Pantomime and pictures—the symbols have marked every for־ ward step in the evolution of the human race.
The vague things that flitted through the consciousness of prehistoric man made him grope for a means of expression, and the language of gutturals was born. Perhaps, in that day, the vocabulary numbered thirty or forty words relating to concrete things. Then came an unrecorded period when certain molecular changes occurred in the cerebral cells. A gibbering ancestor peered cautiously through the branches and twigs and the rustling leaves of his arboreal shelter. There was less slant to his fore-head, and more bridge to his nose, in comparison with the others of his kind. He wondered greatly as the altered cells formed a glimmering nebula into an abstract idea—the beginning of thought. He wanted to tell of the strange event, but there were no sounds to convey his meaning. He invented a new sound, and the others stared and chattered in bewilderment; so he resorted to pantomime to explain the sound.
When his descendants had left the trees for the rocky dens in the cliffs, the urge to express their thoughts led to a new discovery. With a sharpened stone one could scratch a likeness of things that had no sound on the smooth walls of the cave; so they produced pictures and originated sounds to represent them in vocabulary.
The language grew. Thoughts expanded through expression, and the ability to discuss them. These half-men learned to unite in a common defense against the primeval monsters.
Language bridged the chasm, thousands of centuries wide, and enabled the human race to cross over from the aboriginal wilderness to this day of newspapers and electric lights. Without pictures and pantomime there would have been no bridge. They were the helpers who built it.
The prod of gregarious instinct had impelled men to live together. Language had given expression to the adumbrations of thought which urged them to strengthen individual weakness by cooperation. The day of right by physical might commenced to wane. But human greed is insatiate. When one monster of selfishness is overthrown another is born to threaten the advancement of the human race. It is a freak of heredity—an atavism, if you will.
Pantomime and pictures created words; words paved the way to language, and language to education. In the egotism of superior knowledge, education all but discarded the lowly workers who had helped in the making. A new abyss yawned deeply across the pathway of progress.
A dynasty of right by mental might was the outgrowth of education, and language was its Prime Minister. One must know the Prime Minister well to achieve the inner circle of the court, and the selfish few saw to it that the circle was small. The others hobbled along, sullen, dejected. They no longer feared the dangers of the forests and cliffs—they shrank from the predatory monsters of their own kind, those cold, calculating brutes that tortured with cruel slavery rather than death.
And so it went through the centuries of medievalism! The people groped for ways to express the dim and formless thoughts against oppression that grew in their consciousness. In a more developed mind, here and there, the nebulous mental picture solidified, and they went forth to explain the message. Many could not understand the new sounds; but others grasped the meaning and spread the knowledge. Men united, and the new sounds became the slogan of revolution. Education became free to all.
It is the nature of people to be inconsequential. The victory gained, some have been slow to take advantage, some lack the opportunity. The vocabulary of the average man today numbers about two hundred words. Vague, restless thoughts of injustice crowd the cerebral cells without power of expression, while the predatory few gather the fruits of industrial slavery.
Again the cycle of evolution comes with pantomime and pictures—motion pictures. It batters down the barriers of poverty and environment that obstructed the roads to education, and distributes knowledge in a language that all may understand. The workingman with the meager vocabulary is the equal of the scholar. The dynasty of right by mental might had pinned its faith to the spoken word. It is on the wane.
Universal education—that is the message.
Let the doubting Thomases remember that evolution works slowly. Compare the pictures of today with the feeble output of a short decade back. Time and distance have been annihilated by the magic film to draw the world’s people closer together. We travel—the black man in his daily life on the Ganges is much like ourselves, but for the environment. The houses and villages of the yellow men appear like toys, and the people as children. Wander through the cities of our own country, and feel the primitive bonds of community drawing you nearer to the people you see in the picture. Gaze horror-struck on the war scenes, and you become an advocate of peace. No language can imprint things on your consciousness so vividly.
The greatest minds have delivered their messages through the book or play. The motion picture spreads it on the screen where all can read and understand—and enjoy. No more are the pleasures of the theater for the rich alone. The poor man’s pennies spread before him and his family the best of the drama in its finest forms. World renowned actors and actresses walk, and even speak, for them upon the screen.
And so, by this magic means, are the extremes of society brought a step nearer to each other in the inevitable readjustment in the ways of men.
Originally published in Paramount Magazine, I, no. 2 (February 1915), PP. 1-2.