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Title: Negro
Original Title: Negre
Volume and Page: Vol. 1 (1751), pp. 76–79
Author: Johann Heinrich Samuel Formey (biography)
Translator: Pamela Cheek [University of New Mexico]
Subject terms:
Natural history
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Formey, Johann Heinrich Samuel. "Negro." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Pamela Cheek. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Negre," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1. Paris, 1751.
Citation (Chicago): Formey, Johann Heinrich Samuel. "Negro." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Pamela Cheek. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Negre," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1:76–79 (Paris, 1751).

Negro, man who inhabits different parts of the earth. From the tropic of Cancer to that of Capricorn, Africa has only black inhabitants. Not only their color distinguishes them, but they differ from other men in all the traits of their faces, with large flat noses, fat lips and wool instead of hair, and seem to constitute a new kind of men.

If one moves away from the equator and towards the antarctic pole, the black lightens, but the ugliness remains: one finds that mean people that inhabits the southern tip of Africa.

Returning up towards the Orient, one sees peoples whose traits soften and become more regular but whose color is as black as that found in Africa.

Following these peoples, a great dark-skinned people distinguishes itself from the others by long narrow eyes, placed at a slant.

If one passes into that vast part of the world which appears separated from Europe, Africa and Asia, one finds, as may be believed, a good many new varieties. There are no white men: this land, peopled by nations that are reddish and dark-skinned in a thousand shades, comes to an end towards the antarctic pole in a cape and islands inhabited, it is said, by giants. If we are to believe the accounts of several travelers, one finds at this end of America a race of men whose height is almost double our own.

Before leaving our own continent, we could have spoken of another species of men very different from these. The inhabitants of the northern reaches of Europe are the smallest of all those known to us. The Lapps on the north side, the Patagonians on the south side appear to be at the extremes of the race of men.

I would never finish if I spoke of the inhabitants of islands encountered in the Indian Ocean and of those that are in that vast ocean filling the space between Asia and America. Each people, each nation has its shape as well as its language. And is not shape a kind of language itself, and that among all others which makes itself best understood?

If one traveled over all of these islands, one would find in some of them, perhaps, inhabitants far more embarrassing for us than the blacks, to whom we would have a good deal of difficulty in refusing or in giving the name of men . The inhabitants of the forests of Borneo of whom some travelers speak and who so resemble men in other respects, do they think the less for having monkey tails? And that which has been made to depend neither on whiteness nor blackness, should it depend on the number of vertebrae?

On that isthmus which separates the North Sea from the Pacific Sea, it is said that one finds men whiter than all those of whom we know. Their hair might be taken for the whitest wool. Their eyes, too weak for the light of day, open only in the darkness of night. They are among mankind what bats and owls are among birds.

The most remarkable phenomenon and the most constant law for the color of the inhabitants of the earth is that all that large band which circles the globe from east to west and which is called the torrid zone is inhabited only by peoples that are black or very swarthy. Despite the interruptions caused by the sea, if one follows the band across Africa, Asia and America, whether on islands or on continents, one finds only black nations, for the nocturnal men of whom we just spoke, and some whites who are occasionally born, don't merit any exceptions being made here.

Moving away from the equator, the color of peoples lightens by shades. It is still quite dark beyond the Tropics, and one only finds it to be completely white when one advances into the temperate zone. It is in the extremities of this zone that one finds the whitest peoples. The Danish woman with blonde hair dazzles the astonished traveler; he can hardly believe that the object he sees and the African woman he has just seen are both women.

Even farther towards the north and up to the frozen zone, in that land which the sun does not deign to light in winter, where an earth harder than the ploughshare offers none of the produce of other lands, in these dreadful climates, one finds complexions of lilies and roses. Rich countries of the south, lands of Peru and Potosi, make gold in your mines, I will not go to there to extract it. Golconda, sift the precious essence that forms diamonds and rubies, they will not make your women more beautiful and are useless to ours. Let them serve every year only to mark the weight and value of a foolish monarch who, while he is in these ridiculous scales, loses his states and his liberty.

But in those extreme countries where all is white or all is black, is there not too great a uniformity and does not mixing produce new beauties? It is on the banks of the Seine that one finds that happy variety in the gardens of the Louvre; on a beautiful summer day, you will see everything in the way of marvels that the earth can produce.

Did all these peoples that we have just run through, so many diverse men, come from a single mother? We are not permitted to doubt it.

What remains for us to examine is how so many different species can have been born from a single individual. I will venture several conjectures.

If men were all first formed from egg to egg, in the first mother there would have been eggs of different colors which contained innumerable series of eggs of the same species, but which would hatch in their order of development only after a certain number of generations, and in the period that providence had designated for the origination of the peoples contained in them. It is not impossible that one day, when the series of white eggs that peoples our regions runs out, all the European nations will change color or that Ethiopia will only have white inhabitants. It is thus that in a deep quarry, once the vein of white marble is exhausted, one finds only rocks of one color after another. It is in this way that new races of men may appear on the earth and that old ones may be extinguished.

If we admit the theory of worms, if all men were at first contained in those animals that swam in the semen of the first man, one could say of these worms what was just said of eggs. The worm, father of negroes , contained from worm to worm all the inhabitants of Ethiopia. The Darien worm, the Hottentot worm and the Patagonian worm with all their descendants were all already formed and would one day people the parts of the earth where one finds these peoples. The Physical Venus .

Other physicians have sought the cause of the blackness of negroes with much care; the principal conjectures that they have formed on this subject come down to two, of which one attributes the cause of blackness to bile and the other to the humor enclosed in the vessels with which the mucous membrane is filled. See Mucous membrane.

Malpighi, Ruisch, Litre, Sanctorini, Heister and Albinus have conducted interesting research on the skin of negroes .

The first belief about the blackness of negroes is supported in all its proofs in a work entitled, Dissertation on the physical case of the color of negroes , etc. by M. Barrere. Paris 1741, in ‹-› 12 . This is how he deduces his hypothesis.

If, after a long soaking of the skin of a negro in water, one detaches the epidermis or outer skin and examines it attentively, one finds it to be black, very thin, and it appears transparent when one holds it up to the light. This is how I saw it in America and what one of the most knowledgeable anatomists of our day, Mr. Winslou, has also observed... On dissection, one finds leather, properly speaking, or the skin with all the apparatus, like the cutaneous nipples and the blackish red reticulate membrane. It is thus obviously proven that the color of negroes is not, so to say, a borrowed color, and consequently the apparent color of the epidermis is not that of the mucous membrane in and of itself, according to the language of some, or of the reticulate substance, as has been thought up until now, it is thus from its own tissue that the epidermis or outer skin in negroes directly derives blackness. Let us say moreover that, since the epidermis of negroes is naturally of a transparent black, its color must become even darker from the skin that is placed beneath it, which is of an almost black reddish brown. But the epidermis of moors, as well as that of whites, since they are a tissue of vessels, must necessarily enclose a juice, the examination of which belongs to the present question. One can say with some foundation that this juice is analogous to bile and observation seems to support this belief; 1. In the cadavers of negroes I had the opportunity to dissect in Cayenne, I observed that the bile was always black as ink; 2. that it was the more or the less black according to the color of the negroes ; 3. that their blood was of a blackish red, according to the greater or lesser blackness of the negroes ' complexion; 4. it is certain that bile enters with the chyle in the blood, that it flows with it into all the parts of the body, that it passes into the liver, and that several of its parts escape through the kidneys and the other parts of the body. Why then can it not also be that this same bile in negroes becomes separated in the tissue of the epidermis? And yet experience proves that bile in fact becomes separated in the epidermis of negroes in the individual vessels, since, if we apply the end of the finger to the surface of a negro 's skin, a humor that is fatty, viscous, almost soapy, and of a disagreeable odor sticks onto it, this doubtless gives that shine and softness that one observes in the skin. If one rubs this same outer skin with a white cloth, it dirties the cloth with a brown color, all qualities related to the bile of negroes .... We may judge that bile is naturally abundant in the blood of negroes from the strength and rapidity of the pulse, from the extreme delicacy of the other spirited passions, and above all from the considerable heat of the skin that is observed in them. Experience shows us as well that the heat of blood is proper to forming a lot of bile, since we see a yellowing of the milk among white women when a wet-nurse has a fever. Finally, can we not view the color of negroes in some way as a natural black icterus?

1. From what we have just said, we see that the humor forming the color of negroes seems to be the same as bile: perhaps that which filters into the liver differs from it only by degree; 2. that it is more than probable that bile is separated not only in the liver of negroes , but also in almost imperceptible vessels in the epidermis, where, freed from the red parts of the blood, it doubtless must return to its original form and, consequently show itself in its natural blackness; 3. that the coarse parts of this bile, from their stay in the tissue of the epidermis, must give them a black color; whereas, on the individual discharge of blood, the faintest parts of the bile are exhaled outside through skin pores like a kind of vapor, which is not at all black and almost without bitterness, that accumulates insensibly on the epidermis, thickens there, and spreads a disagreeable odor. A completely similar thing occurs when, after having lightly heated the bile of a negro in a little container covered with parchment and pierced with several little holes, one observes the sides of the container to be tinted black and when, over time one sees issue from the little holes in the cover a kind of steam that condenses (if the cover is connected to a cone-shaped goblet) into detectable droplets which in no way have the color or taste of bile.

Such are the principal proofs on which M. Barrere relies to situate the principal for the color of negroes in bile. One might be well-pleased to discover here the problems to which this belief is exposed. They follow from the following observations: 1. the bodies of negroes who have died in water take on, it is said, a white color; they can be distinguished from whites only by their hair; 2. small pox is white in negroes and this whiteness has frequently fooled doctors; 3. negroes vomit a yellow bile, this is a firm fact; 4. Negroes are subject to jaundice and the conjunctiva becomes yellow as well as the internal parts; 5. the blackish bile that one finds in the vesicles of white men almost always appear to be yellow as soon as it is diluted; 6. when the bile of white men is distilled, it goes through different colors and finally leaves a black essence which gives a blackish color to the vessels containing it; the bile of negroes may thus appear blackish, when it has accumulated and it may be yellow when it is diluted; or the blackness of this bile, in the cadavers of negroes , may have taken on this color in illness or through various accidents; 7. the entrails of negroes and their skin have the same color that they have in men who are white; 8. finally, there are illnesses that blacken bile without any trace of this being left in the body. In men who die from rabies, the bile is found to be entirely black while the surface of the skin is perfectly white. From all of these facts, it may be concluded that it is impossible to attribute the color of negroes to bile. This liquid is yellow in negroes ; it does not give any tint to exterior parts in the natural state. It yellows the eyes as soon as it spreads through the body. It would tint black the internal parts of the body if it were truly black and if it were carried to these parts. Add to this that urine would take on the same tint as that which fills the vessels of the mucous membrane.

The vessels of the mucous membrane : according to the observations of Malpighy , the skin and the cuticle of negroes are white. The blackness comes only from the mucous membrane or from the reticulate membrane which is between the epidermis and the skin. The injections of Ruisch have partially confirmed this discovery and thrown greater light on it. The outer skin is not white in negroes , according to this anatomist; it only has whiteness from callus which always is mixed with black. Ruisch sent to Heister a portion of the skin of a negro . It was perfectly white, but the external surface of the epidermis was blackish and the internal side was covered with a dark, black tint. Sanctorini, in his Anatomical Remarks , has given us observations that situate the cause of the color of negroes in the mucous membrane. This research proves that, once one removes the epidermis, remaining on the skin or the vascular tissue is a portion of the mucous membrane that is extremely black; that it imparts its tint to the fingers to which it frequently attaches itself when one removes the epidermis; and that consequently there is a separate reservoir of this tint between the epidermis and the skin. The mucous membrane, an almost unknown tissue, appears to be very uneven in different parts of the body. It is tightly attached to the epidermis; it would be impossible to separate it off completely. It is for this reason that the blackish color cannot be erased in the outer skin and that it is darker in the internal surface of this integument. The vessels of the reticulate membrane are full of a blackish liquid. One may ask where this forms. Sanctorini did not think it possible to decide what was the source of this material that tints the reticular membrane of negroes ; but he suspected that the liver might provide the tint of the skin in this species of men. The red color of a fish's liver, various sorts of icteruses to which men are subject and the blackness that one sometimes finds in the bile of the spleen, brought him to this conjecture. Moreover, the sources of a black liquid can be found in several parts of the body, in the fetus, in glands between the bronchial tubes which produce a black liquid, in black glands found in the eyes of animals from which doubtless results the juice that blackens the choroid. Thus, black juices may pass into various parts of the body: there are even fluids that, in losing their natural color, go through various gradations. Bile becomes blackish in the gall bladder. Urine itself acquires this color in certain illnesses. From the two opinions that I have outlined in this note and the preceding one, it appears to me to follow that the physical problem is still largely undecided.

Why do negroes have frizzy hair? Let us listen once again to M. Barrere 's opinion on these questions. It is already acknowledged in the scholarly world, and it is the generally accepted opinion, that in the germ of the bodies of animals may be found, as if in concentration, all the parts that compose them with their color and their shape determined; that these parts develop, grow and blossom as soon as they are put into play and penetrated by a very fine and spirituous fluid, that is the male semen; that this seminal liquid imprints its character on this point of matter that concentrates all of its parts in their germ. Following these principles, which seem very true, one may consider: 1. that, since the germ of the bodies of animals in development comes from the male and the female, it must receive the traits of the one and the other; 2. that it seems very likely that the germ contained in the womb of the female naturally contains all the traits of resemblance and that it receives the resemblance of the male only from the intrusion of the seminal liquid which determines the parts of the germ that will acquire movement; 3. that the movement which happens to the parts of the germ in animals of the same species must almost always be uniform, and, as seemingly of the same degree, but nonetheless lesser than that which occurs during the coupling of animals of different species; it must even be that in such a coupling the movement is violent and seemingly forced, to the effect that the fluids must leave the path of their natural direction and lose their way, so to speak. One may judge this to be so from the considerable disorder that happens to the originary parts of the germ; 4. that the production of monsters is one of the most convincing proofs of such a surprising disorder; 5. It follows, as well, that a negress who may have had commerce with a white or European, , for example, must produce a mulatto who must look different from a negro because of the new modification in the color of its skin and in its hair which this child has received in the womb of its mother; 6. that this new modification in the mulatto necessarily depends on the existence of a humor that passes through the less black epidermis and on a dilation of the insensitive vessels of a less curly hair. Also, one sees every day in America not only mulattos, but also in the different mixes of blood, skin color which becomes lighter or darker and hair that is straighter and longer according to the gradation of the distance from the natural complexion of negroes ; 7. that finally one must conclude that the cause of the degeneration of the color of negroes and of the quality of their hair must in all likelihood be related to the action of and to the greater or lesser incompatibility of the seminal fluid with the germ that penetrates in the first moments of the evolution of the parts.