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Descent of Man [ 1871]

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Author Topic: Descent of Man [ 1871]  (Read 5938 times)
Bullseye
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« Reply #195 on: February 10, 2009, 01:27:24 pm »

As with the skull, so with the nose; the ancient Huns during the age
of Attila were accustomed to flatten the noses of their infants with
bandages, "for the sake of exaggerating a natural conformation."
With the Tahitians, to be called long-nose is considered as an insult,
and they compress the noses and foreheads of their children for the
sake of beauty. The same holds with the Malays of Sumatra, the
Hottentots, certain Negroes, and the natives of Brazil.* The Chinese
have by nature unusually small feet;*(2) and it is well known that the
women of the upper classes distort their feet to make them still
smaller. Lastly, Humboldt thinks that the American Indians prefer
colouring their bodies with red paint in order to exaggerate their
natural tint; and until recently European women added to their
naturally bright colours by rouge and white cosmetics; but it may be
doubted whether barbarous nations have generally had any such
intention in painting themselves.

  * On the Huns, Godron, De l'Espece, tom. ii., 1859, p. 300. On the
Tahitians, Waitz, Anthropology, Eng. translat., vol. i., p. 305.
Marsden, quoted by Prichard, Phys. Hist. of Mankind, 3rd edit., vol.
v., p. 67. Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, p. 337.
  *(2) This fact was ascertained in the Reise der Novara: Anthropolog.
Theil., Dr. Weisbach, 1867, s. 265.

  In the fashions of our own dress we see exactly the same principle
and the same desire to carry every point to an extreme; we exhibit,
also, the same spirit of emulation. But the fashions of savages are
far more permanent than ours; and whenever their bodies are
artificially modified, this is necessarily the case. The Arab women of
the Upper Nile occupy about three days in dressing their hair; they
never imitate other tribes, "but simply vie with each other in the
superlativeness of their own style." Dr. Wilson, in speaking of the
compressed skulls of various American races, adds, "such usages are
among the least eradicable, and long survive the shock of
revolutions that change dynasties and efface more important national
peculiarities."* The same principle comes into play in the art of
breeding; and we can thus understand, as I have elsewhere
explained,*(2) the wonderful development of the many races of
animals and plants, which have been kept merely for ornament. Fanciers
always wish each character to be somewhat increased; they do not
admire a medium standard; they certainly do not desire any great and
abrupt change in the character of their breeds; they admire solely
what they are accustomed to, but they ardently desire to see each
characteristic feature a little more developed.

  * Smithsonian Institution, 1863, p. 289. On the fashions of Arab
women, Sir S. Baker, The Nile Tributaries, 1867, p. 121.
  *(2) The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, vol.
i., p. 214; vol. ii., p. 240.

  The senses of man and of the lower animals seem to be so constituted
that brilliant colours and certain forms, as well as harmonious and
rhythmical sounds, give pleasure and are called beautiful; but why
this should be so we know not. It is certainly not true that there
is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to
the human body. It is, however, possible that certain tastes may in
the course of time become inherited, though there is no evidence in
favour of this belief: and if so, each race would possess its own
innate ideal standard of beauty. It has been argued* that ugliness
consists in an approach to the structure of the lower animals, and
no doubt this is partly true with the more civilised nations, in which
intellect is highly appreciated; but this explanation will hardly
apply to all forms of ugliness. The men of each race prefer what
they are accustomed to; they cannot endure any great change; but
they like variety, and admire each characteristic carried to a
moderate extreme.*(2) Men accustomed to a nearly oval face, to
straight and regular features, and to bright colours, admire, as we
Europeans know, these points when strongly developed. On the other
hand, men accustomed to a broad face, with high cheek-bones, a
depressed nose, and a black skin, admire these peculiarities when
strongly marked. No doubt characters of all kinds may be too much
developed for beauty. Hence a perfect beauty, which implies many
characters modified in a particular manner, will be in every race a
prodigy. As the great anatomist Bichat long ago said, if every one
were cast in the same mould, there would be no such thing as beauty.
If all our women were to become as beautiful as the Venus de'
Medici, we should for a time be charmed; but we should soon wish for
variety; and as soon as we had obtained variety, we should wish to see
certain characters a little exaggerated beyond the then existing
common standard.

  * Schaaffhausen, Archiv. fur Anthropologie, 1866, s. 164.
  *(2) Mr. Bain has collected (Mental and Moral Science, 1868, pp.
304-314) about a dozen more or less different theories of the idea
of beauty; but none is quite the same as that here given.




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