The Negro's Place in Nature

The Reader (March 1864)

[334] I am greatly indebted to your correspondents, the President and Secretary of the Anthropological Society, for the pains they have taken to justify, so full and completely, my public condemnation of the extracts from the pamphlet entitled "The Negro's Place in Nature."

For, notwithstanding a somewhat embarrassing cloud of verbiage, the discerning reader of their letters will readily perceive that they practically plead Guilty. Dr. Hunt, notwithstanding his evident desire to escape from the responsibility of his acts, is unable, on the one hand, to produce a single line from his essay which might warn the unsuspecting reader against taking its borrowed absurdities for scientific truth; and, on the other, he cannot escape from the precise and formal adoption of the worst of them, contained in the fatal phrase–the above intelligent remarks, though they contain nothing new ," &c.–which I read to a large and astounded audience.

But let me hasten to reassure the President of the Anthropological Society on one point:–I make no attacks on his scientific honesty. I am quite ready to believe that he had never read that essay of M. Gubler's which he cited; and that, had he possessed a sufficient acquaintance with Physics or with "Anthropology," to be aware that Dr. Van Evric was writing nonsense, he would have abstained from quoting him.

The Secretary imitates, with much success, that process of intellectual "happy despatch" which his chief performs in your pages.

Dr. Hunt writes (giving M. C. Carter Blake as his authority) that "The inferior molars sometimes present in the Negro race five tubercles, and this anomaly is sporadically found in other races." My comment upon this was, that the attempted distinction is fallacious, because, as all anatomists know, the lower molars, whether of white or of black men, are normally five tubercles.

By way of refuting me, Mr. Blake is good enough to produce strong corroborative evidence of the truth of this statement form two distinct authorities, Professor Owen and Mr. Webb; both of whom agree in affirming the human lower molars to be five tubercles, or "quinquecustid," though they differ respecting the frequency of the aberration of the second lower molar from the normal standard.

My own observations have led me, I may say, to agree rather with Professor Owen (as quoted by Mr. Blake) than with Mr. Webb; but however this may be, it is clear that the normal and regular occurrence of five tubercles in the other two molars of Europeans is not doubted by anybody, and therefore that the "discovery" assigned by Dr. Hunt to Mr. Blake has the precise value which I attached to it.

Finally, in reply to my assertion that "a normal human jaw, with the first and second lower molars devoid of five tubercles, would be a rare and interesting anomaly," Mr. Blake informs us that "seven examples of a quadricuspid second lower molar lie before him."

What if there were seventy instead of seven? Aware that it is not uncommon for single molars to vary, I met the anticipated quibble half-way by demanding a case in which the first and second should alike deviate from the normal standard. Mr. Blake suppresses the half of my conditions, and then pretends to have fulfilled them by seven examples! If the ancient British skull to which Mr. Blake refers, is really a case in point, the fact that that gentleman's anxious search has only been able to bring one specimen to light proves that it is exactly what I have termed it–"a rare and interesting anomaly."

The letter of the Secretary of the Anthropological Society, therefore, is wonderfully similar to that of the President. In form, a defence, it is in substance, a recantation; and the resemblance between the positions of the colleagues is completed by the circumstance (of which I was quite aware), to which Mr. Blake very properly directs attention, that he is not original, even in his errors, this particular one being traceable to Pruner-Bey. And I think the Secretary may have just grounds of complaint against his chief, the translator of Pruner-Bey's in most respects valuable memoir, for the wrongful ascription of such a mistake, the source of which Dr. Hunt ought to have known. However, the point is a nice one; for Dr. Hunt may reply that Mr. Blake, knowing (as he says he did) that the "discovery" appertains to Pruner-Bey, committed the greater wrong in quietly accepting the imagined credit of it. Happily, I am not called upon to decide this difficult problem in casuistry.

Dr. Hunt gives an "indignant denial" to what he terms my insinuation (which, however, I shall be happy, at any time, to exchange for a broad and direct assertion) that his "views were brought forward in behalf of the slaveholding interest."

Those who have read Dr. Hunt's paper, or who peruse the extract from Dr. B. Davis's letter contained in his own, will probably arrive at my conclusion that this denial is to be taken in a non-natural sense. But I may be permitted to say that I never have attacked, and never shall attack, scientific statements on the ground of their real, or [335] supposed tendencies; and a twenty-fold hotter pro-slavery partisan that Dr. Hunt will meet with the most respectful consideration from me, if he really understands what he is talking about.

If the sectional meeting of the British Association at Newcastle, which (as Dr. Hunt is so careful to tell the world in his prefatory letter) soundly hissed him and his colleague, was led to that unusual manifestation of feeling by its objection to their obvious proslavery tendencies, I heartily disapproval of the proceedings; and, had I been present, I would, most assuredly, have expressed that disapprobation. But if, as is really quite possible, the members of the Section were sufficiently well-informed to weigh the scientific pretensions of their would-be instructors at their true value, and were unable to restrain their just and natural indignation, I confess, had I been present, I should have been greatly tempted to join in the sibilant chorus.

Mr. Blake is good enough to promise me "further criticism" "on a future occasion." I perfectly understand what the Secretary of the Anthropological Society means; for it is a most curious circumstance that, whenever that gentleman gets into troubles like the present (a not infrequent occurrence) the next number of the Anthropological Review , in which the Society's doings are chronicled, is sure to contain a virulent anonymous attack upon the person who has had the audacity to expose Mr. Blake's little mistakes. Such was my friend Professor Rolleston's fate; such obviously is to be mine; and I await it in all due fear and trembling. There are gentlemen in the Council of the Anthropological Society, however, who, I think, can hardly mean to sanction this novel method of employing the credit and resources of a scientific body.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University