“THE IMPERIAL RACE”
“The public are particularly requested not to tease the Cannibals.” So ran one of the many flaming notices outside the show. Other notices proclaimed the unequalled opportunity of beholding “The Dahomey Warriors of Savage South Africa; a Rare and Peculiar Race of People; all there is Left of them”—as, indeed, it might well be. Another called on the public “not to fail to see the Coloured Beauties of the Voluptuous Harem,” no doubt also the product of Savage South Africa. But of all the gilded placards the most alluring, to my mind, was the request not to tease the Cannibals. It suggested so appalling a result.
I do not know who the Cannibals were. Those I saw appeared to be half-caste Jamaicans, but there may have been something more savage inside, and certainly a Dahomey warrior from South Africa would have to be ferocious indeed if his fierceness was to equal his rarity. But the particular race did not matter. The really interesting thing was that the English crowd was assumed to be as far superior to the African savage as to a wild beast in a menagerie. The proportion was the same. The English crowd was expected to extend to the barbarians the same inquisitive patronage as to jackals and hyenas in a cage, when in front of the cages it is written, “Do not irritate these animals. They bite.”
The facile assumption of superiority recalled a paradoxical remark that Huxley made about thirty years ago, when that apostle of evolution suddenly scandalised progressive Liberalism by asserting that a Zulu, if not a more advanced type than a British working man, was at all events happier. “I should rather be a Zulu than a British workman,” said Huxley in his trenchant way, and the believers in industrialism were not pleased. By the continual practice of war, and by generations of infanticide, under which only the strongest babies survived, the Zulus had certainly at that time raised themselves to high physical excellence, traces of which still remain in spite of the degeneracy that follows foreign subjection. I have known many African tribes between Dahomey and Zululand too well to idealise them into “the noble savage.” I know how rapidly they are losing both their bodily health and their native virtues under the deadly contact of European drink, clothing, disease, and exploitation. Yet, on looking round upon the London crowds that were particularly requested not to tease the cannibals, my first thought was that Huxley’s paradox remained true.
The crowds that swarmed the Heath were not lovely things to look at. Newspapers estimated that nearly half a million human beings were collected on the patch of sand that Macaulay’s imagination transfigured into “Hampstead’s swarthy moor.” But even if we followed the safe rule and divided the estimated number by half, a quarter of a million was quite enough. “Like bugs—the