No. 10.—Atlas of the Noses of Africa, in Comparison with the Pure Nordic Type, by Sir Trismegistus Ashen.
AS ONE OF the chief authorities in nineteenth-century ethnography, Sir Trismegistus Ashen was a figure whose works were much anticipated when they were announced, and often cited once they had appeared in print. There was accordingly much excited murmuring in the intellectual world when Sir Trismegistus declared his intention of traveling to Africa to gather material for a new study to be called An Atlas of the Noses of Africa, in Comparison with the Pure Nordic Type.
Sir Trismegistus was widely regarded, not least by himself, as the foremost authority on noses in the field of ethnography. It was his contention that the distinctive nose of the Northern European proved his superiority to the men of all other races.
“The Nordic or Teutonic nose,” he wrote in the Proceedings of the All-British Philethnographic Society, “taken in its pure form as a distinct type, is conspicuously longer, and correspondingly more sensitive, than the olfactory organs of other racial types. The superior length of the nose renders it a delicate instrument for the detection of subtle odors at a distance, for which reason the degree of development of that organ may be taken as indicative of a given race’s position on the evolutionary scale.” A short nose on an Englishman or Prussian he regarded as indicative of an impure or adulterate ancestry, and therefore a mark of inferiority. It goes without saying that the nose of Sir Trismegistus was positively enormous.
Upon his arrival in George Town, then the administrative capital of the British Protectorate of Northern Southwest East Africa, Sir Trismegistus was provided by the colonial authorities with a large contingent of native bearers, all of whose noses were duly measured, for the carriage of his equipment and supplies. With this train he set out at once into the interior, measuring noses at every stop. A few of the natives objected to having their noses prodded with rulers and squeezed with calipers, and Sir Trismegistus’ letters from the expedition narrate more than one hair’s-breadth escape from an angry native who misunderstood his benign intentions. More often, however, his subjects received him hospitably and patiently endured his measurements.
Contrary to what he had expected when he began his expedition, Sir Trismegistus discovered that Africa was blessed with a wealth of nasal types. “I have discovered,” he wrote in one of his letters, “in addition to the short noses which I had expected to find, whole tribes with noses of the purest Teutonic type, as well as any number of intermediate noses. This variation can only have been produced by an admixture of the African and Teutonic races in prehistoric times. I believe I am the first to have discovered this evidence of these hitherto unsuspected voyages of our remote ancestors, the knowledge of which must add greatly to our appreciation of the superiority of the Nordic race.”
At last, having measured thousands of noses in his more than two years of wandering throughout the interior of Africa, Sir Trismegistus came to a village of the M’numu people, where he was introduced to a local sage or shaman who very politely asked permission to measure his thumb.
“I am compiling a monograph,” the M’numu scholar explained as he took careful measurements of length and circumference, “to be entitled A Compendium of the Thumbs of the European Explorers, with Reference to the Pure African Type. Most Europeans have stubby little thumbs, indicative of their racial inferiority when compared with the long and agile thumb of the African. The thumb, you see, is the organ by which tools are manipulated, for which reason we may regard the comparative development of the thumb as indicative of a given race’s position on the evolutionary scale. Your thumb, I might mention, is quite long, and very nearly of the pure African type, pointing to some admixture of African blood in your ancestry, of which you must be justifiably proud.”
In the evening, Sir Trismegistus announced his intention to terminate the expedition. The next morning, as he was boarding the boat that would take him down to the mouth of the M’numu River, he tripped over one of the many shaggy dogs that wandered free in the village; and, as he pitched forward, the bound folio volume containing all his two years of nasal observations fell into the river. His companions reported later that he made no serious effort to retrieve it.