« AnteriorContinuar »
I wandered into a church, one day, for an hour of quiet. There were some people in front, but I selected an obscure corner where I would be alone. In my contemplation I did not notice the church fill up, did not notice the quality of restlessness in the air. It was not until an organ directly above me began the stirring strains of the march from Lohengrin that I realized I was an unbidden guest at a wedding!
It was too late to leave. The wedding procession had started. In the dingy little church I watched the principals try to enact a scene of fashionable splendour. There was a little flower-girl who forgot to strew her flowers before the bride; a page who stumbled and went scurrying after the ring; an usher who persisted in grinning at the unaccustomedness of his high silk hat.
But no one smiled. And when the bride entered there was a sudden, hushed silence, as though everyone had taken one long, deep breath.
I watched her as she walked down the aisle, this little twentiethcentury bride. As is the way of unruly imaginations, I pictured her a bride of long ago. Did she realize that she was actually observing certain ceremonial rites that were practised thousands of years ago? Did she realize that the traditions -so dear to her heart—so dear to bride-hearts the world over—were based upon the fears and superstitions of primitive man, upon age-old customs that had been handed down to her through many generations?
Why was her wedding gown white? Why not pink, or green, or yellow? Why were there orange blossoms on her veil? Indeed, why a veil at all? And the wedding ring, the bridal procession, the handful of rice-surely they had some meaning.
The ceremony did not last long. In half an hour it was over. The little church was deserted; nothing remained but a trampled rose or two. But something had happened to me. I had glimpsed behind the pages of history and saw promise of a treasure rarer than any in the Valley of the Kings!
Like another Lord Carnarvon I set out to explore the pages of the past. I traversed the centuries and came, trembling, upon the cradle of the human race. I stood amazed upon the threshold of
life. And mankind passed by in pageant before me! Cities created themselves before my eyes. Tangled masses of folklore and superstition confronted me. But armed with the pick and shovel of the archaeologist and the pen of the historian, I did not hesitate to begin my ride across the centuries. I peeped into the caves of our hairy ancestors and saw their modes of worship. I sat in the gardens of Babylon and watched civilization plant its first precious seeds. I wandered through ancient European wastes and saw new towns lift their faces to the sky. I shadowed Queen Elizabeth; I glimpsed the gaudy ballrooms of Louis XV; I followed Columbus across the sea to America. Oh, it has been a wonderful task! I have peered into marble palaces and sat with cave dwellers on the hills. I have danced with Indians in young America and dined with savage cave men of long ago. I have browsed in old Egypt, following civilization along the Nile. I have watched customs grow out of the fears, the superstitions, the ignorance of early life. And I have followed these customs through the ages, watching them thread their way into every country, among all peoples, weaving themselves eternally into the pattern of life. I have traced them even to our own polished twentieth-century civilization, marvelling that they should have changed so little in the centuries between. This, then, is precisely, as the title implies, a book of customs I have traced back to their source the customs which we to-day observe—the customs which we accept without question. Why should black be the colour of mourning? Why not red, or green, or white? Why do we shake hands in greeting, instead of touching noses, or foreheads, or elbows? Why do we throw rice after the bride? Why not corn, or oatmeal, or barley? In “The Customs of Mankind” I shall concern myself solely with those customs which we to-day observe, which we to-day accept. “The Book of Etiquette,” which was so heartily welcomed by the public, tells you what to do on every social occasion. “The Customs of Mankind” tells you not only what to do, but why you do it. I offer in this volume many “discoveries” that are peculiarly my own. Some of the customs I write about have never before, to my knowledge, been investigated. They are customs that have long been buried in impenetrable mists of antiquity, and that I have snatched from oblivion only through the most painstaking research. “The Customs of Mankind” has taken me over a period that extends backward for 500,000 years, and over an area that includes practically every country, civilized and uncivilized, in the world. The research entailed the use of thousands of volumes and papers, the most important of which are included in a list of authorities at the end.