How the most respected intellects of the Western world a hundred years ago unembarrassedly described blacks

Alexis Zarkov writes:

The famous 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910) is out of copyright protection, and available on the Internet in many forms including images of the original pages as well as text. If you go to Volume 19 page 344, you will find the entry for the “Negro.” The article is long and detailed (as are all the articles) and provides a glimpse of how learned people viewed Africans and American Negroes circa 1910. This passage in particular caught my attention:

For the rest, the mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity …

Thus there is nothing modern about black violence, and the original, British publishers of the Britannica were well aware of it.

LA replies:

While I would strongly object to the description insofar as it seems to describe all blacks, it is nevertheless the case that the description is true of many blacks and portrays a typical—and uniquely black—behavior pattern. The description also fits my frequently repeated observation about the meaning of the word “savage.” “Savage” doesn’t necessarily mean horribly violent all the time. A savage can be sweet and docile, but easily turns horribly violent.

Alexis Zarkov continues:

I recommend reading the entire article. Volume 19 is here. Then you have to pick the viewing mode. I found that with the text mode you can scroll very fast and get to page 344. The others are large files and scroll more slowly.

As you might know, the 11th was the transition edition from the British publisher to an American publisher. After that the Encyclopedia Britannica suffered an intellectual dilution over the years as it was made more palatable to the modern reader. Before that it had absolutely first rate scholarship. I think Einstein wrote the entry for the article on Relativity Theory, and James Clerk Maxwell wrote the article on electromagnetism, to name but two of many. The authors would sign with only their initials.

With free access to the 11th edition we have ready access to pieces of historical writing uncontaminated by political correctness. For example, the article on the history of South Africa.

- end of initial entry -

Ortelio writes:

The article “Negro”, at least so far as it concerns the United States, is signed by “W.F.W.”, who is described at the front of the volume as


Chief Statistician, United States Census Bureau.

Professor of Social Science and Statistics, Cornell University.

Member of the American Social Science Association and Secretary of the American Economical Association.

Author of The Divorce Problem: A Study in Statistics;

Social Statistics of the United States

LA replies:

Amazing. The man who said those things about blacks that are so shocking to today’s sensibilities was not some marginal racial theorist, but a respected scholar working at the center of the American governmental and academic establishment.

What a glimpse into another era.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 17, 2012 02:34 PM | Send

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