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Right and Left
by [?]

Adult man is the only animal who, in the familiar scriptural phrase, ‘knoweth the right hand from the left.’ This fact in his economy goes closely together with the other facts, that he is the only animal on this sublunary planet who habitually uses a knife and fork, articulate language, the art of cookery, the common pump, and the musical glasses. His right-handedness, in short, is part cause and part effect of his universal supremacy in animated nature. He is what he is, to a great extent, ‘by his own right hand;’ and his own right hand, we may shrewdly suspect, would never have differed at all from his left were it not for the manifold arts and trades and activities he practises.

It was not always so, when wild in woods the noble savage ran. Man was once, in his childhood on earth, what Charles Reade wanted him again to be in his maturer centuries, ambidextrous. And lest any lady readers of this volume–in the Cape of Good Hope, for example, or the remoter portions of the Australian bush, whither the culture of Girton and the familiar knowledge of the Latin language have not yet penetrated–should complain that I speak with unknown tongues, I will further explain for their special benefit that ambidextrous means equally-handed, using the right and the left indiscriminately. This, as Mr. Andrew Lang remarks in immortal verse, ‘was the manner of Primitive Man.’ He never minded twopence which hand he used, as long as he got the fruit or the scalp he wanted. How could he when twopence wasn’t yet invented? His mamma never said to him in early youth, ‘Why-why,’ or ‘Tomtom,’ as the case might be, ‘that’s the wrong hand to hold your flint-scraper in.’ He grew up to man’s estate in happy ignorance of such minute and invidious distinctions between his anterior extremities. Enough for him that his hands could grasp the forest boughs or chip the stone into shapely arrows; and he never even thought in his innocent soul which particular hand he did it with.

How can I make this confident assertion, you ask, about a gentleman whom I never personally saw, and whose habits the intervention of five hundred centuries has precluded me from studying at close quarters? At first sight, you would suppose the evidence on such a point must be purely negative. The reconstructive historian must surely be inventing a priori facts, evolved, more Germanico, from his inner consciousness. Not so. See how clever modern archaeology has become! I base my assertion upon solid evidence. I know that Primitive Man was ambidextrous, because he wrote and painted just as often with his left as with his right, and just as successfully.

This seems once more a hazardous statement to make about a remote ancestor, in the age before the great glacial epoch had furrowed the mountains of Northern Europe; but, nevertheless, it is strictly true and strictly demonstrable. Just try, as you read, to draw with the forefinger and thumb of your right hand an imaginary human profile on the page on which these words are printed. Do you observe that (unless you are an artist, and therefore sophisticated) you naturally and instinctively draw it with the face turned towards your left shoulder? Try now to draw it with the profile to the right, and you will find it requires a far greater effort of the thumb and fingers. The hand moves of its own accord from without inward, not from within outward. Then, again, draw with your left thumb and forefinger another imaginary profile, and you will find, for the same reason, that the face in this case looks rightward. Existing savages, and our own young children, whenever they draw a figure in profile, be it of man or beast, with their right hand, draw it almost always with the face or head turned to the left, in accordance with this natural human instinct. Their doing so is a test of their perfect right-handedness.