Popular Tales From the Norse
perhaps the earliest collection which the world possesses--as a nation of
philosophers. Well may Professor Müller compare the Indian mind to a plant
reared in a hot-house, gorgeous in colour, rich in perfume, precocious and abundant
in fruit; it may be all this, "but will never be like the oak, growing
in wind and weather, striking its roots into real earth, and stretching its
branches into real air, beneath the stars and sun of Heaven"; and well
does he also remark, that a people of this peculiar stamp was never destined
to act a prominent part in the history of the world; nay, the exhausting atmosphere
of transcendental ideas could not but exercise a detrimental influence on the
active and moral character of the Hindoos. 1
1. As a specimen of their thoughtful turn of mind, even in the Vedas, at a time before the monstrous avatars of the Hindoo Pantheon were imagined, and when their system of philosophy, properly so called, had no existence, the following metrical translation of the 129th hymn of the 10th book of the Rig-Veda may be quoted, which Professor Müller assures us is of a very early date:--
"Nor aught nor nought existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor Heaven's broad woof outstretched above.
What covered all? what sheltered? what concealed?
Was it the water's fathomless abyss?
There was not death--yet was there nought immortal.
There was no confine betwixt day and night;
The only One breathed breathless by itself,
Other than It there nothing since has been.
Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled
In gloom profound--an ocean without light--
The germ that still lay covered in the husk
Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.
Then first came love upon it, the new spring
Of mind--yea, poets in their hearts discerned,p. liv
Pondering, this bond between created things
And uncreated. Comes this spark from earth,
Piercing and all-pervading, or from Heaven?
Then seeds were sown, and mighty powers arose--
Nature below, and power and will above--
Who knows the secret? who proclaimed it here,
Whence, whence this manifold creation sprang?
The Gods themselves came later into being--
Who knows from whence this great creation sprang?
He from whom all this great creation came,
Whether His will created or was mute,
The Most High Seer that is in highest heaven,
He knows it--or perchance even he knows not."
If we reflect that this hymn was composed centuries before the time of Hesiod, we shall be better able to appreciate the speculative character of the Indian mind in its earliest stage.
In this passive, abstract, unprogressive state, they have remained ever since. Stiffened into castes, and tongue-tied and hand-tied by absurd rites and ceremonies, they were heard of in dim legends by Herodotus; they were seen by Alexander when that bold spirit pushed his phalanx beyond the limits of the known world; they trafficked with imperial Rome, and the later empire; they were again almost lost sight of, and became fabulous, in the Middle Age; they were rediscovered by the Portuguese; they have been alternately peaceful subjects and desperate rebels to us English; but they have been still the same immovable and unprogressive philosophers, though akin to Europe all the while; and though the Highlander, who drives his bayonet through the heart of a high-caste Sepoy mutineer, little knows that his pale features and sandy hair, and that dusk face with its raven locks, both come from a common ancestor away in Central Asia, many, many centuries ago.
But here arises the question, What interest can we, the descendants of the practical brother, heirs to so much historical renown, possibly take in the records of a race so historically characterless, and so sunk in reveries and mysticism? The answer is easy. Those records are written in a language closely allied to the primeval common tongue of those two branches before they parted, and descending from a period anterior to their separation. It may, or it may not, be the very tongue itself, but it certainly is not further removed than a few steps. The speech of the emigrants to the west rapidly changed with the changing circumstances and various fortune of each of its waves, and in their intercourse with the aboriginal population they often adopted foreign elements into their language. One of these waves, it is probable, passing by way of Persia and Asia Minor, crossed the Hellespont and, following the coast, threw off a mighty rill, known in after times as Greeks; while the main stream, striking through Macedonia, either crossed the Adriatic, or, still hugging the coast, came down on Italy, to be known as Latins. Another, passing between the Caspian and the Black Sea, filled the steppes round the Crimea, and, passing on over the Balkan and the Carpathians towards the west, became that great Teutonic nationality which, under various names, but all closely akin, filled, when we first hear of them in historical times, the space between the Black Sea and the Baltic, and was then slowly but surely driving before them the great wave of the Celts which had preceded them in their wandering, and which had probably followed the same line of march as the ancestors of the Greeks and Latins,--a movement which lasted until all
that was left of Celtic nationality was either absorbed by the intruders, or forced aside and driven to take refuge in mountain fastnesses and outlying islands. Besides all these, there was still another wave, which is supposed to have passed between the Sea of Aral and the Caspian, and, keeping still further to the north and east, to have passed between its kindred Teutons and the Mongolian tribes, and so to have lain in the background until we find them appearing as Slavonians on the scene of history. Into so many great stocks did the Western Aryans pass, each possessing strongly marked nationalities and languages, and these seemingly so distinct that each often asserted that the other spoke a barbarous tongue. But, for all that, each of those tongues bears about with it still, and in earlier times no doubt bore still more plainly about with it, infallible evidence of common origin, so that each dialect can be traced up to that primeval form of speech still in the main preserved in the Sanscrit by the Southern Aryan branch, who, careless of practical life, and immersed in speculation, have clung to their ancient traditions and tongue with wonderful tenacity. It is this which has given such value to Sanscrit, a tongue of which it may be said that if it had perished the sun would never have risen on the science of comparative philology. Before the discoveries in Sanscrit of Sir William Jones, Wilkins, Wilson, and others, the world had striven to find the common ancestor of European languages, sometimes in the classical, and sometimes in the Semitic tongues. In the one case the result was a tyranny of Greek and Latin over the non-classical tongues, and in the other the most uncritical and unphilosophical waste of learning.
No doubt some striking analogies exist between the Indo-European family and the Semitic stock, just as there are remarkable analogies between the Mongolian and Indo-European families; but the ravings of Vallancey, in his effort to connect the Erse with Phnician, are an awful warning of what unscientific inquiry, based upon casual analogy, may bring itself to believe, and even to fancy it has proved.
These general observations, then, and this rapid bird's-eye view, may suffice to show the common affinity which exists between the Eastern and Western Aryans; between the Hindoo on the one hand, and the nations of Western Europe on the other. That is the fact to keep steadily before our eyes. We all came, Greek, Latin, Celt, Teuton, Slavonian, from the East, as kith and kin, leaving kith and kin behind us; and after thousands of years, the language and traditions of those who went East, and those who went West, bear such an affinity to each other, as to have established, beyond discussion or dispute, the fact of their descent from a common stock.