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Descent of Man [ 1871]

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Author Topic: Descent of Man [ 1871]  (Read 2925 times)
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« on: February 09, 2009, 02:37:43 am »

The sense of smell is of the highest importance to the greater
number of mammals- to some, as the ruminants, in warning them of
danger; to others, as the Carnivora, in finding their prey; to others,
again, as the wild boar, for both purposes combined. But the sense
of smell is of extremely slight service, if any, even to the dark
coloured races of men, in whom it is much more highly developed than
in the white and civilised races.* Nevertheless it does not warn
them of danger, nor guide them to their food; nor does it prevent
the Esquimaux from sleeping in the most fetid atmosphere, nor many
savages from eating half-putrid meat. In Europeans the power differs
greatly in different individuals, as I am assured by an eminent
naturalist who possesses this sense highly developed, and who has
attended to the subject. Those who believe in the principle of gradual
evolution, will not readily admit that the sense of smell in its
present state was originally acquired by man, as he now exists. He
inherits the power in an enfeebled and so far rudimentary condition,
from some early progenitor, to whom it was highly serviceable, and
by whom it was continually used. In those animals which have this
sense highly developed, such as dogs and horses, the recollection of
persons and of places is strongly associated with their odour; and
we can thus perhaps understand how it is, as Dr. Maudsley has truly
remarked,*(2) that the sense of smell in man "is singularly
effective in recalling vividly the ideas and images of forgotten
scenes and places."

  * The account given by Humboldt of the power of smell possessed by
the natives of South America is well known, and has been confirmed
by others. M. Houzeau (Etudes sur les Facultes Mentales, &c., tom. i.,
1872, p. 91) asserts that he repeatedly made experiments, and proved
that Negroes and Indians could recognise persons in the dark by
their odour. Dr. W. Ogle has made some curious observations on the
connection between the power of smell and the colouring matter of
the mucous membrane of the olfactory region as well as of the skin
of the body. I have, therefore, spoken in the text of the
dark-coloured races having a finer sense of smell than the white
races. See his paper, Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, London, vol.
liii., 1870, p. 276.
  *(2) The Physiology and Pathology of Mind, 2nd ed., 1868, p. 134.

  Man differs conspicuously from all the other primates in being
almost naked. But a few short straggling hairs are found over the
greater part of the body in the man, and fine down on that of a woman.
The different races differ much in hairiness; and in the individuals
of the same race the hairs are highly variable, not only in abundance,
but likewise in position: thus in some Europeans the shoulders are
quite naked, whilst in others they bear thick tufts of hair.* There
can be little doubt that the hairs thus scattered over the body are
the rudiments of the uniform hairy coat of the lower animals. This
view is rendered all the more probable, as it is known that fine,
short, and pale-coloured hairs on the limbs and other parts of the
body, occasionally become developed into "thickset, long, and rather
coarse dark hairs," when abnormally nourished near old-standing
inflamed surfaces.*(2)

  * Eschricht, "Uber die Richtung der Haare am menschlichen Korper,"
Muller's Archiv fur Anat. und Phys., 1837, s. 47. I shall often have
to refer to this very curious paper.
  *(2) Paget, Lectures on Surgical Pathology, 1853, vol. i., p. 71.

  I am informed by Sir James Paget that often several members of a
family have a few hairs in their eyebrows much longer than the others;
so that even this slight peculiarity seems to be inherited. These
hairs, too, seem to have their representatives; for in the chimpanzee,
and in certain species of Maeacus, there are scattered hairs of
considerable length rising from the naked skin above the eyes, and
corresponding to our eyebrows; similar long hairs project from the
hairy covering of the superciliary ridges in some baboons.
  The fine wool-like hair, or so-called lanugo, with which the human
foetus during the sixth month is thickly covered, offers a more
curious case. It is first developed, during the fifth month, on the
eyebrows and face, and especially round the mouth, where it is much
longer than that on the head. A moustache of this kind was observed by
Eschricht* on a female foetus; but this is not so surprising a
circumstance as it may at first appear, for the two sexes generally
resemble each other in all external characters during an early
period of growth. The direction and arrangement of the hairs on all
parts of the foetal body are the same as in the adult, but are subject
to much variability. The whole surface, including even the forehead
and ears, is thus thickly clothed; but it is a significant fact that
the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet are quite naked, like
the inferior surfaces of all four extremities in most of the lower
animals. As this can hardly be an accidental coincidence, the woolly
covering of the foetus probably represents the first permanent coat of
hair in those mammals which are born hairy. Three or four cases have
been recorded of persons born with their whole bodies and faces
thickly covered with fine long hairs; and this strange condition is
strongly inherited, and is correlated with an abnormal condition of
the teeth.*(2) Prof. Alex. Brandt informs me that he has compared
the hair from the face of a man thus characterised, aged
thirty-five, with the lanugo of a foetus, and finds it quite similar
in texture; therefore, as he remarks, the case may be attributed to an
arrest of development in the hair, together with its continued growth.
Many delicate children, as I have been assured by a surgeon to a
hospital for children, have their backs covered by rather long silky
hairs; and such cases probably come under the same head.
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