Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/September 1912/Genius and Hair-Color




OF the physiognomy of man—so interesting in its every phase—no feature can boast a more varied interest than the hair. Remnant of the coarse fur which once covered the body of the human animal—withdrawn at last, after a losing battle with time, to its invincible retreat and stronghold upon the head—this relic of beast life grew with the process of the suns into a thing of use and meaning,—a mark of race, an emblem of rank, a symbol of religion, and lastly, but chief of all, into an adornment of surpassing beauty affording to Cupid a most potent weapon in his merry warfare against the sons and daughters of men.

The place of the hair in the religious life of the race has been unique. Among the Greeks and Romans, the hair, worn long until the fourteenth year, was then severed from the youth's head and dedicated to a river-god; and the sailors of both these countries, after a shipwreck or other dire calamity at sea, thought it a fitting propitiation of the angered deities to remove and cast away the hair. It is highly noteworthy that not only in the Roman Catholic and Hindu churches, but throughout nearly all the ancient world, the tonsure in one form or another was a sacred rite. This was true of the vestal virgins as it has been true of the Roman Catholic nuns and monks, and a like custom among the Tartars of old survives in the queue of the Chinese.

As a mark of honor the hair in the old time played no less distinctive a part. To the ancient Persians, Goths and Gauls, long, flowing locks spoke of high rank, and among the ancient Germans the same adornment told of noble or royal birth. Even so lately as the reign of Henry VIII. in England long hair was a token of gentility, and readers may still recall the love-locks of the cavaliers of Charles I.—an amiable vanity which was given short shrift by their Puritan victors.

Seeing the large place which the hair has filled in the religious and social life of the race, it is in no wise remarkable that the fancy of mankind should have sought to attach to that feature of the physiognomy a much deeper meaning. Thus, in all ages, stiff and wiry hair has been deemed a sign of dishonesty or low birth, while softly clustering curls humanity has ever been prone to associate with gentleness and innocence. Coarse hair has been looked upon as a sign of a coarse organization, but the "poet's ringlets" have always formed a part of the popular conception of the poetic character.

In a general way, the well-known facts of ethnology have given a semblance of support to theories of character based upon the color and structure of the hair. The characteristics of the hair not only form one of the leading tests of nationality, but there is a fairly well-marked difference between the hair of the lower and that of the higher races. In Huxley's celebrated classification of mankind, those peoples low in the scale of development are marked by black hair, usually straight, though sometimes of close spiral form—as, the Australoid, represented by the natives of Australia and the indigenous tribes of southern India,—the Negroid, dwelling between the Sahara and the Cape,—and the Mongoloid, occupying a vast area in Asia. Among the loftier races, on the other hand—the Xanthachroic, or fair whites, and Melanchroic, or dark whites, in Huxley's terminology—the former, occupying northern Europe as their chief seat though traceable also into northern Africa and eastward as far as Hindostan, have hair ranging from straw color to chestnut, and the latter, consisting chiefly of the Celts and of the populations of southern Europe, though finding representatives as far as India, have hair darkening from the middle shades to black; the hair of both of these types, however, as is well known, being usually wavy or curly.

In the coarseness of the hair the lower peoples probably betray their greater nearness in point of development to the animal ancestor of man, since the crown hair of the anthropoid brute—the chimpanzee, gorilla, orang-utan and gibbon—is of stiff, bristling structure. Nor can we say it is unsafe to infer the condition of man's progenitor in this respect from that of the modern apes, since, aside from all other proofs, there is a striking and peculiarly persuasive circumstance which shows how much of interest to the evolutionist lies hidden away within the cells and pigment-granules of the hair. It is invariably true with man, according to writers upon the subject, that if the beard and head hair vary in color the former is of lighter shade—a number of authorities add "generally reddish"—and this strange fact is equally true of the anthropoid apes, with whom the beard is often white, sometimes yellow or reddish; and this analogy with the anthropoids applies not only to the lower human races, with whom, as with the apes, the beard is scanty—it applies as well to the highest human races, with whom fulness of beard is a mark of racial superiority. In color, too, the hair of the anthropoid appears to show a kinship with that of the lower human tribes. The head hair of the chimpanzee is black, sometimes shot through with reddish hairs—that of the gorilla is reddish-brown, as a rule, though sometimes dark brown or even black—that of the orang is reddish-brown, though sometimes dark, with the beard occasionally dark yellow—that of the gibbon is usually a glossy black. While it is true that the lower races in Huxley's classification have been marked by black hair and that the hair of the apes is as to some species dark and as to others reddish, yet it is significant that the difference is no greater, and it is even more significant that among the anthropoid brutes no instance of fair head hair is known, just as no instance is known of blue or gray eyes. As regards, moreover, the hair color of the lower races of man in relation to that of the apes it is well to keep in mind the statement of Quatrefages in "The Human Species" that there are "isolated cases in all races of individuals with hair of more or less reddish color."

The favorable and unfavorable auguries, however, in which the folk-wisdom of mankind has indulged have dealt more in detail than science has sanctioned with the characteristics of the hair. Thus, in nearly all countries popular superstition has looked askance at red hair. Yellow hair, too, has. never in the proverbs of nations been conspicuously associated with talent or deep character. In the ancient tapestries, Judas and Cain are pictured with yellow beards. Fair hair, strangely enough, has not figured in popular maxim as the accompaniment of great constancy of purpose. More often to brown or chestnut hair has this tribute been paid, and indeed most of the other virtues ascribed. Black hair, notwithstanding its association with the lower races, has not been deemed an unhappy omen, where fine and abundant, though straight, and the lighter shades of red in women—auburn and golden—are often, where the hair is soft, linked in folklore with great steadiness of purpose and an unfaltering loyalty in love. These generalizations, however, it should be said, are made up from a loose article upon "Hair" as found in a rather crude "Encyclopedia of Superstitions and Folklore" printed in three volumes some years ago—no really authentic work upon the folklore of physiognomy being published so far as the present writer has been able to ascertain.

It is of more than passing interest that the facts of criminology should afford quite marked support to the view which would look upon the hair as an index to racial development. "The proportion of darkhaired persons," says Havelock Ellis, one of our highest authorities, in "The Criminal," "is considerably greater among criminals than among the ordinary populations in England, Italy and America," and he adds, "The beard in criminals is usually scanty. On the head the hair is usually, on the contrary, abundant. Marro has observed a considerable proportion of wooly-haired persons—a character very rarely found in normal individuals. The same character has been noted among idiots. Among criminal women remarkable abundance of hair is frequently noted and it has sometimes formed their most characteristic physical feature accompanied by an unusual development of fine hair on the face and body." As to the predominant hair-color among criminals authorities do not agree. Even as to the general statement that the hair-color of criminals is commonly darker than that of the normal man authorities are not altogether in agreement, for Dr. Charles E. Woodruff, of the United States Army—himself a painstaking worker in this field—announces it as his opinion, in the Medical Record for August 7, 1909, that in America, at least, "the criminal is more often fair than dark." This but gives point to the observation of Ellis that "to the existing statistics of the color of hair among criminals, taken as a whole, it is not possible at present to attach much value. There is no uniform system of description or nomenclature; it is difficult to make full allowance for ethnic divergence and there rarely exists an adequate standard of comparison for normal persons of corresponding race."

It is, however, not in the use of the hair as a social and religious symbol, nor in its aspect as a mark of race or token of criminality that the inquiry in hand makes its highest appeal. It is in the relation of the form and color of the hair to talent and genius that the absorbing interest of this subject lies. Is it the light-haired or the dark-haired person who is likeliest to display marked power of intellect? Does straight or spiral hair point most often to capacity? Do soft and stiff hair speak the same or a varying message as to the character and mental endowments of the owner?

Upon this phase of the subject the decisive testimony must come from the pages of biography. Nothing less than a test of the question by the facts of life may fairly make a claim upon our time and attention. True it is that biographers have not always preserved for us these details of physiognomy, nor do biographers of the same individual always agree as to the points of figure and feature; yet enough exists that is authentic to serve as a basis for a few modest generalizations.

Seeing the predominance of blue and gray and bluish-gray eyes among persons of distinction, as determined in the discussion of physiognomy as related to genius in the February issue, 1911, of this magazine, it might have seemed just to expect that the hair-color of eminent men would be fair. In reality, however, the case is otherwise. The hair-color of celebrated personages, in so far as the result of our investigation may justify us in speaking, has usually been dark.

Classified as "dark" we find the hair of Browning, Rufus Choate, Alexander Dumas the elder, fm. Hazlitt (another authority says black) Washington Irving (other authorities say "chestnut brown"), Landor, Francis Parkman, Rossetti, R. L. Stevenson, Martin Van Buren, Tennyson and Mendelssohn, the hair of the last being almost black.

As possessed of black hair we have the names of Matthew Arnold, S. T. Coleridge, Stephen A. Douglas, Sir Thomas More (black shot with yellow), Wm. Hazlitt (another authority says "dark"), Leigh Hunt (shining black), Ibsen, Paul Jones, Charles Lamb, John Marshall, Washington Alston, Daniel Webster, J. G. Whittier, Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Given as brown we have the hair of William Cullen Bryant (dark brown), Charles XII. of Sweden (dark brown), Captain Cook (dark brown), Cromwell, Defoe (dark brown), Longfellow, Farragut (becoming in middle life almost black), Dean Farrar (dark brown), Eugene Field (cross between brown and dove color!), Gladstone (brown, later black), Gordon, U. S. Grant (reddish brown, though another authority says chestnut brown), Keats (gold brown), Sidney Lanier (light brown), Napoleon (dark brown), Washington Irving (chestnut), John Milton (light brown), Peter the Great (ruddy brown), George Ripley, Robespierre, John Ruskin, Shelley, Southey, Charles Sumner (nut brown), Bayard Taylor (dark brown), Thoreau, General Thomas (light brown), George Washington (light brown) though another authority says dark brown), N. P. Willis (light brown).

The remainder of the names in our list, aside from the case of Thackeray, whose hair is described sometimes as "white" and sometimes as "flaxen," we have classed as "reddish." The hair of Bunyan is so described, that of Andrew Jackson is described as "reddish sandy," that of James Russell Lowell as "ruddy" or "auburn," that of Swinburne as "red" in his youth, though the information in this last case comes from a passing reference in a magazine article and not from an authoritative biography. William the Silent is described as having auburn hair and Savanarola as having reddish eyelashes, while Thomas Hobbes is referred to as having yellowish-reddish whiskers. It will be remembered that in an earlier portion of this paper the hair of U. S. Grant is given as reddish-brown and that of Peter the Great as ruddy-brown. The case of Swinburne is thus the single instance of red hair in our lists if our information as to that individual is authentic. As to Hobbes it is important to note that the color given refers only to the beard which, under the law we have mentioned, must have been lighter in color than the head hair, and it is not improbable therefore that the hair of Hobbes was dark.

The absence of yellow from our lists is highly important, seeing that flaxen is the leading hair color of the northern races of Europe. The hair of Sir Thomas More, as we have seen, was "black shot with yellow," and as to R. L. Stevenson it is said "his hair, from being light, almost yellow, became after twenty-five dark but not black." The hair of Thackeray, as already mentioned, is spoken of sometimes as "white" and sometimes as "flaxen." These aside, however, we are without the name of a single individual whose hair is described unqualifiedly as "yellow," unless the case of Thackeray be taken as such.

More interesting, however, than the detail of color is the structure of the hair among men of genius. Upon this phase of the subject our data lend marked sanction to a popular fancy mentioned in an early paragraph of this paper. The "poet's ringlets" seem to represent a distinct fact in biography. Of the sixty individuals whose hair is described in our data the structure of the hair is given as to twenty-six, and of these twenty-two possessed curly or wavy hair. It is an interesting circumstance that of these twenty-two personages no less than nineteen were poets, artists or literary men, namely: Dumas the elder, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt (inclined to wave), Charles Lamb, Washington Alston, Tennyson (wavy), Sir Arthur Sullivan (wavy), Mendelssohn (very curly), Gladstone, Keats (clustering and curly), Lanier (wavy, almost straight), Ruskin, Shelley, Southey, Bayard Taylor, N. P. Willis, Chopin, Thackeray. In the entire list of eminent men possessing curly or wavy hair only General Thomas, Martin Van Buren (wavy), Charles George Gordon (crisp and wavy) can not be classed as poets, artists or literary men. Hair of marked softness or fulness seems likewise a frequent accompaniment of artistic and literary genius. Thus the hair of Washington Alston is referred to not only as curly but as "silken," that of Rossetti as "silken and abundant," that of Eugene Field as "very fine," that of Keats as "clustering thickly," that of Lanier as "soft," that of Ruskin as "luxuriant," and that of Sumner as a "rich mass." The abundant hair of musicians, as observed upon the concert platform, will in this connection suggest itself to the reader.

Those in the list of twenty-six whose hair was straight were Daniel Webster, James Russell Lowell, Grieg and Napoleon, and of these the hair of Napoleon is spoken of as "stiff and flat," that of Andrew Jackson as "stiff and wiry," and that of Lowell as "wiry." We have seen that the hair of Lowell was of a very unpoetic color, and that biographer who insisted Lowell had not the poet's nose might have included the hair in his remark, alike as to its color and formation. In view of the prejudice in all ages against coarse, bristling hair the personal qualities of Napoleon and Andrew Jackson are not unworthy of note in connection with the structure of the hair in those cases, and the Indian-like hair of Webster, perhaps, we may associate with the coarse strain that betrayed itself not infrequently in the character of that distinguished personage; but the wiry hair of Lowell is a warning against too hasty a generalization, and the straight hair of Grieg may read to us a valuable lesson against carrying too far the notion that wavy hair is the unfailing accompaniment of artistic genius.

In the paper of the present writer upon "Genius and Stature" in the December issue, 1910, of this magazine, the conclusion was reached that the stature of genius is in general above the medium, and in the discussion of physiognomy and genius, as already mentioned, it was determined that the eyes of genius are usually blue or gray or bluish gray. Thus far, therefore, genius would seem to abide chiefly with the class of humanity called by Huxley the "Xanthachroic," with their tall stature and blue or gray eyes; but the hair of that type ranges from straw-color to chestnut, whereas the hair of genius, as we have seen, is in the very large majority of cases dark. Dark hair, it will be recalled, is a characteristic of the Melanchroic in Huxley's classification—who otherwise, however, have no distinct kinship with genius since they are low of stature relatively to the fair whites and possess dark eyes.

Beyond this it may be safe so far to generalize as to declare that individuals of artistic or literary genius in general possess wavy or curly hair, and that even in the case of genius it is not amiss to look for a coarse organization where the hair is coarse and stiff. If, moreover, our data may be relied upon, red and yellow hair rarely accompany genius.

It must be confessed, however, after all is said, that anything beyond tentative conclusions seem forbidden by the scantiness of the data available upon this subject. The inattention of many biographers to the details of personal appearance is a blighting obstacle in inquiries of this nature, and, even where present in works of biography, the absence of adequate indexes makes the task of gathering this information tedious and painful. The fact, moreover, of the predominance of American and English names, and the presence of names of merely accidental distinction, or of mere eminence instead of genius, hinders the usefulness of the average library as an agency for research of this character, and the want of authentic data as to the physical traits of the average individual of the several nationalities but adds to the difficulties of the investigator. The all-important desideratum, be it said, is a list carefully sifted from the catalogue of the world's great names, sufficiently large and discriminating to reduce to the minimum the proportion of names of merely accidental or local note yet gathered by such method as to fairly represent all nationalities. This supplied and the worker furnished as to each nationality with reliable data respecting the details of stature and physiognomy of the average individual, research of truly scientific character would be possible. No better list of names, perhaps, could be desired, as a starting point for research, than the thousand names submitted by Professor Cattell in The Popular Science Monthly for February, 1903, as representing the world's most famous persons, carefully gathered as that list was from the biographical encyclopedias of America and Europe, though even as to this list of names the distinction between men of mere eminence and men of true genius would need to be constantly kept in mind. Nothing short, however, of investigation based upon such a catalogue of names—an investigation, it is plain, which only the amplest library facilities would permit—could be productive of results that might be regarded as final.

In the meanwhile the importance of the subject itself is not to be belittled. As said by Professor Cattell at the outset of the article we have mentioned, "It is now time that great men should be studied as a part of social evolution and by methods of exact and statistical science." This is being done as regards the criminal, and assuredly genius has no less a claim upon the time and talents of our workers.