On World History: An Anthology

By Johann Gottfried Herder; Hans Adler et al. | Go to book overview

27
General Reflections on the History of the Asian States
Up to this point, we have been considering the political constitutions of Asia, which boast the greatest antiquity as well as the most solid duration; now, what have they attained in the history of humankind? What does the philosopher of human history learn from them?
1. History presumes a beginning, the history of a state and of a culture, a commencement. But how obscure is this commencement among all the peoples we have so far contemplated! Were my voice here of any weight, I would employ it in exhorting every astute and discrete investigator of history to study the origins of culture in Asia among its most celebrated empires and peoples, laying aside all hypotheses and throwing off the shackles of preconceived opinion. A close comparison of the surviving accounts as well as of the monuments of these nations, in particular of their script and language, of their most ancient works of art and their mythologies, or of the principles and practices that still govern their few sciences, taking into account in all this the place where they lived and the contact they could have had with others, would certainly reveal a trail of their enlightenment that probably would find the first instance of this culture neither in Selenginsk 1 nor in Greek Bactria. The diligent attempts of de Guignes, Bayer, Gatterer, and others, the more daring hypotheses of Bailly, Pauw, Delisle, and so on, 2 the useful endeavors that have been made toward collecting and disseminating Asian languages and writings, are preparatory steps to an edifice, the first solid cornerstone of which I desire to see in place. Perhaps it may be found in the ruins of a temple of a Protogaea, 3 which displays itself to our view in so many natural monuments.

-245-

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