[Review of The Religious Instruction of the Slaves in the West India Colonies Advocated and Defended, by Richard Watson]
Human Species, Ethnology, Race, Plenitude, Biblical Authority, Christianity, Exploration, Observation, Progress, Phrenology, Physiognomy, Education
Pondering the biblical injunction to 'Honour all men' (1 Pet. 2. 17), Richard Watson observes: 'But here brutal ignorance and affected philosophy agree to ask the question, "Who are men?" intimating, that, if the benevolent principles just laid down are not to be disputed, the application of them must be narrowed; and that, as to various tribes which bear the human form [...] it is doubted whether they have this claim to brotherhood, because it is doubted whether they have any title to humanity' (687). Watson refers to the theory of a 'petty philosophy' that 'the gradations of animated nature are gentle, and almost imperceptible; and, not content that the ape and baboon should fill up the chasm which exists between the quadruped and man, an intermediate link must be invented; and thus the coloured skin and the peculiar visage of the Negro and the Hottentot are placed against their title to humanity'. He avers that the theory has been refuted by the 'facts' of religious conversion gathered by missionary societies—this demonstrating the humanity of all races—and concludes: 'Thus have Missionary operations not only enlarged the sphere of benevolence, but extended the vision of a hoodwinked philosophy'. (688) Watson observes that some consider 'the Negro' to be 'so degenerate a variety of the human species as to defy all cultivation of mind and all correction of morals'. Among these are 'our minute philosophers, who take the gauge of intellectual capacity from the disposition of the bones of the head, and link morality with the contour of the countenance'. (689) Watson traces the history of 'the Negro tribes' to ancient Egypt, situating Africa's 'heraldry of science' there, and urging that there is a 'close resemblance to Negro feature' in ancient Egyptian statuary (689–90). He points also to the possible 'cultivation' of the race as seen 'in the persons of African Negroes, generals, physicians, philosophers, linguists, poets, mathematicians, and merchants, all eminent in their attainments' (690).
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