of the proceedings which took place appeared in many papers,

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Now Max Muller tells us that this principle, which is indispensable in the study of words, is equally indispensable in the study of myths.[131] That is, you must not rashly pronounce the Norse story of the Heartless Giant identical with the Hindu story of Punchkin, although the two correspond in every essential incident. In both legends a magician turns several members of the same family into stone; the youngest member of the family comes to the rescue, and on the way saves the lives of sundry grateful beasts; arrived at the magician's castle, he finds a captive princess ready to accept his love and to play the part of Delilah to the enchanter. In both stories the enchanter's life depends on the integrity of something which is elaborately hidden in a far-distant island, but which the fortunate youth, instructed by the artful princess and assisted by his menagerie of grateful beasts, succeeds in obtaining. In both stories the youth uses his advantage to free all his friends from their enchantment, and then proceeds to destroy the villain who wrought all this wickedness. Yet, in spite of this agreement, Max Muller, if I understand him aright, would not have us infer the identity of the two stories until we have taken each one separately and ascertained its primitive mythical significance. Otherwise, for aught we can tell, the resemblance may be purely accidental, like that of the French words for "mouse" and "smile."

of the proceedings which took place appeared in many papers,

[131] Chips from a German Workshop, Vol. II. p. 246.

of the proceedings which took place appeared in many papers,

A little reflection, however, will relieve us from this perplexity, and assure us that the alleged analogy between the comparison of words and the comparison of stories is utterly superficial. The transformations of words--which are often astounding enough--depend upon a few well-established physiological principles of utterance; and since philology has learned to rely upon these principles, it has become nearly as sure in its methods and results as one of the so-called "exact sciences." Folly enough is doubtless committed within its precincts by writers who venture there without the laborious preparation which this science, more than almost any other, demands. But the proceedings of the trained philologist are no more arbitrary than those of the trained astronomer. And though the former may seem to be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel when he coolly tells you that violin and fiddle are the same word, while English care and Latin cura have nothing to do with each other, he is nevertheless no more indulging in guess-work than the astronomer who confesses his ignorance as to the habitability of Venus while asserting his knowledge of the existence of hydrogen in the atmosphere of Sirius. To cite one example out of a hundred, every philologist knows that s may become r, and that the broad a-sound may dwindle into the closer o-sound; but when you adduce some plausible etymology based on the assumption that r has changed into s, or o into a, apart from the demonstrable influence of some adjacent letter, the philologist will shake his head.

of the proceedings which took place appeared in many papers,

Now in the study of stories there are no such simple rules all cut and dried for us to go by. There is no uniform psychological principle which determines that the three-headed snake in one story shall become a three-headed man in the next. There is no Grimm's Law in mythology which decides that a Hindu magician shall always correspond to a Norwegian Troll or a Keltic Druid. The laws of association of ideas are not so simple in application as the laws of utterance. In short, the study of myths, though it can be made sufficiently scientific in its methods and results, does not constitute a science by itself, like philology. It stands on a footing similar to that occupied by physical geography, or what the Germans call "earth-knowledge." No one denies that all the changes going on over the earth's surface conform to physical laws; but then no one pretends that there is any single proximate principle which governs all the phenomena of rain-fall, of soil-crumbling, of magnetic variation, and of the distribution of plants and animals. All these things are explained by principles obtained from the various sciences of physics, chemistry, geology, and physiology. And in just the same way the development and distribution of stories is explained by the help of divers resources contributed by philology, psychology, and history. There is therefore no real analogy between the cases cited by Max Muller. Two unrelated words may be ground into exactly the same shape, just as a pebble from the North Sea may be undistinguishable from another pebble on the beach of the Adriatic; but two stories like those of Punchkin and the Heartless Giant are no more likely to arise independently of each other than two coral reefs on opposite sides of the globe are likely to develop into exactly similar islands.

Shall we then say boldly, that close similarity between legends is proof of kinship, and go our way without further misgivings? Unfortunately we cannot dispose of the matter in quite so summary a fashion; for it remains to decide what kind and degree of similarity shall be considered satisfactory evidence of kinship. And it is just here that doctors may disagree. Here is the point at which our "science" betrays its weakness as compared with the sister study of philology. Before we can decide with confidence in any case, a great mass of evidence must be brought into court. So long as we remained on Aryan ground, all went smoothly enough, because all the external evidence was in our favour. We knew at the outset, that the Aryans inherit a common language and a common civilization, and therefore we found no difficulty in accepting the conclusion that they have inherited, among other things, a common stock of legends. In the barbaric world it is quite otherwise. Philology does not pronounce in favour of a common origin for all barbaric culture, such as it is. The notion of a single primitive language, standing in the same relation to all existing dialects as the relation of old Aryan to Latin and English, or that of old Semitic to Hebrew and Arabic, was a notion suited only to the infancy of linguistic science. As the case now stands, it is certain that all the languages actually existing cannot be referred to a common ancestor, and it is altogether probable that there never was any such common ancestor. I am not now referring to the question of the unity of the human race. That question lies entirely outside the sphere of philology. The science of language has nothing to do with skulls or complexions, and no comparison of words can tell us whether the black men are brethren of the white men, or whether yellow and red men have a common pedigree: these questions belong to comparative physiology. But the science of language can and does tell us that a certain amount of civilization is requisite for the production of a language sufficiently durable and wide-spread to give birth to numerous mutually resembling offspring Barbaric languages are neither widespread nor durable. Among savages each little group of families has its own dialect, and coins its own expressions at pleasure; and in the course of two or three generations a dialect gets so strangely altered as virtually to lose its identity. Even numerals and personal pronouns, which the Aryan has preserved for fifty centuries, get lost every few years in Polynesia. Since the time of Captain Cook the Tahitian language has thrown away five out of its ten simple numerals, and replaced them by brand-new ones; and on the Amazon you may acquire a fluent command of some Indian dialect, and then, coming back after twenty years, find yourself worse off than Rip Van Winkle, and your learning all antiquated and useless. How absurd, therefore, to suppose that primeval savages originated a language which has held its own like the old Aryan and become the prolific mother of the three or four thousand dialects now in existence! Before a durable language can arise, there must be an aggregation of numerous tribes into a people, so that there may be need of communication on a large scale, and so that tradition may be strengthened. Wherever mankind have associated in nations, permanent languages have arisen, and their derivative dialects bear the conspicuous marks of kinship; but where mankind have remained in their primitive savage isolation, their languages have remained sporadic and transitory, incapable of organic development, and showing no traces of a kinship which never existed.

The bearing of these considerations upon the origin and diffusion of barbaric myths is obvious. The development of a common stock of legends is, of course, impossible, save where there is a common language; and thus philology pronounces against the kinship of barbaric myths with each other and with similar myths of the Aryan and Semitic worlds. Similar stories told in Greece and Norway are likely to have a common pedigree, because the persons who have preserved them in recollection speak a common language and have inherited the same civilization. But similar stories told in Labrador and South Africa are not likely to be genealogically related, because it is altogether probable that the Esquimaux and the Zulu had acquired their present race characteristics before either of them possessed a language or a culture sufficient for the production of myths. According to the nature and extent of the similarity, it must be decided whether such stories have been carried about from one part of the world to another, or have been independently originated in many different places.

Here the methods of philology suggest a rule which will often be found useful. In comparing, the vocabularies of different languages, those words which directly imitate natural sounds-- such as whiz, crash, crackle--are not admitted as evidence of kinship between the languages in which they occur. Resemblances between such words are obviously no proof of a common ancestry; and they are often met with in languages which have demonstrably had no connection with each other. So in mythology, where we find two stories of which the primitive character is perfectly transparent, we need have no difficulty in supposing them to have originated independently. The myth of Jack and his Beanstalk is found all over the world; but the idea of a country above the sky, to which persons might gain access by climbing, is one which could hardly fail to occur to every barbarian. Among the American tribes, as well as among the Aryans, the rainbow and the Milky-Way have contributed the idea of a Bridge of the Dead, over which souls must pass on the way to the other world. In South Africa, as well as in Germany, the habits of the fox and of his brother the jackal have given rise to fables in which brute force is overcome by cunning. In many parts of the world we find curiously similar stories devised to account for the stumpy tails of the bear and hyaena, the hairless tail of the rat, and the blindness of the mole. And in all countries may be found the beliefs that men may be changed into beasts, or plants, or stones; that the sun is in some way tethered or constrained to follow a certain course; that the storm-cloud is a ravenous dragon; and that there are talismans which will reveal hidden treasures. All these conceptions are so obvious to the uncivilized intelligence, that stories founded upon them need not be supposed to have a common origin, unless there turns out to be a striking similarity among their minor details. On the other hand, the numerous myths of an all-destroying deluge have doubtless arisen partly from reminiscences of actually occurring local inundations, and partly from the fact that the Scriptural account of a deluge has been carried all over the world by Catholic and Protestant missionaries.[132]

[132] For various legends of a deluge, see Baring-Gould, Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 85-106.

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