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.
But Primitive Man, or at any rate the most primitive men we know personally, the carvers of the figures from the French bone-caves, drew men and beasts, on bone or mammoth-tusk, turned either way indiscriminately. The inference is obvious. They must have been ambidextrous. Only ambidextrous people draw so at the present day; and indeed to scrape a figure otherwise with a sharp flint on a piece of bone or tooth or mammoth-tusk would, even for a practised hand, be comparatively difficult.
I have begun my consideration of rights and lefts with this one very clear historical datum, because it is interesting to be able to say with tolerable certainty that there really was a period in our life as a species when man in the lump was ambidextrous. Why and how did he become otherwise? This question is not only of importance in itself, as helping to explain the origin and source of man’s supremacy in nature—his tool-using faculty—but it is also of interest from the light it casts on that fallacy of poor Charles Reade’s already alluded to—that we ought all of us in this respect to hark back to the condition of savages. I think when we have seen the reasons which make civilised man now right-handed, we shall also see why it would be highly undesirable for him to return, after so many ages of practice, to the condition of his undeveloped stone-age ancestors.