It is a curious reflection, however, that in spite of all the later improvements in the fictile art—in spite of wheels and moulds, pastes and glazes, stamps and pigments, and all the rest of it—the most primitive methods of the first potter are still in use in many countries, side by side with the most finished products of modern European skill and industry. I have in my own possession some West Indian calabashes, cut and decorated under my own eye by a Jamaican negro for his personal use, and bought from him by me for the smallest coin there current—calabashes carved round the edge through the rind with a rude string-course, exactly like the common rope pattern of prehistoric pottery. I have seen the same Jamaican negroes kneading their hand-made porous earthenware beside a tropical stream, moulding it on fruits or shaping it inside with a free sweep of the curved hand, and drying it for use in the hot sun, or baking it in a hastily-formed kiln of plastered mud into large coarse jars of prehistoric types, locally known by the quaint West African name of ‘yabbas.’ Many of these yabbas, if buried in the ground and exposed to damp and frost, till they almost lost the effects of the baking, would be quite indistinguishable, even by the skilled archaeologist, from the actual handicraft of the palaeolithic potter. The West Indian negroes brought these simple arts with them from their African home, where they have been handed down in unbroken continuity from the very earliest age of fictile industry. New and better methods have slowly grown up everywhere around them, but these simplest, earliest, and easiest plans have survived none the less for the most ordinary domestic uses, and will survive for ages yet, as long as there remain any out-of-the-way places, remote from the main streams of civilised commerce. Thus, while hundreds of thousands of years, in all probability, separate us now from the ancient days of the first potter, it is yet possible for us to see the first potter’s own methods and principles exemplified under our very eyes by people who derive them in unbroken succession from the direct teaching of that long-forgotten prehistoric savage.
Let us start fair by frankly admitting that the genius, like the poet, is born and not made. If you wish to apply the recipe for producing him, it is unfortunately necessary to set out by selecting beforehand his grandfathers and grandmothers, to the third and fourth generation of those that precede him. Nevertheless, there is a recipe for the production of genius, and every actual concrete genius who ever yet adorned or disgraced this oblate spheroid of ours has been produced, I believe, in strict accordance with its unwritten rules and unknown regulations. In other words, geniuses don’t crop up irregularly anywhere, ‘quite promiscuous like’; they have their fixed laws and their adequate causes: they are