In his 1946 work entitled A Study Of History, Arnold J. Toynbee made some very illuminating observations that serve to give the student a more honest grasp of this vast and elusive subject. I will attempt to paraphrase some of the opening arguments presented in the first few chapters of his ten volume opus. While I don't personally agree with all of Mr. Toynbee's conclusions which are also shared by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, much as Professor Carroll Quigley's book The Evolution of Civilizations has exerted great influence on many leaders who share the views of the Council of Foreign Relations, the American branch of the Royal Institute.
For any interested readers or listeners, Mr. Quigley's book is an easy read and Mr. Toynbee's 3000 page work in ten volumes has been abridged by Mr. D.C. Somervell into a readily accessible tome of under 600 pages. I heartily recommend them both.
Firstly, it must be born in mind, for the sake of perspective, that whether we like it or not; the number of primitive cultures as compared to the number of advanced civilizations, as well as the antiquity of both are in stark contrast. It is a fact that any student of history or anthropology will already know but I have never yet seen this fact explained in a better manner nor have I ever before been shown the significance of these facts regardless of personal historical philosophies.
A rough calculation shows us that approximately 650 separate primitive societies operate against a backdrop of only a dozen advanced societies. At this point, we must take into consideration that the total number of souls of all the primitive societies since the beginning of humanity are scarcely a drop in the ocean of the number of souls who have counted membership in any one of the advanced civilizations.
Thirdly, we must understand that in any science, the first task is to simply gather and collate facts. The next task is to infer meaning, derive patterns and develop laws from this information. When we compare the amount of available facts to be drawn upon in our two types of societies, it becomes evident that the potential trove of such treasure is far bigger for the primitive than the advanced although it is more elusive. Paradoxically, although the available facts for the study of advanced cultures are more in number and easier to obtain, they lack any depth of antiquity as compared to the other, which makes the formulating of any accurate, sensible conclusions very much more difficult.
Mr. Toynbee has shown me that history must of necessity, contain many of the devices of fiction; just as fiction cannot help but to include large doses of actual history. This simple fact is far truer and much more significant than it appears to be on the surface. So, with this foregoing information tucked under our tongues like a peppermint we will breathe in one additional bit of historical knowledge through our expanding nostrils. This is the observable fact that when a primitive and an advanced society come into contact along a frontier for a protracted time, the tendency is for the advanced society to emulate the primitive society if the former does not constantly expand itself and impinge upon the latter.
Thus, in the spirit of a man who said that any good historian must also be an artist, I will present to your ears an ambient sound painting. We are on a beach in South-east Sweden where some men are building a dragon ship. An Arab guest is strumming a lute and a Nordic Shaman is beating a wolf-skin hand-drum. Christianity is nearly a thousand years old, Islam is several centuries old. The Chief stands looking out to sea recalling the voice of a Brythonic Celt girl he heard singing in a stone Church in Ireland. It has haunted him ever since. In Spring, they will sail to Cork. Inexorable change is on the wind, everyone can feel it. Those to the South who would dominate now require the spirit and soul as well as the body.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.