On the Relations of Man to the Inferior Animals (sel.)

Man's Place in Nature
Anthropological Society Review and Journal
(May 1863)

[107] Professor Huxley has recently published a small volume of essays which seem destined to create no little sensation amongst the British public. Whatever, however, may be its present popularity, it is not a work like Darwin's Origin of Species, born to a somewhat enduring fame. Professor Huxley has lost a great chance of now producing a book which would be for a quarter of a century connected with his name; but instead of writing a serious and painstaking work he has published three very incomplete essays. We are sorry for Professor Huxley's fame that he should have done this; because the time has, perhaps, now come when a great deal of the evidence on this subject could be brought together. However, the work is published, and we must now give our readers some account of its contents. The first chapter is on the natural history of the man-like apes, chiefly taken from Dr. Savage and Mr. Wallace. We then have a note, with a well-known woodcut from Pigafetta, respecting African cannibalism in the sixteenth century. We have only to observe that this is most unnecessarily introduced at this place. Then comes the second, and most important chapter in the book, on the relation of man to the lower animals.

We shall let Professor Huxley, as far as possible, speak for himself. [...]

[114] Here follows "A succinct History of the Controversy respecting the Cerebral Structure of Man and the Apes." The statement Professor Owen made in 1857, that "the posterior development is so marked, that anatomists have assigned to that part the character of a third lobe; it is peculiar to the genus homo, and equally peculiar is the posterior horn of the lateral ventricle and the 'hippocampus minor' which characterize the hind lobe of each hemisphere," is shown to be at variance with the opinion expressed by most other anatomists. Professor Huxley denies all three assertions, and concludes with the following statement.

"For the credit of my calling I should be glad to be, hereafter, for ever silent upon it. But, unfortunately, this is a matter which, after all that has occurred, no mistake or confusion of terms is possible–and in affirming that the posterior lobe, the posterior cornu, and the hippocampus minor exist in certain Apes, I am stating either that which is true or that which I must know to be false. The question has thus become one of personal veracity. For myself, I will accept no other issue than this, grave as it is, to the present controversy."

We will not enter here into the propriety of inserting these remarks, because we are hardly able to enter into the feelings of the author. At first sight, they appear wanting in good taste; but we are inclined to believe that the author is justified in what he has said. It has been affirmed that this is a personal quarrel, but whatever may be its cause, there can be no doubt it is a most melancholy dispute. [115] Surely passion has enough fields for exhibition without being introduced into scientific discussion. If we believed this was a personal question, we should do all we could to expose the originator. But it is a matter of fact, opinion, and meaning of words. We hope that the Anthropological Society will appoint an independent (?) committee to report on the real facts of the case, and do their best to put a stop to this unfortunate dispute. But let these quarrels be a warning to all young men. Let them all know that there must be the same honesty in scientific discussions as in any other affairs of life. The scientific man cannot serve two masters. Nor is science in any way advanced by such attempts. On the contrary, a false statement of facts may retard the progress of science for years. What time has not been wasted respecting this dispute! Professor Owen is charged with stating that which he knows to be false. No doubt this is a serious charge; and were it possible for Professor Huxley to demonstrate its truth, we should neither attempt to justify or extenuate it. We take no part either on one side or the other in this dispute; but are bound to give our opinion that at the present time the evidence is chiefly on the side of Professor Huxley respecting the question of facts, unless Professor Owen can show that the meaning of his words has been misinterpreted.

An interesting chapter follows "On some Fossil Remains of Man," principally relating to the Engis and Neanderthal skulls, taken chiefly from Schmerling and Schaaffhausen. This chapter throws very little light on man's place in nature, and there is nothing in these skulls which may not now be found amongst existing savage races.

Professor Huxley makes the following very sensible remark respecting the present state of craniometry in this country.

"Until human crania have been largely worked out in a manner similar to that suggested–until it shall be an opprobrium to an ethnological collection to possess a single skull which is not bisected longitudinally–until the angles and measurements here mentioned, together with a number of others of which I cannot speak in this place, are determined, and tabulated with reference to the basicranial axis as unity, for large numbers of skulls of the different races of Mankind, I do not think we shall have any very safe basis for that ethnological craniometry which aspires to give the anatomical characters of the crania of the different Races of Mankind."

The author is not content with making these observations, but must goon to make the following dangerous generalization.

"At present I believe that the general outlines of what may be safely said upon that subject may be summed up in a very few words. [116] Draw a line on a globe from the Gold Coast in Western Africa to the steppes of Tartary. At the southern and western end of that line there live the most dolichocephalic, prognathous, curly-haired, dark-skinned of men–the true Negroes. At the northern and eastern end of the same line there live the most brachycephalic, orthognathous, straight-haired, yellow-skinned of men–the Tartars and Calmucks. The two ends of this imaginary line are indeed, so to speak, ethnological antipodes. A line drawn at right angles, or nearly so, to this polar line through Europe and Southern Asia to Hindostan, would give us a sort of equator, around which round-headed, oval-headed, and oblong-headed, prognathous and orthognathous, fair and dark races but none possessing the excessively marked characters of Calmuck or Negro–group themselves.

"It is worthy of notice that the regions of the antipodal races are antipodal in climate, the greatest contrast the world affords, perhaps, being that between the damp, hot, steaming, alluvial coast plains of the West Coast of Africa and the arid, elevated steppes and plateaux of Central Asia, bitterly cold in winter, and as far from the sea as any part of the world can be.

"From Central Asia eastward to the Pacific Islands, and sub-continents on the one hand, and to America on the other, brachycephaly and orthognathism gradually diminish, and are replaced by dolichocephaly and prognathism, less, however, on the American Continent (throughout the whole length of which a rounded type of skull prevails largely, but not exclusively) than in the Pacific region, where, at length, on the Australian Continent and in the adjacent islands, the oblong skull, the projecting jaws, and the dark skin reappear; with so much departure, in other respects, from the Negro type, that ethnologists assign to these people the special title of 'Negritoes.'"

Professor Huxley concludes the work by asking three questions, which time alone can answer.

"Where, then, must we look for primæval Man? Was the oldest Homo sapiens pliocene or miocene, or yet more ancient? In still older strata do the fossilized bones of an Ape more anthropoid, or a Man more pithecoid, than any yet known, await the researches of some unborn paleontologist?"

Such, then, are specimens of the contents of a book which is destined to exercise no small amount of influence on the popular mind. It is not every man who is both able and willing to write on such a subject in such a way that the public shall be both interested and enlightened. Perhaps, however, the day is not come for a scientific work on such a subject. Therefore, the book is very properly called "evidence" as to man's place in nature, and, as such, it is a most valuable compilation. This will all come in good time. Like all Professor Huxley's writings, it is clear in style and decided [117] in expression. We have not dwelt on the most important point, the arguments from the facts adduced; but these will be ample food for discussion at some future day. Professor Huxley shares the weakness of his opponents in wishing to make some rigid distinction between man and animals. The other day, at Cambridge, he spoke of the "mental and moral gulf;" now he believes with Cuvier that the distinction is "articulate speech." We fear that Professor Huxley will have to yield this too as easily–if, indeed, not more easily–that his opponents will have to give up the structural difference. Making the distinction to be "articulate speech," is a sort of "refuge for the destitute"–a bone thrown to a savage dog.

Professor Huxley seems to have had his conscience pricked when he wrote, "the possession of articulate speech is the grand distinctive character of man," for he adds in parenthesis, "whether it be absolutely peculiar to man or not." We should like to know what is the difference between the "distinctive" character and the "grand distinctive" character? and how articulate speech can be a distinctive character at all, if it is not absolutely peculiar to man?

Would it not be better to assert at once that "written language" is the "grand distinctive character"? We have no hesitation in asserting that Professor Owen's "posterior third lobe," "posterior cornu," and "hippocampus minor," are as "grand distinctive characters of man as Professor Huxley's "articulate speech." We would advise Professor Huxley to be cautious not to say anything more about the "grand distinctive character," because there really is no such thing: no amount of difference in degree ever amounting to the same thing as a difference in kind.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University