian,-much more, that a Christian philosopher or theologian should be found labouring in behalf of the same doctrine, is truly matter of astonishment and humiliation.
* These articles contain the sum or outline of the argument fully enforced and illustrated in a course of lectures on the Arts, Science and Literature of Antiquity; delivered to a volunteer class in the College of New Jersey, during the winter session of 1820-1821. VOL. III. -6
The pride of system frequently leads very ingenious men into extravagancies on this, as upon other subjects. It is difficult, indeed, to avoid extremes when we enlist our feelings, as well as our reason, in favour of any theory. But here we are peculiarly liable to err. Nature herself, in all her operations, utters a language and exhibits facts calculated to mislead us. All animals, with which we are acquainted, commence their existence in a comparatively weak and helpless condition. Everything in the vegetable kingdom is subject to a similar law. The stateliest oak in the forest has been an embryo in the acorn.
The lion and the elephant might once have been crushed beneath the feeblest hand. Every man now living has been an infant; and whether the inmate of a palace or a cottage, he was once a debtor to the anxious and constant care of others for the preservation of his life, and to their instruction for the elements of whatever knowledge he possesses.
The rule is universal. It has no exceptions. It is certain even, that no mortal would ever speak, or contrive a language, were he to receive no assistance from others; or were he to be totally excluded from social intercourse, so as never to have it in his power to imitate articulate sounds.
Thus, then, from analogy, we are led to contemplate the primitive state of man as similar to that of infancy. We are prone to regard the beginnings of all things as small, and feeble, and rude. We always suppose time to be necessary to impart vigour, and beauty, and magnitude, and maturity.' States and empires have grown up to power and splendour through years of discipline, and effort, and struggle. Individuals make great literary and scientific attainments in the same manner. And can it be presumed that what is now true of every man, and of every association of men, was not true of him in his original or first condition?
Admitting that all men are descended from a common ancestry, why should we suppose that the first families were wiser and more ingenious, more improved and cultivated, than millions of their posterity are, at this moment, known to be? Have not men been found in a savage state in every age of the world, to which authentic history extends ? How could men lose a knowledge of the arts—especially of the useful artsand degenerate into savages, if their forefathers had ever been civilized and enlightened ?
These and many similar inquiries may, we think, be satisfactorily answered, without at all countenancing the hypothesis upon which they have been grounded.
The savage state was not the primeval state of man. If it had been, man would have remained a savage to this day. There is no proof that any nation, or society, or tribe, or family, or individual has ever advanced to a state of civilization without the aid and instruction of those who were previously civilized. There is abundant proof to the contrary.
We propose to establish and to illustrate the following proposition, namely:
Man has ever been a civilized being. Such was he created, and such do we find him in every age.* The stream of civilization can be traced back from one period and country and nation to another, till we arrive at the original fountain in that paradise of beauty and innocence in which man first awoke to the praises of his Maker and to the healthful exercise of all his faculties.
REASON, REVELATION and HISTORY Confirm this view of the subject.
I. REASON.-Does not reason tell us that man must have been created, at some period or other, by an almighty, independent, all-wise and beneficent Deity ? If so—and every other hypothesis would land us in atheism and absurdity-does not reason intimate that a Creator, infinitely wise, good and powerful, would, at the first, have endowed man with all the faculties, moral, intellectual and corporeal, in such a state of maturity, and with such an aptitude to every exercise and pursuit and attainment, as his distinguished rank among the creatures of God, and his high destiny seemed to require?
Was man designed to be the representative of Deity in this lower world the lord of creation-the absolute sovereign over all the other animals--the undisputed master of all the riches upon the earth: and can it be that he should have been ushered into the midst of all this vast and varied inheritance, without one qualification for its proper management or enjoyment?-in fact, unconscious of what he was, or of what he was destined to become?--without language, and ignorant that he possessed the capacity of inventing or acquiring any?-without arts, and with fewer instincts than other animals?-in a word, a mere brute, and of the meanest, most miserable, and most helpless order? Would not a constant miracle have been necessary for the protection and sustenance of such a creature? Does reason then furnish any plausible support to such a theory? Does she not at once pronounce it incredible--impossible?
* Not everywhere, indeed; but somewhere-in some part of the world. So that there never has been a period of time, however brief, when civilized man could nowhere be found upon the earth.
We are aware that we have presented, what may be thought, an extreme case;—that we have supposed a state of savageness, or rather of brutality, much worse than is generally contended for. It may be worse than what would suit the notions of some; but not so bad but that we may readily find for it many ingenious and confident advocates.
Diodorus Siculus, in the beginning of his history, says that men at first lived dispersed like the beasts, in caves and woods, and subsisted upon the natural productions of the earth; that they had no use of speech, and uttered only inarticulate cries; but that having herded together from fear of the wild beasts, they invented a language, and imposed names upon things. (Diod., lib. i. cap. 8.)
The Epicureans, it is well known, held the same doctrine. Lucretius, a distinguished poet and philosopher of this famous school, in his fifth book, De Rerum Natura, describes the primitive state of our race very minutely and accurately, according to the system of his sect.