In an earlier post
, I pointed out claims about Darwin and Galton in the work of a scholar of Islamic law which were wildly false. I have recently come across something similar in work
by a scholar of Romani history writing on the Romani holocaust:
Charles Darwin, also writing in 1871, “employed unmistakably racial
terms when he noted ‘the uniform appearance in various parts of the
world of Gypsies and Jews . . . which contrast[ed] sharply with all the
virtues represented by the territorially settled and ‘culturally
advanced’ Nordic Aryan race” (Fox, 1995:7).
The cite is not to Darwin but to Fox, another scholar of the Romani holocaust.
The first half of the supposed quote, before the ..., is from The Descent of Man. The second half is nowhere to be found in the book. Nor is the phrase "Nordic Aryan." The full passage is:
The uniform appearance in various parts of the world of gypsies
and Jews, though the uniformity of the latter has been
somwhat exaggerated, is likewise an argument on the same side. A
very damp or a very dry atmosphere has been supposed to be
more influential in modifying the color of the skin than mere heat
; but as D'Orbigny in South America, and Livingstone in
Africa, arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions with respect
to dampness and dryness, any conclusion on this head must
be considered as very doubtful.
Various facts, which I have elsewhere given, prove that the
color of the skin and hair is sometimes correlated in a surprising
manner with a complete immunity from the action of certain
vegetable poisons and from the attacks of certain parasites. Hence
it occurred to me, that negroes and other dark races might have
acquired their dark tints by the darker individuals escaping
during a long series of generations from the deadly influence of
the miasmas of their native countries. (The Descent of Man, (1872), Chapter VII, p. 233)
The point of the passage is to offer an evolutionary explanation for differing physical features. It has nothing to do with the virtues or lack of them of Jews and Gypsies. The quote is, in other words, an invention.
All of the examples of it I can find online seem to be associated with Romani scholarship. My guess is that either it was invented by someone in that literature or it was invented by someone in the 19th or early 20th century with racist views who wanted to claim that they were supported by Darwin, picked up by someone in the Romani literature who liked it and did not bother to check whether it was true, and picked up from him by more authors in that literature—who also did not bother to check a striking quote from a readily available source.
Why does this matter? Part of the reason is that the quote, like the false claims cited in my earlier post, gives a distorted picture of intellectual history. Part is that telling nasty lies about people is a bad thing to do even if they are no longer alive.
But there is another reason it matters. The author I found the quote in is also the source of an ingenious and persuasive reconstruction of Romani history based mostly on linguistic grounds. I am not a linguist, still less a linguist of Romani, so most of the evidence for that account I have no way of checking. While on the whole it feels like competent and objective scholarship, it is clear that the author's emotions are to some extent involved, that it is a story he would like to believe. I now know that he cannot be trusted to check facts he likes in work he publishes. That makes me less certain of facts I cannot check.
That is the same point I made in my earlier post about another fake claim.