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June 06 , 2010

The Natural History of the Varieties of Man


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If the simple excellence of a book were a sufficient reason for making it the only one belonging to the sciences which it professed to illustrate, few writers would be desirous of attempting a systematic work upon the Natural History of their species, after the admirable Physical History of Mankind, by the late and lamented Dr. Prichard,—a work which even those who are most willing to defer to the supposed superior attainments of Continental scholars, are not afraid to place on an unapproached eminence in respect to both our own and other countries. The fact of its being the production of one who was at one and the same time a physiologist amongst physiologists, and a scholar amongst scholars, would have made it this; since the grand ethnological desideratum required at the time of its publication, was a work which, by combining the historical, the philological, and the anatomical methods, should command the attention of the naturalist, as well as of the scholar. Still it was a work of a rising rather than of a stationary science; and the very stimulus which it supplied, created and diffused a spirit of investigation, which—as the author himself would, above all men, have desired—rendered subsequent investigations likely to modify the preceding ones. A subject that a single book, however encyclopædic, can represent, is scarcely a subject worth taking up in earnest.

Besides this, there are two other reasons of a more special and particular nature for the present addition to the literature of Ethnology.

I. For each of the great sections of our species, the accumulation of facts, even in the eleventh hour, has out-run the anticipations of the most impatient; indeed so rapidly did it take place during the latter part of Dr. Prichard's own lifetime, that the learning which he displays in his latest edition, is, in its way, as admirable as the bold originality exhibited in the first sketch of his system, published as early as 1821; rather in the shape of a university thesis than of a full and complete production. Thus—

For Asia, there are the contributions of Rosen to the philology of Caucasus; without which (especially the grammatical sketch of the Circassian dialects) the present writer would have considered his evidence as disproportionate to his theory. Then, although matters of Archæology rather than of proper Ethnography, come in brilliant succession, the labours of Botta, Layard, and Rawlinson, on Assyrian antiquity, to which may be added the bold yet cautious criticism and varied observations of Hodgson, illustrating the obscure Ethnology of the Sub-Himalayan Indians, and preeminently confirmatory of the views of General Briggs and others as to the real affinities of the mysterious hill-tribes of Hindostan. Add to these much new matter in respect to the Indo-Chinese frontiers of China, Siam, and the Burmese Empire; and add to this the result of the labours of Fellowes, Sharpe, and Forbes, upon the monuments and language of Asia Minor. I do not say that any notable proportion of these latter investigations have been incorporated in the present work; their proper place being in a larger and more discursive work. Nevertheless, they have helped to determine those results to the general truth of which the present writer commits himself.

Africa has had a bright light thrown over more than one of its darkest portions by Krapff for the eastern coast, by Dr. Beke for Abyssinia, by the Tutsheks for the Gallas and Tumalis, by the publications of the Ethnological Society of Paris, and the researches of the American and English Missionaries for many other of its ill-understood and diversified populations, especially those to the south and west.

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