Chap. X.

Of the Blackness of Negroes.

IT is evident not only in the general frame of Nature, that things most manifest unto sense, have proved obscure unto the understanding: But even in proper and appropriate Objects, wherein we affirm the sense cannot err, the faculties of reason most often fail us. Thus of colours in general, under whose gloss and vernish all things are seen, few or none have yet beheld the true nature; or positively set down their incontroulable causes. Which while some ascribe unto the mixture of the Elements, others to the graduality of Opacity and Light; they have left our endeavours to grope them out by twi-light, and by darkness almost to discover that whose existence is evidenced by Light. The Chymists have laudably reduced their causes unto Sal, Sulphur, and Mercury; and had they made it out so well in this, as in the objects of smell and tast, their endeavours had been more acceptable: For whereas they refer Sapor unto Salt, and Odor unto Sulphur, they vary much concerning colour; some reducing it unto Mercury, some to Sulphur; others unto Salt. Wherein indeed the last conceit doth not oppress the former; and though Sulphur seem to carry the master-stroak, yet Salt may have a strong co-operation. For beside the fixed and terrestrious Salt, there is in natural bodies a Sal niter referring unto Sulphur; there is also a volatile or Armoniack Salt, retaining unto Mercury; by which Salts the colours of bodies are sensibly qualified, and receive degrees of lustre or obscurity, superficiality or profundity, fixation or volatility.

Their general or first Natures being thus obscure, there will be greater difficulties in their particular discoveries; for being farther removed from their simplicities, they fall into more complexed considerations; and so require a subtiler act of reason to distinguish and call forth their natures. Thus although a man understood the general nature of colours, yet were it no easie Problem to resolve, Why Grass is green? Why Garlick, Molyes, and Porrets have white roots, deep green leaves, and black seeds? Why several docks and sorts of Rhubarb with yellow roots, send forth purple flowers? Why also from Lactary or milky plants which have a white and lacteous juyce dispersed through every part, there arise flowers blew and yellow? Moreover, beside the specifical and first digressions ordained from the Creation, which might be urged to salve the variety in every species; Why shall the marvail of Peru produce its flowers of different colours, and that not once, or constantly, but every day, and variously? Why Tulips of one colour produce some of another, and running through almost all, should still escape a blew? And lastly, Why some men, yea and they a mighty and considerable part of mankind, should first acquire and still retain the gloss and tincture of blackness? Which whoever strictly enquires, shall finde no lesse of darkness in the cause, than in the effect it self; there arising unto examination no such satisfactory and unquarrelable reasons, as may confirm the causes generally received; which are but two in number. The heat and scorch of the Sun; or the curse of God on Cham and his Posterity.[1]

The first was generally received by the Ancients, who in obscurities had no higher recourse than unto Nature, as may appear by a Discourse concerning this point in Strabo.[2] By Aristotle it seems to be implied in those Problems which enquire why the Sun makes men black, and not the fire? Why it whitens wax, yet blacks the skin? By the word Æthiops it self, applied to the memorablest Nations of Negroes, that is of a burnt and torrid countenance.[3] The fancy of the Fable infers also the Antiquity of the opinion; which deriveth this complexion from the deviation of the Sun, and the conflagration of all things under Phaeton. But this opinion though generally embraced, was I perceive rejected by Aristobulus a very ancient Geographer; as is discovered by Strabo. It hath been doubted by several modern Writers, particularly by Ortelius; but amply and satisfactorily discussed as we know by no man. We shall therefore endeavour a full delivery hereof, declaring the grounds of doubt, and reasons of denial, which rightly understood, may, if not overthrow, yet shrewdly shake the security of this Assertion.

And first, Many which countenance the opinion in this reason, do tacitly and upon consequence overthrow it in another. For whilst they make the River Senaga[4] to divide and bound the Moors, so that on the South-side they are black, on the other only tawny; they implie a secret causality herein from the air, place or river; and seem not to derive it from the Sun. The effects of whose activity are not precipitously abrupted, but gradually proceed to their cessations.

Secondly, If we affirm that this effect proceeded, or as we will not be backward to concede, it may be advanced and fomented from the fervour of the Sun; yet do we not hereby discover a principle sufficient to decide the question concerning other animals; nor doth he that affirmeth that heat makes man black, afford a reason why other animals in the same habitations maintain a constant and agreeable hue unto those in other parts, as Lions, Elephants, Camels, Swans, Tigers, Estriges.[5] Which though in Æthiopia, in the disadvantage of two Summers, and perpendicular Rayes of the Sun, do yet make good the complexion of their species, and hold a colourable correspondence unto those in milder regions. Now did this complexion proceed from heat in man, the same would be communicated unto other animals which equally participate the Influence of the common Agent. For thus it is in the effects of cold, in Regions far removed from the Sun; for therein men are not only of faire complexions, gray-eyed, and of light hair; but many creatures exposed to the air, deflect in extremity from their natural colours; from brown, russet and black, receiving the complexion of Winter, and turning perfect White. Thus Olaus Magnus relates, that after the Autumnal Æquinox, Foxes begin to grow white; thus Michovius reporteth, and we want not ocular confirmation, that Hares and Partridges turn white in the Winter; and thus a white Crow, a proverbial rarity with us, is none unto them; but that inseparable accident of Porphyrie is separated in many hundreds.

Thirdly, If the fervour of the Sun, or intemperate heat of clime did solely occasion this complexion, surely a migration or change thereof might cause a sensible, if not a total mutation; which notwithstanding experience will not admit. For Negroes transplanted, although into cold and flegmatick habitations, continue their hue both in themselves, and also their generations; except they mix with different complexions; whereby notwithstanding there only succeeds a remission of their tinctures; there remaining unto many descents a strong shadow of their Originals; and if they preserve their copulations entire, they still maintain their complexions. As is very remarkable in the dominions of the Grand Signior, and most observable in the Moors in Brasilia, which transplanted about an hundred years past, continue the tinctures of their fathers unto this day. And so likewise fair or white people translated into hotter Countries receive not impressions amounting to this complexion, as hath been observed in many Europeans who have lived in the land of Negroes: and as Edvardus Lopes testifieth of the Spanish plantations, that they retained their native complexions unto his days.

Fourthly, If the fervour of the Sun were the sole cause hereof in Ethiopia or any land of Negroes; it were also reasonable that Inhabitants of the same latitude, subjected unto the same vicinity of the Sun, the same diurnal arch, and direction of its rayes, should also partake of the same hue and complexion, which notwithstanding they do not. For the Inhabitants of the same latitude in Asia are of a different complexion, as are the Inhabitants of Cambogia and Java, insomuch that some conceive the Negro is properly a native of Africa, and that those places in Asia inhabited now by Moors, are but the intrusions of Negroes arriving first from Africa, as we generally conceive of Madagascar, and the adjoyning Islands, who retain the same complexion unto this day. But this defect is more remarkable in America; which although subjected unto both the Tropicks, yet are not the Inhabitants black between, or near, or under either: neither to the South-ward in Brasilia, Chili, or Peru; nor yet to the Northward in Hispaniola, Castilia del Oro, or Nicaragua. And although in many parts thereof there be at present swarms of Negroes serving under the Spaniard, yet were they all transported from Africa, since the discovery of Columbus; and are not indigenous or proper natives of America.

Fifthly, We cannot conclude this complexion in Nations from the vicinity or habitude they hold unto the Sun; for even in Africa they be Negroes under the Southern Tropick, but are not all of this hue either under or near the Northern. So the people of Gualata, Agades, Garamantes, and of Goaga, all within the Northern Tropicks are not Negroes; but on the other side about Capo Negro, Cefala, and Madagascar, they are of a jetty black.

Now if to salve this Anomaly we say the heat of the Sun is more powerful in the Southern Tropick, because in the sign of Capricorne fals out the Perigeum or lowest place of the Sun in his Excentrick, whereby he becomes nearer unto them than unto the other in Cancer, we shall not absolve the doubt. And if any insist upon such niceties, and will presume a different effect of the Sun, from such a difference of place or vicinity; we shall ballance the same with the concernment of its motion, and time of revolution, and say he is more powerful in the Northern Hemisphere, and in the Apogeum; for therein his motion is slower, and so his heat respectively unto those habitations, as of duration, so also of more effect. For, though he absolve his revolution in 365 days, odd hours and minutes, yet by reason of Excentricity, his motion is unequal, and his course far longer in the Northern Semicircle, than in the Southern; for the latter he passeth in 178 days, but the other takes him 187, that is, eleven days more. So is his presence more continued unto the Northern Inhabitants; and the longest day in Cancer is longer unto us, than that in Capricorn unto the Southern Habitator. Beside, hereby we only infer an inequality of heat in different Tropicks, but not an equality of effects in other parts subjected to the same. For, in the same degree, and as near the earth he makes his revolution unto the American, whose Inhabitants notwithstanding partake not of the same effect. And if herein we seek a relief from the Dog-star, we shall introduce an effect proper unto a few, from a cause common unto many; for upon the same grounds that Star should have as forcible a power upon America and Asia, and although it be not vertical unto any part of Asia, but only passeth by Beach, in terra incognita; yet is it so unto America, and vertically passeth over the habitations of Peru and Brasilia.

Sixthly, And which is very considerable, there are Negroes in Africa beyond the Southerne Tropick, and some are so far removed from it, as Geographically the clime is not intemperate, that is, near the cape of good Hope, in 36 of Southern Latitude. Whereas in the same elevation Northward, the Inhabitants of America are fair; and they of Europe in Candy, Sicily, and some parts of Spain, deserve not properly so low a name as Tawny.

Lastly, Whereas the Africans are conceived to be more peculiarly scorched and torrified from the Sun, by addition of driness from the soil, from want and defect of water; it will not excuse the doubt. For the parts which the Negroes possess, are not so void of Rivers and moisture, as is presumed; for on the other side the mountains of the Moon, in that great tract called Zanzibar, there are the mighty Rivers of Suama, and Spirito Sancto; on this side, the great River Zaire, the mighty Nile and Niger; which do not only moisten and contemperate the air by their exhalations, but refresh and humectate the earth by their annual Inundations. Beside, in that part of Africa, which with all disadvantage is most dry, that is, in situation between the Tropicks, defect of Rivers and inundations, as also abundance of Sands, the people are not esteemed Negroes; and that is Lybia, which with the Greeks carries the name of all Africa. A region so desert, dry and sandy, that Travellers (as Leo reports) are fain to carry water on their Camels; whereof they find not a drop sometime in six or seven days. Yet is this Country accounted by Geographers no part of terra Nigritarum, and Ptolomy placeth herein the Leuco Æthiops, or pale and Tawny Moors.[6]

Now the ground of this opinion might be the visible quality of Blackness observably produced by heat, fire, and smoak; but especially with the Ancients the violent esteem they held of the heat of the Sun, in the hot or torrid Zone; conceiving that part unhabitable, and therefore that people in the vicinities or frontiers thereof, could not escape without this change of their complexions. But how far they were mistaken in this apprehension, modern Geography hath discovered: And as we have declared, there are many within this Zone whose complexions descend not so low as unto blackness. And if we should strictly insist hereon, the possibility might fall into question; that is, whether the heat of the Sun, whose fervour may swart a living part, and even black a dead or dissolving flesh; can yet in animals, whose parts are successive and in continual flux, produce this deep and perfect gloss of Blackness.

Thus having evinced, at least made dubious, the Sun is not the Author of this blackness, how and when this tincture first began is yet a Riddle, and positively to determine it surpasseth my presumption. Seeing therefore we cannot discover what did effect it, it may afford some piece of satisfaction to know what might procure it. It may be therefore considered, whether the inward use of certain waters or fountains of peculiar operations, might not at first produce the effect in question. For, of the like we have records in Aristotle, Strabo, and Pliny, who hath made a collection hereof, as of two fountains in Bœotia, the one making Sheep white, the other black; of the water of Siberis which made Oxen black, and the like effect it had also upon men, dying not only the skin, but making their hairs black and curled.[7] This was the conceit of Aristobulus, who received so little satisfaction from the other, or that it might be caused by heat, or any kind of fire, that he conceived it as reasonable to impute the effect unto water.

Secondly, It may be perpended whether it might not fall out the same way that Jacobs cattle became speckled, spotted and ring-straked, that is, by the Power and Efficacy of Imagination; which produceth effects in the conception correspondent unto the phancy of the Agents in generation; and sometimes assimilates the Idea of the Generator into a realty in the thing ingendred. For, hereof there pass for currant many indisputed examples; so in Hippocrates we read of one, that from an intent view of a Picture conceived a Negro. And in this History of Heliodore of a Moorish Queen, who upon aspection of the Picture of Andromeda, conceived and brought forth a fair one.8 And thus perhaps might some say was the beginning of this complexion: induced first by Imagination, which having once impregnated the seed, found afterward concurrent co-operations, whch were continued by Climes, whose constitution advantaged the first impression. Thus Plotinus conceiveth white Peacocks first came in. Thus many opinion that from aspection of the Snow, whch lyeth long in Northern Regions, and high mountains, Hawks, Kites, Beares, and other creatures become white; and by this way Austin conceiveth the devil provided, they never wanted a white spotted Ox in Egypt; for such an one they worshipped, and called Apis.[9]

Thirdly, It is not indisputable whether it might not proceed from such a cause and the like foundation of Tincture, as doth the black Jaundice, which meeting with congenerous causes might settle durable inquinations,[10] and advance their generations unto that hue, which were naturally before but a degree or two below it. And this transmission we shall the easier admit in colour, if we remember the like hath beene effected in organical parts and figures; the Symmetry whereof being casually or purposely perverted; their morbosites have vigorously descended to their posterities, and that in durable deformities. This was the beginning of Macrocephali, or people with long heads, whereof Hippocrates11 hath clearly delivered himself: Cum primum editus est Infans, caput ejus temellum manibus effingunt, & in longitudine adolescere cogunt; hoc institutum primum hujusmodi, naturæ dedit vitium, successu vero temporis in naturam abiit, ut proinde instituto nihil amplius opus esset; semen enim genitale ex omnibus corporis partibus provenit, ex sanis quidem sanum, ex morbosis morbosum. Si igitur ex caluis calvi, ex cæciis cæcii, & ex distortis, ut plurimum, distorti gignuntur, eademque in cæteris formis valet ratio, quid prohibet cur non ex macrocephalis macrocephali gignantur? Thus as Aristotle observeth, the Deers of Arginusa had their ears divided; occasioned at first by slitting the ears of Deer. Thus have the Chineses little feet, most Negroes great Lips and flat Noses; And thus many Spaniards, and Mediterranean Inhabitants, which are of the race of Barbary Moors (although after frequent commixture) have not worne out the Camoys Nose12 unto this day.

Artificial Negroes, or Gypsies acquire their complexion by anointing their bodies with Bacon and fat substances, and so exposing them to the Sun. In Guiny Moors and others, it hath been observed, that they frequently moisten their skins with fat and oyly materials, to temper the irksom drines thereof from the parching rayes of the Sun. Whether this practise at first had not some efficacy toward this complexion, may also be considered.

Lastly, If we still be urged to particularities, and such as declare how, and when the seed of Adam did first receive this tincture; we may say that men became black in the same manner that some Foxes, Squirrels, Lions, first turned of this complexion, whereof there are a constant sort in divers Countries; that some Chaughs came to have red Legs and Bils, that Crows became pyed: All which mutations however they began, depend on durable foundations; and such as may continue for ever. And if as yet we must farther define the cause and manner of this mutation, we must confess, in matters of Antiquity, and such as are decided by History, if their Originals and first beginnings escape a due relation, they fall into great obscurities, and such as future Ages seldom reduce unto a resolution. Thus if you deduct the administration of Angels, and that they dispersed the creatures into all parts after the flood, as they had congregated them into Noahs Ark before; it will be no easie question to resolve, how several sorts of animals were first dispersed into Islands, and almost how any into America: How the venereal Contagion began in that part of the earth, since history is silent, is not easily resolved by Philosophy. For whereas it is imputed unto Anthropophagy, or the eating of mans flesh; that cause hath been common unto many other Countries, and there have beene Canibals or men eaters in the three other parts of the world, if we credit the relations of Ptolomy, Strabo and Pliny.[13] And thus if the favourable pen of Moses had not revealed the confusion of tongues, and positively declared their division at Babel; our disputes concerning their beginning had been without end; and I fear we must have left the hopes of that decision unto Elias.14

And if any will yet insist, and urge the question farther still upon me, I shall be enforced unto divers of the like nature, wherein perhaps I shall receive no greater satisfaction. I shall demand how the Camels of Bactria came to have two bunches on their backs, whereas the Camels of Arabia in all relations have but one? How Oxen in some Countries began and continue gibbous or bunch-back'd? what way those many different shapes, colours, hairs, and natures of Dogs came in? how they of some Countries became depilous, and without any hair at all, whereas some sorts in excess abound therewith? How the Indian Hare came to have a long tail, whereas that part in others attains no higher then a scut? How the hogs of Illyria which Aristotle speaks of, became solipedes or whole-hoofed, whereas in other parts[15] they are bisulcous, and described cloven-hoofed by God himself? All which with many others must needs seem strange unto those that hold there were but two of the unclean sort in the ark; and are forced to reduce these varieties to unknown originals.

However therefore this complexion was first acquired, it is evidently maintained by generation, and by the tincture of the skin as a spermatical part traduced from father unto Son; so that they which are strangers contract it not, and the Natives which transmigrate, omit it not without commixture, and that after divers generations. And this affection (if the story were true) might wonderfully be confirmed, by what Maginus and others relate of the Emperour of Æthiopia, or Prester John, who derived from Solomon is, not yet descended into the hue of his Country, but remains a Mulatto, that is, of a Mongril complexion unto this day. Now although we conceive this blackness to be seminal, yet are we not of Herodotus conceit, that their seed is black. An opinion long ago rejected by Aristotle, and since by sense and enquiry. His assertion against the Historian was probable, that all seed was white; that is, without great controversy in viviparous Animals, and such as have Testicles, or preparing vessels wherein it receives a manifest dealbation. And not only in them but (for ought I know) in Fishes not abating the seed of Plants, whereof at least in most though the skin and covering be black, yet is the seed and fructifying part not so: and may be observed in the seeds of Onyons, Pyonie, and Basil. Most controvertible it seems, in the spawn of Frogs, and Lobsters, whereof notwithstanding at the very first the spawn is white, contracting by degrees a blackness, answerable in the one unto the colour of the shell, in the other unto the Porwigle or Tadpole; that is that Animall which first proceedeth from it. And thus may it also be in the generation and sperm of Negroes; that being first and in its naturals white, but upon separation of parts, accidents before invisible become apparent; there arising a shadow or dark efflorescence in the out-side; whereby not only their legitimate and timely births, but their abortions are also dusky, before they have felt the scorch and fervor of the Sun.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross answers Browne at some length and with an occasional moment of cogency, Arcana Microcosmi II.6.ii.

1 [Or more properly, the curse of Noah: Gen. 9:24-26.]

2 [In XV.1.24]

3 [Supposedly from αἴθειν + ὄψ, "burning face", as it were; although possibly a reformation of a native term on spurious etymological grounds (as, for instance, American English is changing "chaise longue" to "chaise lounge").]

4 [Which was joined with the River Niger in some contemporary geography. The Niger in turn was often assumed somehow to communicate with the Nile, thus conveniently dividing the continent in two.]

5 [There are no tigers in Africa (except, perhaps, in zoos). I would not be prepared to wager on the existence of native swans south of the Sahara.]

6 [Ptolomy Geographia iv.6]

7 [Aristotle. Strabo X.1.14. Pliny II.230, englished II.ciii.230.]

8 Vide plura apud Tho. Fienum, de viribus imaginationis.

9 [City of God XVIII.5, where St. Augustine says that demons show a picture of a spotted bull to a pregnant cow to induce the birth of another Apis. This is reasonable in Biblical terms; remember the story of Jacob's rods, alluded to earlier by Browne, in Genesis 30:30 ff.]

10[1646 has inquinations; subsequent editions, inclinations. It seems to me that inquination is a better expression of the meaning.]

11 De Aere, Aquis, & Locis.

12 Flat Nose. [From the French camus, pug-nosed.]

13 [Ptolomy. Strabo IV.5.4. Pliny VII.11-12.]

14 Elias cum venerit solvet dubium. [Unresolved problems are marked in Rabbinical texts with four letters, interpreted by some scholars as acronyms for a sentence implying that Elijah would solve all remaining doubts on his return prior to the coming of the Lord.]

15 [Wren: Not in all, for about Aug. 1625 at a farm 4 miles from Winchester, I beheld with wonder a great heard of swine, whole footed, and taller then any other that ever I sawe.]

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