Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/March 1873/Physical Characters of the Human Races IV

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GENTLEMEN: I have already given you three lectures on the history of man. They have all been devoted to the examination of general questions, the solution of which can alone throw light on the study of the human races, and guide us in the midst of thousands of facts of detail involved in it.

These three lectures constitute the first part of the collection of facts and ideas that I have undertaken to expound to you. In these lectures, you know, I considered man in his relation to the universe and to the earth he inhabits. We found that there exists only one species of man; that this species, much more ancient than was formerly believed, was the contemporary of the elephant and rhinoceros on the soil of France. Although spread everywhere at present, the human species, like other organic and living beings, had its special centre of creation. It must have appeared at first on a particular and circumscribed part of the globe, situated probably in the centre of Asia. Our earth then was peopled by way of migration. In the varied journeyings performed to reach all points of his domain, man has encountered thousands of conditions of existence. He has accommodated himself to them all—in other words, he has become acclimated everywhere.

There is another question we had to meet, because it was seriously put to us, but, to answer which, we had to confess the insufficiency of present knowledge: it is the question of the first origin of man. Our answer to this question was founded on science alone. I have made this declaration many times; I repeat it every time I speak before a new audience. For the most part, the problems we have considered are treated by theologians and philosophers. Neither here, nor at the museum, am I, nor do I wish to be, either a theologian or a philosopher. I am simply a man of science, and it is in the name of comparative physiology, of botanical and zoological geography, of geology and paleontology, in the name of the laws which govern man as well as animals and plants, that I have always spoken.

To-day, however, I shall not need to recur, as much as in preceding lectures, to these terms of comparison. We have to commence the study of man considered in himself; and, in the first place, to account in a general way for the modifications presented by the human type.

These modifications constitute the characters which serve to distinguish divers groups of men—the different human races. Before studying these races in detail, we must fix somewhat the extent and the meaning of these modifications of character.

To give order even to the brief study of the characters of the human race, it is necessary to separate them into a certain number of groups. This division is easily made, because of the multiple nature of man, which at the same time connects him with the rest of creation, and gives him a position apart.

Like all organic and living beings, man has a body. This body will furnish a first class of characters—the physical characters. Like animals, man is endowed with instinct and intelligence. Though infinitely more developed in him, these characters are not changed in their fundamental nature. They appear in the different human groups in phenomena, sometimes very different, as for instance the different languages. The differences of manifestation of this intelligence will constitute the second class of characters—the intellectual characters.

Finally, it is established that man has two grand faculties, of which we find not even a trace among animals. He alone has the moral sentiment of good and of evil; he alone believes in a future existence succeeding this actual life; he alone believes in beings superior to himself, that he has never seen, and that are capable of influencing his life for good or evil.

In other words, man alone is endowed with morality and religion. These two faculties are revealed by his acts, by his institutions, by facts that differ from one group to another, from one race to another. From these is drawn a third class of characters—that of moral and religious characters.

Let us attend to-day to the physical characters, to those furnished by the body.

In man, as in animals, the body is made up of organs. We can not only study the exterior of the body, but we can also penetrate the interior and discover its anatomy. Indeed, this is the only means of finding out its most important organs. In this study we can stop with the form, the arrangement, or we can go further, and seek to understand the actions of the parts, the functions they perform. We thus pass from anatomy to physiology. But these functions may be disturbed by many maladies that cannot be neglected, and which are the province of pathology.

In our present study, we must not neglect any of these orders of facts. You see how we are led to draw, from the body alone, four categories of characters, namely: 1. Exterior characters; 2. Anatomic characters; 3. Physiological characters; 4. Pathological characters.


I. Exterior Characters.—When we see a man or an animal, the first thing that strikes us is its size. Our domestic species are made of great and small races, and it is the same with man.

The extreme dimensions of the human form, whether great or small, have been very much exaggerated. Everywhere there has been a belief in the existence of races of dwarfs and races of giants. For instance, the Greeks believed in the existence of a people, called by them pigmies, whose country they placed sometimes in one direction, sometimes in another, but always beyond the limits of the world they truly knew. These were little men about fourteen inches in height, who, it was believed, were obliged to pluck down the corn with strokes of the axe, and who passed a part of their time defending themselves against the cranes. In the last century this fable of the pigmies was, so to speak, renewed and applied to the kymos, who were said to inhabit Madagascar. It is needless to add that, since we have seen them more closely, pigmies and kymos have disappeared.

The fables relative to giants are the contrary of the preceding. Among these fables there are some modern ones, for a time believed to be founded on real observation. The first voyagers who doubled Cape Horn found there the Patagonians, whose dimensions they singularly exaggerated. Pigafetta, the companion of Magellan in the first voyage round the world (1520), pretended that he and his companions scarcely reached to the height of their waists. One of his successors, Jofre Loaysa, with still greater extravagance, declared that the heads of the Christians reached only to the upper part of their thighs. This was, you see, to attribute to these people a height of 13 to 16 feet.

Time and science have done justice to these fables and exaggerations. Let us see what are in reality the extremes presented by the human stature.

It is plain that in this research we must leave out exceptional individuals, of which we see a certain number in the fairs and museums, or anywhere, for money. It is a question neither of General Tom Thumb, whom you have perhaps met sometimes in the Champs Elysées, nor of the French or Chinese giants, recently exhibited in Paris. I will only remark, in passing, that these individual exceptions appear among all nations, although more rarely, perhaps, in the midst of savage populations.

The smallest known race is that of the Bushman, which inhabits the southern part of Africa; the greatest is the Patagonian, of which we just named the country. An English traveller, Barrow, measured all the inhabitants of a tribe of the first; a French traveller, Alcide d'Orbigny, took the exact measure of a great number of individuals belonging to the second of these two extreme races.

It results from these measurements that the mean height of the Bushman is 4 feet 3½ inches, and that of the Patagonian 5 feet 8 inches. The mean difference between the greatest and the smallest human race is then 16½ inches.

The smallest Bushman measured by Barrow was a woman who was only 3 feet 10½ inches. The largest Patagonian measured by D'Orbigny attained 6 feet 3 inches. The greatest difference existing, then, between normal human individuals is 2 feet 8½-inches. The ratio between the extremes of height just named is nearly as 1 to 0.6. These figures signify much and lead to important consequences.

First, the difference in size among our domestic animals is much greater than that above indicated. From the great dogs that promenade in our court-yards, down to certain dogs which have figured at dog-shows, the ratio is 1 to 0.3. The difference is also as great between the large brewers' horses of London and horses from Shetland, which are sometimes not larger than a Newfoundland dog. These horses and these dogs are, however, only different races of a single species. One cannot reason, then, from differences of height to sustain the multiplicity of human species.

There is another consideration not less important:

From all the data I can gather, it results that the mean stature of men, the world over, is about 5 feet 3 inches. But this mean, like that given above, results from very numerous and very diverse heights. If in thought we place all men in one line according to their height, it is easy to see that we should obtain a series in which the difference from one to the next will not be, perhaps, the 12500 of an inch.

But this is not all. In this graduated series, the men of the same race will be far from being placed together. There will be in this respect the strangest mixture. All the Patagonians are not nearly 6 feet 3 inches in height, nor all the Bushmen as short as 3 feet 10 inches. Among our cuirassiers and the hundred guards of the emperor many individuals would be found with the first; the Lapps of the north of Europe and the Mincopees of the isles of Andaman in the Gulf of Bengal would mix with the second.

Now, in no other kind of animal, with numerous species and of limited growth, is there any thing parallel. The domestic races alone present something like its analogue. So that, by themselves, these considerations drawn from the height furnish excellent proof of the unity of the human species.

The study of proportions would show us like facts and conduct to similar conclusions. But I leave considerations of this kind, to pass to other characters almost as striking as those of height. I wish to speak of those drawn from the complexion, and first of all from the color of the skin. The general coloration of the body is a well-defined character; but we need not exaggerate its value.

If you observe several portraits representing individuals of the white race, you may see that their tint is sometimes as dark as that of the Guinea negro. In the portrait of Rammohun-Roy, the celebrated Bramin reformer, the fineness and regularity of his profile attest that he is of the purest Aryan blood, and his color is that of a negro just a little blanched. Again, there are Abyssinians whose features recall the fine Semitic type, and yet few negroes surpass them in blackness. So all black men are not negroes. Reciprocally, Livingstone has found in the centre of Africa negroes of the color of café au lait.

The color of the human race varies from white, such as is seen in Dutch and Danish women, to violet or yellow, to yellow-citron or smoke, to copper-red or brick. By appealing to your recollections, you can establish a series passing from light to dark by insensible shades such as could scarcely be reproduced upon the palette of a painter.

Recollect that some of these extremes of color are frequent among domestic animals, and are sometimes much greater. With black hens, it is not the skin alone that is colored. All the great interior membranes, the sheaths of the muscles, the aponeuroses, as well as the flesh of the wings, present an aspect very little appetizing. So it is sought to weed them out of the poultry-yard; and still in certain parts of the globe they are constantly produced and would evidently soon become a race if left to multiply. Here, again, in the case of animals, the difference from race to race is much greater than in the case of man.

Sometimes, in the presence of variations of color like these we have described, we ask if, between the negro and the white, there do not exist anatomical differences in the skin? The minute study of this organ answers us in the negative.

The skin is composed of three layers, which together constitute a true organ having its proper functions. So it is often called the cutaneous organ. On the exterior is the epidermis, that dry and insensible layer which covers the entire body, and protects it against the action of outer agents.

Interiorly, and immediately above the greasy body, is the true skin—it is the essential and living part of the cutaneous organ; it is this which receives the blood-vessels and nerves.

Between the true skin and the epidermis is a dark layer, composed of distinct cells. It is the mucous membrane of Malpighi, so named from the anatomist who first described it. The cells that form it are a simple secretion of the true skin. It is this layer which is the seat of color. It exists in all men, but the cells that it contains are more or less colored according to race. In whites themselves, in certain parts of the body, around the nipples, in the specks of freckles, in the beauty-spots, etc., we sometimes see them as deep as in the negro.

You see that the color in different human races is, when developed, only a phenomenon of local coloration, of exactly the same nature as those we encounter in races of domestic animals. If time permitted me to enter more fully into the subject, I could make this fact much more evident, but the hour advances and I must hasten.

To the skin are attached a certain number of organs, which may be considered as adjuncts to the cutaneous organ. These are chiefly the villosities or hairs, the sebaceous glands, and the sweat-glands. Between these annexed organs there exists a certain balance which physiology easily explains. So in glabrous races, that is, races with little or no villosities on the body, the sebaceous apparatus is much more developed. This fact is very marked in the African negro, whose skin sometimes bears slight prominences, sketching a sort of arabesque by the extraordinary development of these little organs.

It is to the development of the sebaceous apparatus that the odor developed by the negro is due. This odor is so strong, so persistent, that it suffices to the identification of a negroship a long time after it has left the trade. But it is not negroes alone that are characterized by malodorous exhalations. It is the same with the whites themselves. You all know that a dog follows his master by the scent. Savage people, whose senses are more exercised than ours, distinguish very quickly the general odor which characterizes a race; and, in Peru, they give special names to that of the white and of the black as well as to their own.

As to the hair which may be seen on different parts of the body, a special mention is due to that of the head. All people have more or less hair on the head, and this gives also very good characters. Among these the most essential are drawn from the form presented by the transverse cut when examined under the microscope. In the yellow people, the Americans and the white allophyles, this cut is more or less circular. In the Aryans, of which we are a part, it is oval; in the negroes it takes the form of an elongated ellipse. It is evident that a circular cut indicates a cylindrical hair. Such hair is very coarse and stiff, and never curling or frizzled; an oval cut indicates a slight and regular flattening. In this form the hairs are finer, and may be made into curls or waves more or less marked. Finally, the elliptical cut can only appear when the hair is much flattened, almost like a thick ribbon. These are the finest, and these alone have the aspect of wool which characterizes the head of the negro.

Crosses between these different races sometimes produce very remarkable heads of hair. The negro crossed with the Brazilian produces the Cafuso, whose hair, forming an immense wig, is at the same time long, stiff, and kinked.

I would further enlarge upon these exterior characters, as being the ones of which we can most easily give account, but time fails me, and I pass to the second class of characters, to those which we must seek in the interior.

II. Anatomic Character.—The anatomic character may be drawn from the solid parts of the body, that is, the skeleton, from the soft parts, and even from the liquids. I shall at first confine myself particularly to those drawn from the head.

In the head itself we must distinguish the cranium from the face. The first encloses the brain, whence proceed the organs of sense, with the exception of those of touch, properly speaking. Above all, it is the seat of intelligence; on these various accounts it merits a separate examination.

The general form of the cranium, that is, the relation between the longitudinal and transverse diameter, furnishes an excellent character. When this relation is less than that of 100 to 78, the cranium is considered as elongated from front to back: it is dolichocephalic. When the relation varies from 100 to 78 or 80, the cranium is medium or average; we say it is mesocephalic. Finally, when the relation is from 100 to 80, and above, the cranium is considered short, and is said to be brachycephalic.

These forms sometimes characterize very large human groups. So almost all the negroes are dolichocephalic; nearly all the yellow people, and most of the Americans, are brachycephalic or mesocephalic. Among the whites, and even sometimes in two populations belonging to the same branch of the white race, we find the two extremes. The Germans of the north are dolichocephalic, the Germans of the south brachycephalic.

While recognizing the importance of the characters drawn from these general forms, we must guard ourselves against exaggerating their import or giving them a wrong signification. Some authors, belonging to the dolichocephalic races, have pretended that the elongation of the head behind is a sign of intellectual superiority. The fact I have just stated suffices to refute this conclusion, and nothing justifies it. The Germans of the south are noways inferior to their country-men of the north. In the Academy of Sciences in Paris, the brachycephalic crania, or at most the mesocephalic, are in very great majority; and still, what association of men is superior, in an intellectual point of view, to this philosophical body?

Analogous indications have been drawn from the greater or less capacity of the cranium. It has been supposed that this exactly corresponded in measure to the volume of the brain, and this volume has been regarded as a sort of measure of intellectual power.

That there is some truth at the bottom of the idea that a brain sufficiently developed is necessary to give the power to fulfil its functions, is what all the world admits. But that intellectual power is measured by the quantity of cerebral matter entering into the composition of the organ is in contradiction to the observations and the figures of many anatomists, among others, of R. Wagner.

In considerations of this nature we do not generally take account of the stature. Now, although the head does not enlarge in the same proportion as the rest of the body, it is not the less true that its form has an influence on its dimensions and on those of the cranium.

Besides, with organized and living beings, the volume, the mass of organs, is not all. Their special energy is much more. Certainly you all know small persons, of slender aspect, who are more active and strong than some of their comrades who are larger and more muscular. Well, how is it that what is true of flesh, of muscle, is not also true of brain?

After the cranium we come to the face. But I will only speak of a single order of characters drawn from the jaws and teeth.

Observe a negro, and a European. Look at the jaws and teeth of the first. You see them project in front. In the second, on the contrary, teeth and jaws are equally vertical. The first of these is called prognathism, and the peoples or individuals who present them are said to be prognathous; the second takes the name of orthognathism and characterizes the orthognathous races or individuals.

Prognathism has long been considered as characterizing the negro races. Since, we have found it in people who could not be affiliated with the negro; and, finally, looking closely into the matter, we have found it in the heart of white populations. At Paris, even, it is frequent enough, particularly among women. This is a fact of which you can convince yourself, as I have often done during my rides in the omnibus.

Judging by the crania that we possess, prognathism is characteristic of a population incontestably European which lives at the south of the Baltic, the Esthonians. This people is, furthermore, the remains of the most ancient race of Western Europe. It is this race, without doubt, which, mixing its blood with new-comers, has left in the midst of our great cities those indications of a prognathous race to which I have just referred.

After studying the cranium and face separately, we must examine the head in its ensemble. From this also we draw important characters. I will only mention one, which has a certain real value, but the signification of which some have exaggerated and falsified.

Camper, an anatomist of Holland, studied comparatively the Greek and Roman medallions and statues, and struck with the air of majesty, presented by the Greeks, gave for a reason that the facial angle was greater than in the Romans. This angle is formed by two lines which meet at the extremity of the front teeth, and of which one passes by the middle of the orifice of the ear, while the second is tangent to the forehead.

Pushing these researches much further, Camper believed that he discovered a regular decrease of the facial angle in the human race, so that he could characterize a race by its facial angle. Going further, and applying it to animals, he placed in a descending scale, man, monkeys, carnivora, birds, all characterized by smaller and smaller angles. Whence, to conclude that the facial angle measures, so to say, the intelligence, is but a step, which was taken without hesitation.

As this conclusion gives great interest to the measurement of the facial angle, many processes and many instruments have been proposed to obtain it with all possible exactitude. The goniometre, invented by my assistant M. Docteur Jacquart, attained this end better than any other.

Jacquart did not stop with making this instrument. He used it; and, in a beautiful work, he shows among other things that the right angle exists in the white race, contrary to what Camper believed; that we may observe it, without doubt, in intelligent persons, but who are, however, not sensibly superior to others whose angle is much less considerable. The facial angle cannot, then, be considered as measuring the intelligence, the reach of the mind.

M. Jacquart shows, besides, that, in the single population of Paris, the angular differences of which we are speaking are much more considerable than those that Camper regarded as characterizing races. He shows that here, again, there is from race to race that entanglement of characters which I have so many times pointed out. Yet, here as elsewhere, the average furnishes good characters to determine human groups.

Again, the skeleton presents important characters. We ought, at least, to examine the breast, the pelvis, the bones of the limbs, etc.; but we must leave this subject, to say a word on the soft parts.

Regarded in the two extremes of humanity, the white European and the negro, the nervous system presents a fact which it is important to point out. With the first, the nervous centres—the brain and spinal cord—are relatively more voluminous. In the second, on the contrary, it is the expansions from the centres—the nerves—which are more voluminous.

The circulatory apparatus presents a balance somewhat analogous. With the white, the arterial apparatus, which carries the blood to the organs, is relatively more developed than the venous apparatus that draws the blood toward the heart.

The blood of the negro, studied in his native country, is more viscous and darker colored than that of the white. That of the creole negro of New Orleans is, on the contrary, paler and more aqueous, and recalls the blood of the anæmic. So, a simple change of habitat sometimes modifies a human race in this most profound character—in this liquid pabulum destined to penetrate and nourish all parts of the body.

III. Physiological Characters.—I shall dwell briefly on the physiological characters, and only point out two general facts, of which you will easily see the importance:

As regards all the great periods of life and all the great functions, there is an almost complete identity among all men, to whatever race they belong.

When this resemblance is not apparent, the cause is not in the nature of the races, but in the influence of conditions of existence. This is well proved by the fact that races the most widely separated resemble each other completely when they are exposed to identical conditions through a change of habitat. So, the precocity of the negro has been cited as distinguishing this race from European nations; but, when white people live for generations in hot countries, they take on the same peculiarity. The negress and the English Creole of the isles of the Gulf of Mexico are just alike in precocity.

On the contrary, the study of secondary functions shows that they vary from one group to another, and sometimes very widely. But, then, also, we see that the environment, the manners, the habits, etc., are the cause of these variations; and, again, we see races the most unlike come to resemble each other so much as to be confounded together. There are hunters of English and French descent who have the senses of sight and hearing as quick and sharp as the red-skins.

In concluding, the study of physiological characters strongly attests the fundamental unity of the human race, by throwing light on the marvellous flexibility of our organism.

IV. Pathological Characters.—The study of diseases presents entirely similar facts, and conducts to the same conclusions.

All the human races are accessible to the same diseases. If any circumstances—isolation, for instance—have preserved some one of them from affections common to the others, a simple coming together suffices for the propagation of the disease. The eruptive maladies seem to have been implanted in America by the Europeans; but, once implanted among the indigenous races, they have raged with—a violence that we know not a violence which is accounted for by the kind of life led by these people.

Yet immunities, at least relative, have been proved. For instance, the negro race is much less sensible to the emanations of marshes, to the miasms from stagnant waters, than the white race. In return, it is much more easily affected by phthisis.

Other more complete immunities have been observed, and some have even wished, in consequence, to justify the admission of a distinct human species. But these immunities, even the best marked, disappear with time, and still more under the influence of conditions of existence. I will give you a curious example:

Elephantiasis is a hideous malady, peculiar to certain warm countries, which swells and deforms, sometimes in the strangest way, the parts of the body it attacks. In one of the Antilles, in Barbadoes, this disease was seen from the first among the negroes, but had constantly spared the whites, till 1704. That year a white person was seized, and since then the malady has extended in this race; but it never attacks any but Creoles. Up to the present time, Europeans, who settle in this isle, enjoy the ancient immunity. You see it is only a question of complete acclimation.

Gentlemen, I believe I have sketched, in this one lecture, a body of facts and ideas which, at the museum, occupied at least ten lectures, each as long as this to-day. So, you see how many things I have been compelled to omit. Incomplete as I have been compelled to make this presentation, it is sufficient, I think, to establish clearly some general facts, and prepares the way for an important conclusion.

You have seen that, considering man from the point of view of his height and color, we may form a graduated series which passes from one extreme to the other by insensible shades. You have seen further that, in this series, groups the most distinct by other characters—the most separated by their habitat—are found intermixed.

Permit me to add that we should get the same result, whatever the exterior or anatomical character upon which we establish our series.

The study of functions, whether performed in a normal manner, in a state of health, or under the perturbing influence of disease, shows us identical fundamental facts revealing the unity of human nature.

Even apparent exceptions come under the general facts when we take account of the influence of the environment which, as you have seen, effaces some of the most marked differences.

In this examination of the physical man, every thing leads to the conclusion which we had already reached in our earlier lectures; and we can repeat with redoubled certainty: the differences among human groups are characters of race, and not of species; there exists only one human species; and, consequently, all men are brothers—all ought to be treated as such, whatever the origin, the blood, the color, the race.

Gentlemen, the lectures I have given here require a special preparation, and are not always easy to prepare; but I shall not regret either my time or my pains, if I am able, in the name of science, and that alone, to render a little more clear and precise for you this great and sacred notion of the brotherhood of man.