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THE INFLUENCE OF RACE ON ART *
The relationship of race to art is part of a larger subject, the connection of organization with mental manifestations, a great problem, involving in its profounder bearings some of the most important questions which can be submitted to our investigation. As a sphere of almost untried inquiry it opens up to us vast realms of possibility, in which the discoveries of exact science have yet to supersede the vague and unsatisfactory hypothesis of ill-informed speculation. In truth it is a province of vast extent, and with manifold subdivisions. Descending on one side to the minute specialties of individual development, as expounded by the phrenologists, it ascends on the other to the effect of racial type on national character. Nor does it stop here. For if organization be a reliable index of mental power, then are we enabled, through its aid, to pass beyond the limits of our own especial form of being, and, guided by their structure, proceed to admeasure the qualities and capabilities of the various genera, orders, and classes which compose the manifold gradations of the animal kingdom. Indeed till this has been accomplished comparative anatomy will be imperfect, and lack its crowning glory, as a revealer of beauty and harmony—not only in the organic, but also in the mental sphere .. as correlated to it. Without, however, at present entering into this
department of the subject, which would indeed ultimately lead-up up into the metaphysical region of abstract thought, where mind and matter, God and nature, constitute the subject of debate, we shall not perhaps be thought to unduly transcend the appropriate limits of this journal by a few remarks on racial type and mental power.
The venerable controversy respecting the effects of nature and education seems to be of almost world-old antiquity, and men, according to their several proclivities, have arranged themselves on the one side or the other, and probably on each have carried their respective views to excess. The savans, perhaps, exaggerating the importance of natural endowment, have somewhat undervalued the influence of
• History of Modern Architecture; with an Appendix on Ethnology from an % Architectural Poiut of View. By James Fergusson. London : John Murray, 1862.
\> 12mo, pp. 038.
circumstances, while the scholars altogether overestimating the force of circumstances have practically ignored the existence of inherent powers and disqualifications. And thus it has come to pass that history is what we find it, for the bookmen have hitherto possessed the monopoly of its composition, and have accordingly converted it into a chronicle of events, whereto the actors are regarded as quite subordinate accessories. Many signs, however, indicate that the days of this pleasant pedantry are ended, and that the time has come for looking the facts of race fairly in the face. Indeed the very revolutions and wars with which we are cotemporary, bring the question of hereditary type and character so forcibly into view, that not only are able editors becoming smartly ethnological in their leaders, but venerable statesmen and astute diplomatists are beginning to admit that the decisions of cabinets are not the sole influences which modify the destiny of nations. And, accordingly, in addition to their own sage opinion as to the fitness of things from the court standpoint, are prepared to regard racial tendency as one of the active and influential forces in the political scheme. Nor can this idea fail to grow, for it is supported by the whole past and the entire present of our race. Whether we regard the grander divisions or the minor varieties of man, it is found that type has combined with circumstances to modify civilization, and give it a character not simply geographical, but also racial. Thus no one at all acquainted with history and antiquities would expect the devout Semites to exhibit characteristics identical with those of the intellectual Aryans; nor will any one familiar with the latter attempt to confound them with their religious converts, the Tamul peoples of the south. It is the same in Europe, where the ancient classic type stands broadly distinguished from Sclavon or Teuton, as both of these, in an almost equal degree, are separated from the Celt. Nor are these distinctions perceived only by professed Ethnologists; they are equally seen and acted on by practical men, by the merchant in his adventures, the sailor in his voyages, and the soldier in his wars; and are indeed as well known to the simplest private as to his superior officers. Nay, it is practical men, not theorizing anthropologists, who are prone to carry out these distinctions into the rather stern and tyrannical result of caste, as we see wherever the negro and Caucasian, under whatever nominal relationship, actually meet face to face on the great highways of life. Nor can this be otherwise ; for as diversity of race is a fact in nature, it will force an acknowledgment of its existence, whether from the most careless or most prejudiced, provided they are only placed in circumstances where it is impossible to ignore the evidence of its presence. Neither were these ethnic differences first discovered in modern times; they were almost as familiar to the ancients, in so far as their knowledge extended, as to ourselves, and are at the present moment quite as much insisted on by barbarous tribes as by civilized nations.
It is not indeed the discovery, but the ignoring, of ethnic diversities which may be regarded as a modern invention. Antiquity never thought of confounding the races of men, and heathendom has never attempted it. They had no motive, their scheme of mythology did not require, and their social arrangements did not demand it. They did not believe, as a matter of faith, that all mankind were of one race; nor did they profess to enforce by law or sanction by custom a nominal equality, based on a real diversity. We in these latter times have been the victims of theory, in both respects ; for we have fancied ourselves theologically bound by our creed to the profession of a racial unity, and by our social customs to the maintenance of an equality. It being apparently forgotten by all parties, theologians and socialists alike, that nature's scheme of being is not a democracy but a hierarchy, whose various grades are all distinctly marked and duly subordinated. An arrangement, commencing with suns and their systems, and descending to the minutest genera of organic existence, and which might, therefore, be legitimately expected in that grandest of nature's organic spheres, the races of man.
Perhaps another reason for the popular confusion of ideas on the subject of race now prevalent, is the fact that merely literary men seem to think themselves quite competent, if not to write works expressly on the subject, at least to review them, and pronounce flippant criticisms cx cathedrd on topics of which they are about as well informed as of the effects of tangential and radial force, or any other of the more recondite departments of astronomy, which they would very properly leave to the professors of that especial province of inquiry. With the progress of anthropological science, however, this absurdity cannot fail to be ultimately corrected; but in the interval the conductors of our periodical literature do not seem to feel that there is the least necessity for placing ethnological works in the hands of duly qualified persons—if indeed such could be readily found. And the result is what we see, the great questions of racial origin, interaction, and relationship treated almost wholly from the theological and scholarly standpoint, biblical texts and philological affinities being employed with childlike confidence to settle disputes which the profoundest study of mental characteristics and organic type has still left uncertain. All this, however, is but an inevitable accompaniment of the imperfect development of ethnology itself, which has yet scarcely vindicated its claim to be regarded as a science in general estimation.
With a full recognition of the reality of race, however, must come a proportionately frank admission of its importance. Once grant inherent diversity of endowment, and the inevitable result of this, in proportionate diversity of manifestation, cannot fail to follow as an unavoidable corollary, from which there is no escape. And to this, slowly yet surely, reluctantly yet under the resistless compulsion of fact and logic, the collective mind of civilization is determinately marching. It is, indeed, a bourne at which all duly qualified thinkers have already arrived, and the ultimate conversion of the lettered million is now merely a question of time. Within ethnological circles, indeed, the right to treat religious, political, literary, and artistic questions racially is unchallenged, the only opposition to such a procedure being from outsiders, whose antiquated prejudices may be very respectfully yet very decidedly ignored. That every distinctly marked type of humanity tends to develope its own creed and code, its peculiar faith and institutions, its specially characterized modes of thought and forms of beauty, is now denied by none but those whose opinions on such a subject are justly devoid of importance. For few things are more thoroughly insignificant than the decisions of ignorance blindly echoing the traditional errors of an outworn past, in a vain endeavour to control the direction and limit the range of modern thought by the senile voice of ancient authority.
Any attempt at a full definition of all the effects of race would yet, however, be premature. We want more reliable data than any that are yet in our possession, for the successful achievement of so great a design, for the effective realization of so grand an idea, to which, therefore, we can only make a remote and tentative approach, which, if it land us anywhere nearer the goal must be regarded in so far as a success. Ere we can treat of religion, for example, from the ethnological standpoint, we want to know more, not only of the mental constitution of races, but of the succession and development of faiths, than scholars are qualified to give, or the world is prepared to receive. It is the same with those other departments of inquiry to which we have alluded, politics, literature, and art, all demanding more data for their ethnic illustration than cotemporary learning is able to supply. But while granting this, and thus admitting not only the possibility but the probability of error, it is nevertheless well that we should occasionally attempt the solution of some of these grander racial problems, if only that we may be thus made more fully aware of our deficiencies, and see more clearly in what direction, and on what particular subjects we lack the information requisite for a more effective prosecution of our inquiries.
And here let us throw out a word of caution to ethnologists, as we have previously done to their rivals, the scholars. In the advocacy and exposition of a struggling truth we are prone not only to exaggerate its importance, but while doing so to proportionately undervalue everything else. Thus, for example, while dwelling with well-intentioned pertinacity on the effect of race upon the development of art, we are prone to overlook the influence of circumstances as manifested in the spirit of successive eras, forgetting that it is ever by a combination and interaction of the outward and the inward, of environment and endowment, that man attains to the condition in which he has at any time existed. Compare, for instance, the art of mediaeval with that of modern Europe, and you see at once the stupendous power of extraneous influences in modifying the manifestations of artistic proclivity in the same race, who, under the inspiration of a faith favourable to aesthetic culture, covered Europe I* with cathedrals, while in the puritanic severity of their earlier Pro
testantism, they were equally contented to worship in barns. Facts like these should make us cautious in the assertion of racial influence, lest in the excess of our zeal we overstate the truth, and so prepare the way for a future reaction in public opinion unfavourable to the prosecution of those very studies which seem to us so all-important.
From what has been said in the previous pages, it will be obvious, that we think a work on ethnology, in relation to art, demands attainments seldom, perhaps never yet, united in the same person. And it will, therefore, not be esteemed a very 'severe verdict, when we say that Mr. Fergusson is utterly incompetent to the task which he has undertaken in the appendix to his last work, The History of ,t.-' Modern Architecture, wherein, under " ethnology from an architectural
,' point of view," he exhibits a most lamentable ignorance of the very
elements of ethnic science, and confounds names and races with a reckless audacity that shows only how little he has read, and how much he has yet to learn, on the subject. He commences in error, regarding the creation of one Ferfect pair at the beginning, as in the present state of our knowledge the most probable of all the J£:: suggestions yet offered for a solution of the problem of race; whereas