Theories of Race

Carl Vogt

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    Carl Vogt



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An anthropologist, zoologist, geologist, polemicist, and politician, Carl Vogt, the “German Darwin,” was, like many others who took up the subject of race, a versatile man. Born in Germany, Vogt emigrated to Switzerland, where he established an international reputation in several fields. He studied with Agassiz, exchanged polemics with Karl Marx, was mentioned in Darwin’s Descent of Man, and, although a scientist, was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1869.

Vogt’s Lectures on Man consists of a series of sixteen lectures he had delivered to “The Useful-Knowledge Society” that had met over a period of several years in Neufchâtel and other congenial spots in Europe. The lectures included both a broad overview of the subject and a number of highly focused passages detailing the instruments of measurement being devised to assess facial angle and cranial capacity; the difficulties of making pictorial representations of racial types, which he called “generally caricatures”; statistics on brain volume and structure; and the dimensions of various body parts. Vogt deployed his empirical base in comparisons of humans with apes, concentrating on variations within the two species. After canvassing the available knowledge about early humans, the principles of heredity, and the geographical distribution of human populations, Vogt concluded his final lecture in a spirit of defiant atheistic materialism, mocking theologians and “moralists” who presumed to advance the claims of religion over those of science. “No!” he declared about the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing God, “I cannot believe this.”

Vogt’s Lectures were among the first attempts to apply Darwinian theory to human beings. His efforts drew the attention of James Hunt, founder of the Anthropological Society of London, which in 1864 arranged for the translation and publication of Vogt’s lectures, graced with a fulsome dedication by Hunt himself to Paul Broca, in which Hunt recounted the story of his split with the Ethnological Society. Hunt found Vogt’s arguments and style entirely congenial because, like Hunt himself, Vogt sought to apply the theory of natural selection to the issue of race by folding that theory into a comprehensive account of the origins of humankind. Again like Hunt, Vogt accepted Darwin’s account of the origin of species but rejected the implication that mankind had a single origin, offering the novel proposal that the three “primary races of mankind” had descended from three kinds of apes and constituted separate species, with differing characteristics and capacities. Like Wallace, who posited the parallel evolution of separate races prior to the acquisition of full human mental capacities, Vogt was able to find common ground between evolution and polygenesis.

The ambiguity of the scientific understanding of race was, for Vogt, an advantage, for it enabled him to make two cases at once, thus avoiding the difficulties associated with either. On the one hand, Vogt affirmed contemporary common sense, suggesting that racial differences were effectively species differences; he used the terms “natural races” and “original species of mankind” interchangeably. In Vogt, as in many other writers after 1860, the term race often suggests a closed, fixed, heritable, and persistent category, a conservative force, a “type” or ideal essence possessing a resistant “constancy of characters” that endured despite individual variations and external conditions (425). [On “types,” see Hunt, Galton, Haeckel, Quatrefages de Bréau, Topinard, Virchow, Deniker.]

At the same time, however, Vogt was well aware that environmental conditions could, over time, alter the human stock, rendering the very idea of a race indefensible. Racial “flexibility” resulting in crossings and mixtures, ascents and descents could be observed at close range in the contemporary world, where favorable conditions would sometimes enable a “natural race” to increase its brain size over the span of a few generations by engaging in “mental occupations” to the point where they became one of the “cultured races.”

The reverse could also happen, as with the Irish in Sligo and Mayo who, after two hundred years of misery, had degenerated to the point where they were “big bellied, bandy-legged; their clothes a bundle of rags . . . the spectres of a people in the daylight of civilisation, as representatives of Irish misery and ugliness” (428; on the Celts, see also Pinkerton, Meiners, Knox, Gobineau, and Renan). And indeed, races were continually exposed to mixings and minglings through which once-pure types could become confused to the point of incoherence. At the same time, new races were arising all the time as varieties became transformed into races, like the Yankees in New England, the mulattoes in South Carolina, or the Anglo-Saxons in England, who emerged out of the mixture of “Celts, Saxons, Normans, and Danes, a raceless chaos without any fixed type” (433). It was even possible that what began as a variety might become a race, and then consolidate itself into a species. In the end, Vogt conceded, race is “perhaps, only a theological idea” (403).

But these recognitions come late in the lectures. The case for race as species with which Vogt became associated is made in the earlier lectures, and most directly in Lecture VII, where Vogt focuses on the “extreme limits of the human group,” “the German” and “the Negro,” the highest and lowest points of human evolution respectively. He then examines the highest and lowest apes, and concludes after an extensive rehearsal of the available statistics on skulls, skeletal formation, pelvis, limbs, feet, brain structure, and other relevant features, that differences between the German and the Negro are greater than those between the highest and lowest apes, a modification of “Huxley’s Rule,” which states that the difference between the highest and lowest forms of humanity is greater than the difference between the lowest form of humanity and the highest form of ape. Since naturalists agree that the two types of apes represent different species, the same, Vogt argues, must be said of the two types of humans.

Vogt also produced a mass of statistical and anatomical evidence suggesting that while adult Negroes bear a pronounced resemblance to “the child, the female, and the senile White,” the most telling resemblances are those between the Negro and the ape. These resemblances confirmed for Vogt the theory of natural selection, further evidence for which is provided by “idiots,” whose “arrested” development strongly suggests the extinct intermediate form between the lowest humans and the highest apes.

One effect of Darwin’s theory was that the attention of racial science was focused to a far greater extent than before on Negroes as the most ape-like and least evolved humans, whose rudimentary stage of development was thought to provide living evidence of the truth of Darwin’s account of human origins. This aspect of the discourse of the learned societies of Europe found a receptive audience among the anti-abolitionists in the United States who, while skeptical of natural selection as an account of human origins, welcomed the discovery that black people were a primitive animal-like species who could be said to be naturally fitted for servitude. Vogt, like Hunt, Agassiz, and a number of other polygenists, rejected this inference in the strongest terms, insisting that the question of slavery was entirely separate from the scientific issues he was studying.

Lectures on Man: His Place in Creation, and in the History of the Earth


Lecture VI. Comparison of the Structure of Man with that of the Ape.

Gentlemen,—In the preceding lectures, I have directed your attention to the method of investigation, and to certain points which must be particularly attended to in researches regarding the races of mankind. With few exceptions, I have confined my remarks to man, and have only glanced at the relation of the superior animals standing next to man, in order that we might more easily succeed in solving the problems presented to us.

But however desirable it might be, in some respects, to confine our attention to man; it is, on the other hand, impossible to neglect the relations in which man stands to the brute creation. This is the more necessary, as it is our object to show that such relations do exist, and that they are sufficiently strong to connect man indissolubly with the animal world, of which he is only the last and highest development, and not the separate product of a special creative act. By examining, therefore, the relation of man to the ape, by pointing out the similitudes which establish the closest analogy to this highest type of mammals, by showing the differences which, on scientific principles, induce us to separate the human type from the ape type, not merely as a genus, but as a Family and Order, or, at least, sub-Order, we may advance a step towards the knowledge of our own nature, and acquire a basis for further researches. We shall preferentially keep to those differences which, rightly or wrongly, have been set up, leaving the features of resemblance, which certainly predominate, in abeyance for the present. We shall give weight to the anatomical characters above everything else. At philosophical and religious arguments, by which even naturalists sometimes endeavour to support their systems, we shall only cast occasional glances. (132-33)

On proceeding to a closer examination of the separate parts, the head with its component parts, cranium, and face, first fixes our attention. I have already, in a preceding lecture, pointed out that in man superposition predominates; while in the ape a juxtaposition, or rather a position of one part in front of the other, prevails; that the (anatomical) face included between the eyebrows and the chin is only a small appendage of the human cranium, which expands in every direction, above the eyebrows as forehead, on the sides as temples, above the occipital foramen as neck, in order to obtain space for the disproportionately large brain; whilst in the ape the cerebral space is more receding, the forehead is flattened, and the occipital foramen placed further back; so that in the lowest apes it reaches the limit of the base, and in the other animals is placed at the posterior surface of the skull.

Camper’s facial angle varies in man from 70 degrees to 85 degrees; and there is probably no instance of a normal human skull known where it is as low as 64 degrees. In the Negro skull here depicted the angle amounts to 67 degrees; and, according to Geoffroy St. Hilaire, the skulls of the Makoias or Namakas, a South African tribe, sent to the Paris Museum by Delalande, have a facial angle of only 64 degrees; whilst it decreases in the adult chimpanzee to 35 degrees, in the orang to 30 degrees; though when these animals are young, and the jaws undeveloped, it frequently reaches 60 degrees. On the other hand a small American ape, the saimiri (callithrix sciurea), as regards organisation, is far more remote from man, but very human-like in behaviour in some respects (it weeps readily, for instance); has a facial angle of 65 to 66 degrees; so that it completely fills up the gap. (138-40)

Gentlemen,—By a scientific investigation of the facts, we have arrived at the conviction that essential differences between man and the highest anthropoid apes do exist—differences sufficiently important to induce us to assign to man a distinct rank in the animal kingdom, but by no means so great as to obliterate the close affinity subsisting between man and the animals standing next to him. We have in these investigations, to some extent, idealised both man and ape without noticing the differences obtaining within each of these groups, and have only endeavoured to establish for each the abstract collective conception which these various forms compose. We have preferentially paid attention to the heads of these groups. Among the apes we chiefly noticed the anthropoid group, and among the human group the white race. But here already we soon detected that even among these groups there appeared forms which, on comparison, might be separated; and that as among the superior apes, the orang, gorilla, and chimpanzee, represent three types, which in certain parts of their organisation approached man’s structure, and in others deviate from it; so there appear within the human group different types, which in some points approach the simian, and in others the highest human type. We shall, in the investigation of these facts adopt the same method we have hitherto followed. We now no longer oppose the generic conception “man” to that of “ape”; but we compare two well defined human types in order to determine the characters which distinguish these typical organisms. We select for this purpose the two extreme human types, namely, the NEGRO and the GERMAN, and comparing them side by side, as regards all their peculiarities, we may ascertain the degree of their differential character. The result thus obtained we shall in our next lecture compare with what we may be able to deduce from the comparison of two acknowledged simian types. It will then be seen whether the sum of the differences existing between two human races is greater or less than that obtaining between two kinds of apes, the separation of which into two species is recognised by all naturalists. It will also be seen whether we mete by the same measure, by assuming in apes a difference, and in man the unity of species.

I know full well that this method will be objected to. You select, it will be said, the Negro and the German, who, by your own confession, stand at the extreme limits of the human group, and you will probably select two species of apes which are closely allied, belonging to the same genus and only separated by some slight variations. We should not be surprised if you find greater differences between Negro and German than between the two apes. I reply to this: species is species, and there is but one zoological science, the principles of which must apply equally to man and ape, and what in one of these types is called species must not in the other be called race or variety. If, then, the differences between Negro and German should be greater than those between the capuchin ape, the cebus apella or the sajou, it would follow that either the two human types must, like those of apes, belong to two different species, or the two acknowledged different species of apes must only form one species.

Let us now proceed in our investigations.

The NEGRO is on the average shorter than the German, the mean length of his body being 64-66 inches. Six Negro skeletons yielded as their mean length 160 centimetres; whilst as many European skeletons gave above 172 centimetres. There are no doubt athletic forms occurring among Negroes, and some tribes among the blacks, just as among the whites, are distinguished by a high stature; but even these exceptionally tall Negroes never reach the length of the tall tribes among the Germans or Anglo-Saxon races, and no such giants will be found even in the most privileged black tribes, as are occasionally found among the whites.

The proportions in the corporeal structure greatly differ. The trunk is smaller in proportion to the extremities, specially to the arm, which in the Negro reaches below the middle of the femur. Most Negroes can, without stooping, reach with the finger’s end the region above the knee-cap. The neck is short, the cervical muscles very powerful, but the shoulders are narrower and less strong than in the white. There is a certain resemblance in the form of the neck to that of the gorilla, to which the remarkable development of the cervical muscles, combined with the shortness and curvature of this part, gives something of the aspect of a bull’s neck. Surely it is for this reason that the Negro always carries his burden on the head, rarely upon the shoulders or back; and it is for this reason that he, like a ram, uses his hard skull in a fight. The chest is narrow, the antero-posterior is almost equal to the transverse diameter, which predominates in the German; the belly is relaxed and pendulous, and the navel situated nearer the symphysis pubis than in the European. Even in muscular Negroes the arms are less rotund, the hips narrow, the thighs laterally compressed, the calves lean. The Negro rarely stands quite upright, the knees are usually bent, and the legs frequently bandy. Hands and feet are long, narrow, and flat, and form the least attractive features in the Negro figure.

Most of these external characteristics remind us irresistibly of the ape: the short neck, the long lean limbs, the projecting pendulous belly—all this affords a glimmer of the ape beneath the human envelope. (171-73)

As regards the acuteness of the senses, the Negro stands far below the white race, and by no means confirms the opinion which attributes to savages and peoples living in a state of nature more acute senses. The eyes are frequently rather dim, and the flattened cornea seems rather to favour longsightedness than short-sightedness. Smell, taste, or hearing do not seem highly developed. The Negro, however, shows great talent for plain cookery and vulgar music, so that in America nearly all the cooks and musicians are men of colour. Touch is not very delicate, the finger cushions being less developed in the black; “but,” says Pruner [Franz Ignaz Pruner, “Pruner Bey”], “the most remarkable phenomenon relates to coenaesthesis, as regards the Negroes apparent insensibility to pain. We have never seen the least spontaneous expression of pain; in the hospitals we see Negroes suffering from the gravest diseases cowering on their couches without taking any notice of the attending physicians. As a slave, he is more communicative, without, however, exhibiting greater sensibility to pain. Mishaps, or bad treatment will draw from the Negress, the child and even the adult Negro, an abundant flow of tears, but physical pain never. The Negro frequently resists surgical operations, but having once agreed to submit, he fixes his eye on the instrument and the hand of the surgeon without the least mark of pain or impatience, though his lips become blanched and the perspiration runs down his body during the operation. As we see, the Negro is a born stoic, certainly more from disposition than from habit or education.” (188)

It is undeniable that the sudden metamorphosis which at the time of puberty takes place in the Negro, is not only intimately connected with psychical development, but is a repetition of the phenomena occurring in the anthropoid apes. In them also the skull presents, until the second dentition, a remarkable resemblance to the human skull, the cerebral portion being arched and the jaws but little projecting. From that time the cerebral skull remains stationary, the internal capacity no way increases; the ridges and crests only are developed together with the muzzle, which projects from under the cranium until it acquires the form seen in old apes. And with this the mental development proceeds pari passu. Young orangs and chimpanzees are good-natured, amiable, intelligent beings, very apt to learn and become civilised. After the transformation they are obstinate savage beasts, incapable of any improvement.

And so it is with the Negro. The Negro-child is not, as regards the intellectual capacities, behind the white child. All observers agree that they are as droll in their games, as docile and as intelligent as white children. Where their education is attended to, and where they are not, as in the American Slave States, intentionally brought up like cattle, it is found that the Negro children in the schools, not only equal but even surpass the white children in docility and apprehension. But no sooner do they reach the fatal period of puberty than, with the closure of the sutures and the projection of the jaws, the same process takes place as in the ape. The intellectual faculties remain stationary, and the individual—as well as the race—is incapable of any further progress.

The grown up Negro partakes, as regards his intellectual faculties, of the nature of the child, the female, and the senile White. He manifests a propensity to pleasure, music, dancing, physical enjoyments, and imitation, while his inconstancy of impressions and all the feelings are those of the child. Like the child, the Negro has no soaring imagination, but he peoples surrounding nature, and endows even lifeless things with human or supernatural powers. He makes himself a Fetish of a piece of wood, and believes that the ape remains dumb lest he should be compelled to work. The general rule of the slaveholder is, that slaves must be treated like neglected and badly brought up children. The Negro resembles the female in his love to children, his family, and his cabin; he resembles the old man in his indolence, apathy, and his obstinacy. Temperate in common things, the Negro becomes intemperate if not kept within certain bounds. He knows not steady work, cares little for the future; but his great imitative instinct enables him to become a skilful workman and artistic imitator. In his native country the Negro is shepherd or agriculturist; some tribes understand working metals; others carry on trade, not without cunning. Some tribes have founded states, possessing a peculiar organisation; but, as to the rest, we may boldly assert that the whole race has, neither in the past nor in the present, performed anything tending to the progress of humanity or worthy of preservation. As a proof in favour of the artistic and scientific capacity of the Negro, we find cited in nearly all works the instance of Mr. Lille Geoffroy of Martinique, an engineer and mathematician and corresponding member of the French Academy. The fact is, that the mathematical performances of the above gentleman were of such a nature that, had he been born in Germany of white parents, he might, perhaps, have been qualified to be mathematical teacher in a middle-class school, or engineer at a railway; but having been born in Martinique of coloured parents, he shone like a one-eyed man among the totally blind. M. Lille Geoffroy, besides, was not a pure Negro, but a Mulatto.

Having thus, in our investigation regarding the differences between Negro and White, shown that there are certain constant and easily detected distinctive characters; and having further seen that the differences are in the Negro mostly reducible to an animal or simious resemblance, there arise now two important questions to be discussed.

The first question refers to the permanence of the differences. Is it possible that these may become obliterated by any influences in nature, that is to say, without an intermixture of races, so that the Negro may by elevating influences become metamorphosed into a White, or the White by depressing causes be transformed into a Negro?

The second question refers to animal resemblance. Are we able to point out the gradations which bridge over the gulf which still exists between the Negro and the ape, and follow them step by step from the anthropoid ape to the Negro, and from the Negro to the white man?

As regards the first question, I shall have an opportunity of discussing it in connection with other phenomena, which will prove that in the various races there is an immanent fixed character, which by external influences is liable to change with certain limits only. As far as our observations extend, we are unable to say that the changes have essentially altered the character. The Egyptian monuments, which show us the Negro as he was thousands of years ago, contemporaneous, probably, with the Biblical Adam, contain excellent representations of the present Negro; and yet the black race has since that time existed in that country by the side of another type—the genuine Egyptian, which has also remained unchanged. With the exception of the tanning of the skin, the white man in Africa never exhibits an approach to the Negro-type. Again, in America, where the black race has for some time been acclimatised, we find that a somewhat lighter colour in the North is the only effect which the climate has produced in more than a hundred years. As far as we can trace, neither these nor other races have undergone greater changes than other species of animals transplanted to other regions, and must, therefore, according to principles at present prevalent, be looked upon as different species with permanent types. The case is altered when viewed from a higher standpoint, as we shall show in the sequel.

With regard to the second question, an answer resting upon satisfactory observations is as yet impossible. (191-94)


(p. 196)

We need only place the skulls of the Negro, chimpanzee and idiot side by side, to show that the idiot holds in every respect an intermediate place between them. The only human characters which the idiot shows in his skull are the gapless serried teeth, and the somewhat projecting chin. The closure of the sutures must by no means be considered as the cause of the arrested cerebral development. In most old idiots the sutures of the upper surface are still movable, those on the sides are frequently closed, whilst at the base they are open as in the ape. The occiput is sometimes square, at times round, but very large compared to the forehead; the internal processes of the skull bear so far an infantile character, from their being rounded, never sharply angular.

We may, therefore, summarise the idiotic forms by stating, that in their brains and skulls the resemblance to the human standard has been diminished by the arrested development of the anterior cerebral lobes, and that only the secondary human character, the serried set of teeth and the projecting chin, have been preserved. If a fossil microcephalic skull were found, without a lower jaw and an upper row of teeth, every naturalist would at once declare it to be the cranium of an ape, as in such a mutilated skull there would not be found the least characteristic mark which would justify an opposite inference. (198-99)

Ape comparison


[On idiots]. Their whole appearance is simious. The deficient forehead, the protruding, glossy, rolling eyes, the projecting muzzle, the stooping posture, the long arms (Göttingen idiot) and short legs, the minute analogies in the cranial and cerebral structure, the restlessness, the spasmodic twitches, the shrillness of the notes of pleasure or anger,—who does not here detect the ape ?

There are no doubt individual human characters, to which I add the distribution of the hair, the form of the hands and feet—but we have not asserted that the microcephalus is actually an ape; only that, if these few characters which manifest the human type were wanting, nothing would remain to distinguish the idiot from the ape. . . . There is here undoubtedly a mixture of human and simious character, the latter being produced by an arrested development of the foetus in utero, forming thus an intermediate stage between ape and man, produced by the progress of the laws of the development of human genus. If now it be possible that man by arrest of development may approximate the ape, the formative law must be the same for both; and so we cannot deny the possibility that just as man may by arrest of development sink down to the ape, so may the ape by a progressive development approximate to man. (201-02)

I have in a preceding lecture explained that the word “race” in the sense in which it is used, cannot be separated from the notion “species” since the constancy in the transmission of characters, the resistance against external influences, and the adaptation to surrounding media, are frequently as great in races as in the so-called species, and may be traced back to remote antiquity, as is done in species. The term “race” expresses, perhaps, only a theological idea. Applied to domestic animals it is often used as equivalent to species, as it was known these races had partly arisen by the interference of man, whilst for the origin of species the direct interference of a creator was assumed. (403-04)

The American Anglo-Saxons, or Yankees, are also cited as an instance of change of characters. “Already, after the second generation,” says Pruner-Bey in Quatrefages, “the Yankee presents features of the Indian type. At a later period, the glandular system is reduced to the minimum of its normal development. The skin becomes dry like leather, the colour of the cheeks is lost, and is in males replaced by a loamy tint, and in females by a sallow paleness. The head becomes smaller and rounder, and is covered with stiff dark hair; the neck becomes longer, and there is a greater development of the cheek bones and the masseters. The temporal fossae become deeper, the jaw bones more massive, the eyes lie in deep approximated sockets. The iris is dark, the glance is piercing and wild. The long bones, especially in the superior extremities, are lengthened, so that the gloves manufactured in England and France for the American market are of a particular make with very long fingers. The female pelvis approaches that of the male.” “America,” adds Quatrefages, “has thus altered the Anglo-Saxon type, and produced from the English race a new white race which might be called the Yankee race.”

We have nothing to say against this; for we also believe that America dries up the skin and reduces the fat,—an effect to which all the above differences might be reduced. That the head becomes smaller, we utterly deny; the exact cranial measurements by Morton contradict this assertion categorically, by showing that the skull of the Yankee is as large as that of the Englishman. Thus the alleged differences are reduced to a minimum, and are the less to be depended upon, as the Anglo-Saxon race is itself a mongrel race, produced by Celts, Saxons, Normans, and Danes, a raceless chaos without any fixed type; and the descendants of this raceless multitude have in America so much intermixed with Frenchmen, Germans, Dutch, and Irish, as to have given rise to another raceless chaos, which is kept up by continued immigration. We can readily believe that from this chaos a new race is gradually forming. . . . The so-called Anglo-Saxon race, which, in point of fact, is no real race, as no fixed type has been produced by its manifold intermixtures with foreign peoples, that so-called race has, certainly, undergone some alterations in a foreign climate, whilst the fixed Germano-Saxon race, which maintains itself with great tenacity in its old dwelling places in Germany, has not changed even in America. Here again we have that difference in the conduct of old fixed and new formed races already touched upon. (432-33)

In now casting a retrospective glance at the changes produced by external influences and by intermixture in the various races inhabiting the globe, we arrive at certain conclusions which may be fairly inferred from the facts at hand.

1 . The differences in the human genus which we may designate either races or species, (both terms appear to me as regards natural races perfectly identical), these differences are, as far as we can trace them, original and have in the course of time been transmitted unchanged upon the same soil.

2. The changes, which these original species can undergo by external influences of any kind, are so slight that they cannot be compared with the primary differences.

3. The raceless masses produced by transportation into a foreign climate may, by pure imbreeding [sic], give rise to a new human race or species, the characters of which might, indeed, become fixed after a few generations, but would require a very long period of time before they can acquire that constancy which distinguishes the original species of mankind.

4. The various species of mankind present in crossing different degrees of fertility. Most of them are between each other indefinitely prolific, as also are their descendants; in some the fertility is so limited, that no mongrel race can be produced by them.

5. The mongrel races gradually attain by inbreeding that constancy of characters which distinguishes the original race, so that from this commixture new species may arise.

6. Heterogeneous races have by intermixture given rise to raceless masses—peoples which present no fixed characters, and form, so to speak, dispersive circles around the original species, which at their points of contact become confluent.

I cannot deny that these views are not exclusively derived from what is observed in man, but chiefly from what is seen in domestic and wild animals. But this, if I am not mistaken, gives greater weight to them. We are not so blind as to maintain, that the original species of mankind can undergo no change by the influence of surrounding media. We neither deny intermixture nor the mongrel races to which it has given rise, but we are unable to perceive that their existence can entirely obliterate the original difference, or afford a proof for an original unity, which is opposed to all known facts. (440-41)

The question now arises, whether an adaptation of the individual as well as of its progeny to the conditions of existence can take place? The question is, whether this adaptation by continued improvement, continued breeding, if we may thus express it, can lead to transformations which may compel us to acknowledge these products as new types. On this point most naturalists differ in opinion.

The prevailing opinion, hitherto, was, that species are fixed normal types, which may undergo changes within a very limited sphere; that they were the expression of a definite realised idea; that they were the separate unchangeable materials from which, according to a creative plan, the structure of the organic world had been erected. It was also asserted that species can indeed perish, but cannot be transformed; that from time to time the organic world is destroyed, after which a new creation takes place after an improved plan by a divine “fiat.”

I have already stated that the idea of a Creator, who from time to time destroys the furniture of the earth, and supplies a new one, was repugnant to my notions. I said No! I cannot believe this. But as I had no better theory to offer, I was obliged to confess, like Künöl, the professor of Theology at Giessen, who, having lectured for a fortnight on the resurrection of Christ, during which time he had exhausted the manifold hypotheses of theologians on that subject, concluded as follows: “To tell the truth, gentlemen, I must confess we know nothing at all about it.”

Darwin starts from the mutability of types. He instances not merely the domestic, but also wild animals and plants in support of his theory. In the struggle for existence, he contends, every animal must endeavour to attain that relative perfection which enables it to sustain that struggle. The transmission of characters, which is undeniable, and even that of individual characters, which is also established, renders it possible that such peculiarities, which are advantageous to this struggle, may also be transmitted to, and further developed in the offspring. There thus arises a breed by natural selection, which in some privileged individuals acquires a particular fixed type. In this manner, that is to say, by continued and uninterrupted transmission arise new varieties, races, and species; and as this transformation process is continued through long periods of time, the production of such natural selections may, at last, so much deviate from each other, that they represent genera, families, orders, classes, and kingdoms. . . .

There can be no doubt that Darwin’s theory ignores a personal creator, and his direct interference in the transformation and creation of species there being no sphere of action for such a being. Given the first starting point—the first organism —all existing organisms are subsequently, by natural selection, developed from it in a continuous manner through all geological periods by the simple laws of transmission. There arise no new species by any creative interference; none disappear by a divine mandate of destruction, since the natural course of things, the process of development of all organisms and of the earth is amply sufficient for the production of all these phenomena. Even man is neither a distinct creature, formed in a special manner, and differently from all other animals, nor provided with a special soul and endowed with a divine breath of life—he is only the highest product of a progressive natural selection, and descends from the simious group standing next to man.

Darwin, it must here be stated, has nowhere in his work touched upon these sequences, so that from the richness of materials, and the logical treatment of the leading idea, the work met at first with a very favourable reception in England—a country so much attached to Biblical traditions. But when it was perceived upon what base the theory rests, the storm broke forth from all quarters of the compass; nor has the agitation as yet subsided. But we must not be disconcerted by attacks of this kind; let us then pursue our investigations.

If it be once established, that species may generally successfully intermix and produce prolific mongrels; if, on the other hand, it is ascertained that for their adaptation to surrounding conditions they may undergo changes, the limits of which are not yet determined, there are two ways open in which new forms may arise. There exists no doubt a conservative element in the fixation of characters in unchanged external media, otherwise the transformation would be infinite for every type. Darwin has, perhaps, taken too little notice of this element, as his chief object was to establish mutability, which hitherto had been denied. (447-49)

The existing materials for bridging over the gulf between man and ape I have placed before you. I have shown in what points the three anthropoid apes establish the similarity; in what respects the races of mankind, and especially the Negro, approach the ape-type, without, however, completely reaching it. I have demonstrated that the oldest cave-skulls known to us decidedly approach the ape-type, both by the elongated form and the low arching of the skull. I have, finally, directed your attention to the microcephali, those congenital idiots, not as constituting a separate species, as some of my detractors make me say, but as a morbid arrest of development, which indicates one of the stages which the human embryo must necessarily pass through, and which now in its abnormity represents that intermediate form, which at a remote period may have been normal. I remind you on this occasion of what I said concerning these microcephali, together with Gaudry’s remark on the Greek monkey. Just as Gaudry observed that the whole skull of the Greek monkey would constitute it a Semnopithecus had not the limbs been found, which present the type of the macacus, so, I remarked, might the skull of a microcephalus, found in a fossil state, in the absence of the jaws be mistaken for that of an ape, until the discovery of the limbs should establish the human type. But as it is certain that the microcephalus, with his arrested development, is not suited for propagation, it is neither the only possible nor the only imaginable intermediate form between man and ape. But this arrest which the brain experienced in its forward march, is the simian stage. This abnormal creature, this arrested monstrosity of the present creation, fills up the gap which cannot be bridged over by normal types in the present creation, but may be so by some future discoveries. . . .

But whilst we assume the actual descent of the human race from the apes, and believe that the differences between both, which will become greater by the further development of man, are the result of selection and intermixture, we must, on the other hand, decidedly repudiate an inference we are charged with, and which consists in this, that we must necessarily come back to the original unity of mankind, and consider Adam as an intermediate form between ape and man. “The changes in the history of science,” says Councillor R. Wagner, “have a remarkable, almost comic, aspect, when we look at the fierce contest now raging between mono-genists and poly-genists, as they call in France the advocates for one or many parent stocks of mankind. Three years ago, just before Darwin’s book appeared, the theory of the possibility or probability of the different races of mankind having descended from a single pair was considered as perfectly antiquated, and as having lagged behind all scientific progress, whilst now, to judge from the applause with which Darwin’s theory is received, there is nothing more certain than the inference that both ape and man had for their single progenitor a form intermediate between ape and man.”

We crave pardon, Sir Councillor; never was there a more incorrect inference, and when you advise us “to let this question rest for the present, as it cannot be scientifically solved,” you should not have been the first to raise it; for as far as I know, no Darwinist, if we must call them so, has either raised that question or drawn the above inference, for the simple reason that it neither accords with the facts nor their consequences.

It is easy to prove our assertion as regards man and ape.

The ape-type does not culminate in one, but in three anthropoid apes, which belong to at least different genera. Two of these genera, the orang and the gorilla, must at all events be divided into different species; there are perhaps some varieties of them which form dispersive circles, like some around certain races of man. Be this as it may, this much is certain, that each of these anthropoid apes has its peculiar characters by which it approaches man; the chimpanzee, by the cranial and dental structure; the orang, by its cerebral structure; the gorilla, by the structure of the extremities. None of these stands next to man in all points,—the three forms approach man from different sides without reaching him.

I say “from different sides.” For, in point of fact, these three anthropoid apes do not rise above the same fundamental form from which they branch off; but they sprang from different ape families which we must consider as having run parallel. Gratiolet has, as regards cerebral structure, followed up this subject. I shall not enter into details which must be studied in his treatise, but I shall give here the conclusions he arrived at.

“On comparing the brain of the orang with that of other brains,” says Gratiolet, “we are bound, on account of the size of the anterior lobe, the relative smallness of the posterior lobe, and the development of the superficial transition convolution (plis de passage), to place the orang at the head of the gibbons and the Semnopitheci, of which any one may easily convince himself on comparing the respective brains drawn with scrupulous exactness.

“These analogies are the more remarkable, as they lead to the same result as the examination of external characters.”

The orang, considered as the highest gibbon, has a “gibbon’s brain, only richer, more developed, in a word, brought nearer perfection.”

Of the chimpanzee, Gratiolet remarks, “On comparing his brain with that of the true Macacus, and specially of the magot, it is impossible for us to reject the analogies presented by this comparison. The examination of the skull and face confirms these analogies by new ones.

“When, therefore, we put aside every preconceived theory, and keep solely to the facts, we are irresistibly led to the conclusion: The chimpanzee brain is a perfected Macacus brain.

“In other words: the chimpanzee stands in the same relation to the Macacus and the baboon, as the orang to the gibbon and the Semnopithecus.” Of the gorilla, finally, he says: “The gorilla is a mandrill, just as the chimpanzee is a Macacus and the orang a gibbon. The absence of a tail, the existence of a broad sternum, the peculiar locomotion, not upon the palmar surface of the fingers, but upon the dorsal surface of the second phalanx, are indeed characters they possess in common; but however important these may be, they do not permit the approximation of these three genera. As heads of three different series, these apes still preserve the characters of the groups to which they belong, although they possess, if I may so express myself, common insignia of their high dignity.”

No valid objection can be raised to these deductions of Gratiolet, in presence of the facts; but these facts prove our assertions, that the higher developed forms of different parallel series of apes approach man from different sides. Let us imagine the three anthropoid apes continued to the human type,—which they do not reach and, perhaps, never will reach; we shall then see developed from the three parallel series of apes, three different primary races of mankind, two dolichocephalic races descended from the gorilla and chimpanzee, and one brachycephalic descended from the orang; —that descended from the gorilla is, perhaps, distinguished by the development of the teeth and the chest; that descended from the orang by the length of the arms and light-red hair; and that issued from the chimpanzee, by black colour, slender bones, and less massive jaws.

When, therefore, we look upon the apes and their development as proceeding from different parallel series, the assumption of only one intermediate form between man and ape is unjustifiable, inasmuch as we know in our present creation three different sources for such intermediate forms. . . .

It is just this plurality of characters which confirms us in our view. If the Macaci in the Senegal, the baboons on the Gambia, and the gibbons in Borneo could become developed into anthropoid apes, we cannot see why the American apes should not be capable of a similar development! If in different regions of the globe anthropoid apes may issue from different stocks, we cannot see why these different stocks should be denied the further development into the human type, and that only one stock should possess this privilege; in short, we cannot see why American races of man may not be derived from American apes, Negroes from African apes, or Negritos, perhaps, from Asiatic apes! (462-67)

Nancy Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science:  Great Britain 1800-1960 (Houndsmills:  Macmillan, 1982), 83-110.

George W. Stocking, Jr., “The Persistence of Polygenist Thought in Post-Darwinian Anthropology,” in Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1968), 42-68.