UPDATE: A finished version of this book is now available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback edition.]
We start getting a little more modern now and move into the post-enlightenment world of the 19th century. Views on red-hair and other aspects of human biology were starting to coalesce into something more scientific than anything offered by previous eras, yet the pseudoscience and misconceptions of previous centuries were pretty hard to shift. In fact, this new found certainty of amateur scientists and gentleman scholars may, if anything, have led to a hardening of it. The 19th century would become an age obsessed with ethnography. The entire world had opened up to exploration and the opinion makers of the day were eager to catalogue it.
Much like the earlier Greeks and Romans, who defined 'normal' as Europeans with dark hair and white skin like themselves, so too did the European scholars and scientists profess this exact same view, tending to deem anything outside this archetype as a lesser deviation from the norm. Red hair was seen in a similar light to dark skin or other foreign racial characteristics. There was a natural hierarchy when it came to the human race and now we had the "science" to back up this perceived sense of order.
Actually things didn't start out too badly for red hair. One of the earliest ethnographers was the antiquarian John Pinkerton. He speculated about the origins of the people of the British Isles and decided that they fell into two categories; Goths and Celts. The Goths, akin to the Anglo-Saxons of England and the Scottish Lowlands, were said to be "red, or yellow-haired, blue-eyed, fair complexioned, large of limb, and tall of stature." The Celts on the other hand were deemed to be "dark-haired, dark-eyed, of swarthy complexion, and small in stature." He saw the Goths as the superior racial specimen, stating; "What a lion is to an ass, such is a Goth to a Celt". So far so good for redheads. However, over time this view was overturned. It would seem that in the end Pinkerton lost the argument, and within a generation red hair would miraculously switch teams. Resulting in the general view that we still have today. Namely that red hair is generally a Celtic trait and that the Anglo-Saxon English are predominately dark or blond-haired interlopers from the European continent.
Perhaps the most famous of the 19th century ethnographers to express this view was Dr John Beddoe. He had views that would be considered rather unpalatable by the standards of today. Judging people, for example, by using an "Index of Negrescence" which he himself had devised, that rated people according to their racial characteristics. He also postulated the idea that the arrest of intellectual achievement during the Dark Ages was a product of scholars going into monastic celibacy and leaving the work of reproduction to the lesser minded folk. To test this theory he actually measured the skulls of monks (phrenology being very much in vogue at that time), concluding that they were more highly developed than the skulls of more warlike peoples. As for hair colour he had this to say;
"Black eyes and black hair are rare, except where Celtic blood may be supposed to preponderate. Hazel and light brown eyes, especially when conjoined with brown or flaxen hair, belong usually to the Teutons. In both races, the majority have blue or grey eyes, but dark grey belongs especially to the Celts. Red hair occurs everywhere; but the colour is more common, and also brighter and stronger, among some of the Celtic populations. Yellow and light brown hair are found in both races, but flaxen, and a light sandy red, belong to the Saxons and their kindred."He also suggested the possibility that red may have been the hair colour of the original inhabitants of Europe (more on this topic next chapter). He stated; "There are, of course, facts, or reported facts, which would lead one to suspect that red was the original hair colour of man in Europe - at least, when living in primitive or natural conditions with much exposure, and that the development of brown pigment came later, with subjection to heat and malaria, and other influences connected with what we call civilisation."
The 19th century journals and periodicals of the time also pondered upon the origins and properties of red hair. One article titled "Red Hair" from a publication called Bentley's Miscellany eulogised about the various shades of it.
"It may be the fiery Milesian shock - it may be the paly amber - it may be the burnished gold - it may be the "brown in the shadow, and gold in the sun"...it is all "red" - they have no other word. And yet, under this general term are confounded the two extremes of beauty and ugliness - the two shades which have been respectively made the attributes of the angel and the demon. [W]e find that while, on the one hand, red hair (or rather a certain shade of it) has been both popularly and poetically associated with all ugliness, all vice, and all malignity, a more pleasing variety of the same hue has been associated with all loveliness, all meekness, and all innocence."Once again the juxtaposition between extreme beauty and extreme ugliness. The author of the piece then went on to consider, with quite a poetic lilt I think, how odd it is that a warm, sunny climate produces dark hair, yet a cold, dark climate produces bright golden hair.
"And, indeed, it would seem a natural thing for a person to suppose, if unassisted by experience - on two beautiful women being placed before him - the one with shining locks of gold, and complexion radiant as the light, and the other with raven tresses and olive cheek, that the former was a native of a bright and sunny clime, and that the latter had grown up in the shadow of the gloomy northern land."He then expounded further and considered the colour of Eve's hair in the Garden of Eden.
"Now were I to picture the first women, I would give her an almost Indian dusk, and the Abyssinian large, sad, gentle eye (for the mother of mankind should have a touch of melancholy), and flowing tresses of raven black, and everybody would say it was nothing like her."There were also some interesting tales regarding red hair in American newspapers in the 19th century too. One often mentioned myth was the so-called "Redheaded Girl and the White Horse". The general idea was that if someone saw a red-haired girl in the street they would invariably see a white horse not long after. Almost as if red-haired girls and white horses were in some sort of cosmic conjunction with each other. It no doubt stemmed from the rarity of both red hair and white horses, and was apparently a commonly held superstition at the time in America. One 1896 article titled "The Girl With Red Hair" from The New York Times stated;
"The time was when a philosopher of this town, meeting a girl with the auburn hair on Broadway, need only spin on his heel to regale his vision with the spectacle of a white horse coming from the opposite direction. And in the good old days, a lover of omens could stroll through the Bowery and count the mystic conjunctions hour after hour, until he had accumulated enough material to fill a dream book."Continuing;
"The only thing really certain about this myth is that it has become well established in the United States, where ordinary charms, omens, and prognostications are at a discount. Long before the civil war, the superstition was current in the South, especially in Georgia. It was a common thing for a red-headed girl to sit at her window and count the white horses as they passed. Popular games were founded on the idea that wherever and whenever a red-headed girl was seen, there would also be seen a white horse ..[s]ome of the believers in the superstition have aggravated themselves into fanaticism. They have degenerated into cranks. There are some theosophists for example, who hold that a red-headed woman, after death, changes into a white horse and vice verse, ad infinitum."A quite beautiful superstition, if not slightly wacky, no doubt killed off by the advent of the automobile. On a slightly sadder note I also came across the following in a New York Times article from 1901.
"Fifty-two black-haired, brown-haired, yellow-haired, and tow-headed children from New York Roman Catholic foundling and orphan asylums filled a special car at the Union Station this morning, waiting to be adopted. No red-headed children or children with freckles were among them. Red-headed children, especially those with freckles, are not easily placed in homes, even if their hair is of the Titian tint and the freckles beauty spots."The article then went on to state that the agent in charge of the children had said he had "invariably been told that red-headed children fought too much, and had bad tempers generally", and that although he didn't "agree with this verdict" he found it "difficult to overcome a tradition that has stood for many generations."
Echoes of this exact same theme can be found in the modern stories we have about sperm banks turning down redheaded sperm donors because of lack of demand.
Moving back to England though it's maybe time to mention the Pre-Raphaelites. After all, it wouldn't really be fitting to write a book about red hair and not mention them. This is old, but cherished ground for most redheads, so I'll try to be brief for fear of preaching to the converted. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti with the aim of reforming art. Their plan was to abandon the mechanistic style of painting that they deemed had taken hold since the advent of the artist Raphael, and to return to a more luscious, vibrant style of painting. In essence, their aim was to produce less conventional, more heartfelt works ..they also painted a lot of redheads.
One famous example of this is the work "Christ in the House of His Parents" by Millais, which depicted the child Jesus with gingery red hair. The boy in the painting was unkindly described by Charles Dickens as a "wry-necked, blubbering, redheaded boy, in a bed-gown". The painting will no doubt have been anathema to Dickens who normally saved red hair and freckles for the villains in his books. A classic example being the character Fagin from Oliver Twist who was described as having a "villainous and repulsive face, and matted red hair."
Of the major figures in the Pre-Raphaelite movement the most noted for painting redheads was Rossetti. Two of his famous models being the redheads Alexa Wilding and Elizabeth Siddal. Elizabeth Siddal married Rossetti and was described by his brother, the writer and critic William Michael Rossetti, as having "greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair." One story that adds to the mythology of Elizabeth concerns what happened following her death. When she was buried a grief-stricken Rossetti placed a journal containing some of his poetry in her coffin. However, as it was the only copy he later decided he wanted to retrieve it. The coffin was therefore subsequently exhumed. The myth goes that when her coffin was opened it was filled with her coppery red hair, which had continued growing after death.
Interestingly, this story has echoes of a previous exhumation that had happened earlier that century. This time concerning the tomb of Mary of York, who as we recall from chapter three was also red-haired. It's said that in 1789, workmen carrying out repairs in St. George's Chapel, Windsor accidentally broke into the vault of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. In a small adjoining vault were discovered the coffins of two children - Mary and her brother George. The coffins were put back and re-sealed. However, in 1810 the tomb was re-opened and this time the coffin of Mary was opened too. It's said that her pale red hair had weaved itself through the chinks in the coffin and that her eyes, which were pale blue and still open, turned to dust on being exposed to the air.
There seems to be something about red hair and poetic death that go hand in hand during this period. "Auburn-haired" poets wandering around cemeteries seemed to be quite a theme. Of course, the idea that poets actually wandered around graveyards may just be a clichéd view I have based on the fact that most my knowledge about poetry comes from the Smiths song Cemetery Gates. Wherever poets and writers were wandering though the number of them that had red or auburn hair does indeed seem quite striking. From the Romantic period onwards red or auburn hair seems de jure for poets and writers of any stripe. For example, there are portraits that show both Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) with reddish hair. Lord Byron was said to be "auburn" haired. The tragic figure of John Keats had "golden red" hair. Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, strangely enough given our previous mention of vampires, had red hair. The writers/poets Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, George Bernard Shaw, A. C. Swinburne, Ezra Pound and D. H. Lawrence likewise all had red hair too.
Another famed 19th century writer with red hair was Thomas Carlyle, who apparently told fellow writer Henry Fielding Dickens (son of Charles) that in his younger days he was a "gawky youth with a shock of red hair, and explained how he used to be bullied by other boys".
Mark Twain in particular was a good source for quotes about red hair. Making the quite telling observation "when red headed people are above a certain social grade their hair is auburn." He also stated: "I would have loved to live in the time of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, the best dressed period of the world. You know I like color and flummery and all such things - I was born red-headed - maybe that accounts for my passion for the gorgeous and ornamental." The poet Emily Dickinson was also quite lucid in describing her hair colour, saying of herself "I am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut bur, and my eyes like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves." She also once sent a lock of her red hair to a friend with the message, "I shall never give you any-thing again that will be half so full of sunshine as this wee lock of hair but I wish no hue more somber might ever fall to you."
The writer D. H. Lawrence was described as having a "mass of red hair" by the famed aristocratic socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell. She too was red-haired and was also a member of the famous Bloomsbury Set - the circle of influential writers, intellectuals and artists that lived and operated around Bloomsbury, London in the early 20th century. It included the likes of Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and E. M. Forster. Morrell was one of the more flamboyant characters in the group, standing six foot tall, dressed in wild flowing garments and with fiery red hair. She was said to be the inspiration for the character of Hermione Roddice in Lawrence's novel Women in Love.
Another red-haired female from this period of history is the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. She famously died after stepping in front of the king's horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. A seminal moment in the history of women's rights. She was described by Sylvia Pankhurst as "tall and slender, with unusually long arms, a small narrow head and red hair" and also as having "whimsical green eyes".
The British wartime leader and politician Winston Churchill was also red-haired. This fact is often little known as most of the pictures we see of him are in black and white. They also generally show him later in life, by which time he was of course balding too. In his youth however he had bright red hair and was known as "Copperknob" at school because of it. Incidentally, the red-haired Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, also suffered a similar fate, being nicknamed "Carrots" whilst at an English boarding school in 1837. Later in life though she would become something of a fashion icon, and French ladies would dye their hair red and copy her fashions - so it wasn't all bad for her.
An interesting story concerning Churchill relates to Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Joseph Stalin. While in Stalin's private apartments in the Kremlin Churchill saw her and described her as "a handsome red-haired girl, who kissed her father dutifully". Going on to say "[Stalin] looked at me with a twinkle in his eye as if, so I thought, to convey 'You see, even we Bolsheviks have a family life''". Given that the "red-haired" gene is recessive, we can take it from this that Stalin must have possessed the redhead gene too - in spite of his famously thick dark hair. Not a great person to add to the collection, I think we'll leave him in the dark-haired camp - I'm sure the problem was that he wasn't red-haired enough. The Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin was a redhead though. In fact, we can definitely add him to the list of revolutionary redheads we drew up in the last chapter. Yet another red-haired trouble maker ..and on that note we'll finish this chapter.