JF Ptak Science Books Post 1759
This pungent bit appeared in Punch magazine 8 February 1862, and was a vicious attack against the Americans (almost entirely directed at the Union North) in the second year of the U.S. Civil War. What Mr. Punch saw in “his” editor’s mind was a “sinking” of the American race to the level of the “Red Indian”, the whole of the nation reverting to some previous developmental state, far removed by their actions to a more primitive people, a different sort of “evolution”–in fact, what the spoofing (?) and chiding editors saw in the Americans’ actions was a reverse of Darwin’s theory. These same people were already uncomfortable with Darwin (at this point three years past the publication of the Origin1) but so long as using the book to a comfortable goal was concerned it seemed a perfect fit, a proof for the reverse of the Origin. As we see in the second short article:
“If there is any truth in the theory of the Origin of Species there may be an inversion of the originating process…”
Chief (and first) among the complaints was the blockade action against the Confederate port of Charleston (South Carolina). The “stone fleet” is incorrectly described in the wonderful “Science in 19th Century Periodicals” website as being of Confederate origin. The Stone Fleet was actually part of a Northern action, being a large contingent of ships brought south and sunk in the waters off Charleston Harbor in the hopes of preventing Confederate blockade runners from escaping the ring of Federal ships already present there. There were also a number of ships sunk off the coast of beautiful Tybee Island, there to be used as breakwaters and landings for Union ships operating just south of Savannah.
The behavior of the United States, so far as Mr. Punch was concerned, just wouldn’t “do”.
“SEVERAL scientific observers of late years have noticed the fact that the physiognomy of the American of the United States is beginning to exhibit a resemblance to that of the Red Indian.The barbarous act of sinking a stone fleet at the entrance of Charleston Harbour and the ferocity with which the permanent ruin of that port and city was anticipated by the Northern Press indicate an internal and moral change corresponding to that of the exterior Vindictive war is as characteristic as lankiness of features or a sallow complexion. It may be that when LORD MACAULAY’S New Zealander alter having visited London Bridge shall extend his peregrination to New York he will find the site of that once populous city to have reverted to hunting grounds their inhabitants hunting grounds their living in wigwams wearing top knots and mocassins and having their coloured faces tattooed. The representatives of the present Yankees will then be armed with tomahawks, rush to the tight with war whoop, scalp their enemies slain in battle, and torture their prisoners at the stake. Such is the level of humanity to which the people who have outraged civilisation by a crime against the commerce of the world are too evidently descending. Their posterity when about to go forth to battle will put on their war paint and even now perhaps the Government of MR. LINCOLN might supply a powerful stimulus to valour by issuing some pots of that ornamental material to the Federal army.”
Later in the year Mr. Punch again addressed “Brother Jonathan”, (a reference from Revoutinary War days to Americans in general, but more so during the Civil War, when “Brother Jonathan” and “Johnny” were both used…its also intersting to note the use of “Johnny Red” and also the appearance in “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”) and again invoked Mr Darwin and the Origin, and again using the “Indian type” as the state to which the “model Republic” was sending itself towards, with Americans “descending to the very lowest place”, an “inversion of the originating process”.
“Thus Jonathan you see you are sinking from bad to worse from savage to lower savage and your manifest destiny at that rate of decadence is the zero of humanity.”
It is a rather bad letter, brother-to-brother, so to speak., Mr. Punch claiming that Americans will descend to gorillas, “Apes with foreheads villainous low”. Surprisingly (to me, anyway) Mr. Punch slips easily into very vile characterizations of other types of human beings in use by metaphor–these don’t need to be singled out here but can be found in the original, below. And so the Manifest Destiny of American–”declared” or at least the phrase originated just 17 years earlier by John O’Sullivan in the Democratic Review in an article “Annexation” regarding Texas–so far as England was concerned was to be excruciatingly, intolerably, low; so low inn fact that it is the very proof of the stuff that the Origin of Species theory runs in reverse.
I’m not sure why the editorial cartoonist used the elephant in the hunt scene and how it relates to Mr. Darwin, though I guess it sends the overall message of The Ridiculous regarding the American affair, at least in the eyes of Punch–England still smarting from the Trent Affair, still newly developed.
1. The title in full by C.R. Darwin, On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, would stay so until it was shortened to The Origin of Species in its sixth edition of 1872. By the time these two articles in Punch appeared, the Origin already in its third edition (published in April 1861). In all of this, the enormously popular book was printed in not-large quantities. The first edition of November, 1859 sold out on the first day, and was printed in an edition of 1250 copies, of which about 1170 were for sale. Darwin was immediately put to work on a second edition (rather than simply reprint the first edition), and the work appeared two months later, in January 1860, in an edition of 3000 copies. The third edition appeared in April 1861 in an edition of 2000. The fourth edition appeared in 1866 (2000 copies); the fifth, in 1869 (2000 copies0, and the sixth and last in Darwin’s lifetime came out in 1872, in 3000 copies, the largest print run during CD’s lifetime. So, the most important book in the history of biology (?) sold a total of 13,170 copies or so as published in England by John Murray.