Page images

power of distinguishing colours has increased even in historical times. The subject has attracted the attention of German philologists, and I have been furnished by a friend with some notes from a work of the late Lazarus Geiger, entitled, Zur Entwickelungsgeschichte der Menschheit (Stuttgart, 1871). According to this writer it appears that the colour of grass and foliage is never alluded to as a beauty in the Vedas or the Zendavesta, though these productions are continually extolled for other properties. Blue is described by terms denoting sometimes green, sometimes black, showing that it was hardly recognised as a distinct colour. The colour of the sky is never mentioned in the Bible, the Vedas, the Homeric poems, or even in the Koran. The first distinct allusion to it known to Geiger is in an Arabic work of the ninth century. · Hyacinthine locks” are black locks, and Homer calls iron “ violet-coloured.” Yellow was often confounded with green ; but, along with red, it was one of the earliest colours to receive a distinct name. Aristotle names three colours in the rainbow—red, yellow, and green. Two centuries earlier Xenophanes had described the rainbow as purple, reddish, and yellow. The Pythagoreans admitted four primary colours—white, black, red, and yellow; the Chinese the same, with the addi

tion of green.

Simultaneously with the first publication of this essay in Macmillan's Magazine, there appeared in the Nineteenth Century an article by Mr. Gladstone on the Colour-sense, chiefly as exhibited in the poems of Homer. He shows that the few colour-terms used by Homer are applied to such different objects that they

cannot denote colours only, as we perceive and differentiate them ; but seem more applicable to different intensities of light and shade. Thus, to give one example, the word porphureos is applied to clothing, to the rainbow, to blood, to a cloud, to the sea, and to death ; and no one meaning will suit all these applications except comparative darkness. In other cases the same thing has many different epithets applied to it according to its different aspects or conditions ; and as the colours of objects are generally indicated in ancient writings by comparative rather than by abstract terms,—as winecolour, fire-colour, bronze-colour, &c.-it becomes still more difficult to determine in any particular case what colour was really meant. Mr. Gladstone's general conclusion is, that the archaic man had a positive perception only of degrees of light and darkness, and that in Homer's time he had advanced to the imperfect discrimination of red and yellow, but no further; the green

of grass and foliage or the blue of the sky being never once referred to.

These curious facts cannot, however, be held to prove so recent an origin for colour-sensations as they would at first sight appear to do, because we have seen that both flowers and fruits have become diversely coloured in adaptation to the visual powers

of insects, birds, and mammals. Red, being a very common colour of ripe fruits which attract birds to devour them and thus distribute their seeds, we may be sure that the contrast of red and green is to them very

well marked. It is indeed just possible that birds may have a more advanced development of the colour-sense than mammals, because the teeth of the latter commonly grind up and

destroy the seeds of the larger fruits and nuts which they devour, and which are not usually coloured ; but the irritating effect of bright colours on some of them does not support this view. It seems most probable therefore that man's perception of colour in the time of Homer was little if any inferior to what it is now, but that, owing to a variety of causes, no precise nomenclature of colours had become established. One of these causes probably was, that the colours of the objects of most importance, and those which were most frequently referred to in songs and poems, were uncertain and subject to variation. Blood was light or dark red, or when dry, blackish ; iron was grey or dark or rusty ; bronze was shining or dull ; foliage was of all shades of yellow, green, or brown; and horses or cattle had no one distinctive colour. Other objects, as the sea, the sky, and wine, changed in tint according to the light, the time of day, and the mode of viewing them ; and thus colour, indicated at first by reference to certain coloured objects, had no fixity. Things which had more definite and purer colours—as certain species of flowers, birds, and insects—were probably too insignificant or too much despised to serve as colour-terms; and even these often vary, either in the same or in allied species, , in a manner which would render their use unsuitable. Colour-names, being abstractions, must always have been a late development in language, and their comparative unimportance in an early state of society and of the arts would still further retard their appearance; and this seems quite in accordance with the various facts set forth by Mr. Gladstone and the other writers referred to. The fact that colour-blindness is so pre

valent even now, is however an indication that the fully developed colour-sense is not of primary importance to man. If it had been so, natural selection would long ago have eliminated the disease itself, and its tendency to recur would hardly be so strong as it appears to be.

Concluding Remarks on the Colour-sense. --The preceding considerations enable us to comprehend, both why a perception of difference of colour has become developed in the higher animals, and also why colours require to be presented or combined in varying proportions in order to be agreeable to us. But they hardly seem to afford a sufficient explanation, either of the wonderful contrasts and total unlikeness of the sensations produced in us by the chief primary colours, or of the exquisite charm and pleasure we derive from colour itself, as distinguished from variously-coloured objects, in the case of which association of ideas comes into play. It is hardly conceivable that the material uses of colour to animals and to ourselves, required such very distinct and powerfullycontrasted sensations; and it is still less conceivable that a sense of delight in colour per se should have been necessary for our utilization of it.

The emotions excited by colour and by music, alike, seem to rise above the level of a world developed on purely utilitarian principles.

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]









ENVIRONMENT--The Influence of Locality on Colour in Butterflies and Birds-Sense-perception influenced by Colour of the Integuments – Relations of Insular Plants and Insects-RISE AND PROGRESS OF MODERN VIEWS AS TO THE ANTIQUITY AND ORIGIN OF Man-Indications of Man's extreme Antiquity-Antiquity of Intellectual ManSculptures on Easter-Island--North American Earthworks—The Great Pyramid-Conclusion.

The range of subjects comprehended within the domain of Biology is so wide, and my own acquaintance with them so imperfect, that it is not in my power to lay before you any general outline of the recent progress of the biological sciences. Neither do I feel competent to give you a summary of the present status of any one of the great divisions of our science, such as Anatomy, Physiology, Embryology, Histology, Classification, or Evolution—Philology, Ethnology, or Prehistoric Archæology; but there are fortunately several outlying and more or less neglected subjects to which I have for some time had my attention directed, and which I hope will

« EelmineJätka »