OF THE DIFFERENT RACES OF MEN Voltaire (François Marie Arouet, 1694 – 1778)

NOTHING can be more interesting to us than the sensible difference in the species of men, who inhabit the four known quarters of the world.

None but the blind can doubt that the Whites, the Negroes, the Albinos, the Hottentots, the Laplanders, the Chinese, and the Americans, are races entirely different.

No curious traveler ever passed through Leyden without seeing part of the reticulum mucosum of a Negro dissected by the celebrated Ruish. The remainder of this membrane is in the cabinet of curiosities at St. Petersburg. This membrane is black, and communicates to Negroes that inherent blackness which they do not lose but in such disorders as may destroy this texture, and allow the fat or mucus to issue from its cells and form white spots under the skin.

Their large round eyes, their broad flat noses, their thick coarse lips, their differently formed ears, and the measure of their intellects, show a great difference between them and other species of men; and what demonstrates, most clearly, that they are not indebted for this difference to their climate, is that Negro men and women, on being transported to the coldest climates, there produce beings of their own species, without apparent variation; and that Mulattos are a mixed race of black men and white women, or white men and black women, as asses, specifically different from horses, produce mules when bred with mares.

The Albinos are, indeed, a very small and weak race, inhabiting the center of Africa. Their weakness prevents them from making excursions far from the caverns which they inhabit. The Negroes, however, sometimes capture some of them, and these we purchase to exhibit as curiosities. I have, myself, seen two of them, and so have probably thousands of other Europeans.

To pretend that they are dwarf Negroes, whose skin has been blanched by a kind of leprosy, is like saying that the blacks themselves are whites, whom an attack of leprosy has made black.

An Albino no more resembles a Negro from the coast of Guinea, than he does an Englishman or a Spaniard. Their whiteness is not like ours, it does not resemble flesh, it has no mixture of white and brown or red; it is the color of linen, or rather of bleached wax. Their hair and eyebrows are like the finest silk. Their eyes are unlike those of other races, and greatly resemble the eyes of a partridge. Their shape is like that of the Laplanders, but their heads differ from all other nations, and they have nothing that seems to belong to man but the stature of their bodies, with the faculty of speaking and thinking, but in a degree very different from ours.

The apron which nature has given to the Caffres, whose soft loose skin descends from the navel to the middle of the thighs; the black breasts of the women of Samoieda, the beard of the males of our continent, and the beardless chins of the native Americans, are such marked distinctions that it is scarce possible to imagine that they are not each of them different species of beings.

If it be asked, what is the origin of the Americans and whence do they come? Why not also inquire, from whence the inhabitants of the southern countries or Australia have come? And it has been already answered, that the same providence which placed men in Norway, also fixed some in America and in the southern polar circle; in the same manner as it has planted trees and shrubs, and causes the grass to grow there.

Many learned men have been of opinion that some of the various species of men, or of animals approaching to, or resembling men, have perished. The Albinos are now so few in number, so weak, and so ill-treated by the Negroes, that it is to be feared that this race of beings will in a short time become extinct.

Satyrs are spoken of by almost all ancient authors, and we cannot conceive their existence to have been impossible. In Calabria, even at the present time, it is said to be the custom to stifle all monstrous births; Herodotus, in his second book, describes the scenes he witnessed while traveling in the province of Mendes, and he appeals to all Egypt to substantiate the truth of his assertion; in the book of Leviticus it is forbidden to commit abomination.

With respect to the duration of the life of man (if we except that line of Adamís descendants, consecrated by the Jewish books) it is probable that all the races of men have enjoyed a life nearly as short as our own; as animals trees, and all the productions of nature, have ever had the same duration.

We should, however, observe that as commerce did not always convey the productions and diseases of other nations to the human species, and as met were more industrious and robust when they lived in the simplicity of a rural life, for which nature designed them, they probably enjoyed a more regular state of health, and lived longer, than those who lead a life of luxury, or occuppy themselves in the unhealthy trades of great cities; that is to say that if in Constantinople, Paris, or London, one man in twenty thousand attains the age of a hundred years, it is probable that twenty men in twenty thousand formerly attained that age. Such was the case in several parts of America, where man kind lived in a state of nature.

The plague and small pox, which the Arabian caravans at length brought to Europe, were for a long time unknown. Thus in the fine climates of Europe and Asia, mankind more rapidly increased than elsewhere. Accidental disorders and wounds were not, indeed, cured with such facility as at present but the exemption from other diseases amply compensated for this want of skill, and all things considered, it is believed that the human species formerly lived longer, and enjoyed a healthier and happier state of existence, than since the foundation of great empires.