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    Incidental Thoughts on a Bald Head

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    Chapter 22
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    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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