Vol. 25 New Series October, 1963 No. 5

This is the name of a very fine book written in 1870, by the Rev. Bourchier Wrey Savile, M.A., who was Curate of Coombe, in the Diocese of Exeter. He was also the Author of other twelve works.

I shall begin with a chapter on "THE GIFT OF SPEECH." Scripture records the creation of Adam in the full possession of his faculties, especially in the gift of speech, as his first act was to 'name' all the beasts of the field over whom God had given him dominion; and that these 'beasts' never enjoyed a similar gift is patent to the common sense, notwithstanding all that certain savants have sought to prove to the contrary.

About a century after the time of the Flood, the Bible represents uniformity of language amongst the existing race of men, which, according to the natural rate of increase, would then have amounted Ito about 50,000. Thus read in Genesis 11:1, 'And the whole earth was of one language (literally, lip) and of one speech.'

It is satisfactory to know that a cylinder was discovered among the ruins of Babylon with a cuneiform inscription of the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and interpreted by the skill of M. Oppert, in which 'the confusion of tongues' is distinctly mentioned. When man, in his pride, determined to build the Tower of Babel, in order to 'make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth,' Jehovah Himself thought fit to 'confound their language'—to mingle with the gift of speech an element of repulsion which it did not possess in the antediluvian world. Thus Jehovah scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

But the philosophy of the Author's time denied this very reasonable mode of accounting for the variety of tongues in man, and the absence of speech in beast. Hence we find Mr. Crawfurd, the President of the Ethnological Society, in a speech at the Manchester Meeting of the British Association in 1861, saying:—

    Man when he appeared on earth was destitute of language—that
    each  separate  tribe  framed  a  language  of  its  own,  and  that in
    each  case  the  framers  were arrant  savages,  which  was  proved
    by  the  fact  that  the  rudest  tribes  ever  discovered  had already
    completed  the  task  of  forming  a perfect language,  and  in every
    case had to achieve the arduous and tedious task of Constructing
     which  in  the  rudest  form in which it is now found,  must
    have taken many years to accomplish.
When the same wild speculator, at the Birmingham Meeting of the British Association in 1865, adopted a similar line of argument, and was asked in consequence to give a single instance of a savage race who had civilized themselves, or found speech by their own intellectual acumen, he was ominously silent.

At that time the Bishop of Sierra Leone was a Negro of full blood, originally a captured slave, who eventually obtained his bishopric by his cultivated talents, as proved by his written despatches to the satisfaction of Lords Palmerston and Russell. But had the Bishop been allowed to run wild in his native country, he would at that time have been neither better nor worse than the rest of his countrymen.

Another man, the Rev. Dunbar Heath (with ten letters after his name) once a clergyman of the Church of England, in a paper On the Acquirement of Language by Mutes, read before the Anthropological Society, tells that after having endeavoured to investigate the subject from a scientific standpoint, he arrived at the conclusion that the original inhabitants of Europe must have been mutes! But what he meant by mutes was men who may or may not use words, but who only express emotions by them, and that such emotions are the individual emotions of the mute being.

The same high authority of the sceptical school adopts in the Anthropological Review, No. XIII., another theory respecting the origin of speech, or, it may be, the veritable way by which the Aryans, the instructors, as we have seen, of the 'kitchen-middeners,' acquired that useful power. He supposes that at one time European apes abounded, and that these were the fathers of European men, who were at first dumb, but who in course of time 'gasped after articulation and got it.' He says:—

    I  confine  myself to the accepting  and explaining  known  and
    knowable  phenomena.  It  is known  that  anthropoids  existed
    throughout  Europe.  It  is  knowable  that  they  became  mute
    men. It is knowable that these mutes gasped after articulation,
    and  in a  few  spots  attained  to  it.  Those  who  did  so at one
    particular spot I call  Aryans,  whether that spot was in Asia  or
    in the submerged continent of Atlantis!
Shortly after Swedenborg's time (1688-1772), Lord Monboddo promulgated another theory for the origin of the human race, which, though rejected then by the wisdom of our 'forefathers, has now been too readily adopted by some of the savants of the present day. Lord Monboddo is described by Dr. Johnson, in a letter to Mrs. Thrale, as 'a Scotch judge who has lately written a strange book about the origin of language, in which he traces monkeys up to men, and says that in some countries the human species have tails like other beasts.' I would suggest, it is possible that Lord Monboddo may have adopted his theory respecting man being an ape descended animal through mistaking the metaphor which Shakespeare makes use of when delineating the character of man in his comedy 'Measure for Measure.'

Some have imagined that Lord Monboddo, who was the first to propound the idea of man being, as he is now scientifically termed, 'a well-developed monkey,' inherited it from his Scottish ancestors; for it is evident that a belief in the Transmutation theory prevailed in Scotland until the commencement of the last century. In that strange book, The Secret Commonwealth, published by Robert Kirb, Presbyterian minister of Aberfoil, evil spirits in human form are represented as habitually living among the Highlanders. Captain Burt relates a long discussion he had with a minister on the subject of old women turning themselves into cats. The minister stated that one man succeeded in cutting off the leg of a cat who attacked him, that the leg immediately turned into that of an old woman, and that four ministers signed a certificate attesting the fact! This was contradicted plumply by Professor Huxley.

Cutting off the greater part of the head of an animal, which is then said to have the lower of reproducing itself, will serve to illustrate the well-known anecdote variously applied to Cromwell, Washington, and other celebrities, and which is thus recorded by Miss Pardoe in her City of the Magyar. At a museum in Hungary two skulls of different size are shown to the visitor with this explanation:—'This,' says the exhibitor concerning one, 'is the skull of the rebel Ragotzi when a man;' and of the other, 'This is the skull of the same Ragotzi when he was a boy!'

A similar power of restoring, not the greater part of, but the entire head, after decapitation, is claimed by the Dervishes of Angora.

A.T. Last updated 4.4.2006