Incidental Thoughts on a Bald Head

I was asked to go, quite suddenly, and found myself there before I had
time to think of what it might be. I understood her to say it was a
meeting of some "Sunday society," some society that tried to turn the
Sabbath from a day of woe to a day of rejoicing. "St. George's Hall,
Langham Place," a cab, and there we were. I thought they would be
picturesque Pagans. But the entertainment was the oddest it has ever
been my lot to see, a kind of mystery. The place was dark, except for a
big circle of light on a screen, and a dismal man with a long stick was
talking about the effects of alcohol on your muscles. He talked and
talked, and people went to sleep all about us. Euphemia's face looked so
very pretty in the dim light that I tried to talk to her and hold her
hand, but she only said "Ssh!" And then they began showing pictures on
the screen--the most shocking things!--stomachs, and all that kind of
thing. They went on like that for an hour, and then there was a lot of
thumping with umbrellas, and they turned the lights up and we went home.
Curious way of spending Sunday afternoon, is it not?

But you may imagine I had a dismal time all that hour. I understood the
people about me were Sceptics, the kind of people who don't believe
things--a singular class, and, I am told, a growing one. These excellent
people, it seems, have conscientious objections to going to chapel or
church, but at the same time the devotional habit of countless
generations of pious forerunners is strong in them. Consequently they
have invented things like these lectures to go to, with a professor
instead of a priest, and a lantern slide of a stomach by way of
altar-piece; and alcohol they make their Devil, and their god is
Hygiene--a curious and instructive case of mental inertia. I understand,
too, there are several other temples of this Cult in London--South Place
Chapel and Essex Hall, for instance, where they worship the Spirit of
the Innermost. But the thing that struck me so oddly was the number of
bald heads glimmering faintly in the reflected light from the lantern
circle. And that set me thinking upon a difficulty I have never been
able to surmount.

You see these people, and lots of other people, too, believe in a thing
they call Natural Selection. They think, as part of that belief, that
men are descended from hairy simian ancestors; assert that even a
hundred thousand years ago the ancestor was hairy--hairy, heavy, and
almost as much a brute as if he lived in Mr. Arthur Morrison's
Whitechapel. For my own part I think it a pretty theory, and would
certainly accept it were it not for one objection. The thing I cannot
understand is how our ancestor lost that hair. I see no reason why he
should not have kept his hair on. According to the theory of natural
selection, materially favourable variations survive, unfavourable
disappear; the only way in which the loss is to be accounted for is by
explaining it as advantageous; but where is the advantage of losing your
hair? The disadvantages appear to me to be innumerable. A thick covering
of hair, like that of a Capuchin monkey, would be an invaluable
protection against sudden changes of temperature, far better than any
clothing can be. Had I that, for instance, I should be rid of the
perpetual cold in the head that so disfigures my life; and the
multitudes who die annually of chills, bronchitis, and consumption, and
most of those who suffer from rheumatic pains, neuralgia, and so forth,
would not so die and suffer. And in the past, when clothing was less
perfect and firing a casual commodity, the disadvantages of losing hair
were all the greater. In very hot countries hair is perhaps even more
important in saving the possessor from the excessive glare of the sun.
Before the invention of the hat, thick hair on the head at least was
absolutely essential to save the owner of the skull from sunstroke.
That, perhaps, explains why the hair has been retained there, and why it
is going now that we have hats, but it certainly does not explain why it
has gone from the rest of the body.

One--remarkably weak--explanation has been propounded: an appeal to our
belief in human vanity. He picked it out by the roots, because he
thought he was prettier without. But that is no reason at all. Suppose
he did, it would not affect his children. Professor Weismann has at
least convinced scientific people of this: that the characters acquired
by a parent are rarely, if ever, transmitted to its offspring. An
individual given to such wanton denudation would simply be at a
disadvantage with his decently covered fellows, would fall behind in the
race of life, and perish with his kind. Besides, if man has been at such
pains to uncover his skin, why have quite a large number of the most
respected among us such a passionate desire to have it covered up again?

Yet that is the only attempted explanation I have ever come upon, and
the thing has often worried me. I think it is just as probably a change
in dietary. I have noticed that most of your vegetarians are
shock-headed, ample-bearded men, and I have heard the Ancestor was
vegetarian. Or it may be, I sometimes fancy, a kind of inherent
disposition on the part of your human animal to dwindle. That came back
in my memory vividly as I looked at the long rows of Sceptics, typical
Advanced people, and marked their glistening crania. I recalled other
losses. Here is Humanity, thought I, growing hairless, growing bald,
growing toothless, unemotional, irreligious, losing the end joint of the
little toe, dwindling in its osseous structures, its jawbone and brow
ridges, losing all the full, rich curvatures of its primordial beauty.

It seems almost like what the scientific people call a Law. And by
strenuous efforts the creature just keeps pace with his losses--devises
clothes, wigs, artificial teeth, paddings, shoes--what civilised being
could use his bare feet for his ordinary locomotion? Imagine him on a
furze-sprinkled golf links. Then stays, an efficient substitute for the
effete feminine backbone. So the thing goes on. Long ago his superficies
became artificial, and now the human being shrinks like a burning cigar,
and the figure he has abandoned remains distended with artificial ashes,
dead dry protections against the exposures he so unaccountably fears.
Will he go on shrinking, I wonder?--become at last a mere lurking atomy
in his own recesses, a kind of hermit crab, the bulk of him a complex
mechanism, a thing of rags and tatters and papier-maché, stolen from the
earth and the plant-world and his fellow beasts? And at last may he not
disappear altogether, none missing him, and a democracy of honest
machinery, neatly clad and loaded up with sound principles of action,
walk to and fro in a regenerate world? Thus it was my mind went dreaming
in St. George's Hall. But presently, as I say, came the last word about
stomachs, and the bald men woke up, rattled their umbrellas, said it was
vastly interesting, and went toddling off home in an ecstasy of advanced
Liberalism. And we two returned to the place whence we came.

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