Popular Science Monthly/Volume 77/December 1910/Genius and Stature




THAT greatness and loftiness of stature are rarely found together is one of the leading statements of Lombroso's "Man of Genius," and the eminent Italian, in support of his assertion, arrays a respectable list of names. Nor does Lombroso stand alone in this opinion. The notion is a common one—even a proverbial one—and now and again some voice rises from press or periodical with this boding message to the stalwart sons of men.

If the biographies, however, in the average American library afford a just test of its truth, this belief must be gathered to the limbo of popular errors and delusions. So far, indeed, from supporting the statement of the great criminologist, the testimony of biography fixes the average stature of men of eminence at a point above the middle height.

In default of statistical data ready to hand—the dearth of reliable material upon this question being quite marked—the writer has turned through the biographical section of a general public library situated in the city of his residence. Of the lives of two hundred and thirty distinguished men thus examined, those of one hundred and three supplied the information sought either in exact figures or by way of general statement; and of these personages it appears that sixteen were of middle height, fifty-eight above and twenty-nine below. In many instances the stature was merely described as "medium," or above or below, and in tabulating the result we have assumed the correctness of this classification, although it is far from certain that in reality the terms bore the same meaning to all writers. Where, however, the stature was given in feet and inches, we have adopted as the standard of medium height five feet seven inches. This is manifestly too low for America, and is likewise too low for England, since, as we are told by H. H. Donaldson in "The Growth of the Brain," five hundred and seventeen observations among all classes gave 67.7 inches as the average stature for men in England. For the civilized world, however, the average would probably be so far lower than that of England and America as to make the figures we have mentioned a fair standard. Even, however, were 5 feet 8 inches to be used for middle height, the result, so far as the present paper is concerned, would not be disturbed, since none of the statures given fall within this disputed margin. It will be observed, moreover, that our discussion is confined to the statures of men. Those of women are notoriously lower, and the two can not well be treated together in an article of short compass.

Towering above all the historic characters thus gathered before the mind's eye is the immense form of Charles Sumner with his 6 feet 4 inches. Beside him, only an inch and a half less in height, stands Thomas Jefferson, while near these two are Charles Godfrey Leland and Andrew Jackson with statures of 6 feet 21/2 and 6 feet 1 inch.

Described as "over six feet" are Samuel Adams, Bismarck, Samuel P. Chase, Captain Cook, Jonathan Edwards, Eugene Field, Henry Fielding and Walt Whitman, while Charles Darwin (" about six feet "), Alexander Dumas, the elder, James Monroe ("six feet or more"). Bayard Taylor ("six feet at seventeen"), Alfred Tennyson, General Thomas and George Washington must be ranged with celebrated men six feet in height.

Another group—still of majestic presence—is referred to as "slightly under" or "a little below" six feet, and in this we find the names of Henry Ward Beecher, Rufus Choate, Sidney Lanier and Daniel O'Connell. The remainder are of less impressive height—Benjamin Franklin, Albert Gallatin, John Buskin, Robert Louis Stevenson and Daniel Webster, who could claim five feet ten inches, General Charles George Gordon, whose stature was five feet nine inches, and Washington Irving, who was 5 feet 81/2 to 9 inches.

In addition to these individuals there is a goodly company spoken of by the biographers as "tall"—Matthew Arnold, Louis Agassiz, William Cullen Bryant, Julius Cæsar, Charlemagne, Charles XII. of Sweden, Christopher Columbus, Stonewall Jackson, General Sam Houston, Leigh Hunt, Edward Fitzgerald, Ben Johnson, Chief Justice Marshall, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Southey ("very tall"), Phillips Brooks ("of great height"), Wm. M. Thackeray ("above medium height"), Patrick Henry, Lorenzo de Medici, Francis Parkman, Coventry Patmore, Peter the Great, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sidney Smith ("of middle height, rather above than below"), Thaddeus Stevens,. N. P. Willis, Richard Strauss and John Bunyan.

Described as of "medium height" are Robert Browning, John Adams, Sir Thomas More, Wm. Hazlitt, Julian, S. S. Prentiss, Lord Palmerston, Duke of Wellington, William the Silent, Sir Arthur Sullivan, Frederick the Great ("not of imposing stature"—Carlyle), Admiral Nelson ("a little man of about medium height"), Schubert ("moderately tall"), and as 5 feet 8 inches we have the names of Grant, Theodore Parker and Rossetti.

Under medium height were, according to their biographers, Admiral Farragut, who was 5 feet 61/2 inches, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Paul Jones and General Phil Sheridan, each of whom was 5 feet 5 inches, Beethoven, who is described as "scarcely over 5 feet 4, Vienna measure," John Keats ("little over 5 feet"), Stephen A. Douglass ("scarcely over 5 feet") and Swinburne and Whistler, whose statures are given as "five feet or so." We should add, however, that the figures as to Swinburne and Whistler, like those with reference to Edward Fitzgerald in an earlier paragraph, were derived not from authoritative biographies, as in the case of all the other names, but from magazine articles which chanced to come under the writer's observation while pursuing these investigations.

As "short" or "under medium height" we find John Quincey Adams, Andrew Carnegie, William Ellery Channing, Chaucer, Alexander Hamilton ("much below"), Ibsen, Charles Lamb, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas B. Macaulay, John Milton, Thomas Moore, Alexander Pope, Robespierre, Savanarola, Wm. H. Seward ("small"), Thoreau, Martin Van Buren, Chopin and Michael Angelo.

The materialist who believes life and personality are but the florescence of physical forces, and the brain not the urn but the creative agent of thought, may rejoice over the fact that of those men of genius who were low in stature no few are expressly mentioned as having had large heads—namely, Stephen A. Douglass, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Lamb, Macaulay, Napoleon and Beethoven. On the other hand, he will be confronted by the fact that a number of tall men of a high order of talent have possessed craniums of proportions not calculated to inspire respect—notably Chief Justice Marshall, Washington, Captain Cook and, in a peculiar degree, the poet Shelley, who shared this characteristic with his fellow minstrels Byron and Keats.

The circumstance is a curious one, if our catalogue of names may be relied upon as a basis for deduction, that naval commanders have been of low stature. The fact that coast-dwellers, unlike mountain-peoples and forest-folk, are usually short in body may not be without a bearing upon this; since sea-faring men are apt to spring from coastd-welling races.

The roll of names and statures which we have given suffers in its usefulness because of the undue predominance of American names. The effect of this is plainly to heighten the average stature. The need of a table of names, sufficiently large to obviate errors from non-essential causes, and carefully sifted so as to exclude men of merely accidental distinction, is a condition which meets the inquirer at the threshold of the subject, and even this table of names would have to be grouped by races and regions, and separately studied, in order that comparisons within each region and nationality might be made.