Thursday, April 17, 2014


A Liking for Savages

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Altavona: Fact and Fiction from My Life in the Highlands (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), pp. 207-208:
FL.—Nevertheless, I must confess, my sympathies in such cases instinctively go with the conquered. If I look forth with wonder on the adventurous admirals of Agricola, drawing with the keels, so to speak, of their long ships a boundary line which should make the limits of the Roman empire to the West identical with the limits of the then known world, my heart is at the same time stirred in sisterly pity towards the blue barbarians, painted with woad—the Epidians, Selgovians, and Novantes, destined to receive civilisation, not without the "delinimenta vitiorum," which, as Tacitus says, the corrupt Romans of those days always brought with them. Generally, I must confess that I have a liking for savages; they may be rude and sometimes cruel, but they are at least natural.

CH.—It is this contrast, no doubt, between the artificial vices of an over-refined civilisation and the natural virtues of unsophisticated semi-savages, which furnishes the key-note to the admirable little tract, De moribus Germanorum, with which every schoolboy is familiar. At the same time, I apprehend it is distance at bottom that, in the case of cerulean savages, as of blue mountains, lends enchantment to the view. Catch a dragon-fly, and your close inspection will annihilate all its play of colour. Live with a savage with stone hatchets and bone necklaces for a week or a day, and you will straightway begin to sigh for saloons and sofas, and silver forks at dinner.

MAC.—Yes, sentimental worshippers of pure nature, and aesthetical worshippers of the middle ages, are capable of any kind of self-deceit. They live in an atmosphere of elegant lies, and the stuff which they find in some moonshiny novel to feed their weak digestion, is as far removed from healthy nature as the phosphorescence of putrid herring in the dark is from the light of day.

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