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There is in their wisdom a perfume of the past, homely and ancient-fashioned like a whiff of pot pourri, wondrous soothing withal to olfactories agitated by the patchoulis and jockey clubs of modern pretenders and petit-maîtres, with their grey young heads and pert intelligence, the motto of whose ignorance is “Connu!” Were a dose of its antique, mature experience adhibited to the Western before he visits the East, those few who could digest it might escape the normal lot of being twisted round the fingers of every rogue they meet from Dragoman to Rajah.And the result was a book which has had more readers than any other except the Bible. The volume, which in Pehlevi became the Jávidán Khirad (“Wisdom of Ages”) or the Testament of Hoshang, that ancient guebre King, and in Sanskrit the Panchatantra (“Five Chapters”), is a recueil of apologues and anecdotes related by the learned Brahman, Vishnu Sharmá for the benefit of his pupils the sons of an Indian Rajah.
The savage, when he began to reflect, would regard the carnivor and the serpent with awe, wonder and dread; and would soon suspect the same mysterious potency in the brute as in himself: so the Malays still look upon the Uran-utan, or Wood-man, as the possessor of superhuman wisdom.The hunter and the herdsman, who had few other companions, would presently explain the peculiar relations of animals to themselves by material metamorphosis, the bodily transformation of man to brute giving increased powers of working him weal and woe.A more advanced stage would find the step easy to metempsychosis, the beast containing the Ego (alias soul) of the human: such instinctive belief explains much in Hindu literature, but it was not wanted at first by the Apologue.But I cannot accept the refinement of difference which Professor Benfey, followed by Mr.Keith Falconer, discovers between the Æsopic and the Hindu apologue:— “In the former animals are allowed to act as animals: the latter makes them act as men in the form of animals.” The essence of the beast-fable is a reminiscence of Homo primigenius with erected ears and hairy hide, and its expression is to make the brother brute behave, think and talk like him with the superadded experience of ages.
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