Wednesday, November 23, 2022

..From the Pages of a Political Hoax

Whilst searching for information about red hair I recently came across a 19th century work titled: Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races. On first appearance it comes across as a typical publication from the period. However, the work was later revealed to be a hoax. Being the product of Democrats that were trying to score political points over their Republican opponents, who at the time - the work was published in 1864 - were busy ending slavery in the United States.

It was essentially a work designed to scare more traditional American voters into believing that the eradication of slavery was part of a wider plot to actively push for the mixing of racial groups. The author of the text advocating that it was the destiny of America to mirror the melting pot of ancient Egypt.
"Egypt calls to us from her tombs, telling us that the secret of progress and of a final perfected humanity lies in the principle of Miscegenation."
The book was also clearly written with a very wry sense of humour - and like all successful hoaxes it was believable and convincing enough that its intended audience would take it for real. Whilst at the same time containing in-jokes that more worldly readers, or those reading with the knowledge it was a hoax would enjoy.

For those with that particular type of sense of humour (like me) the short chapter titled Heart-Histories of the White Daughters of the South is particularly amusing. Other than that and a few other choice passages though the work reads largely as a serious effort. So it's easy to see why people would take it as given. In fact, on reading it one wonders if the author, though mocking, is actually sympathetic to argument the work puts forth. A kind of double-hoax from the elite movers and shakers of the time perhaps - it certainly wouldn't be the first time something serious was initially put forth as a suggestion in jest. Either way it shows that gotcha-type hoaxes aren't anything new, and that they existed long before the age of internet memes.

Red Hair

Anyway, the red hair. Serious or otherwise I may as well mention the few references that pop up.

Though the work was indeed a hoax it nevertheless took its material from the wider society of the time, so the speculations about red hair mentioned seem real enough. Firstly this long, though interesting passage found on page 7. It's a quote from a Professor Draper who states:
"It must be observed how forcibly the doctrine here urged of the passage of man from one complexion to another, and through successively different forms of skull in the course of ages, is illustrated by the singular circumstance to which attention has of late years been directed, of the gradual disappearance of the red-haired and blue-eyed men from Europe. Less than two thousand years ago the Roman authors bear their concurrent testimony to the fact, that the inhabitants of Britain, Gaul, and a large portion of Germany, were of this kind. But no one would accept such a description as correct in our own times. The true reason is that the red-haired man has been slowly changing to get into correspondence with the conditions that have been introduced through the gradual spread of civilization - conditions of a purely physical kind, and with which the darker man was more in unison."
This is interesting as it notes what we have discussed on these pages before. Namely the fact that the ancient Roman writers described the Germanic and British peoples as specifically red or fair-haired - though this clearly isn't the case now. It's an odd anomaly. Possible explanations have included population displacement, mistranslation of the texts, or questions about the authenticity of the texts themselves. However, this idea of "slowly changing to get into correspondence with the conditions ..of civilization" seems to be a new one.

The other mention of red hair worth noting comes on page 31.
"The red hair and beard so common in Ireland is a sure indication of the southern origin of its people. When a very dark people move to a northern climate the physiological change effected by the temperature is to convert the black into red hair. The red may change in the course of many generations into light or sandy, but the red which comes from a very dark people is not to be confounded with blonde or light-brown which distinguishes a northern people."
..and that's it for this peculiar work. I found a few more quotes about red hair in some other works during my wanderings around Google Books, so I'll be sharing those in future posts. Hopefully they'll be a little more bitesize than this one.

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