The Descent of Man – Day 144 of 151

The Manner of Action of Sexual Selection with Mankind

With primeval man under the favourable conditions just stated, and with those savages who at the present time enter into any marriage tie, sexual selection has probably acted in the following manner, subject to greater or less interference from female infanticide, early betrothals, etc. The strongest and most vigorous men–those who could best defend and hunt for their families, who were provided with the best weapons and possessed the most property, such as a large number of dogs or other animals,–would succeed in rearing a greater average number of offspring than the weaker and poorer members of the same tribes. There can, also, be no doubt that such men would generally be able to select the more attractive women. At present the chiefs of nearly every tribe throughout the world succeed in obtaining more than one wife. I hear from Mr. Mantell that, until recently, almost every girl in New Zealand who was pretty, or promised to be pretty, was tapu to some chief. With the Kafirs, as Mr. C. Hamilton states (17. ‘Anthropological Review,’ Jan. 1870, p. xvi.), “the chiefs generally have the pick of the women for many miles round, and are most persevering in establishing or confirming their privilege.” We have seen that each race has its own style of beauty, and we know that it is natural to man to admire each characteristic point in his domestic animals, dress, ornaments, and personal appearance, when carried a little beyond the average. If then the several foregoing propositions be admitted, and I cannot see that they are doubtful, it would be an inexplicable circumstance if the selection of the more attractive women by the more powerful men of each tribe, who would rear on an average a greater number of children, did not after the lapse of many generations somewhat modify the character of the tribe.

When a foreign breed of our domestic animals is introduced into a new country, or when a native breed is long and carefully attended to, either for use or ornament, it is found after several generations to have undergone a greater or less amount of change whenever the means of comparison exist. This follows from unconscious selection during a long series of generations–that is, the preservation of the most approved individuals–without any wish or expectation of such a result on the part of the breeder. So again, if during many years two careful breeders rear animals of the same family, and do not compare them together or with a common standard, the animals are found to have become, to the surprise of their owners, slightly different. (18. The ‘Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,’ vol. ii. pp. 210-217.) Each breeder has impressed, as von Nathusius well expresses it, the character of his own mind–his own taste and judgment–on his animals. What reason, then, can be assigned why similar results should not follow from the long-continued selection of the most admired women by those men of each tribe who were able to rear the greatest number of children? This would be unconscious selection, for an effect would be produced, independently of any wish or expectation on the part of the men who preferred certain women to others.

Let us suppose the members of a tribe, practising some form of marriage, to spread over an unoccupied continent, they would soon split up into distinct hordes, separated from each other by various barriers, and still more effectually by the incessant wars between all barbarous nations. The hordes would thus be exposed to slightly different conditions and habits of life, and would sooner or later come to differ in some small degree. As soon as this occurred, each isolated tribe would form for itself a slightly different standard of beauty (19. An ingenious writer argues, from a comparison of the pictures of Raphael, Rubens, and modern French artists, that the idea of beauty is not absolutely the same even throughout Europe: see the ‘Lives of Haydn and Mozart,’ by Bombet (otherwise M. Beyle), English translation, p. 278.); and then unconscious selection would come into action through the more powerful and leading men preferring certain women to others. Thus the differences between the tribes, at first very slight, would gradually and inevitably be more or less increased.

With animals in a state of nature, many characters proper to the males, such as size, strength, special weapons, courage and pugnacity, have been acquired through the law of battle. The semi-human progenitors of man, like their allies the Quadrumana, will almost certainly have been thus modified; and, as savages still fight for the possession of their women, a similar process of selection has probably gone on in a greater or less degree to the present day. Other characters proper to the males of the lower animals, such as bright colours and various ornaments, have been acquired by the more attractive males having been preferred by the females. There are, however, exceptional cases in which the males are the selectors, instead of having been the selected. We recognise such cases by the females being more highly ornamented than the males,–their ornamental characters having been transmitted exclusively or chiefly to their female offspring. One such case has been described in the order to which man belongs, that of the Rhesus monkey.

Man is more powerful in body and mind than woman, and in the savage state he keeps her in a far more abject state of bondage than does the male of any other animal; therefore it is not surprising that he should have gained the power of selection. Women are everywhere conscious of the value of their own beauty; and when they have the means, they take more delight in decorating themselves with all sorts of ornaments than do men. They borrow the plumes of male birds, with which nature has decked this sex, in order to charm the females. As women have long been selected for beauty, it is not surprising that some of their successive variations should have been transmitted exclusively to the same sex; consequently that they should have transmitted beauty in a somewhat higher degree to their female than to their male offspring, and thus have become more beautiful, according to general opinion, than men. Women, however, certainly transmit most of their characters, including some beauty, to their offspring of both sexes; so that the continued preference by the men of each race for the more attractive women, according to their standard of taste, will have tended to modify in the same manner all the individuals of both sexes belonging to the race.

With respect to the other form of sexual selection (which with the lower animals is much the more common), namely, when the females are the selectors, and accept only those males which excite or charm them most, we have reason to believe that it formerly acted on our progenitors. Man in all probability owes his beard, and perhaps some other characters, to inheritance from an ancient progenitor who thus gained his ornaments. But this form of selection may have occasionally acted during later times; for in utterly barbarous tribes the women have more power in choosing, rejecting, and tempting their lovers, or of afterwards changing their husbands, than might have been expected. As this is a point of some importance, I will give in detail such evidence as I have been able to collect.

Hearne describes how a woman in one of the tribes of Arctic America repeatedly ran away from her husband and joined her lover; and with the Charruas of S. America, according to Azara, divorce is quite optional. Amongst the Abipones, a man on choosing a wife bargains with the parents about the price. But “it frequently happens that the girl rescinds what has been agreed upon between the parents and the bridegroom, obstinately rejecting the very mention of marriage.” She often runs away, hides herself, and thus eludes the bridegroom. Captain Musters who lived with the Patagonians, says that their marriages are always settled by inclination; “if the parents make a match contrary to the daughter’s will, she refuses and is never compelled to comply.” In Tierra del Fuego a young man first obtains the consent of the parents by doing them some service, and then he attempts to carry off the girl; “but if she is unwilling, she hides herself in the woods until her admirer is heartily tired of looking for her, and gives up the pursuit; but this seldom happens.” In the Fiji Islands the man seizes on the woman whom he wishes for his wife by actual or pretended force; but “on reaching the home of her abductor, should she not approve of the match, she runs to some one who can protect her; if, however, she is satisfied, the matter is settled forthwith.” With the Kalmucks there is a regular race between the bride and bridegroom, the former having a fair start; and Clarke “was assured that no instance occurs of a girl being caught, unless she has a partiality to the pursuer.” Amongst the wild tribes of the Malay Archipelago there is also a racing match; and it appears from M. Bourien’s account, as Sir J. Lubbock remarks, that “the race, ‘is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,’ but to the young man who has the good fortune to please his intended bride.” A similar custom, with the same result, prevails with the Koraks of North-Eastern Asia.

Turning to Africa: the Kafirs buy their wives, and girls are severely beaten by their fathers if they will not accept a chosen husband; but it is manifest from many facts given by the Rev. Mr. Shooter, that they have considerable power of choice. Thus very ugly, though rich men, have been known to fail in getting wives. The girls, before consenting to be betrothed, compel the men to shew themselves off first in front and then behind, and “exhibit their paces.” They have been known to propose to a man, and they not rarely run away with a favoured lover. So again, Mr. Leslie, who was intimately acquainted with the Kafirs, says, “it is a mistake to imagine that a girl is sold by her father in the same manner, and with the same authority, with which he would dispose of a cow.” Amongst the degraded Bushmen of S. Africa, “when a girl has grown up to womanhood without having been betrothed, which, however, does not often happen, her lover must gain her approbation, as well as that of the parents.” (20. Azara, ‘Voyages,’ etc., tom. ii. p. 23. Dobrizhoffer, ‘An Account of the Abipones,’ vol. ii. 1822, p. 207. Capt. Musters, in ‘Proc. R. Geograph. Soc.’ vol. xv. p. 47. Williams on the Fiji Islanders, as quoted by Lubbock, ‘Origin of Civilisation,’ 1870, p. 79. On the Fuegians, King and Fitzroy, ‘Voyages of the “Adventure” and “Beagle,”‘ vol. ii. 1839, p. 182. On the Kalmucks, quoted by M’Lennan, ‘Primitive Marriage,’ 1865, p. 32. On the Malays, Lubbock, ibid. p. 76. The Rev. J. Shooter, ‘On the Kafirs of Natal,’ 1857, pp. 52-60. Mr. D. Leslie, ‘Kafir Character and Customs,’ 1871, p. 4. On the Bush-men, Burchell, ‘Travels in S. Africa,’ ii. 1824, p. 59. On the Koraks by McKennan, as quoted by Mr. Wake, in ‘Anthropologia,’ Oct. 1873, p. 75.) Mr. Winwood Reade made inquiries for me with respect to the negroes of Western Africa, and he informs me that “the women, at least among the more intelligent Pagan tribes, have no difficulty in getting the husbands whom they may desire, although it is considered unwomanly to ask a man to marry them. They are quite capable of falling in love, and of forming tender, passionate, and faithful attachments.” Additional cases could be given.

We thus see that with savages the women are not in quite so abject a state in relation to marriage as has often been supposed. They can tempt the men whom they prefer, and can sometimes reject those whom they dislike, either before or after marriage. Preference on the part of the women, steadily acting in any one direction, would ultimately affect the character of the tribe; for the women would generally choose not merely the handsomest men, according to their standard of taste, but those who were at the same time best able to defend and support them. Such well-endowed pairs would commonly rear a larger number of offspring than the less favoured. The same result would obviously follow in a still more marked manner if there was selection on both sides; that is, if the more attractive, and at the same time more powerful men were to prefer, and were preferred by, the more attractive women. And this double form of selection seems actually to have occurred, especially during the earlier periods of our long history.

We will now examine a little more closely some of the characters which distinguish the several races of man from one another and from the lower animals, namely, the greater or less deficiency of hair on the body, and the colour of the skin. We need say nothing about the great diversity in the shape of the features and of the skull between the different races, as we have seen in the last chapter how different is the standard of beauty in these respects. These characters will therefore probably have been acted on through sexual selection; but we have no means of judging whether they have been acted on chiefly from the male or female side. The musical faculties of man have likewise been already discussed.

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