Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Henry Balfour 1998.356.17.1

Henry Balfour 1998.356.17.1

Balfour and the definition of Savages

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

In Balfour's book 'The Evolution of Decorative Art: An essay upon its origin and development as illustrated by the art of modern races of mankind. [London: Rivington, Percival and Co.] published in 1893, Balfour concludes the preface by explaining why he has used the term 'savage':

I have in the course of the following pages frequently to use the term 'Savage' as applied to the more lowly cultured races of mankind. In doing so I am merely using a commonly accepted term for want of a better. I do it under protest, as the word is very unsatisfactory whether taken in the light of its modern significance, which would ascribe 'ferocity' to many inoffensive peoples, to whose nature it is wholly strange except when introduced to them by civlised invaders; or whether considered according to its original meaning, i.e. living in woods or forests (Fr. sauvage, It. selvaggio, from Lat. silva, a wood), as in this case its inappropriateness is manifest when it is applied to such races as the Esquimaux, for whom forests can exist only in ecstatic dreams, and with whom drift-wood has to be substituted for growing timber. The French expression 'naturel' is far preferable, but our equivalent 'child of nature' is too unwieldly for general use, and the single word 'natural' is out of the question from its unfortunate significance of crazy in some of our northern dialects. [pp. ix-x]