In 1817, the surgeon William Lawrence gave a series of lectures to the Royal College of Surgeons in London on the topics of physiology and zoology; these, and a separate work of four hundred and sixty pages entitled The Natural History of Man based on lectures given in 1818, were published together in 1819 under the title Lectures on Physiology, Zoology, and The Natural History of Man. In this work, which is commonly known by its short title On the Natural History of Man, Lawrence attempted to place the study of mankind on a firm empirical basis by considering man solely “as an object of zoology” (119). To this end, he sought to identify the points of commonality and difference between mankind and other animals, and to address the question of whether there was “one species of men only, or . . . many distinct ones” (120).
A man of remarkable learning and abilities, and, after Prichard, the leading figure in British racial science, Lawrence had studied the history of the scientific study of species closely, paying particular attention to Buffon, White, Cuvier, Camper, Soemmering, and Blumenbach, among others. Like Prichard, he dedicated his book to Blumenbach; indeed, he had translated a book by Blumenbach from the Latin in 1807 with the title of A Short System of Comparative Anatomy that resulted in the first appearance of the term “Caucasian” in the English language. (A 1798 German translation of Blumenbach’s Latin had introduced the term “race” (eine Rasse) into German.) He was an innovator in other respects as well, being the first person to use the term “biology” in English, and the first to propose such terms as “mutations,” “selections,” and “exclusions” as the means of adaptation, thus anticipating major concepts later developed by Darwin. Moreover, the stormy debate ignited by On the Natural History of Man was, in the words of one historian, “the first great scientific issue that widely seized the public imagination in Britain, a premonition of the debate over Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, exactly forty years later.”* Darwin seemed fully aware of Lawrence’s distinction and predecessor status, and cited him repeatedly in The Descent of Man.
Prefiguring the reception that would be given to Darwin’s work, Lawrence’s 1817 lectures were immediately attacked for their “materialism,” which was identified, to Lawrence’s immense irritation, with “French” atheism. On the Natural History of Man was conceived in part as a defiant riposte to his critics, but it provoked even greater resistance, this time from the Church of England, on the grounds that Lawrence’s biological approach to man as a species in the natural world contradicted the Bible and implicitly denied the immortality of the soul. The Lord Chancellor ruled the book blasphemous, and the book’s copyright was withdrawn.
While the controversies swirling around Lawrence’s work centered on his naturalistic approach, the selections reproduced below highlight his views on race, which are more conventional than innovative. In them, we can see the difficulty of maintaining the conviction of human specificity and unity when considering the manifest differences of color, form, and culture exhibited by the peoples of the world. Having abandoned the authority of the Bible concerning human origins, Lawrence wrestled with the possibility that “varieties” as he called them, might be so “strongly marked” that they represented fundamental differences—and if so, how fundamental? Were differences original to the group, or did they develop over time? If the latter, what caused them? Did all human races possess the same “capability of civilisation” at one point in history; and if so, how could one explain the vast current disparities among the various groups? Were the accumulated effects of diet, government, domestication, education, and culture sufficient to explain human variations? Did early man go on all fours? Where did humankind originally appear?
Lawrence rejected the possibility that climate alone had caused the differences, and rejected polygenism in all its forms, but he was disdainful of “single-pair” monogenism and indeed any attempt to settle scientific questions by referring to the “Jewish scriptures.” In the end, after hundreds of pages in which specific differences between groups with respect to skin color, skull formation, beards, stature, susceptibility to diseases, and strength had been duly noted, he declared that he could not proclaim as a scientific fact that all humans had a common origin, saying only that “we cannot yet assume it as a point fully proved, that all the varieties of man have been produced from one and the same breed” (555). Prichard’s suggestion of an African origin for humanity was relegated to a footnote.
As a scientist committed to precision, Lawrence described in great detail the differences in human populations that had been observed and established by scientific research. He was willing to entertain the possibility that the various groups differed in “moral feelings and mental endowments” as well as in appearance even while insisting that all groups displayed a wide and overlapping range of talents and abilities (476). (A section in the eighth lecture is entitled “Good Qualities of some dark People.”) He took very seriously the statistical evidence accumulated by those who were measuring skulls and bodies, as well as the reports from scientific and other travelers about the cultures, languages, and customs of the world’s peoples. And while noting the physical perfection of the “darker races,” he expressed strong doubts as to whether they would ever be capable of enjoying the “inestimable blessings of mental culture and pure religion” (501).
At the same time, Lawrence praised Blumenbach and Prichard, denounced slavery, and insisted that the races were only “varieties of a single species.” Like many others, he noted certain resemblances between “our black brethren” and monkeys, but dismissed this as a fact of no importance, and certainly not as evidence that “the variety in which the conformity occurs, is less man than the others” (560). He rejected in the strongest terms Charles White’s theory of a “regular gradation” that would interpose the Negro as a separate species between the human and the monkey.
And yet, Lawrence was equally emphatic on the cognitive and moral differences among the races. Following Blumenbach, Lawrence identified five primary races (Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, Malay, American), and, again like Blumenbach, regarded the Caucasian as the “primitive form of the race” as well as the most generously endowed, with the “greatest mental powers . . . the most intelligent and expressive countenance, and the most beautiful bodily proportions” (554). Lawrence regarded the intellectual, civic, and spiritual culture of his own variety not as a human norm but as a signal achievement attributable not merely to environmental or other “external” factors but to superior “cerebral organisation” (499). While other races appeared to him as admirable and impressive in various ways, their cultural behaviors including the treatment of women appeared to him largely as calamitous failures of morality, imagination, or will that he imputed not to a vicious nature but to a cognitive defect in the “stock.” In a lecture on “Functions of the Brain,” he commented that “The mind of the Negro and Hottentot, of the Calmuck and the Carib, is inferior to that of the European; and their organisation is also less perfect,” adding, however, that the orang-utang is decisively below these lowest of humans (108).
Lawrence was controversial, but he was not altogether atypical of his culture. Like all scientists and intellectuals, he was a (distinguished and celebrated) member of a specific culture, and the product of a particular history whose values and assumptions, including culture-specific limitations of understanding, sympathy, and imagination, informed his thinking on humanity at large. Arguing for the unity of the human species and respect for human differences, Lawrence nevertheless described the races with such typological specificity that it was easy to infer from his work that, regardless of their origins, contemporary races were now stable forms and realities of nature whose capacities as well as characteristics could be described with confidence. As a consequence, one of the effects of his work was the normalization of racialist terminology and categories in scientific and popular discourse.
*Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: The Romantic Generation and the Discovery of the Beauty and Terror of Science (London: HarperCollins, 2008), 313.
The Subject hitherto neglected, and very erroneous Notions consequently prevalent. Sources of Information. Anatomical Characters of the Monkey Tribe, and more particularly of the Orangutang and Chimpansé: Specific Character of Man.
I design, on the present occasion, to consider man as an object of zoology;--to describe him as a subject of the animal kingdom. I shall therefore first enumerate, and consider the distinctions between him and animals; and shall then describe, and attempt to account for the principal differences between the various races of mankind. . . .
What climates, what degrees of heat and cold can man bear? How is he able to endure all the diversified external influences of such various abodes? Is he indebted for this privilege to the strength and flexibility of his organisation, or to his mental functions, his reason, and the arts which he has thence derived? Is he a species broadly and clearly distinguished from all others; or is he specifically allied to the orang-utang and other monkeys? What are his corporeal, what his mental distinctions? Are the latter different in kind, or only superior in degree to those of the higher animals? Is there one species of men only, or are there many distinct ones? What particulars of external form and inward structure characterise the several races? What relation is observed between the differences of structure and those of moral feeling, mental powers, capability of civilisation, and actual progress in arts, sciences, literature, government? How is man affected by the external influences of climate, food, way of life? Are these, or any others, operating on beings originally alike, sufficient to account for all the diversities hitherto observed; or must we suppose that several kinds of men were created originally, each for its own situation? If we adopt the supposition of a single species, what country did it first inhabit? and what was the appearance of the original man? Did he go erect, or on all fours? was he a Patagonian, or an Eskimau, a Negro, or a Georgian?
Such are the inquiries that claim our attention in a zoological survey of the human species. (119-20).
That the greatest ignorance has prevailed on this subject [Man], even in modern times, and among men of distinguished learning and acuteness, is shewn by the strange notion very strenuously asserted by MONBODDO [author of On the Origin and Progress of Language] and ROUSSEAU, and firmly believed by many, that man and the monkey, or at least the orang-utang, belong to the same species, and are no otherwise distinguished from each other, than by circumstances, which can be accounted for by the different physical and moral agencies, to which they have been exposed. The former of these writers even supposes that the human race once possessed tails; and he says “the orang-utangs are proved to be of our species by marks of humanity that I think are incontestable.” A poor compliment to our species; as any one will think, who may take the trouble of paying a morning visit to the orang-utang at Exeter Change. (123)
Other writers, who expatiate with vast delight on what they call the regular gradation or chain of beings, and discover great wisdom of the Creator, and great beauty of the creation, in the circumstance, that nature makes no leaps, but has connected the various objects of the three kingdoms together like the steps of a staircase, or the links of a chain, represent man only as a more perfect kind of monkey; and condemn the poor African to the degrading situation of a connecting link between the superior races of mankind and the orang-utang. Such is the view exhibited by Mr. WHITE in his Account of the regular Gradation in Man, and in different Animals and Vegetables, and from the former to the latter; where he distinctly asserts that “the orang-utang has the person, the manner, and the actions of man”; and that the Negro “seems to approach nearer to the brute creation than any other of the human species.” If, by regular gradation, nothing more is meant than the variety of organisation and its progressive simplification from man throughout the animal kingdom, the truth is incontestable, and too obvious to require a quarto for its illustration or support. On the contrary, if it be designed to assert identity of species between ourselves and monkeys, the position is quite untenable. At all events, both the statements quoted above are more or less incorrect.
That the Negro is more like a monkey than the European, cannot be denied as a general observation. But why is the Negro always selected for this comparison? The New Hollander, the Calmuck, the native American, are not superior to the Africans, and are as much like monkeys. Why then is the Negro alone to be depressed to a level with the brute? to fill up the break in Mr. WHITE's chain between the European and the monkey?
I do not hesitate to assert that the notion of specific identity between the African and orang-utang (on which point Mr. WHITE’S language is not sufficiently clear to enable me to decide what he means) is as false philosophically, as the moral and political consequences, to which it would lead, are shocking and detestable. (124-26)
Characters of the Negro Head approach to those of the Monkey
The characters of the Ethiopian variety, as observed in the genuine Negro tribes, may be thus summed up: 1. Narrow and depressed forehead; the entire cranium contracted anteriorly; the cavity less, both in its circumference and transverse measurements. 2. Occipital foramen and condyles placed farther back. 3. Large space for the temporal muscles. 4. Great development of the face. 5. Prominence of the jaws altogether, and particularly of their alveolar margins and teeth; consequent obliquity of the facial line. 6. Superior incisors slanting. 7. Chin receding. 8. Very large and strong zygomatic arch projecting towards the front. 9. Large nasal cavity. 10. Small and flattened ossa nasi, sometimes consolidated, and running into a point above.
In all the particulars just enumerated, the Negro structure approximates unequivocally to that of the monkey. It not only differs from the Caucasian model; but is distinguished from it in two respects; the intellectual characters are reduced, the animal features enlarged and exaggerated. . . . This inferiority of organisation is attended with corresponding inferiority of faculties; which may be proved, not so much by the unfortunate beings who are degraded by slavery, as by every fact in the past history and present condition of Africa.
I state these plain results of observation and experience without any fear that you will find in them either apology or excuse for Negro slavery. (363-64).
In endeavouring to account for the diversities of features, proportions, general form, stature, and the other particulars mentioned in the three preceding chapters, I must repeat an observation already made and exemplified in speaking of colour: namely, that the law of resemblance between parents and offspring, which preserves species, and maintains uniformity in the living part of creation, suffers occasional and rare exceptions; that, under certain circumstances, an offspring is produced with new properties, different from those of the progenitors; and that the most powerful of these causes is that artificial mode of life which we call the state of domestication.
A question here naturally suggests itself, how this comes about? How does it happen that any circumstances in the mode of life influence the result of the generative process? The reply to this inquiry must be deferred until the internal mechanism of the animal motions shall be more completely laid open; until we are able to shew how the capillaries of the mother form the germ of a new being out of materials presented by the common mass of nutritive fluid; and how the vessels of this embryo, when more advanced, fashion the nutritive supply derived from the mother into a new set of organs, and give to the whole a more or less accurate resemblance to the bodies of both parents. At present we can only note the fact, that the domestic condition produces in great abundance not only those deviations from the natural state of the organisation, which constitute disease, but also those departures from the ordinary course of the generative functions, which lead to the production of new characters in the offspring, and thus lay the foundation of new breeds. (446-47)
There are no essential differences between the various races of the human species in the execution of the animal functions. The circumstances which have been hitherto noticed in this part of the subject, are plainly referable, for the most part, to the effect of climate, mode of life, exercise of the organs, or other external causes, and not to any original diversity.
I have already alluded to the peculiar odour of the cutaneous secretion in the Negro. It is said by those, who are well acquainted with this race, to be very characteristic, and to be transmitted to the offspring, as well as their other peculiarities, in the mixed breeds. It has been also observed that they sweat much less than Europeans.
The lice, which infest the bodies of Negroes, are darker coloured and larger than those of Europeans; but I believe that naturalists have not yet ascertained whether they are of the same, or of different species in the two cases.
It is hardly necessary to allude to the erroneous notion of the seminal fluid being black in Negroes; this, however, is expressly stated by HERODOTUS, but properly contradicted by ARISTOTLE. . . .
Accurate observers in many parts of the world have remarked that the dark races are characterised by rareness and almost entire absence of personal deformity; all the individuals being well-made, and many exhibiting the finest models of symmetry and beauty. The mode of life will account in great measure for this physical prerogative, which hunting, pastoral, and even agricultural tribes, enjoy over their more polished brethren of highly-civilised communities and large cities. HUMBOLDT considers that something is also due to natural strength of constitution. (461-63)
The dark-coloured races exhibit in general a great acuteness of the external senses, which is in some instances heightened by exercise to a degree almost incredible. In the unsettled life of wandering tribes the chief occupations are hunting, war, and plunder. The members of the community are trained from their earliest infancy to these pursuits; and their progress in the necessary accomplishments determines not only the degree of their own personal enjoyment and security, but also their influence over others, and their rank in the association. The astonishing perfection of their sight, hearing, and smelling, must be referred, I apprehend, to the constant exercise of the organs; as their capability of enduring violent or continued exertion in performing long journeys is the simple result of habit. Both are very interesting in a physiological view, and acquaint us with the extent of our powers, which are very imperfectly developed in the members of civilised societies. (467).
The different progress of various nations in general civilisation, and in the culture of the arts and sciences, the different characters and degrees of excellence in their literary productions, their varied forms of government, and many other considerations, convince us beyond the possibility of doubt, that the races of mankind are no less characterised by diversity of mental endowments, than by those differences of organisation which I have already considered. So powerful, however, has been the effect of government, laws, education, and peculiar habits, in modifying the mind and character of men, that we experience great difficulty in distinguishing between the effects of original difference, and of the operation of these external causes. . . .
The distinction of colour between the white and black races is not more striking than the pre-eminence of the former in moral feelings and in mental endowments. The latter, it is true, exhibit generally a great acuteness of the external senses, which in some instances is heightened by exercise to a degree nearly incredible. Yet they indulge, almost universally, in disgusting debauchery and sensuality, and display gross selfishness, indifference to the pains and pleasures of others, insensibility to beauty of form, order, and harmony, and an almost entire want of what we comprehend altogether under the expression of elevated sentiments, manly virtues, and moral feeling. The hideous savages of Van Diemen’s Land [British Crown Colony on the island of Tasmania], of New Holland, New Guinea, and some neighbouring islands, the Negroes of Congo and some other parts, exhibit the most disgusting moral as well as physical portrait of man.
PERON describes the wretched beings, whom he found on the shores of Van Diemen's Land, and of the neighbouring island Maria, as examples of the rudest barbarism; “ without chiefs, properly so called, without laws or any thing like regular government, without arts of any kind, with no idea of agriculture, of the use of metals, or of the services to be derived from animals; without clothes, or fixed abode, and with no other shelter than a mere shed of bark to keep off the cold south winds; with no arms but a club and a spear.
Although these and the neighbouring New Hollanders are placed in a fine climate and productive soil, they derive no other sustenance from the earth than a few fern-roots and bulbs of orchises; and are often driven by the failure of their principal resource, fish, to the most revolting food, as frogs, lizards, serpents, spiders, the larvæ of insects, and particularly a kind of large caterpillar found in groups on the branches of the eucalyptus resinifera. They are sometimes obliged to appease the cravings of hunger by the bark of trees, and by a paste made by pounding together ants, their larvæ, and fern-roots.
Their remorseless cruelty, their unfeeling barbarity to women and children, their immoderate revenge for the most trivial affronts, their want of natural affection, are hardly redeemed by the slightest traits of goodness. When we add, that they are quite insensible to distinctions of right and wrong, destitute of religion, without any idea of a Supreme Being, and with the feeblest notion, if there be any at all, of a future state, the revolting picture is complete in all its features. What an afflicting contrast does the melancholy truth of this description form to the eloquent but delusive declamations of ROUSSEAU on the prerogatives of natural man and his advantages over his civilised brethren!
The same general character, with some softening, and some modifications, is applicable to most of the native Americans, of the Africans, and of the Mongolian nations of Asia; to the Malays, and the greater part of the inhabitants of the numerous islands scattered in the ocean between Asia and America. In the most authentic descriptions we everywhere find proofs of astonishing insensibility to the pains and joys of others, even their nearest relations; inflexible cruelty, selfishness and disposition to cheat, a want of all sympathetic impulses and feelings, the most brutal apathy and indolence, unless roused by the pressure of actual physical want, or stimulated by the desire of revenge and the thirst of blood. Their barbarous treatment of women, the indiscriminate and unrelenting destruction of their warfare, the infernal torments inflicted on their captives, and the horrible practice of cannibalism, fill the friend of humanity by turns with pity, indignation, and horror.
With the deep shades of this dismal picture some brighter spots are mingled, which it is a pleasing task to select and particularise.
The inferiority of the dark to the white races is much more general and strongly marked in the powers of knowledge and reflection, the intellectual faculties, using that expression in its most comprehensive sense, than in moral feelings and dispositions. Many of the former, although little civilised, display an openness of heart, a friendly and generous disposition, the greatest hospitality, and an observance of the point of honour according to their own notions, from which nations more advanced in knowledge might often take a lesson with advantage.
Many of the Negroes possess a natural goodness of heart and warmth of affection: even the slave-dealers are acquainted with their differences in character, and fix their prices, not merely according to the bodily powers, but in proportion to the docility and good dispositions of their commodity, judging of these by the quarter from which they are procured. (475-79)
In the savage tribes of North America we often meet with lofty sentiments of independence, ardent courage, and devoted friendship, which would sustain a comparison with the most splendid similar examples in the more highly gifted races. Honourable and punctual fulfilment of treaties and compacts, patient endurance of toil, hunger, cold, and all kinds of hardships and privations, inflexible fortitude, and unshaken perseverance in avenging insults or injuries according to their own peculiar customs and feelings, shew that they are not destitute of the more valuable moral qualities.
The Mongolian people differ very much in their docility and moral character. While the empires of China and Japan prove that this race is susceptible of civilisation, and of great advancement in the useful and even elegant arts of life, and exhibit the singular phenomenon of political and social institutions between two and three thousand years older than the Christian era, the fact of their having continued nearly stationary for so many centuries, marks an inferiority of nature and a limited capacity in comparison to that of the white races.
When the Mongolian tribes of central Asia have been united under one leader, war and desolation have been the objects of the association. Unrelenting slaughter, without distinction of condition, age, or sex, and universal destruction have marked the progress of their conquests, unattended with any changes or institutions capable of benefiting the human race, unmingled with any acts of generosity, any kindness to the vanquished, or the slightest symptoms of regard to the rights and liberties of mankind. The progress of ATTILA, ZINGIS, and TAMERLANE, like the deluge, the tornado, and the hurricane, involved every thing in one sweeping ruin.
In all the points which have been just considered, the white races present a complete contrast to the dark-coloured inhabitants of the globe. While the latter cover more than half the earth's surface, plunged in a state of barbarism in which the higher attributes of human nature seldom make their appearance, strangers to all the conveniencies and pleasures of advanced social life, and deeming themselves happy in escaping the immediate perils of famine; the former, at least in this quarter of the world, either never have been in so low a condition, or, by means of their higher endowments, have so quickly raised themselves from it, that we have no record of their existence as mere hunting or fishing tribes. In the oldest documents and traditions, which deserve any confidence, these nobler people are seen at least in the pastoral state, and in the exercise of agriculture, the practice of which is so ancient, that the remotest and darkest accounts have not preserved the name of the discoverer, or the date of its introduction. No European people, therefore, has been in a condition comparable to that of the present dark-coloured races, within the reach of any history or tradition. . . .
In the white races we meet, in full perfection, with true bravery, love of liberty, and other passions and virtues of great souls; here only do these noble feelings exist in full intensity, while they are, at the same time, directed by superior knowledge and reflection to the accomplishment of the grandest purposes. They alone have been as generous and mild towards the weak and the vanquished, as terrible to their enemies; and have treated females with kindness, attention, and deference. Here alone are compassion and benevolence fully developed; the feeling for the pains and distresses of others, and the active attempt to relieve them; which, first exerted on our nearest connexions, is extended to our countrymen in general, and embraces, ultimately, in its wishes and exertions, the interests of all mankind.
The white nations alone have enjoyed free governments; that is, not the lawless dominion of mere force, as in many barbarous tribes, but institutions recognising the equality of all in political rights, giving protection to the weak against the powerful, securing to all equal freedom of opinion and conscience, and administered according to laws framed with the consent of all. The spirit of liberty, the unconquerable energy of independence, the generous glow of patriotism have been known chiefly to those nobler organisations, in which the cerebral hemispheres have received their full developement. The republics of Greece and Rome, of Italy in the middle ages, of Switzerland and Holland, the limited monarchy of England, and the United States of America, have shewn us what the human race can effect, when animated by these sacred feelings; without which nothing has been achieved truly great or permanently interesting. This is the charm that attaches us to the history, the laws, the institutions, the literature of the free states of antiquity, and that enables us to study again and again with fresh pleasure the lives and actions of their illustrious citizens.
Even the more absolute forms of government have been conducted among the white races, with a respect to human nature, with a regard to law and to private rights, quite unknown to the pure despotisms, which seem to be the natural destiny of our dark brethren. The monstrous faith of millions made for one has never been doubted or questioned in all the extensive regions occupied by human races with the anterior and superior parts of the cranium flattened and compressed.
That these diversities are the offspring of natural differences, and not produced by external causes, is proved by their universality, whether in respect to time, place, or external influence.
Some have found a convenient and ready solution in climate, but have not condescended to shew, either by example or reasoning, how climate can operate on the moral feelings and intellect, or that it has actually so operated in any instance. The native Americans are spread over that vast continent from the icy shores of the Arctic Ocean to the neighbourhood of the Antarctic Circle; the Africans have a tolerably wide range in their quarter of the globe; the Mongolian tribes cover a tract including every variety of climate from the coldest to the most warm. Yet, in such diversities of situation, the respective races exhibit only modifications of character. White people have distinguished themselves in all climates; every where preserving their superiority. Two centuries have not assimilated the Anglo-Americans to the Indian aborigines, nor prevented them from establishing in America the freest government in the world. A WASHINGTON and a FRANKLIN prove that the noble qualities of the race have suffered no degeneracy by crossing the Atlantic. (482-86)
A fair comparative experiment has been made of the white and red races in North America; and no trial in natural philosophy has had a more unequivocal and convincing result. The copper-coloured natives, although in all their original independence, have not advanced a single step in three hundred years; neither example nor persuasion has induced them, except in very small number, and few instances, to exchange the precarious supplies of the hunting and fishing state for agriculture and the other arts of settled life. A little ingenuity is manifested in making clothes, ornaments, arms; and personal endurance of exertion, fatigue, and the cruellest torture is carried to a great height. Even in war, in their eyes the first and most exalted of occupations, they shew few traces of generous or honourable feelings. Bitter revenge and utter destruction are the motive and end. It is hardly necessary to draw the contrast. No Englishman can be ignorant of the mighty empire founded by a handful of his countrymen in the wilds of America; of its gigantic strides from the state of an insignificant colony, within forty short years of independence, to the rank of a first-rate power. No friend of humanity can be a stranger to the glorious prospect, to the energies of freedom, which vivify this new country. No human being, who is interested in the progress of his species, can refuse his tribute of admiration to this new world, which has established itself without the prejudices of the old;--where religion is in all its fervour, without needing an alliance with the state to maintain it; where the law commands by the respect which it inspires, without being enforced by any military power.
The superiority of the whites is universally felt and readily acknowledged by the other races. The most intelligent Negro, whom Mr. PARK met with, after witnessing only such evidences of European skill and knowledge, as the English settlement of Pisania afforded, and being acquainted with two or three Englishmen, would sometimes appear pensive, and exclaim with an involuntary sigh, “Black men are nothing!” The narratives of travellers abound with similar traits. This consciousness best explains the fact of the Negroes generally submitting quietly to their state of slavery in the European colonies. If the relations and the proportions of the population were re versed, and the European slaves were five, six, eight, or ten times as numerous as their Negro masters, how long would such a state of things last? When the blacks form any plots, although their natural apathy and unvarying countenance are favourable to concealment, they always fail, through treachery or precipitation in commencing operations, or are disconcerted by any resolute opposition, even from very inferior numbers.
Some will probably explain in a different manner these remarkable phenomena of the moral and intellectual world, which I have just been considering; they will attempt to prove that these strongly-marked varieties may have been produced, in races formed originally with equal capabilities, by the external influences of civilisation, education, government, religion, and perhaps other causes. To assert uniformity of bodily structure over the whole world would be too repugnant to the testimony of the senses: equality of mental endowments seems to me hardly a less extravagant tenet. There have, however, been philosophers who even held that all men are born with equal powers; and that education and other accidental circumstances make the only difference between the wisest and the weakest of mankind.
That civilisation, government, and education act very powerfully on the human race, is too obvious to be doubted; but the question relates to the capability of civilisation. Why have the white races invariably, and without one exception, raised themselves to, at least, some considerable height in the scale of cultivation; while the dark, on the contrary, have almost as universally continued in the savage or barbarous state? If we suppose that at any remote era, all mankind, in all quarters of the globe, were in the latter condition, what are the accidental circumstances, which have prevented all the coloured varieties of man from raising themselves, and at the same time have assisted the progress of all the others? If the nations in the north and west of Europe, when first conquered by the Romans, should be allowed (contrary, however, to historical proof) to have been in a state of barbarism not superior to that of the present rude tribes of Asia, Africa, or America, why have they advanced uninterruptedly to their present exalted pitch of culture, while the latter remain plunged in their original rudeness and ignorance?
I do not mean to assert that all individuals and all tribes of dark-coloured men are inferior in moral and intellectual endowments to all those of the white division. The same gradations and modifications of structure and properties exist here as in other parts. Certainly we can produce examples enough in Europe of beings not superior to Hottentots and New Hollanders: and individuals of considerable talents and knowledge are met with in savage tribes. There may not be much difference between the lowest European community and the highest in some dark variety of man. Examples of individuals and of small numbers will therefore prove little in this matter.
I am aware also that all the white races have not made those signal advances in knowledge and civilisation, of which I have spoken as indicating their superior endowments. Their organisation makes them capable of such distinctions, if circumstances are favourable, or rather if no obstacles exist. In the dark races, on the contrary, inferior organisation renders it vain to present opportunities, or to remove difficulties.
Loss of liberty, bad government, oppressive laws, neglected education, bigotry, fanaticism and intolerance in religion, will counteract the noblest gifts of nature, will plunge into ignorance, degradation, and weakness, nations capable of the highest culture, of the most splendid moral and intellectual achievements. . . .
Such are the results deducible from experience respecting the differences of moral feelings and intellectual power: having stated them strongly, I am anxious to express my decided opinion that these differences are not sufficient in any instance to warrant us in referring a particular race to an originally different species. They are not greater in kind or degree than those which we see in many animals, as in horses, asses, mules, dogs, and cocks. I protest especially against the opinion, which either denies to the Africans the enjoyment of reason, or ascribes to the whole race propensities so vicious, malignant, and treacherous, as would degrade them even below the level of the brute. It can be proved most clearly, and the preceding observations are sufficient for this purpose, that there is no circumstance of bodily structure so peculiar to the Negro, as not to be found also in other far distant nations; no character, which does not run into those of other races by the same insensible gradations as those which connect together all the varieties of mankind. I deem the moral and intellectual character of the Negro inferior, and decidedly so, to that of the European; and, as this inferiority arises from a corresponding difference of organisation, I must regard it as his natural destiny: but I do not consider him more inferior than the other dark races. I can neither admit the reasoning nor perceive the humanity of those who, after tearing the African from his native soil, carrying him to the West Indies, and dooming him there to perpetual slavery and labour, complain that his understanding shews no signs of improvement, and that his temper and disposition are incorrigibly perverse, faithless, and treacherous. Let us, however, observe him in a somewhat more favourable state than in those dreadful receptacles of human misery, the crowded decks of the slave-ship, or in the less openly shocking, but constrained and extorted, and therefore painful labours of the sugar plantation.
That the Negroes behave to others according to the treatment they receive, may be easily gathered from the best sources of information. They have not, indeed, reached that sublime height, the beau idéal of morality, the returning good for evil, probably because their masters have not yet found leisure enough from the pursuit of riches to instil into them the true spirit of Christianity. (488-94)
As the external influences of climate, soil, situation; of way of life, degree of civilisation, habits, customs, form of government, religion, education, are manifestly inadequate to account for the very marked differences which at all times, in all countries, and under all circumstances, have characterised the white and the dark races, and the various subdivisions of each, we must look deeper for their causes, and seek them in some circumstances inseparably interwoven in the original constitution of man. In conformity with the views already explained respecting the mental part of our being, I refer the varieties of moral feeling, and of capacity for knowledge and reflection, to those diversities of cerebral organisation, which are indicated by, and correspond to the differences in the shape of the skull. If the nobler attributes of man reside in the cerebral hemispheres; if the prerogatives which lift him so much above the brute are satisfactorily accounted for by the superior developement of those important parts; the various degrees and kinds of moral feeling and of intellectual power may be consistently explained by the numerous and obvious differences of size in the various cerebral parts, besides which there may be peculiarities of internal organisation, not appreciable by our means of inquiry. Proceeding on these data, we shall find, in the comparison of the crania of the white and dark races, a sufficient explanation of the superiority constantly evinced by the former, and of the inferior subordinate lot to which the latter have been irrevocably doomed. (499-500)
AFTER taking into consideration the principal circumstances which characterise the several races of man, and arriving, by the proof that all such distinctions are produced in a still greater degree among animals, chiefly of the domesticated kinds, from the ordinary sources of degeneration, at the conclusion that there is only one species, it remains for me to inquire how many varieties ought to be recognised in this species, and to enumerate the characters by which they may be distinguished. As there is no circumstance, whether of corporeal structure, or of mental endowment, which does not pass by imperceivable gradations into the opposite character, rendering all those distinctions merely relative, and reducing them to differences in degree, it is obvious that any arrangement of human varieties must be in great measure arbitrary. Our imperfect knowledge of several tribes constitutes another very serious difficulty. A complete and accurate arrangement cannot therefore be expected at present; and it is more advisable to adopt a general, one, which may answer the purposes of classifying the facts already known, and affording points of comparison in aid of future inquiry, than to attempt the details and minuter distinctions, for which we must depend on further investigation.
I think it best to follow the distribution proposed by BLUMENBACH, although it is not free from objection; and although the five varieties, under which he has arranged the several tribes of our species, ought rather to be regarded as principal divisions, each of them including several varieties. This acute and judicious naturalist divides the single species, which the genus Homo contains, into the Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay varieties. He regards the Caucasian as the primitive stock. It deviates into two extremes most remote and different from each other; namely, the Mongolian on one side, and the Ethiopian on the other. The two other varieties hold the middle places between the Caucasian and the two extremes; that is, the American comes in between the Caucasian and Mongolian; and the Malay between the Caucasian and Ethiopian. (549-50)
BLUMENBACH is inclined to believe that the primitive form of the human race was that which belongs to the Caucasian variety, of which the most beautiful specimens are now exhibited by the Georgians, Turks, Greeks, and some Europeans. From the finely-formed skull of this race, as from a primitive configuration, the other forms descend by and simple gradation, on the one hand to the Mongolian, and on the other to the Ethiopian variety. The greatest mental powers have been bestowed on this variety, so that they have discovered nearly all the arts and sciences; indeed, almost our whole treasure of literature and know ledge has been derived from the same quarter. These nations have the most intelligent and expressive countenance, and the most beautiful bodily proportions. They occupy the middle regions of the globe, while the extremities are filled by others. The most ancient and most early civilised nations have belonged to this division; to which, also, according to the observation of BLUMENBACH, there is a disposition to return in the other races, as may be observed in the South Sea Islands, and in some parts of Africa; while this does not easily deviate into the dark-coloured varieties.
If we admit the Caucasian to have been the primitive form of man, are we to suppose that the skin was rosy, the hair yellow or red, and the eyes blue, or that the former had a tendency to brown, and that both the latter were dark? We can have little hesitation in adopting the latter opinion; for those characters belong to all of this race except the Germans, which have occupied only the more distant regions.
In support of the opinion, that the original stock of the human species had the characters of the Caucasian variety, it may be stated that the part of Asia, which seems to have been the cradle of the race, has always been, and still is, inhabited by tribes of that formation, and that the inhabitants of Europe, in great part, may be traced back for their origin to the west of Asia. I think, however, that we have not the data necessary for establishing a satisfactory conclusion on this point. We cannot yet assume it as a point fully proved, that all the varieties of man have been produced from one and the same breed. (554-55)
Again, great stress has been laid on the fact, that the Negroes resemble more nearly than the Europeans, the monkey tribe; the fear of being drawn into the family, even as distant relations, has, I believe, induced many to place our black brethren in a distinct species; while others have brought forwards this approximation to the simæi, with the view of degrading the African below the standard of the human species, and thereby palliating the cruel hard ships under which he groans in the islands and continent of the new world.
It is undoubtedly true, that in many of the points, wherein the Ethiopian differs from the Caucasian variety, it comes nearer to the monkeys; viz. in the greater size of the bones of the face, compared to those of the cranium; the low and slanting forehead; the protuberance of the alveoli and teeth; the recession of the chin; the form of the ossa nasi; the position of the foramen magnum occipitale; the outline of the union of the head and trunk; the relative length of the humerus and ulna, &c. This resemblance is most unequivocally admitted by those who have minutely examined the anatomical structure of the Negro. It appears to me, that this fact is not very important; if there are varieties of bodily formation among mankind, some one of these must approach nearer to the organisation of the monkey than the others; but does this prove, that the variety in which the conformity occurs, is less man than the others? . . .
That very little importance can be attached to the general observation of the resemblance of the Negro and monkey, founded on external appearance, may be clearly inferred from this fact, that the same remark has been made, even by intelligent travellers, of particular people in the other varieties. (559-61)
Kentwood D. Wells, “Sir William Lawrence (1784-1867): A Study of Pre-Darwinian Ideas on Heredity and Variation” in Journal of the History of Biology, 4 (Autumn, 1971) 2: 319-361.