The Descent of Man – Day 140 of 151

In several of the tribes of North America the hair on the head grows to a wonderful length; and Catlin gives a curious proof how much this is esteemed, for the chief of the Crows was elected to this office from having the longest hair of any man in the tribe, namely ten feet and seven inches. The Aymaras and Quichuas of S. America, likewise have very long hair; and this, as Mr. D. Forbes informs me, is so much valued as a beauty, that cutting it off was the severest punishment which he could inflict on them. In both the Northern and Southern halves of the continent the natives sometimes increase the apparent length of their hair by weaving into it fibrous substances. Although the hair on the head is thus cherished, that on the face is considered by the North American Indians “as very vulgar,” and every hair is carefully eradicated. This practice prevails throughout the American continent from Vancouver’s Island in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south. When York Minster, a Fuegian on board the “Beagle,” was taken back to his country, the natives told him be ought to pull out the few short hairs on his face. They also threatened a young missionary, who was left for a time with them, to strip him naked, and pluck the hair from his face and body, yet he was far from being a hairy man. This fashion is carried so far that the Indians of Paraguay eradicate their eyebrows and eyelashes, saying that they do not wish to be like horses. (63. ‘North American Indians,’ by G. Catlin, 3rd ed., 1842, vol. i. p. 49; vol. ii, p. 227. On the natives of Vancouver’s Island, see Sproat, ‘Scenes and Studies of Savage Life,’ 1868, p. 25. On the Indians of Paraguay, Azara, ‘Voyages,’ tom. ii. p. 105.)

It is remarkable that throughout the world the races which are almost completely destitute of a beard dislike hairs on the face and body, and take pains to eradicate them. The Kalmucks are beardless, and they are well known, like the Americans, to pluck out all straggling hairs; and so it is with the Polynesians, some of the Malays, and the Siamese. Mr. Veitch states that the Japanese ladies “all objected to our whiskers, considering them very ugly, and told us to cut them off, and be like Japanese men.” The New Zealanders have short, curled beards; yet they formerly plucked out the hairs on the face. They had a saying that “there is no woman for a hairy man;” but it would appear that the fashion has changed in New Zealand, perhaps owing to the presence of Europeans, and I am assured that beards are now admired by the Maories. (64. On the Siamese, Prichard, ibid. vol. iv. p. 533. On the Japanese, Veitch in ‘Gardeners’ Chronicle,’ 1860, p. 1104. On the New Zealanders, Mantegazza, ‘Viaggi e Studi,’ 1867, p. 526. For the other nations mentioned, see references in Lawrence, ‘Lectures on Physiology,’ etc., 1822, p. 272.)

On the other hand, bearded races admire and greatly value their beards; among the Anglo-Saxons every part of the body had a recognised value; “the loss of the beard being estimated at twenty shillings, while the breaking of a thigh was fixed at only twelve.” (65. Lubbock, ‘Origin of Civilisation,’ 1870, p. 321.) In the East men swear solemnly by their beards. We have seen that Chinsurdi, the chief of the Makalolo in Africa, thought that beards were a great ornament. In the Pacific the Fijian’s beard is “profuse and bushy, and is his greatest pride”; whilst the inhabitants of the adjacent archipelagoes of Tonga and Samoa are “beardless, and abhor a rough chin.” In one island alone of the Ellice group “the men are heavily bearded, and not a little proud thereof.” (66. Dr. Barnard Davis quotes Mr. Prichard and others for these facts in regard to the Polynesians, in ‘Anthropolog. Review,’ April 1870, pp. 185, 191.)

We thus see how widely the different races of man differ in their taste for the beautiful. In every nation sufficiently advanced to have made effigies of their gods or of their deified rulers, the sculptors no doubt have endeavoured to express their highest ideal of beauty and grandeur. (67. Ch. Comte has remarks to this effect in his ‘Traite de Legislation,’ 3rd ed. 1837, p. 136.) Under this point of view it is well to compare in our mind the Jupiter or Apollo of the Greeks with the Egyptian or Assyrian statues; and these with the hideous bas-reliefs on the ruined buildings of Central America.

I have met with very few statements opposed to this conclusion. Mr. Winwood Reade, however, who has had ample opportunities for observation, not only with the negroes of the West Coast of Africa, but with those of the interior who have never associated with Europeans, is convinced that their ideas of beauty are on the whole the same as ours; and Dr. Rohlfs writes to me to the same effect with respect to Bornu and the countries inhabited by the Pullo tribes. Mr. Reade found that he agreed with the negroes in their estimation of the beauty of the native girls; and that their appreciation of the beauty of European women corresponded with ours. They admire long hair, and use artificial means to make it appear abundant; they admire also a beard, though themselves very scantily provided. Mr. Reade feels doubtful what kind of nose is most appreciated; a girl has been heard to say, “I do not want to marry him, he has got no nose”; and this shews that a very flat nose is not admired. We should, however, bear in mind that the depressed, broad noses and projecting jaws of the negroes of the West Coast are exceptional types with the inhabitants of Africa. Notwithstanding the foregoing statements, Mr. Reade admits that negroes “do not like the colour of our skin; they look on blue eyes with aversion, and they think our noses too long and our lips too thin.” He does not think it probable that negroes would ever prefer the most beautiful European woman, on the mere grounds of physical admiration, to a good-looking negress. (68. The ‘African Sketch Book,’ vol. ii. 1873, pp. 253, 394, 521. The Fuegians, as I have been informed by a missionary who long resided with them, consider European women as extremely beautiful; but from what we have seen of the judgment of the other aborigines of America, I cannot but think that this must be a mistake, unless indeed the statement refers to the few Fuegians who have lived for some time with Europeans, and who must consider us as superior beings. I should add that a most experienced observer, Capt. Burton, believes that a woman whom we consider beautiful is admired throughout the world. ‘Anthropological Review,’ March, 1864, p. 245.)

The general truth of the principle, long ago insisted on by Humboldt (69. ‘Personal Narrative,’ Eng. translat. vol. iv. p. 518, and elsewhere. Mantegazza, in his ‘Viaggi e Studi,’ strongly insists on this same principle.), that man admires and often tries to exaggerate whatever characters nature may have given him, is shewn in many ways. The practice of beardless races extirpating every trace of a beard, and often all the hairs on the body affords one illustration. The skull has been greatly modified during ancient and modern times by many nations; and there can be little doubt that this has been practised, especially in N. and S. America, in order to exaggerate some natural and admired peculiarity. Many American Indians are known to admire a head so extremely flattened as to appear to us idiotic. The natives on the north-western coast compress the head into a pointed cone; and it is their constant practice to gather the hair into a knot on the top of the head, for the sake, as Dr. Wilson remarks, “of increasing the apparent elevation of the favourite conoid form.” The inhabitants of Arakhan admire a broad, smooth forehead, and in order to produce it, they fasten a plate of lead on the heads of the new-born children. On the other hand, “a broad, well-rounded occiput is considered a great beauty” by the natives of the Fiji Islands. (70. On the skulls of the American tribes, see Nott and Gliddon, ‘Types of Mankind,’ 1854, p. 440; Prichard, ‘Physical History of Mankind,’ vol. i. 3rd ed. p. 321; on the natives of Arakhan, ibid. vol. iv. p. 537. Wilson, ‘Physical Ethnology,’ Smithsonian Institution, 1863, p. 288; on the Fijians, p. 290. Sir J. Lubbock (‘Prehistoric Times,’ 2nd ed. 1869, p. 506) gives an excellent resume on this subject.)

As with the skull, so with the nose; the ancient Huns during the age of Attila were accustomed to flatten the noses of their infants with bandages, “for the sake of exaggerating a natural conformation.” With the Tahitians, to be called long-nose is considered as an insult, and they compress the noses and foreheads of their children for the sake of beauty. The same holds with the Malays of Sumatra, the Hottentots, certain Negroes, and the natives of Brazil. (71. On the Huns, Godron, ‘De l’Espece,’ tom. ii. 1859, p. 300. On the Tahitians, Waitz, ‘Anthropology,’ Eng. translat. vol. i. p. 305. Marsden, quoted by Prichard, ‘Phys. Hist. of Mankind,’ 3rd edit. vol. v. p. 67. Lawrence, ‘Lectures on Physiology,’ p. 337.) The Chinese have by nature unusually small feet (72. This fact was ascertained in the ‘Reise der Novara: Anthropolog. Theil.’ Dr. Weisbach, 1867, s. 265.); and it is well known that the women of the upper classes distort their feet to make them still smaller. Lastly, Humboldt thinks that the American Indians prefer colouring their bodies with red paint in order to exaggerate their natural tint; and until recently European women added to their naturally bright colours by rouge and white cosmetics; but it may be doubted whether barbarous nations have generally had any such intention in painting themselves.

In the fashions of our own dress we see exactly the same principle and the same desire to carry every point to an extreme; we exhibit, also, the same spirit of emulation. But the fashions of savages are far more permanent than ours; and whenever their bodies are artificially modified, this is necessarily the case. The Arab women of the Upper Nile occupy about three days in dressing their hair; they never imitate other tribes, “but simply vie with each other in the superlativeness of their own style.” Dr. Wilson, in speaking of the compressed skulls of various American races, adds, “such usages are among the least eradicable, and long survive the shock of revolutions that change dynasties and efface more important national peculiarities.” (73. ‘Smithsonian Institution,’ 1863, p. 289. On the fashions of Arab women, Sir S. Baker, ‘The Nile Tributaries,’ 1867, p. 121.) The same principle comes into play in the art of breeding; and we can thus understand, as I have elsewhere explained (74. The ‘Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,’ vol. i. p. 214; vol. ii. p. 240.), the wonderful development of the many races of animals and plants, which have been kept merely for ornament. Fanciers always wish each character to be somewhat increased; they do not admire a medium standard; they certainly do not desire any great and abrupt change in the character of their breeds; they admire solely what they are accustomed to, but they ardently desire to see each characteristic feature a little more developed.

The senses of man and of the lower animals seem to be so constituted that brilliant colours and certain forms, as well as harmonious and rhythmical sounds, give pleasure and are called beautiful; but why this should be so we know not. It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body. It is, however, possible that certain tastes may in the course of time become inherited, though there is no evidence in favour of this belief: and if so, each race would possess its own innate ideal standard of beauty. It has been argued (75. Schaaffhausen, ‘Archiv. fur Anthropologie,’ 1866, s. 164.) that ugliness consists in an approach to the structure of the lower animals, and no doubt this is partly true with the more civilised nations, in which intellect is highly appreciated; but this explanation will hardly apply to all forms of ugliness. The men of each race prefer what they are accustomed to; they cannot endure any great change; but they like variety, and admire each characteristic carried to a moderate extreme. (76. Mr. Bain has collected (‘Mental and Moral Science,’ 1868, pp. 304-314) about a dozen more or less different theories of the idea of beauty; but none is quite the same as that here given.) Men accustomed to a nearly oval face, to straight and regular features, and to bright colours, admire, as we Europeans know, these points when strongly developed. On the other hand, men accustomed to a broad face, with high cheek-bones, a depressed nose, and a black skin, admire these peculiarities when strongly marked. No doubt characters of all kinds may be too much developed for beauty. Hence a perfect beauty, which implies many characters modified in a particular manner, will be in every race a prodigy. As the great anatomist Bichat long ago said, if every one were cast in the same mould, there would be no such thing as beauty. If all our women were to become as beautiful as the Venus de’ Medici, we should for a time be charmed; but we should soon wish for variety; and as soon as we had obtained variety, we should wish to see certain characters a little exaggerated beyond the then existing common standard.

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