'Natural History of the Negro Race' by Julien-Joseph Virey (1800)

A selection from Natural History of the Negro Race by Julien-Joseph Virey, 1800.

Virey wrote about the '
Savage Boy of Aveyron.' In this connection, see also Jean Marc Gaspard Itard (a student of medicine who took the boy into his care and tried to 'civilize' him).

Introduction to the English edition published in America:

It is very questionable, whether the abolitionsists, in their efforst for the emancipation of the Negro race, are not attempting a thing, physically and morally impossible- if by emancipation be meant enabling them to be republicans. ... the true moral refinement- the elevating and ennobling the whole people in the moral scale, and giving full play to the capabilities and energies of the species- can only be brought about by the republican form- and this form of government has never been sustained, and scarcely imagined rightly, by any but the Caucasian or European race of men- the most beautiful as well as the most perfect of the races in their organization and moral traits. Of this republican liberty in government, we believe the black race absolutely incapable. They never have shewn any susceptibility- though one of the most ancient races known, from the earliest history of the present time. ... It is not in the blood- they never were made for it! And those who seek to bring them to it are only attempting a physical and moral impossibility. The abolitionists are not only wicked, but foolish.

From the text:

If the beast be educated, the gift may curse the giver, and he who passes at once from the slave to the freeman, may pass as rapidly from the freeman to the ruffian. [Bulwer- Rienzi, p.78]
The features, characteristics, figure and colour of the negro species, are perpetuated in every climate, it does not undergo a peculiar change as long as it is not mixed with any other races. More disposed to sensual affections than to pure contemplations of the mind, the negro has more feeling than thoughts, his intellect is not generally so extensive as that of the white man; his shape even bears some resemblance to the Orang-Outang. Every one knows the projecting face of negroes, their woolly hair, large and thick lips, broad flat nose, retreating chin, round eyes which seem to start out of their sockets, particularities which serve to distinguish them, and would make them easily recognized at first glance, were they even as white as Europeans. The negro has the forehead lower and rounded, the head compressed towards the temples, teeth set obliquely and projecting, in many of them the legs are bent outward, the calfs very slender, the knees always half flexed, an awkwardness of gait, the body and neck inclined forwards, whilst the buttocks protrude. Such characteristics show evidently a degradation toward the ape genus, and should their appearance not betray such a degradation, their moral character would show it sensibly.
The black, as it is to be remarked, in the ape genus, is an imitator by nature, he acknowledges the intellectual superiority of the white man, is easily reconciled with his servitude, careless and lazy. Such habits indicate a natural and innate weakness of the soul.

Hence, it follows, that the negro is in some respect by his form, the capacity of his skull, the weakness and degradation of his mind, the reverse of the European.

In Africa, negroes lead a precarious life. They reside in huts, and cultivate a few fields of millet, or couz couz, fro subsistence; they are subject to the tyrannical sway of petty hereditary princes; their religion consists only in a stupid worshiping of snakes and animals, or an idol, made of wood or stone. ... The different kings are generally engaged in wars, or rather in plundering each other, and taking prisoners, to sell the Europeans, who for that purpose, stir up the brands of discord among them.
No wonder if the greater part of those tribes, addicted as they are to war, devastation and plunder, are reduced to the utmost state of barbarism, and vie with each other in cruel reprisals... .
Generally, the negro is of merry disposition, even in servitude, and sings an insignificant air with a monotonous voice. If he only hears the sound of a tam-tam (a kind of tamborine) or the harsh noise of the balofo [?], etc, he leaps for joy, and begins to dance. All his body is agitated with pleasure; each muscle quivers; his motions are animated by love, his gestures become lascivious, and express the violent ardor which excites him. The negress partakes of these affections: she adorns her head with a red handkerchief, rubs with oil her shining skin, and encircles her neck with red seeds.

Negresses are good nurses, breed much, and are very lascivious as well as negroes.

These savages prefer their miserable, precarious, but independent life, to the advantages of civilization, even when they have enjoyed it, which is common to every uncivilized people.

A negro is not to be persuaded by what does not strike him immediately; he will repeat whatever you please: his mind is of too narrow compass to think of the future, or too lazy to have a care for it.
This natural indifference is also a consequence of the constitution of the negro; for, although the same is remarked among nations but little civilized, it is more striking in the former. In fact, civilization exciting our wishes, and multiplying our wants, inspires us with a perpetual restlessness, and that burning ambition which prompts us to surpass each other, and makes us discontented with our present fate. The savage, on the contrary, desires very little, and confines his wants to necessaries. [...] ...for them, to-day has no to-morrow, and, provided, they are not driven to a state of despair, they bear up well under the burden of their miseries.- Happy indifference, by which unfortunate men are made insensible to the sad reflections on their misfortunes;- in like manner, the poor white people forget their unfortunate condition, when they can get wine, brandy, or food; whereas, rich and mighty men must conjure up their fortitude and courage, to contest with adversity.

Note: see reference to Thomas Jefferson...

Every thing serves to prove that negroes form, not only a race, but undoubtedly a distinct species, from the beginning of the world, as we see other species among other living beings. Some negroes have been brought up with care and attention, have received in schools and colleges the same education given to white children, and yet they have been unable to reach the same degree of intellect: besides, and we must acknowledge this fact, man governs over all animals by his understanding, and not by the mere strength of his body. The state of civilization in our days, proves evidently that the most learned and industrious nations, every thing being equal, predominate over all other nations of the globe- that science and knowledge have given to the white race, more power and empire than to any other race, on account of their intellect and industry.

Negores are exceedingly simple. As we have said, no laws nor fixed governments are to found among them; every one lives as he pleases, and he who apparently displays more intellect, or is richer, becomes judge of every quarrel; he is often made a king; but his royalty is a mere shadow; for, although he may sometimes oppress, enslave, sell and kill his subjects, yet the poor fellows have no kind of loyalty toward him; they only obey through fear, and as they do not compose a state, so the mutual obligations between them are reduced almost to nothing: being very vain, they like to be distinguished by ornaments; they have created ranks among themselves; they are exceedingly fond of feasts and ceremonies, and wish to appear with magnificance; zealous of distinctions, and overjoyed when they can attract the notice of the multitude. It is generally the mark of minds which have no other merit than that which arises from riches and power."

On the Savage Boy of Aveyron:

... his ignorant and savage soul is simple; it is known at first sight; exempt from hypocrisy... it is limited, gross; vulgar, egotistical, but it is one unto itself, pure and candid.

A king before him would be no different than the lowest of mortals; like a new Diogenes, he would tell a modern-day Alexander to move out of his sunshine.

Go, young unfortunate, venture into this unhappy land, leave behind your primitive and simple ruggedness for the ties of civil life... How you will lose your absolute independence in the shackles of society, in our civil institutions! How many tears you will cry! ... oh, may you live happily in the midst of your compatriots! May you, simple man, inspire the sublime virtues of generous souls, and transmit to future generations [your] honorable example, as an eternal proof of what a student of innocent Nature might be.