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After discussing the matter with some of my friends, I determined to publish, at my own expense, a small, popular volume on the “Palms of the Amazon and Rio Negro," with an account of their uses and distribution, and figures of all the species from my sketches and specimens of fruits. I arranged with Mr. Walter Fitch of Kew, the first botanical artist of the day, to draw them on stone, adding a few artistic touches to give them life and variety, and in a few cases some botanical details from species living in the gardens. In one of the drawings a large native house on the Vaupés is introduced, with some figures which, I am sorry to say, are as unlike the natives as are the inhabitants of a London slum. I arranged with Mr. Van Voorst to publish this small volume, and it was not thought advisable to print more than 250 copies, the sale of which just covered all expenses.
At the same time I was preparing my “Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro" from the scanty materials I had saved, supplemented by the letters I had written home. I arranged with Mr. Lovel Reeve for its publication on an agreement for "half profits.” Only 750 copies were printed, and when I returned home from the East in 1862, about 250 copies were still unsold, and there were consequently no profits to divide. We agreed, however, to share the remaining copies, and my portion was disposed of by my new publisher, Messrs. Macmillan & Co., and brought me in a few pounds.
I had brought with me vocabularies of about a hundred common words in ten different Indian languages, and as the greatest philologist at that time was the late Dr. R. G. Latham, I obtained an introduction to him, and he kindly offered to write some “Remarks " upon the vocabularies, and these are published in the first edition of my “ Travels.”
Dr. Latham was at this time engaged in fitting up groups of figures to illustrate the family life and habits of the various races of mankind at the new Crystal Palace at Sydenham, then just completed, and he asked me to meet him there and
see whether any alterations were required in a group of natives, I think, of Guiana.
I found Dr. Latham among a number of workmen in white aprons, several life-size clay models of Indians, and a number of their ornaments, weapons, and utensils. The head modellers were Italians, and Dr. Latham told me he could get no Englishmen to do the work, and that these Italians, although clever modellers of the human figure in any required attitude, had all been trained in the schools of classical sculpture, and were unable to get away from this training. The result was very curious, and often even ludicrous, a brown Indian man or girl being given the attitudes and expressions of an Apollo or a Hercules, a Venus or a Minerva. In those days there were no photographs, and the ethnologist had to trust to paintings or drawings, usually exaggerated or taken from individuals of exceptional beauty or ugliness. Under my suggestion alterations were made both in the features and pose of one or two of the figures just completed, so as to give them a little more of the Indian character, and serve as a guide in modelling others, in which the same type of physiognomy was to be preserved. I went several times during the work on the groups of South American origin, but though when completed, with the real ornaments, clothing, weapons, and domestic implements, the groups were fairly characteristic and life-like, yet there remained occasionally details of attitude or expression which suggested classic Greek or Italy rather than the South American savage.
These ethnological figures, although instructive to the student, were never very popular, and soon became the subject of contempt and ridicule. One reason of this was their arrangement in the open, quite close to the passing visitor, with nothing to isolate them from altogether incongruous surroundings. Another was, that they were not carefully attended to, and when I saw them after my return from the East, they had a shabby and dilapidated appearance, and the figures themselves were more or less dusty, which had a most ludicrous effect in what were intended to represent living men and women, being so utterly unlike the clear, glossy, living skins of all savage peoples. To be successful and life-like, such groups should be each completely isolated in a deep recess, with three sides representing houses or huts, or the forest, or river-bank, while the open front should be enclosed by a single sheet of plate-glass, and the group should be seen at a distance of at least ten or fifteen feet. In this way, with a carefully arranged illumination from above and an artistic colouring of the figures and accessories, each group might be made to appear as life-like as some of the best figures at Madame Tussaud's, or as the grand interiors of cathedrals, which were then exhibited at the Diorama. In the museum of the future, such groups will find their place in due succession to the groups illustrating the life histories of the other mammalia ; but ample space and a very careful attention to details must be given in order to ensure a successful and attractive representation.
It was at this time that I first saw Huxley. At one of the evening meetings of the Zoological Society (in December, 1852) he gave an account of some Echinococci found in the liver of a zebra which died in the gardens. He did not read the paper, but, with the help of diagrams and sketches on the blackboard, showed us clearly its main points of structure, its mode of development, and the strange transformations it underwent when the parent worm migrated from the intestine to other parts of the body of the animal. I was particularly struck with his wonderful power of making a difficult and rather complex subject perfectly intelligible and extremely interesting to persons who, like myself, were absolutely ignorant of the whole group. Although he was two years younger than myself, Huxley had already made a considerable reputation as a comparative anatomist, was a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a few months later was appointed Professor of Natural History and Palæontology at the Royal School of Mines. I was amazed, too, at his complete mastery of the subject, and his great amount of technical knowledge of a kind to which I have never given any attention, the