NOTES ON “A LAND OF MYSTERY”
[The Theosophist, Vol. I, No. 11, August, 1880, pp. 278-279]
To the Editor of The Theosophist:—I have read with much pleasure your excellent article on “A Land of Mystery.” In it you show a spirit of inquiry and love of truth which are truly commendable in you and cannot fail to command the approbation and praise of all unbiased readers. But there are certain points in it, in which I cannot but join issue with you. In order to account for the most striking resemblances that existed in the manners, customs, social habits and traditions of the primitive peoples of the two worlds, you have recourse to the old Platonic theory of a land-connection between them. But the recent researches in the Novemyra* have once for all exploded that theory. They prove that, with the exception of the severance of Australia from Asia, there never was a submersion of land on so gigantic a scale as to produce an Atlantic or a Pacific Ocean, that, ever since their formation, the seas have never changed their ancient basins on any very large scale. Professor Geikie, in his physical geography, holds that the continents have always occupied the positions they do now, except that, for a few miles, their coasts have sometimes advanced into and receded from the sea.
You would not have fallen into any error. had you accepted M. de Quatrefages’ theory of migrations by sea. The plains of Central Asia are accepted by all monogenists as the centre of appearance of the human race. From this place successive waves of emigrants radiated to the utmost verge of the world. It is no wonder that the ancient Chinese, Hindus, Egyptians, Peruvians, and Mexicans—men who once inhabited the same place—should show the strong resemblances in certain points of their life. The proximity of the two continents at Behring Straits enabled immigrants to pass from Asia to America. A little to the south is the current of Tassen, the Kouro-sivo or black stream of the Japanese, which opens a great route for Asiatic
* [It is not certain what particular journal or newspaper is meant here. The nearest name to this spelling would be Novy Mir (New World), but no such magazine was in existence then. The other possibility is that the St. Petersburg daily Novoye Vremya is meant.—Compiler.]
navigators. The Chinese have been a maritime nation from remote antiquity and it is not impossible that their barges might have been like those of the Portuguese navigator P. A. Cabral, in modern times, driven by accident to the coast of America. But, leaving all questions of possibilities and accidents aside, we know that the Chinese had discovered the magnetic needle even so early as B.C. 2,000. With its aid and that of the current of Tassen, they had no very considerable difficulty to cross to America. They established, as M. F. Paz Soldan informs us in his Geografía del Perú, a little colony there; and Buddhist missionaries “towards the close of the fifth century sent religious missions to carry to Fou-Sang (America) the doctrines of Buddha.” This will no doubt be unpleasant to many European readers. They are averse to crediting a statement that takes the honour of the discovery of America from them and assigns it to what they are graciously pleased to call “a semi-barbarous Asiatic nation.” Nevertheless, it is an unquestionable truth. Chapter XVIII of The Human Species, by A. de Quatrefages will be an interesting reading to any one who may be eager to know something of the Chinese discovery of America, but the space at his command being small, he gives a very meagre account of it in his book. I earnestly hope you will complete your interesting article by adverting to this and giving as full particulars of all that is known about it. The shedding of light on a point which has hitherto been involved in mysterious darkness, will not be unworthy of the pen of one, the be-all and end-all of whose life is the search of truth and. when found. to abide by it. be it at whatever cost it may be.
AMRITA LAL BISVAS
Calcutta, 11th July.
Scant leisure this month prevents our making any detailed answer to the objections to the Atlantean hypothesis intelligently put forth by our subscriber. But let us see whether—even though based upon “recent researches” which “have once for all exploded that theory”—they are as formidable as at first sight they may appear.
Without entering into the subject too deeply, we may limit ourselves to but one brief remark. More than one scientific question, which at one time has seemingly been put at rest forever, has exploded at a subsequent one over the heads of theorists who had forgotten the danger of trying to elevate a simple theory into an infallible dogma. We have not questioned the assertion that “there never was a submersion of land on so gigantic a scale as to produce an
Atlantic or a Pacific Ocean,” for we never pretended to suggest new theories for the formation of oceans. The latter may have been where they now are since the time of their first appearance, and yet whole continents been broken into fragments partially engulfed, and left innumerable islands, as seems the case with the submerged Atlantis. What we meant was that, at some pre-historic time and long after the globe teemed with civilized nations, Asia, America, and perhaps Europe were parts of one vast continental formation, whether united by such narrow strips of land as evidently once existed where now is Behring Strait (which connects the North Pacific and Arctic Oceans and has a depth of hardly more than twenty to twenty-five fathoms), or by larger stretches of land. Nor shall we fight the monogenists who claim Central Asia as the one cradle place of humanity—but leave the task to the polygenists who are able to do it far more successfully than ourselves. But, in any case, before we can accept the theory of monogenesis, its advocates must offer us some unanswerable hypothesis to account for the observed differences in human types better than that of “divarication caused by difference of climate, habits, and religious culture.” Mr. de Ouatrefages may remain, as ever, indisputably a most distinguished naturalist—physician, chemist, and zoologist—yet we fail to understand why we should accept his theories in preference to all others. Mr. Amrita Lal Bisvas evidently refers to a narrative of some scientific travels along the shores of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, by this eminent Frenchman, entitled Souvenirs d’un Naturaliste. He seems to regard Mr. de Quatrefages in the light of an infallible Pope upon all scientific questions: we do not, though he was a member of the French Academy and a professor of ethnology. His theory about the migrations by sea, may be offset by about an hundred others which directly oppose it. It is just because we have devoted our whole life to the research of truth—for which complimentary admission we thank our critic—that we never accept on faith any authority upon any question whatsoever; nor, pursuing, as we do, TRUTH and progress through a full and fearless enquiry,
untrammelled by any consideration, would we advise any of our friends to do otherwise.
Having said so much, we may now give a few of our reasons for believing in the alleged “fable” of the submerged Atlantis—though we explained ourselves at length upon the subject in Isis Unveiled (Vol. I, pp. 590, et seq.).
1. We have as evidence the most ancient traditions of various and widely-separated peoples—legends in India, in ancient Greece, Madagascar, Sumatra, Java, and all the principal isles of Polynesia, as well as those of both Americas. Among savages, as in the traditions of the richest literature in the world—the Sanskrit literature of India—there is an agreement in saying that, ages ago, there existed in the Pacific Ocean, a large continent which, by a geological upheaval, was engulfed by the sea. And it is our firm belief—held, of course, subject to correction—that most, if not all of the islands from the Malayan Archipelago to Polynesia, are fragments of that once immense submerged continent. Both Malacca and Polynesia, which lie at the two extremities of the Ocean and which, since the memory of man, never had nor could have any intercourse with, or even a knowledge of each other, have yet a tradition, common to all the islands and islets, that their respective countries extended far, far out into the sea; that there were in the world but two immense continents, one inhabited by yellow, the other by dark men; and that the ocean, by command of the gods and to punish them for their incessant quarrelling, swallowed them up.
2. Notwithstanding the geographical fact that New Zealand, and Sandwich, and Easter Islands, are at a distance, from each other, of between 800 and 1,000 leagues; and that, according to every testimony, neither these nor any other intermediate islands, for instance, the Marquesan, Society, Fijian, Tahitian, Samoan, and other islands, could, since they became islands, ignorant as their people were of the compass, have communicated with each other before the arrival of Europeans; yet, they, one and all, maintain that their respective countries extended far toward the West, on the Asian side. Moreover, with very small
differences, they all speak dialects evidently of the same language and understand each other with little difficulty; have the same religious beliefs and superstitions; and pretty much the same customs. And as few of the Polynesian islands were discovered earlier than a century ago, and the Pacific Ocean itself was unknown to Europe until the days of Columbus, and these islanders have never ceased repeating the same old traditions since the Europeans first set foot on their shores, it seems to us a logical inference that our theory is nearer to the truth than any other. Chance would have to change its name and meaning, were all this due but to chance alone.