Texts Related to the Works of Sarah Orne Jewett
Paradise Found: The Cradle of the Human Races at the North Pole.
by William F. Warren.
Anonymous review: Atlantic Monthly, July 1885, pp. 126-132
When the historian of literature renders his account of the scientific writings of the nineteenth century, he will have an interesting chapter on the semi-scientific books which were devoted to the task of reconciling the old mythologies to modern learning. No part of his task will be more charming than that which sets forth the many efforts to determine the seat of paradise, that fair cradle of the golden youth of man, whence he was driven to the toil and woe of the rude outer world. It will be interesting for the student of after times to trace how the early writers at first approached this problem with easy minds; how in the days of Hudibras, the scholar
"Knew the seat of paradise,
Could tell us in what degree it lies;
And, as he was disposed, could prove it
Below the moon or else above it."
Coming to the day when scientific methods were more critical, he will see that the question of the geographical seat of paradise became involved with the problem of the origin of the genus homo. Suppositions became gradually more and more complicated by known facts; one by one all possible seats of paradise were tried and found wanting. Doubtless, the end of it all will be the conviction that there was no paradise of place, or paradise of condition for man; that for the golden age he must look to the future, and if the garden of Eden is to be found, it will be in the time to come and with an ever improving man.
Dr. Warren's very interesting work++ will probably come near the end of this series of paradise books, for unless we go "above the moon," as Hudibras suggests that his ingenious explorer Burnet could do, there is no place in the world for further searching. It is a conspicuous merit of our author that he effectively demolishes all the other possible suppositions, showing that, if it was anywhere in the world, the seat of paradise must have been at the north pole; and if at any time in the earth's history, it must have been during the age, late in a geological sense, but vastly remote in terms of human history, when about the north pole there was, for a while, a temperature much higher than that which now prevails there, and a geography very different from that of to-day. If the paradise people are dislodged from these nearly inaccessible grounds, we may hope that they will never more trouble the busy world with their tedious though beautiful speculations.
The reader will find that the book is divided into two sections. The second treats of the ethnic traditions which seem to refer the origin of man to the extreme north; the first, of the geological facts which support the hypothesis that man originated about the north pole, and that while dwelling in that region he acquired a rather high degree of culture, and had many facts impressed upon his mind which clung in his religious memories long after the change of climate had expelled him from his earliest home. The second part of the treatise concerns a field in which the training of the author admirably fits him for his task. It seems to the present writer that if this part of the argument had been presented at the outset, the book would have gained in strength by the change. There can be no question that the selected traditions bearing on this point, which are presented by Dr. Warren, seem at first sight to warrant the hypothesis that the ancient peoples of Asia had once dwelt in very high latitudes. The array of authorities is strong, and the form of presentation extremely good. If this part of the work is to be definitely overthrown, it will have to be accomplished by an expenditure of scholarly labor not less than that which the author has given to its construction. Without undertaking this impossible task, the wary reader will see grave reasons to doubt the value of this array of evidence,--reasons which he will draw from other experiences with the same sort of evidence used for similar ends. He will remember the charming episode in modern semi-science made by the curious researches of Taylor, Piazzi, Smyth, and others of their sect, into the history of the great pyramid. There only a part of the facts are of the traditional sort; the remainder are as hard as Egyptian syenite and as sharp as the clean angles of perfect masonry. Yet even there a well-trained man of science, who mixed faith with his mathematics, and allowed a little conjecture to cloud his equations, converted an astrologist's observatory and a tomb into a record of supernatural knowledge and a prophecy of things to be. An even better sign of the danger that lies in such proof is found in the fact that the very myths which seem to agree in assigning hyperborean regions for the cradle of the human race equally agree in the statement that man was suddenly created from the earth by the direct exercise of the divine will. There are now few educated men who would attach any value, as fact, to this ancient and universal idea of a sudden miraculous creation of the human race. Yet if the consensus of statement is to be taken as evidence that the race originated about the north pole, it should be accepted as of equal value as to the origin of the species. Accepting the evidence which the learned author so well sets forth to show that ancient peoples had a vague notion that they came originally from the high north, and giving him his claim that their traditions describe an aspect of the heavens and a succession of day and night in their race's cradle which are fairly reconcilable with the conditions of circumpolar regions, we may still explain these facts without encountering those inseparable difficulties which our author has to face in his effort to plant the primitive man within the arctic circle, leaving him there until he had developed his arts, his civilization, and a sublime religious belief.
The Eden of the imagination had to be placed beyond the realm of familiar experience, the more remote the better. The far north afforded an admirable field for speculative creation. It is not unreasonable to believe that, at a very remote time, certain peoples had so far developed the conceptions of the earth's form and its general relations to the sun, that some forgotten Kepler would have been able to conceive all the measure of truth concerning the arctic astronomy which the most willing interpreter can find in these shadowy myths. The mysterious north, with its icy girdle and changing days, has proved even in our own time a fascinating field for speculations which, even in minds of modern culture, have engendered strange beliefs. To this day, there are many who strongly cling to the absurd notion that in the untraversed ice fields about the pole there may be a region of paradisical perfection of climate. Twice within the last two centuries, once in Germany and again in America, the delusion of "Symmes' Hole" has possessed adventurous spirits, and led to the invention of most extreme conceptions as to the conditions of life in an under world, the entrance of which lay at the "navel of the earth," the north pole. We have only to assume that, among these pole seekers of the remote past, there was some Keplerian spirit searching with all of Dr. Warren's enthusiasm for the site of the human cradle, to find the origin of these myths, and to account for their modicum of truth to nature. In a word, it is much easier to assume that the myths which seem to show that man knew the polar lands were built on certain simple and early attained conceptions of the earth's figure, than that they embody the actual experience of the earliest men, gained while living within the arctic circle.++
We now turn to the first part of Dr. Warren's book, that which treats of the astronomical and geological aspects of the question. Here he is much at sea, and sorely puzzled to find a pilot. At the outset he is met with the difficulty arising from the polar climate. This he explains by the supposition that this earlier stage of man took place at a time when the inter-arctic climate was much warmer than at present; when there was a more connected land mass in the arctic regions than now exists there. Such conditions he finds indeed in the Miocene period. At that time a vegetation, comparable to that now found in Alabama, flourished to within twelve degrees of the pole, and may once have existed at the geographic pole, if there was land there for it to rest upon. But our author omits to reckon with several serious difficulties which he must encounter in placing man in so remote a time. No trustworthy evidence has yet been found that will place man in the Miocene period. No one who has attentively studied the time ratios of the tertiary age will venture to estimate the period of this Miocene warmth about the pole at less than a million years in the past; and if we accept the best evidence of geology, we will be compelled to assign an even more remote position for that period. Taking the least possible estimate, we should be compelled to assume that the peoples who have these traditions of the high north had preserved a vivid memory of their ancient dwelling place for a duration more than one hundred times as great as the historic period. Furthermore, that in their arts, their literature, and their religious customs, these men had remained essentially unchanged for this vast period. When we consider that all the evidence we have goes to show the men of ten thousand years ago to have been in an exceedingly primitive state of savagery, we see how violent is this strain upon our powers of belief. To take the ground of the author, we must suppose that an original culture had disappeared, and been replaced by a state of long-enduring savagery., from which culture again emerged, the previous traditions of original civilization alone remaining to mark the pristine state of life about the pole. But we are only at the beginning of the difficulties that surround this hypothesis; the author himself admits some of these. After securing the relative warmth of climate necessary to his view by removing the cradled state of man to a time when we have no trustworthy evidence that the race existed, he finds it necessary to reckon with the long polar night. He cannot venture to embrace any of the various hypotheses concerning the change in the position of the polar axis, for the principal traditional support of his hypothesis is found in statements which the myths make as to the nature of the day and night, and the motion of the stars, which could only occur at the geodetic pole. He has to explain how the people of this hyperborean Eden could fit into the polar system of sunshine and darkness. His treatment of this question is a skillful piece of fencing with facts, but utterly unsatisfactory. He claims that the night is much shorter than it is shown by experience to be, even at points several hundred miles from the pole, giving great value to the moonlight and to the aurora borealis. He makes out that there is hardly any night at all in the regions beneath the pole. Almost every arctic navigator who has ventured in high latitudes dwells with painful reiteration on the miseries of that period of darkness, even when accompanied by starlit skies and relieved by the lesser lights of morn and the flickering glories of the false aurora. Men come from their imprisonment bleached and saddened by the deadly darkness, which inevitably kills all but the stout-hearted and vigorous men who are selected for such trials, chosen for their task as are those of the forlorn hope in the worst enterprises of war. Let us fancy the women and children, the aged and weak of the arctic paradise, doomed each year to the four months of darkness: can we conceive it an Eden to them? Here the author will have to put in another hypothesis, and people his Eden with a folk who fattened on that which kills their descendants.++
It is to be remembered that all the while the dwellers in the arctic paradise were enduring the trials of an annual night, there were lands to the south of them equally blest in their climates and free from the evils of the polar regions. By the theory these lands were untenanted by man, and open to the first comer. It will be necessary to add a hypothesis to account for the fact that these primitive people preferred to retain this land of an annual day and night rather than to remove to regions where there was a diurnal system, which is much more satisfactory to their descendants. It is also to be remembered that the present state of our knowledge of the tertiary age shows that the period of Miocene warmth was a geologically brief interlude between times of glacial cold. There is clear proof that during a part of that period there was a development of glacial conditions about the north pole comparable to that of the last ice time. During this period of Miocene glaciation, vast ice sheets extended to the sea level in the neighborhood of Turin in the valley of the Po. In the earlier Eocene period there was also apparently a time of extreme glaciation. It is likely that the warm circumpolar climate came between these two ice times. So, to have man born at the pole, it would have been necessary to import his ancestry into that region, and to withdraw the new-made man directly afterwards.
There is, however, another and much more serious objection to the whole hypothesis. This arises from the facts which we have concerning the origin of man. There is no doubt that man came from a group of animals closely akin to the anthropoid apes. All these forms of animals are now, and as far as the negative evidence of the paleontological record goes, always have been dwellers in low latitudes, none of their remains having been found anywhere near the arctic circle. If we are to make assumptions, we must assume that the cradle of the human race was somewhere in the field occupied but its ancestors. The cautious naturalist will avoid this and all other similarly imperfect assumptions; but if compelled to surmise in matters which are not as yet ready for hypothesis, he must say with Darwin and all other careful students of the field that man probably took shape in the tropical region.
Thus the main points on which the author must rely for the maintenance of his hypothesis, the very foundation on which he must erect his edifice, fail to give him support; they seem, indeed, to serve him in no way. It is, therefore, not of such importance to note the fallacies which everywhere beset the progress of his argument on the geological part of his subject. In his collection of authorities we find the most uncritical association. Authors worthy of all credit are jumbled with those who have no right to be heard.
It is perhaps in his effort to show the paradisical conditions of the polar climate during man's cradle period that we find the wildest assumptions. Of that climate we know but one fact of any importance: namely, that it permitted the growth of a tolerably luxuriant vegetation, of a character somewhat like that which now exists in the region about the Lower Mississippi. In other words, we can fairly conjecture that the temperature in the winter season did not often go to near zero of Fahrenheit, and can assume that the rainfall was not very small. We can grant no more than this as the basis for the rhapsodies which our author indulges in concerning the climate. If the geologist was forced to make a picture of the probable climate of the circumpolar regions during the Eocene time it would not be one which would suit a paradise. He would picture it as a land of perpetual fogs and endless rain, a warmer Hebrides, a milder South Alaska. He would doubt its fitness for grain culture and question whether the existing or other useful species of grain had yet been developed. He would doubt the existence of any very useful fruits, and even more strongly doubt the presence then and there of any of our domesticated animals. If compelled to account for the food of a hyperborean Eocene man, he would suggest that he was probably a fish-eating savage, who had a hard wrestle for a living. All this would be conjecture, but unlike that of our learned author it would rest upon a foundation of well-affirmed facts.
Another fatal defect of methods visible throughout this portion of the work is seen in the way in which our author overlooks the task of connecting his evidence. Having shown by a mixture of proof and assumptions that the Miocene lands about the pole were the seat of a beautiful climate, and having set forth that there are certain traditions that seem to prove among the ancients a knowledge of circumpolar conditions, he regards his argument in favor of a polar seat of paradise as established for that time and place, ignoring the great difficulty of proving that man was there during the brief time while the Miocene warmth prevailed in high latitudes. Again and again, we have such gaps in the evidence passed by as if they were of no moment; but it is not worth while to give them separate mention. The whole of the book, as far as it treats of the physical facts, is in its methods apart from the ways of modern natural science. The author seems to be laboring under a grave misapprehension as to the scientific method, -- a misapprehension common to many writers who, without training in the method of physical research, try to cast the data of science into a form to support their theories. They make avail of the scientific method in part alone. They see that the naturalist uses hypotheses in groping for truth, therefore they proceed to construct hypotheses also; but they fail to apprehend the checks which the well-trained student of nature puts upon the use of the imagination in research. If he submits to the canons of modern inquiry, the naturalist first assembles his facts before him, using due criticism to exclude imperfect observations, or at least to qualify all such observations by some sign of doubt. Then he tries to imagine some known cause, or some cause that comes into the nearest relation to known causes, which may explain the phenomena. His imagined explanation must stand criticism from two points of view: First, it must not rest on any other unverified hypothesis; second, it must be the simplest possible explanation of the phenomena which he can conceive. This is only the beginning of the true investigator's work. He must now take care that he be not captivated by the offspring of his mind, but reviewing the facts with which he is dealing he must narrowly scrutinize them to see if they are really explained by the hypothesis. Here, indeed, the master of this sublime art of interrogating nature shows his power. The first part of his path may have been laborious; the second, however, is the real steep on which many fall. If men of general literary training could be brought to see the difficulty of this part of scientific inquiry and the worthlessness of all work in which it is neglected, we should have fewer books of this sort.
The natural world contains an infinite variety of facts; each of these facts will take shape according to the mind that views it; they are clouds that are "backed like a whale" or "very like a camel," as the spirit inclines to see whale or camel when it looks upon them. If an eager soul, fired by a brilliant conception, rushes to the world of phenomena for proof of his idea, this kindly nature will fool him to the top of his bent. Swedenborg says sadly that the spirits about him were prone to deceive him; so, too, it was in science until a few learned how to bring these treacherous witnesses to book.
In one regard this Paradise Found will prove extremely satisfactory to every man of science. If we read it aright it marks an abandonment of all the dogmatic grounds which have so long separated naturalists form theologians. It is good indeed to find a distinguished divine, the president of an orthodox institution of learning, who is willing to regard the question of the origin of man as a matter debatable on physical evidence alone; who feels that the precious interests of Christianity are not bound for life or death to the literal text of ancient traditions. In this regard the naturalist will be glad to welcome the author as a man of science, however much he may question his use of the methods of the art.
To the general reader this book will be welcome on account of its great store of well presented traditions, as well as on account of the felicity of its style and the charming spirit of open-minded, frank inquiry which everywhere pervades it.
1. Paradise Found: The Cradle of the Human Race at the North Pole. A study of the Prehistoric World. By William F. Warren, S.T.D., LL. D., etc., President of Boston University. Pages xxiv., 505. 12mo. Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1885.
2. The great detail which may be shown in such speculations is well indicated in Captain Symmes' project for entering the "hole" which his imagination pictured. He had a vessel constructed for the expedition, which was to take himself and a select party of cranks to the interior world. Foreseeing danger when he turned the sharp edge which separated the outer from the inner sea, he had his ship constructed with masts which could be quickly lowered, so that they might not be snapped by the strain brought upon them in making the turn. Fortunately for this erratic genius, he died before setting out on his voyage, and the ship was turned to other uses.
3. We are not without experiments on the influence of darkness on human beings of our day. Some years ago an effort was made to use the great chambers of the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky as a place of abode of consumptives. The air is pure and dry, and the temperature at least as good as that of the arctic paradise could have been. The results were disastrous in the extreme, the effect of darkness overcoming the benefits arising from the equable temperature and pure air.
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College