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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/355

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RACE AND LANGUAGE.

of mankind; but there is no science of ethnology, for the attempt to classify mankind in groups has failed on every hand."

No one who reviews the latest works on this subject can deny that the opinion which Major Powell thus expresses, with a conscientious frankness that does him honor, is fully justified by their contents. And it should be added that he has not been the only one, or the first, to express this opinion. Among those who have written on this subject, no one has achieved a higher reputation than Oscar Peschel, whose too early death deprived the world of a master in this branch of study. In his well-known work on "The Races of Men and their Geographical Distribution"—a work unsurpassed for wide research and acute insight—he passes in review all the physical traits which have been proposed as means of race-distinction, and finds them all insufficient. He concludes his chapter on the subject in terms as decided as those of Major Powell. "In summing up," he says, "we must needs confess that neither the shape of the skull nor any other portion of the skeleton has afforded distinguishing marks of the human races; that the color of the skin likewise displays only various gradations of darkness; and that the hair alone comes to the aid of our systematic attempts, and even this not always, and never with sufficient decisiveness. Who, then," he adds, "can presume to talk of the immutability of racial types? To base a classification of the human race on the character of the hair only, as Haeckel has done, was a hazardous venture, and could but end as all other artificial systems have ended."

If all artificial systems of classifying human races have ended in failure, shall we renounce all attempts at such classification, and affirm that there is no such science as ethnology? Or shall we endeavor to discover some natural method by which the numerous varieties that we all recognize in the populations of the globe can be clearly and positively distinguished and classified? We have a notable example set before us in the history of another science, which from a crude and hopeless chaos—made by centuries of the acutest study and observation only more confused, irrational, and perplexing—was suddenly, by a single discovery, transformed into one of the clearest, most regular, and most fruitful of sciences. When Aristotle pronounced that all substances were derived from four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, the science of chemistry may be said to have been as far advanced as was that of ethnology when Linnæus made his four divisions of humankind into the white European, the brown Asiatic, the red American, and the black African. Nearly twenty-two centuries passed from the time of Aristotle before Lavoisier, Berthollet, Gay-Lussac, and, above all, Dalton, discerned the true physical elements and their modes of combination, and thus made chemistry a science.

Many scholars have sought to find in language the basis of a natural classification of the races of men. Their attempts have thus far