The natural history of religion

“When the poet invokes in his splendid frenzy the shining spheres of heaven, the murmuring fountains, and the rushing streams; when he calls upon the earth to hearken, and bids the wild sea listen to his song; when he communes with the sweet secluded valleys and the haughty-headed hills, as if those inanimate objects were alive, as if those masses of brute matter were endowed with sense and thought, we do not smile, we do not sneer, we do not reason, but we feel. A secret chord is touched within us; a slumbering sympathy is awakened into life. Who has not felt an impulse of hatred, and perhaps expressed it in a senseless curse, against a fiery stroke of sunlight, or a sudden gust of wind? Who has not felt a pang of pity for a flower torn and trampled in the dust; a shell dashed to fragments by the waves? Such emotions or ideas last only for a moment; they do not belong to us; they are the fossil fancies of a bygone age; they are a heritage of thought from the childhood of our race. For there was a time when they possessed the human mind. There was a time when the phrases of modern poetry were the facts of ordinary life. There was a time when man lived in fellowship with nature, believing that all things which moved or changed had minds and bodies kindred to his own.”

The text above is by Winwood Reade (1838-1875). The next part, 5 dense A4 pages, is also available. Choose one of these formats:

Information on the text

The text is an extract from The Martyrdom of Man by Winwood Reade (1838-1875), which was first published in 1872. The title is a bit misleading; in fact, the book is a history of civilisation. It consists of four chapters: War, Religion, Liberty, and Intellect. The text that you can find in the links above is the beginning of Chapter 2, Religion. The chapter is about 10 times as much, and the whole book is about 30 times as much.

Some parts of the book are amazing, like this one, the natural history of religion, which I liked best. However, I get tired of the book's endless pages of poetic text. To be honest, I have read only a part of it.

You can find it in major book shops, like Amazon, or in old libraries. I found it in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.

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