1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/M'Lennan, John Ferguson
M'LENNAN, JOHN FERGUSON (1827–1881), Scottish ethnologist, was born at Inverness on the 14th of October 1827. He studied at King’s college, Aberdeen, where he graduated with distinction in 1849, thence proceeding to Cambridge, where he remained till 1855 without taking a degree. He was called to the Scottish bar in 1857, and in 1871 was appointed parliamentary draughtsman for Scotland. In 1865 he published Primitive Marriage, in which, arguing from the prevalence of the symbolical form of capture in the marriage ceremonies of primitive races, he developed an intelligible picture of the growth of the marriage relation and of systems of kinship (see Family) according to natural laws. In 1866 he wrote in the Fortnightly Review (April and May) an essay on “Kinship in Ancient Greece,” in which he proposed to test by early Greek facts the theory of the history of kinship set forth in Primitive Marriage; and three years later appeared a series of essays on “Totemism” in the same periodical for 1869–1870 (the germ of which had been contained in the paper just named), which mark the second great step in his systematic study of early society. A reprint of Primitive Marriage, with “Kinship in Ancient Greece” and some other essays not previously published, appeared in 1876, under the title of Studies in Ancient History. The new essays in this volume were mostly critical, but one of them, in which perhaps his guessing talent is seen at his best, “The Divisions of the Irish Family,” is an elaborate discussion of a problem which has long puzzled both Celtic scholars and jurists; and in another, “On the Classificatory System of Relationship,” he propounded a new explanation of a series of facts which, he thought, might throw light upon the early history of society, at the same time putting to the test of those facts the theories he had set forth in Primitive Marriage. Papers on “The Levirate and Polyandry,” following up the line of his previous investigations (Fortnightly Review, 1877), were the last work he was able to publish. He died of consumption on the 14th of June 1881 at Hayes Common, Kent.
Besides the works already cited, M’Lennan also wrote a Life of Thomas Drummond (1867). The vast materials which he had accumulated on kinship were edited by his widow and A. Platt, under the title Studies in Ancient History: Second Series (1896).