The inventions we find among thofe nations, who remain nearly in the ftate of nature, appear in no inftance I can recollect, to be the refult of theory or á priori reafoning. Their devices are the efforts of very feeble reafoning, and are commonly deduced from fome phænomenon prefented to their view, among natural objects.
In order to illuftrate this obfervation, I fhall give wing to my fancy.—
It is reafonable to think mankind would never have been tempted to venture on the fea, had not curiofity, or more probably the defire of food, been the motive.—A favage (ignorant of all navigation) we will imagine, fitting on the beach endeavouring to take fifh, perceives, that the further he throws his bait into the water, the greater his fuccefs. He his perfuaded therefore to walk in, and ftill finds his good luck to increafe, as he advances in the deep water.—Having proceeded to a confiderable diftance, and as far as fafety permits him, let us fuppofe he fees a large fragment of wood, which in fome diftant country the wind has fevered from a tree, and the river and tide brought gently floating by his fide. Curiofity, or caprice, induces him to take hold of it ; and finding that he receives fupport, he raifes himfelf upon it, and feels an unexpected pleafure in being carried with eafe and fafety to the more. Pleafed and fatisfied with his adventure, he returns to his companions, who liften to his tale with furprife and admiration. He comes the next day to vifit his ufual fifhing-place, and defiring the fituation he was fo fuccefsful in before, looks for his favourite tree to carry him; but in vain:—the branch is floated to fome diftant place. Invention now awakes.—What muft he do? 'Tis obvious. He fells the tree which overfhades him, and rolls it to the water's edge;—he mounts it, and regains his former ftation.
Thus might the knowledge of navigation be introduced into the world. A few experiments would improve it ;—and the obferving of fhells fwimming with their concave fide uppermoft, would lead to the idea of hollowing the trunk, which firft was ufed folid. The canoo, the long-boat, the man of war may have originated in this fimple manner.
My intention, in this flight picture, is to fhew that the difcoveries found among favage people, are but the copies of fomething Nature has thrown before their eyes. It is not to be fuppofed, a race of beings fo unacquainted with the properties of matter, as the barbarous nations muft have been originally, could make experiments in a theoretic manner: nor would it enter the mind uninformed by example, that a tree fhould fwim, while the fmalleft ftone fhould fink, in water. The more this idea is attended to, the more it will be found to fupport my opinion; and it will prove an amufing tafk, for any one, to follow back the cuftoms of uncivilized nations, to their proper origin in nature.
Let us apply this reafoning to the prefent point in view, and endeavour to find out fomething among natural objects, fimilar to the effect of the Bow.—I know of none ; and therefore it ftrikes me with aftonifhment whenever I reflect how early this inftrument was known, and how univerfal it became in the mod ancient times we have any record of.22 But there is not fo much difficulty in conceiving how it became general, as how it became in ufe; for, when once invented, the materials were at hand in every country to fabricate it.
The ancients (who knew a caufe for every thing) fay, the Bow was introduced by Apollo to mankind.23 Perfes, the fon of Perfeus, and Scythes, the fon of Jupiter, have the honour of the invention afcribed to them like wife. The latter is faid to have inftructed the nobility of infant Greece, and to have introduced it into that country. The founder of every nation has the merit of the difcovery of the Bow afcribed to him by the inhabitants; which proves, that the true origin is not in the leaft known.24