Youth's Magazine,  3rd ser. 5 (1832), 25–28.

Useful Knowledge. A Letter from a Youth to His Father  [1/7]



Letter, Serial


Education, Human Species, Race, Ethnology, Biblical Authority, Natural History, Progress, Degeneration, Christianity, Imperialism, Climatology

    A youth has agreed to spend time when not in 'ordinary lessons' acquiring 'information on general subjects', especially in order to be 'fitted to discharge' his future duties as a 'social being'. Endorses the adage that 'the proper study of mankind, is man'. (25) Tries to envisage the eight hundred million people numbered among Adam's descendents, relating this to the necessity for 'missionary exertions'. Considers whether the varieties of humans described by natural history are all descended from one stock. The 'authority of scripture' asserts this, and the boy is 'very much delighted to learn, that it is 'not at all inconsistent with the habits and laws of nature'. Elaborates on this, expressing a hope that the observations will not be regarded 'as too scientific for a boy to make'. (26) Notes that the cause of the human complexion is not 'superficial'. Relates light skin colour in animal species to 'domestication', light colours in flowers to 'culture', and light skin colour in humans to 'civilization'. Observes that 'all those nations who are in the depths of ignorance are dark; while those who have arrived at the greatest perfection in the arts and sciences, and other excellencies of civilized life, are of lighter colours'. (27) Notes that, on this basis, 'an eminent physician [presumably James C Prichard] has founded his conjecture, that the first human pair were black'. Observes that this is contradicted by the 'perfectly intelligent' state of Adam at his creation, and suggests that 'darkness of the body as well as of the mind are the effects of degeneracy' which will be reversed by the 'restorative influence of the gospel and civilization'. A postscript explains why the writer has abandoned the 'common idea' that 'heat of climate was the means of producing darkness of color'; however, an editorial footnote gives credence to the 'common idea'. (28)

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

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