Samoïdes in Europe, the Ostiacks and Tungooses in Asia, the Greenlanders and Esquimaux in America—all the natives indeed of high northern latitudes are remarkably short, measuring little more than four feet; and Niels Sara, the Laplander mentioned by Von Buch in his Travels, and who measured five feet eight inches, may be considered as a gigantic exception. It had been reported by travellers, that a nation of white dwarfs, called Quimos or Kimos, existed in the interior of Madagascar; but Flacourt has positively denied the fact, although Commerson, the naturalist of Bougainville, and De Modave, confirm the former statement. It has also been remarked by various travellers, that dwarfs are not uncommon amongst robust and manly races, instanced in Poland and Lithuania. Sigismund de Herbestein made the same observation in Samogitia, the population of which was of a high stature.
It is by no means evident that climate or any external agency invariably produces this effect; for, in the very regions inhabited by the stunted Hottentot, the shortest race in Africa, since the Bosjernan tribe scarcely ever exceed four feet, we find the strong and tall Kaffer. Amongst these it is also to be remarked, that there exists a singular difference between the sexes. Langsdorf thus expresses himself on the subject: “The Kaffer women were mostly of low stature, very strong-limbed, and particularly muscular in the leg: the men, on the contrary, were the finest figures I ever beheld; they were tall, robust, and muscular. A young man of about twenty, of six feet ten inches high, was one of the finest figures that perhaps was ever created. He was a perfect Hercules; and a cast from his body would not have disgraced the pedestal of the deity in the Farnese Palace.” He further adds, “There is, perhaps, no nation on earth, taken collectively, that can produce so fine a race of men as the Kaffers: they are tall, stout, muscular, well-made, elegant figures. They are exempt, indeed, from many of those causes that in more civilized societies contribute to impede the growth of the body. Their diet is simple, their exercise of a salutary nature; their body is neither cramped nor encumbered by clothing; the air they breathe is pure; their rest is not disturbed by violent love, nor their minds ruffled by jealousy; they are free from those licentious appetites which proceed frequently more from a depraved imagination than a real natural want. Their frame is neither shaken nor enervated by the use of intoxicating liquor; they eat when hungry, and sleep when nature demands it. With such a kind of life, languor and melancholy have nothing to do. The countenance of a Kaffer is always cheerful, and the whole of his demeanour bespeaks content and peace of mind.”
Are diminutive races more productive than those of stronger formation? The brute creation has been taken as an example in support of this opinion; large animals producing one or two young ones, while the smaller species are singularly prolific. The lioness seldom brings forth more than two or four whelps, the cat will have a litter of eight or ten kittens; the pullulation of insects is incredible. But is not this circumstance an illustration of the wisdom of Providence? If the larger species were as abundant as the lesser races, where could they find sustenance in regions where the produce is, under the influence of the seasons, occasionally abundant or scarce? In the ocean, this is not the case; the myriads of its creatures suffice to support each other, and we therefore meet in the deep, the largest of animals in numerous shoals, while the small fry are generated in marvellous abundance.
That the facility of obtaining food and the nature of the nutritious substances that animals may find, influence their stature, is evident. In sandy and arid plains poor in pasture, we find horses and cattle of a stunted breed: the herds of Flanders widely differ from those of Wales and of the Ukraine, and the Scotch and Welsh cattle cannot be compared to those of Holstein. At the same time, it must be observed, that in regard to dwarfs, although it frequently does occur that they are labouring under a hereditary lowness of stature, this is not invariably the case. In these instances dwarfs may be considered as morbid phenomena. Thus Bebe, the dwarf of Stanislaus of Poland, who was thirty-three French inches high, was weak, of delicate health, became deformed as he grew up, and died at the age of twenty-three; his parents were of the usual stature: whereas the Polish nobleman Borwlaski was well-made, active, intelligent: he measured twenty-eight inches; he had a brother of thirty-four inches, and a sister of twenty-one. Stöberin, of Nürenberg, was nearly three feet high at twenty, well-proportioned, and possessing a cultivated mind: his parents, brothers, and sisters, were all dwarfs. Such natural dwarfs have been known to evince brilliant qualities. Uladislas, king of Poland, surnamed Cubitalis from his only measuring a cubit in height, was renowned for his warlike exploits; and we find a dwarf of the name of Kasan, a khan of Tartary, boldly leading their enterprising bands. These individuals sprung from dwarfish parents; whereas the dwarfs we generally meet with are deformities of nature; their head is voluminous, their intellectual faculties obtuse, they are mostly childish in their ideas and pursuits, and are rarely able to propagate their race.
Held in contempt by the people, dwarfs naturally become peevish and irritable; and the diminutive names given to them to match their apparent natural imperfection tend constantly to increase their irritability. Thus the Latins called them Homunciones, the Italians Piccoluomini, the Flemings Mennekin,—whence, no doubt, our term Mannikin given to little men, and Minikin applied to small pins. A very curious case of a dwarf born from parents of the usual stature was exhibited in Paris in 1819: her name was Anne Souvray; she was born in the Vosges, and was only thirty-three inches in height. She was at that period seventy-three years of age; was gay, animated, good-humoured, and danced with tolerable grace with her sister Barbe, seventy-five years of age, and taller than her by two inches. In 1762, King Stanislaus wanted to marry her to his Bebe; the bridegroom, however, did not live to contract so desirable a match; but, faithful to her lover, she ever afterwards called herself Madame Bébé.
Jeffrey Hudson, the dwarf of King Charles, must also have been of a very diminutive stature, since we find that he was served up in a pie to the royal table, and jumped out when the crust was raised. It appears that introducing live pies in those days were not an uncommon frolic; hence there may be some truth in the old song of
Four-and-twenty black-birds bak’d in a pye,
When the pye was open’d the birds began to sing,
Was not that a dainty dish to lay before a king?