he early- and mid-Victorian years saw a quickening of interest in the whole concept of race. One thinks, for example, of Matthew Arnold's controversial works in the 1860s on the Teutonic, Gallic, and Celtic races. This interest in race accompanied a definite development of racist attitudes by contributions of some men of science. Eighteenth-century English writings, most notably those of James Cowles Pritchard, had taken as the basis of their thought St. Augustine's view that "whoever is anywhere born a man, that is a rational, moral animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in colour, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt he springs from one protoplast . . . if they are human, they descend from Adam" (quoted by Nancy Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1982, 1).
Early nineteenth-century British thought followed this monogenist doctrine (belief in a single, unified creation), but polygenism (belief in separate or unequal creations) gained ground. According to Stepan, "the story of racial science in Britain between 1800 and 1850 is the story of desperate attempts to refuse polygenism and the eventual acceptance of popular quasi-polygenist prejudices in the language of science" (30). Polygenism was a revolt against the liberal, evangelical, humanitarian spirit exemplified by the motto of the Aborigine Protection Society (which inspired the later Ethnographical Society): Ab Uno Sanguine — From One Blood. The polygenists stressed that, unlike the abolitionist evangelicals, they were scientifically observing nature as it was, placing man in nature and viewing him primarily as a biological entity. In particular, they claimed they were returning British science to its pragmatic, Baconian traditions and rescuing it from the idealism and wishful thinking of the monogenists who viewed all mankind, optimistically, as social beings.
- Race and Class Overview: Parallels in Victorian Racism and Class Prejudice
- Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England
Last modified 1990