A Book Review

Mark Twain

The Galaxy/February, 1871

In his preface to this volume [“An Inquiry into the Origin, Development, and Transmission of the Games of Childhood, in all Ages and of every Nation, Critical, Analytical, and Historical.” By Thomas Henry Huxley, L.L.D., F.R.S. Author’s edition. New York: Shelton & Brothers. 1 vol. 12mo., pp. 498] Professor Huxley says:

To the historiographer the most interesting period of research is that where history proper loses itself in the vague mist of mythologic shadow. The childhood of nations has always been a favorite subject of investigation. To separate the type from the fact; the symbol from the thing symbolized; the ideal from the real; to regroup the disintegrated fragments, and from the materials thus gathered to construct a firm and trustworthy superstructure on which the mind may rest in tranquil confidence; this has ever been and ever will be one of the most fascinating pursuits to which the cultured intellect can be devoted. If then we seek the childhood of nations as a favored field for philosophic speculation, may we not with equal propriety turn to the semper-existent nation of children, seek out the origin of their traditions, trace the development of their customs, and interpret by the light of history and reason their orally transmitted lore? Herein is a new field for speculative research. Hence may be derived results the most far-reaching prescience could not forecast; and even childhood’s games may thus attain an eminence in the realms of thought undreamt of by purblind metaphysicans of the dormant ages!

This extract shows sufficiently the spirit in which the author of “Vestiges of the Creation” has undertaken a work which, to many, might seem scarcely worth the time and labor evidently bestowed upon it, and the high position in the scientific world its author enjoys. [It is to be regretted that unfortunate domestic relations should ever affect the social status of a great and learned writer; but this affords no just ground for disputing the logical results of the inductive system.] Following out the idea of similarity between the childhood of nations and the nationality of childhood, Professor Huxley says, p. 76:

Disraeli, in his “Amenities of Literature,” has shown conclusively that the religion of Druidism was one only possible to a people not yet emerged from a state of mental childhood. The British Druids constituted a sacred and secret society, religious, political, literary, and military. In the rude mechanism of society in a state of pupillage, the first elements of government, however puerile, were the levers to lift and sustain the barbaric mind. Invested with all privileges and immunities, amid that transcient omnipotence which man, in his first feeble condition, can confer, the wild children of society crouched together before those illusions which superstition so easily forges. Whatever was taught was forbidden to be written, and not only their doctrines and their sciences were veiled in sacred obscurity, but the laws which they made and the traditions of their mythology were oral. The Druids were the common fathers of the British youth, for they were their sole educators, and, for the most part, progenitors. Could the parallel be more exact?

Descending from the general to the particular consideration of this subject, Professor Huxley traces objectively the origin of many of the childish games known in this country, such as marbles, ring-taw, leap-frog, etc., and others which have been practiced from time immemorial by the youth of every clime and age. Speaking of the game of oats, peas, beans, and barley, oh, which is found to have originated in a mystic symbolism similar in some respects to the dances of the so-called Shakers of today, he says:

The allegory constantly presented in the religious chants of the Aryans reveals a freshness which renders their interpretation easy. It is sufficient to read the Rig-veda to be convinced that naturalism—that is to say, the study of physical nature—constituted the foundation of the worship of those pastoral peoples who then occupied the Punjaub, and later emigrated to the northerly plains of Hindoostan. It is the direct product of that poetical and anthropomorphic spirit which personifies all objects, all phenomena, and is the unvarying form imagination takes at its awakening.

The lengthy extracts already made render it impossible even to allude to many of the most entertaining topics of this exhaustive work; but one of the most curious of the traditions exhumed from the buried records of the past is that which relates to the game of hop Scotch. The Professor traces clearly the practice of this pastime as far back as the invention of the morris and broadsword dances of the Scottish clansmen in the early part of the eleventh century, and suggests, rather than positively ascribes, its origin to the boyish imitation of their parents’ warlike sports, by the youthful Bruces and Douglasses of the period. He gives, however, for what it is worth, a quaint tradition which carries the origin of this game back almost to the garden of Eden—back, in fact, to Cain and Abel in person. ***** [To economize space, I leave out the tradition, and also the arguments which the reviewer offers in support of its claims to probability.—EDITOR MEMORANDA.]

There is a superficial objection which may be made to the reception of this theory of the origin of hop Scotch, and it is obvious. To have used these words, Cain and Abel must have spoken English. Granted. But the explanation is really very simple. Adam was an Aryan, [the Hebrews, it will be remembered, do not appear among the brotherhood of nations until the Abrahamic era. In this respect the Mosaic cosmogony is fully sustained by Sanskrit writers as well as by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who flourished 346 years B.C.] and necessarily, Cain and Abel were Aryans also. Now the roots of all languages are found in the Aryan and Semitic tongues. Professor Huxley gives numerous instances (most of which are well known to philologists) of radical identity between words in use in several of the modern languages at the present day and those of the most primitive nations of the globe. The reader familiar with the Semitic languages will have no difficulty in following the author in his philological demonstration of the innate possibility that Cain and Abel may have given this name to this game—that is, that the sound and the idea intended were the same, although it is unnecessary to say the spelling may have differed. But this is a minor point. The most interesting demonstration, however, is to be found in the algebraic formula by which Professor Huxley proves a similar conclusion. It shall be our final extract, but we cannot refrain from giving it entire, in the Professor’s own words:

Representing the two known qualities Cain and Abel by the letters C and A, we proceed as follows: Let x=the language used by Cain, and x, the language used by Abel. Also, let y=the language not used by Cain, and y, the language not used by Abel. Then

]=x + y, or all the language used by Cain, and

]=x + y, or all the language used by Abel.

The time is assumed to be that at which the games was at its height.

Then, p + p, being the respective probabilities that any particular words were used, we have:

Cpx + cpy=cl; and

Ap,x + ap,y=al.

Adding the two equations:

Cpx + ap,x, + cpy + ap,y=cl + al.

Cpx + ap,x=cl + al=cpy=ap,y

But since y=o, we may omit the quantities containing that symbol, and

Cpx + ap,x,=cl, or

Cpx=cl and

cx=cl./p

Ap,x,=al,

Ax=al,/p But,

p=1 when x words are considered, and

p,=1 when x, words are considered. Therefore, adding the two equations again, we have

Cx =ax,=cl + al.

Thus proving that Cain used x words and Abel used x, words. Q.E.D.

Enough has been given, we think, to arouse the interest of our readers in this, all things considered, remarkable book. It is enough to say in conclusion that the patient research and philosophical deductions of the student and the thinker have here unearthed for the instruction and amusement of the present age, a wealth of quaint and curious information which has long lain buried in oblivion, or existed only among the ana of that pigmy nation which exists among us and around us, but which, until Professor Huxley became its historian and interpreter, was not of us.

[I wish to state that this review came to me from some Philadelphia person entirely unknown to me; but as I could make neither head nor tail of the thing, I thought it must be good, and therefore have published it. I have heard of Professor Huxley before, and knew that he was the author of Watts’s hymns, but I did not know before that he wrote “Vestiges of Creation.” However, let it pass—I suppose he did, since it is so stated. I have not yet seen his new work about children, and moreover, I do not want to, for all this reviewer thinks so much of it. Mr. Huxley is too handy with his slate-pencil to suit me.—EDITOR MEMORANDA.]

(Source: Project Gutenberg Australia, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks09/0900821h.html)

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