Barr's Buffon, "Of The Varieties In The Human Species," pp.330-352.
[ pp. 190-209 ] [ pp. 210-229 ] [ pp. 230-249 ] [ pp. 250-269 ] [ pp. 270-289 ] [ pp. 290-309 ] [ pp. 310-329 ] [ pp. 330-352]
"Of the Varieties in the Human Species," Barr's Buffon, transcribed by Dr. Meijer, pp. 330-352.

[ << previous ] [ beginning >> ]

Chili are of a good size; their limbs are brawny, chest large, visages disagreeable, and beardless; eyes small, ears long, and their hair black, straight, and coarse. Their ears they lengthen, and pluck out their beards with pincers made of shells. Though the climate is cold, yet they generally go naked, excepting the skin of some animal over their shoulders.
     At the extremity of Chili, and towards the lands of Magellan, it is pretended, there exists a race of men of gigantic size. From the information of several Spaniards, who pretend to have seen them, Frezier says, they are from 9 to 10 feet high; they are called Patagonians, and inhabit the easterly side of the coast, as mentioned in the old narratives, which, however, from the size of Indians discovered in the Straits of Magellan, not exceeding that of other men, has since been considered as fabulous. It might be by this, says he, that Froger was deceived in his account of the voyage of M. de Gennes; as several navigators have actually beheld both these classes of Indians at the same time. In 1709, the crew of the James, of St. Malo, saw seven giants as above described, in Gregory Bay, and those of



the St. Peter, of Marseilles, saw six, to whom they advanced with offers of bread, wine, and brandy, all of which they rejected; but as M. Frezier does not intimate his having seen any of these giants himself, and as the narratives which mention them are fraught with exaggerations with respect to other matters, it remains still doubtful whether there in reality exists a race of giants, especially of the height of ten feet. The bodily circumference of such a man would be eight times bigger than that of an ordinary one. The natural height of mankind seems to be about five feet, and the deviations from that standard scarcely exceed a foot, so that a man of six feet is considered as very tall, and a man of four as very short. Giants and dwarfs, therefore, are only accidental varieties, and not distinct and permanent races.
     Besides, if these Megellanic giants actually exist, their number must be trifling; as the savages of the straits, and neighbouring islands, are of a moderate height, whose colour is olive, have full chests, square bodies, thick limbs, and black straight hair; who, in a word, resemble mankind in general as to size, as the other Americans as to colour and hair.



     In the whole of the new continent, then, there is but one race of men, who are all more or less tawny, the northern parts of America excepted, where we find some men similar to the Laplanders, and others with fair hair, like the northern Europeans; through the whole of this immense territory, the diversity among the inhabitants is hardly perceivable. Among those of the old continent, on the other hand, we have found a prodigious variety. This uniformity in the Americans seems to arise from their living all in the same manner. The natives were, and are still savages; nor, so recently have they been civilized, can the Mexicans and the Peruvians be excepted. Whatever, then, may have been their origin, it was common to them all. Sprung from one stock, they have, with little variation, retained the characteristics of their race; and this because they have pursued the same course of life, because their climate, with respect to heat and cold, is not so unequal as that of the old continent, and because, being newly established in the country, the causes by which varieties are produced have not had time to manifest their defects.



     Each of these reasons merits a particular consideration. That the Americans are a new people seems indisputable, when we reflect on the smallness of their number, their ignorance, and the little progress the most civilized among them had made in the arts. In the first accounts of the discovery and conquest of America, it is true, Mexico, Peru, St. Domingo, &c. are mentioned as very populous countries; and we are told that the Spaniards had every where to engage with vast armies; yet it is evident these facts are greatly exaggerated; first, from the paucity of monuments left of the pretended grandeur of these nations: secondly, from the nature of the country itself, which, though peopled with Europeans, more industrious, doubtless, than its natives, is still wild, uncultivated, covered with wood, and little more than a group of inaccessible and uninhabitable mountains; thirdly, from their own traditions, with respect to the time they united into society, the Peruvians reckoning no more than 12 kings, from the first of whom, about 300 years before, they had imbibed the first principles of civilization, and ceased to be entirely savage; fourthly, from the small number of men employed to conquer



them, which even with the advantage of gunpowder, they could not have done, had the people been numerous. Though the effects of gunpowder were as new and as terrible to the negroes as to the Americans, their country has yet remained unconquered, and themselves unenslaved; and the ease with which America was subdued, appears an irrefragable argument that the country was thinly peopled, and recently inhabited.
     In the New Continent, the temperature of the different climates is more uniform than in the Old Continent; for this there are several causes. The Torrid Zone, in America, is by no means so hot as in Africa. The countries comprehended under the former zone, are Mexico, New Spain, and Peru, the land of the Amazons, Brazil, and Guiana. In Mexico, New Spain, and Peru, the heat is never very great; these countries are prodigiously elevated above the ordinary level of the earth; nor in the hottest weather does the thermometer rise so high in Peru as in France. By the snow which covers the tops of the mountains the air is cooled; and as this cause, which is merely an effect of the former, has a strong influence upon the temperature of the climate,



so the inhabitants, instead of being black, or dark brown, are only tawny. The land of the Amazons is particularly watery, and full of forests; there the air is exceedingly moist, and consequently more cool than in a country more dry. Besides, it is to be observed, that the east wind, which blows constantly between the tropics, does not reach Brazil, the land of the Amazons, or Guiana, without traversing a vast sea, by which it acquires a degree of coolness. It is from this reason, as well as from their being so full of rivers and forests, and almost continued rains, that these parts of America are so exceedingly temperate. But the east wind, after passing the low countries of America, becomes considerably heated before it arrives at Peru; and therefore, were it not for its elevated situation, and for the snow, by which the air is cooled, the heat would be greater there than either in Brazil or Guiana. There still, however, remains a sufficiency of heat to influence the colour of the natives: for those who are most exposed to it their colour is more yellow than those who live sheltered in the valleys. Besides, this wind blowing against these lofty mountains, must be reflected on the neighbouring plains, and diffuse over them that



coolness which it received from the snow that covers their tops; and from this snow itself, when it dissolves, cold winds must necessarily arise. All these causes concurring to render the climate of the Torrid Zone in America far less hot, it is not surprising that its inhabitants are not so black nor brown as those under the Torrid Zone in Africa and Asia, where, as we shall shew, there is a difference of circumstances. Whether we suppose, then, that the Americans have been long or recently established in that country, their Torrid Zone being temperate, they are of course not black.
     The uniformity in their mode of living, I also assigned for the little variety to be found in the natives of America. As they were all savage, or recently civilized, they all lived in the same manner. In supposing that they had all one common origin, they were dispersed, without being intermixed; each family formed a nation not only similar to itself, but to all about them, because their climate and food were nearly similar; and as they had no opportunity either to degenerate or improve, so they could not but remain constantly and almost universally the same.



     That their origin is the same with our own, I doubt not, independent of theological arguments; and from the resemblance of the savages of North America to the Oriental Tartars, there is reason to suppose they originally sprung from the same source. The new discoveries by the Russians, on the other side of Kamtschatka, of several lands and islands which extend nearly to the Western Continent of America, would leave no doubt as to the possibility of the communication, if these discoveries were properly authenticated, and the lands were in any degree contiguous. But, even in the supposition of considerable intervals of sea, is it not possible that there might have been men who crossed them in search of new regions, or were driven upon them by bad tempests? Between the Mariana islands and Japan there is, perhaps, a greater interval of sea than between any of the territories beyond Kamtschatka and those of America; and yet the Mariana islands were peopled with inhabitants who could have come from no part but from the Eastern Continent. I am inclined to believe, therefore, that the first men who set foot on America landed on some spot northwest of California; that the excessive cold of



this climate obliged them to remove to the more southern parts of their new abode; that at first they settled in Mexico and Peru, from whence they afterwards diffused themselves over all the different parts of North and South America. Mexico and Peru must be considered as the most ancient inhabited territories of this continent, being not only the most elevated, but also the only ones in which the inhabitants were found connected together in society.
     It may also be presumed that the inhabitants of Davis’s Straits, and of the northern parts of Labrador, came from Greenland, being only separated by these small straits, for the savages of Davis’s straits, and those of Greenland, as we have just remarked, are very similar; and Greenland might have been peopled by the Laplanders passing thither from Cape Nord, the intermediate distance being only about 150 leagues. Besides, as the island of Iceland is almost contiguous to Greenland, has long been inhabited and frequented by Europeans; and as the Danes formed colonies in Greenland, it is not wonderful there should be found men who, deriving their origin from those Danes, were white and fair-haired. There is some



probability also that the white men along Davis’s Straits derive their origin from these Europeans, thus settled in Greenland, from whence they might easily pass to America, by crossing the little interval of sea of which this strait is formed.
     In colour and in figure we meet with as great a degree of uniformity in America, as of diversity of men in Africa. From great antiquity has this part of the world been copiously peopled. The climate is scorching, yet in different nations it is of a different temperature; nor, from the descriptions already given, are their manners less different. From these concurrent causes there subsists a greater variety of men in Africa than in any other part. If we examine the difference in the temperature of the African countries, we shall find that in Barbary, and all the territories near the Mediterranean Sea, the men are white, or only somewhat tawny; those territories are refreshed on one hand by the air of the Mediterranean Sea, and on the other by the snows on Mount Atlas, and are, moreover, situated in the Temperate Zone, on this side the Tropic; so also all the tribes between Egypt and the Canary islands have the skin only more or less tawny.



Beyond the Tropic, and on the other side of Mount Atlas, the heat becomes more violent, and the colour of the inhabitants is more dark, though still not black. Coming to the 17th or 18th degree of north latitude we find Senegal and Nubia, where the heat is excessive, and the natives absolutely black. In Senegal the thermometer rises to the degree 38, while in France it rarely rises to 30; and in Peru, situated under the Torrid Zone, it is hardly ever known to pass 25. We have no observations made with the thermometer in Nubia, but all travellers agree in representing the heat to be excessive. The sandy deserts between Upper Egypt and Nubia heat the air to such a degree that the north wind actually scorches. The east wind also, which is usually prevalent between the Tropics, does not reach Nubia till it has crossed the territories of Arabia; therefore that the Nubians should be black is little cause for wonder; though indeed they are still less so than those of Senegal, where, as the east wind cannot arrive till it has traversed all the territories of Africa in their utmost extent, the heat is rendered almost insupportable.
     If we take all that district of Africa comprised between the Tropics, where the east wind



blows most constantly, we shall easily conceive that the western coasts of this part of the world must, and actually do, experience a greater degree of heat than those of the eastern coasts; as the east wind reaches the latter with the freshness which it receives in passing over a vast sea, whereas before it reaches the former, it acquires a burning heat, in traversing the interior parts of Africa. Thus, therefore, the coasts of Senegal, Sierra Leona, Guinea, and all the western regions of Africa, situated under the Torrid Zone, are the hottest climates in the world; nor is it by any means so hot on the eastern coasts, at Mosambique, Mombaza, &c. I have not the smallest doubt, therefore, but this is the reason that we find the real negroes, or the blackest men, in the western territories of Africa, and Caffres, or black men, of a hue more light, in the eastern territories. The evident difference which subsists between these two species of blacks proceeds from the heat of their climate, which is not very great in the eastern, but excessive in the western. Beyond the Tropic, on the south, the heat is considerably diminished, not only from its situation as to climate, but from the point of Africa being contracted; and as that point is surrounded by



the sea the air is necessarily more temperate than it could be in the middle of a continent. The colour of the inhabitants of this country begins to assume a fairer hue, and they are naturally more white than black. Nothing affords a more convincing proof that the climate is the principal cause of the variety in the human species than the colour of the Hottentots, who could not possibly be found less black did they not enjoy a more temperate climate.
     In this opinion we shall be more confirmed if we examine the other nations under the Torrid Zone, on the east side of Africa. The inhabitants of the Maldivia islands, of Ceylon, of the point of the peninsula of India, of Sumatra, of Malacca, of Borneo, of Celebes, of the Philippines, &c. are very brown, though not absolutely black, from all these countries being either islands or peninsulas. In these, climates the heat of the air is temporized7 by the sea; besides which, neither the east nor west wind, which reign alternately in that part, of the globe, can reach the Indian Archipelago, without passing over seas of an immense extent. As their heat is not excessive, therefore, all these islands are peopled with brown men; but in New Guinea we again meet with red,


7 temporized tempered [Meijer]

blacks, and who, from the descriptions of travellers, seem to be absolute negroes, because the country they inhabit forms a continent to the east, and the wind is more hot than that which prevails in the Indian Ocean. In New Holland, where the heat of the climate is not so great, we find people less black, and not unlike the Hottentots. Do not these negroes and Hottentots, whom we meet with in the same latitude, and at so great a distance from the other negroes and Hottentots, evince their colour depends upon the heat of the climate? That there was ever any communication between Africa and this southern continent, it is impossible to suppose; and yet in both we find the same species of men, because the same circumstances occur which occasion the same degrees of heat.
     From the animal creation we may obtain a farther confirmation of what has been above advanced. In Dauphiny, it has been observed that all the hogs are black; and that on the other side of the Rhone, in Vivarais, where it is more cold than in Dauphiny, all the hogs are white. There is no probability that the inhabitants of one of these two provinces should have agreed to breed none but black



hogs, and the other none but white ones. To me it appears, that this difference arises solely from the variation in the temperature of the climate, combined, perhaps, with that of the food of the animals.
     The few blacks who have been found in the Philippines, and other islands of the Indian Ocean, seem to originate from the Papous, or Negroes of New Guinea, whom the Europeans have not known much longer than half a century. Dampier discovered the most eastern part in 1700, and gave it the name of New Britain; we are still ignorant of its extent, yet we know that, so far as has been discovered, it is not very populous.
     In those climates alone, then, where circumstances combine to create a constant and excessive heat, do we meet with negroes. This heat is necessary not only to the production, but even to the preservation of negroes; and where the heat, though violent, is not comparable to that of Senegal, the negro infants are so susceptible of the impressions of the air, that there is a necessity for keeping them during the first nine days in warm apartments; if this precaution is omitted, and they are exposed to the air soon after their



birth, a convulsion in the jaw succeeds, which preventing them from receiving any sustenance, they presently die.
     In the History of the Academy of Sciences we read, that M. Littre, in dissecting a negro, in 1702, remarked, that the point of the glands which was not covered with the prepuce was black, and the rest perfectly white. From this observation it is evident, that the air is necessary to produce the blackness of negroes. Their children are born white, or rather red, like those of other men, but two or three days after they change to a tawny yellow, which gradually darkens till the seventh or eighth day, when they are completely black. All children two or three days after their birth have a kind of jaundice, which in white children is transitory, and leaves no impression upon the skin; but in negro children it gives a colour to the skin, and continues to grow more and more black. M. Kolbe mentions having observed this fact among the children of Hottentots. This jaundice, however, and the impression of the air, seem to be only occasional, and not the primary cause of this blackness; since it is remarked, that the children of negroes have the instant of their birth, a



blackness in the genitals, and at the root of the nails. The action of the air and the jaundice may serve to extend this blackness, but it is certain that the principle of it is communicated to the children by their parents; that in whatever country a negro may be born, he will be as black as if he had been brought forth in his own; and if there is any difference in the first generation it is imperceptible; from this circumstance, however, we are not to suppose, that after a certain number of generations, the colour would not undergo a very sensible change.
     Many have been the researches of anatomists respecting this black colour. Some pretend, that it is neither in the skin, nor in the epidermis, but in the cellular membrane which is between them; that this membrane, though washed, and held ever so long in warm water, does not change colour, while the skin, and the surface of the skin, appear to be nearly as white as those of other men. Dr. Town, in his letter to the Royal Society, and a few others, maintain, that the blood is black in negroes, and from which cause their colour originates, a fact which I am inclined to believe, from having remarked, that among ourselves the



blood of those who are tawny, yellow, or brown, is proportionally more black than that of others.
     According to M. Barrere, this colour of the negroes is produced by the bile, which in them is not yellow, but always black as ink; of which he affirms he received certain proof from several negroes which he had occasion to dissect at Cayenne. When the bile is diffused, it tinges the skin of white people yellow; and it is probable, that if the former were black, the latter would be black also. But as when the overflow of the bile ceases, the skin recovers its natural whiteness, so on this principle there is a necessity for supposing that in the negroes there is always an overflow of bile, or at least that, as M. Barrere observes, it is so abundant, as naturally to secrete itself in the epidermis, in a quantity sufficient to communicate this black colour. It is probable that the bile and blood of negroes are more brown than those of white men, as their skin is more black. But one of these facts can never be admitted as an explanation of the cause of the other; for it is the blood or bile which, by its blackness, communicates this colour to the skin, then, instead of inquiring why the skin of negroes is



black, we must inquire why their bile or blood is so; and thus, by deviating from the question, we find ourselves more than ever remote from the solution of it. For my own part, I own I have always been of opinion, that the cause which renders a Spaniard more brown than a Frenchman, and a Moor than a Spaniard, is also the cause which renders a Negro blacker than a Moor. At present I mean not to enquire how this cause acts, but only to ascertain that it does act, and that its effects are the more considerable, in proportion to the force and continuance of action.
     Of the blackness of the skin, the principal cause is the heat of the climate. When this heat is excessive, as at Senegal, and in Guinea, the inhabitants are entirely black; when it is rather less violent, as on the eastern coasts of Africa, they are of a shade more light; when it becomes somewhat temperate, as in Barbary, Mogul, Arabia, &c. they are only brown; and in fine, when it is altogether temperate, as in Europe and in Asia, they are white; and the varieties there remarked proceed solely from the mode of living. All the Tartars, for example, are tawny, while the Europeans, who live in the same latitude, are white. This



difference clearly arises from the former being always exposed to the air; having no towns nor fixed habitations; sleeping upon the earth, and living coarsely and savagely. These circumstances are sufficient to render them less white than the Europeans, who want nothing to render life comfortable and agreeable. Why are the Chinese whiter than the Tartars, whom they resemble in all their features? Certainly from the above reasons.
     When cold becomes extreme, it produces effects similar to those of excessive heat. The Samoiedes, Laplanders, and Greenlanders, are very tawny; and it is even asserted, that some Greenlanders are as black as those of Africa. Here the two extremes meet. Violent cold and violent heat produce the same effect upon the skin, because these two causes act by a quality which they possess in common. Dryness of the air is this quality; and which cold is as equally productive as intense heat; by either the skin may be dried, and rendered as tawny as what we find it among the Laplanders. Cold compresses all the productions of nature; and thus it is that the Laplanders, who are perpetually exposed to the rigours of frost, are the smallest of the human species.



     The most temperate climate is between the degrees of 40 and 50; where the human form is in its greatest perfection; and where we ought to form our ideas of the real and natural colour of man. Situated under this Zone the civilized countries are, Georgia, Circassia, the Ukraine, Turkey in Europe, Hungary, South Germany, Italy, Switzerland, France, and the North of Spain; of all which the inhabitants are the most beautiful people in the world.
     As the principal cause of the colour of mankind, we ought to consider the climate; the effects of nourishment are less upon the colour, yet upon the form they are prodigious. Food which is gross, unwholesome, or badly prepared, produces a degeneracy in the human species; and in all countries where the people are wretchedly fed, they are ugly, and badly shaped. Even in France, the inhabitants of country places are more ugly than those of towns; and I have often remarked, that in villages where poverty and distress were less prevalent, the people were in person more shapely, and in visage less ugly. The air and the soil have also great influence on the form of men, animals, and vegetables. The



peasants who live on hilly grounds are more active, nimble, well-shaped, and lively, than those who live inthe neighbouring vallies,8 where the air is thick and unrefined.
     Horses from Spain or Barbary cannot be perpetuated in France; in the very first generation they degenerate, and by the third or fourth they become downright French horses. So striking is the influence of climate and food upon animals, that the effects of either are well known, and though they are less sudden and less apparent upon men, yet, from analogy, we must conclude they extend to the human species, and that in the varieties we find therein, they plainly manifest themselves.
     From every circumstance may we obtain a proof, that mankind are not composed of species essentially different from each other; that, on the contrary, there was originally but one species, which, after being multiplied and diffused over the whole surface of the earth, underwent divers changes from the influence of the climate, food, mode of living, epidemical9 distempers, and the intermixture of individuals, more or less resembling each other; that at first these alterations were less conspicuous, and confined to individuals; that afterwards, from


8 valleys [Meijer]
9 epidemical endemic (?) [Meijer]

continued action, they formed specific varieties; that these varieties have been perpetuated from generation to generation, in the same manner as deformities and diseases pass from parents to their children, and that in fine, as they were first produced by a concurrence of external and accidental causes, and have been confirmed and rendered permanent by time, and by the continual action of these causes, so it is highly probable that in time they would gradually disappear, or become different from what they at present are, if such causes were no longer to subsist, or it they were in any material point to vary.

La Fin

Buffon by Jacques Roger

Glossary of 18th-century Terms
[ << previous ] [ beginning >> ]
[ pp. 190-209 ] [ pp. 210-229 ] [ pp. 230-249 ] [ pp. 250-269 ] [ pp. 270-289 ] [ pp. 290-309 ] [ pp. 310-329 ] [ pp. 330-352]
[ G. de Buffon (1707-1788) ] [ P. Camper (1722-1789) ] [ L.-J.-M. Daubenton (1716-1800) ] [ Enlightenment Anthropology ]
[ Orang-Utang Graphics ] [ 18th-Century Concepts ] [ 17th-Century New France ] [ Translations ]
[ Dr. Meijer's Résumé ] [ Conference Papers ] [ Publications List ] [ Dr. Meijer's Book ] [ Book Order Form ]
[ Nancy B. Jenison, M.D. (1876-1960) ] [ Sitemap ] [ Index ] [ Home ]
Miriam Claude Meijer, Ph.D.