2. The picture that has been drawn of the innocence of the primitive peoples of the globe, absorbed in appreciative contemplation of the beauties of nature, is undoubtedly very poetic, but it lacks truthfulness.
The nearer human beings are to the state of nature, the more completely are they under the sway of instinct, as is still the case with savages and barbarians of the present day; what interests such individuals most, or rather, what interests them exclusively, is the satisfaction of their physical needs, for they have no others. The special sense which alone can render them susceptible of mental pleasures is only developed gradually and in the course of time; the soul has its infancy, its youth, and its maturity, like the human body; but, in order to attain to the maturity which fits it for the comprehension of things of an abstract nature, how many evolutions must it accomplish in the human form! Through how many existences must it work out its progressive development!
Without going back to the earliest ages, we have only to look around us upon the rustics of our rural regions, in order to satisfy ourselves as to the amount of admiration awakened in their minds by the splendors of sunrise, the sublimity of the starry sky, the warbling of the birds, the murmur of the brook, the beauty of the meadows enameled with flowers! Their only thought about the rising of the sun is that it rises because it is in the habit of doing so, and, provided it gives heat enough to ripen the crops and not enough to burn them up, that is all they think about the matter. If they look up in the sky, it is to see what sort of weather they are likely to have on the morrow; whether the birds sing or not is all one to them, so long as they do not devour their grain; they prefer the clucking of their hens and the grunting of their pigs to the song of the nightingale; all they ask of the brook, be it clear or muddy, is not to dry up and not to overflow their fields, and, if these only yield good grass for their cattle and sheep, they care nothing whatever about the flowers; the success of their farming operations is all they ask – it is all they understand – of Nature; and yet they are already very far above the level of the primitive races!