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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

IV. Enlightenment

21. The Inferiority of Negroes, 1774

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1Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782), trained as an advocate in Edinburgh and was called to the Scottish bar in 1723. In April 1763, he was appointed a Lord of Justiciary, in the criminal court of Scotland. Lord Kames published books on different topics, including philosophy; his Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion (1751) were based on the supposition that man possessed innate ideas of right and wrong. Although most of the great figures of the Scottish Enlightenment opposed slavery, Lord Kames (1696-1782), in his Sketches of the History of Man (1774), attempted to prove that there were different species within the human race and that negroes were in many respects inferior to Europeans and only above apes in intelligence.

2Henry Home of Kames, Sketches of the History of Man (1774), vol. 1, Edinburgh: W. Creech, 1807, p. 48-51.

It is my firm opinion, that neither temper nor talents have much dependence on climate. I cannot discover any probable exception, if it be not a taste for the fine arts. Where the influence of the sun is great, people are enervated with heat: where little, they are benumbed with cold. A clear sky, with moderate heat, exhibit a very different scene: the cheerfulness they produce disposes men to enjoyment of every kind. Greece, Italy, and the Lesser Asia, are delicious countries, affording variety of natural beauties to feast every sense: and men accustomed to enjoyment, search for it in art as well as in nature; the passage from the one to the other being easy and inviting. Hence the origin and progress of statuary and of painting, in the countries mentioned. It has not escaped observation, that the rude manners of savages are partly owing to the roughness and barrenness of uncultivated land. England has few natural beauties to boast of: even high mountains, deep vallies, impetuous torrents, and such other wild and awful beauties, are rare. But of late years, that country has received manifold embellishments from its industrious inhabitants; and in many of its scenes may now compare with countries that are more favoured by the sun or by nature. Its soil has become fertile, its verdure enlivening, and its gardens the finest in the world. The consequence is what might have been foreseen: the fine arts are gaining ground daily. May it not be expected, that the genius and sensibility of the inhabitants, will in time produce other works of art, to rival their gardens? How delightful to a true-hearted Briton is the prospect, that London, instead of Rome, may become the centre of the fine arts. […]

  • 8 Whidah (also spelled Whydah) was a kingdom on the coast of West Africa in the boundaries of the mo (...)

The colour of the Negroes, as above observed, affords a strong presumption of their being a different species from the Whites; and I once thought, that the presumption was supported by inferiority of understanding in the former. But it appears to me doubtful, upon second thoughts, whether that inferiority may not be occasioned by their condition. A man never ripens in judgment nor in prudence but by exercising these powers. At home, the negroes have little occasion to exercise either: they live upon fruits and roots, which grow without culture: they need little clothing: and they erect houses without trouble or art*. Abroad, they are miserable slaves, having no encouragement either to think or to act. Who can say how far they might improve in a state of freedom, were they obliged, like Europeans, to procure bread with the sweat of their brows? Some nations in Negroland, particularly that of Whidah8, have made great improvements in government, in police, and in manners. The Negroes on the Gold coast are naturally gay: they apprehend readily what is said to them, have a good judgment, are equitable in their dealings, and accommodate themselves readily to the manners of strangers. And yet, after all, there seems to be some original difference between the Negroes and Hindoos. In no country are food and raiment procured with less labour than in the southern parts of Hindostan, where the heat is great: and yet no people are more industrious than the Hindoos.

* The Negro slaves in Jamaica, who have Sunday only at command for raising food to themselves, live as well, if not better, than the free Negroes who command every day of the week. Such, in the latter, is the effect of indolence from want of occupation.


8 Whidah (also spelled Whydah) was a kingdom on the coast of West Africa in the boundaries of the modern nation of Benin. It was a major slave-trading post.

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