Anthropology, Ethnology, Philology, Mythology

  • J. A. V Chapple
Part of the Context and Commentary book series (COCO)


In his Researches into the Physical History of Man (1813, etc.), J.C. Prichard managed to combine a ‘firm belief in the potential equality of all races’ with a theory that the white races had arisen through an innate sexual preference for lighter skin. Adam therefore had been a negro. Scientists like J.F. Blumenbach and the Comte de Buffon, however, decided that Adam and Eve had been white and that other races had arisen by a process of degeneration. Blumenbach thought that the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains must have been the original home of the human race. Britain’s imperial role gave such concepts a formidable impetus; it seemed only too evident that white European descendants of the Varietas Caucasia had been irresistibly successful in the struggle for existence against darker races no less than the physical environment. Carlyle’s ‘Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question’ (Fraser’s Magazine, December 1849) is often cited in this connection. Carlyle’s main concern, however, was with the degenerate state of European civilisation, its mastery of nature gained at the expense of spiritual power. His disciples were many — from Matthew Arnold, whose sonnet ‘East and West’ laments the change, to Disraeli, who offered an idiosyncratic solution in Tancred (1847).


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© J.A.V. Chapple 1986

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