Giants, Dwarfs, and Pigmies, Saturday, June 8, 1833, pp.149-150.

[Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal Contents]


   NOTWITHSTANDING the difference of opinion and controversy concerning giants and pigmies, it is sufficiently proved by travellers, whose veracity cannot be doubted, that there is not any country on the earth inhabited either by men who may strictly be called giants, or by pigmies. It is equally certain that in various parts of the earth the natives are taller and better formed than in other parts; but this observation also hold true in every district of our own country. Mr Pennant, to whose zeal and abilities as a naturalist the world is so much indebted, added another obligation in the testimony he has procured respecting the overcharged gigantic stature of the Patagonians. A Father Falkener, a Jesuite missionary in South America, but a native of England, when Mr Pennant visited for the express purpose of gaining certain information concerning that people, as he had been sent on a mission into their country about 1742, says, the various tribes who roam over the mountains and barrens of Patagonia are all tall people; but, after making every reasonable allowance for the exaggerations of navigators, who made them eight and nine, to eleven and twelve feet high, it does appear that many, if not the most of them, are considerably above the ordinary stature of human beings. Falkener measured a cacique or prince of the Tehuls, and found him to be seven feet eight inches high. Their stature, measured with great accuracy by the Spanish officers of Cordova’s expedition in 1785 and 1786, was found to be at the utmost seven feet one inch and a quarter, and the common height from six and a half to seven feet. It is to be remembered, however, as the translator of Cordova’s narrative has remarked, that the vara, or yard of Burgos, the standard of Spain, contains 33.06132 inches, or two feet nine inches and one sixteenth of English; the tallest Patagonians, therefore, did not exceed six feet six inches and one-third English, and those of the common size were from five feet eleven inches and two-thirds to six feet five inches and one-seventh English. It is also to be remembered that Spaniards are not in general tall men, and that a seaman is seldom so among his countrymen; to them, therefore, the Patagonians might appear giants. “But even this height,” says Cordova, “is not so striking as their corpulence, or rather bulkiness, some of them measuring four feet and four feet four inches round the breast; but their feet and hands are not in due proportion to their other parts. They all give evident signs of strength of body. They are all exceedingly muscular, but cannot properly be called fat. The size and tension of their muscles evince their strength; and their figure, on the whole, is not disagreeable, although the head is large even in proportion to the body, the face broad and flattish, the eyes lively, and the teeth extremely white, but too long. Their complexions, like that of other Americans, are pale yellow, or rather verging on a copper colour; they wear their black straight hair tied on the top of the head with a piece of thong or ribbon, brought round their forehead, having the head entirely uncovered. We observe some with beards, but which were neither thick nor long. Their dress adds much to the effect of their size, being composed of a kind of cloak made of the skins of llamas or zorillos [skunks], arranged with some skill.” 

   The inhabitants of Patagonia seem to be an exception to all the other races of mankind, for we have no authentic information of any other nation growing to so large a size. Individuals of a gigantic stature have existed in almost all countries, and in all ages of the world; these cases, however, have been comparatively few and isolated. La Pierre, a Danish female, was seven feet in height. John Frederick Duke of Brunswick was eight feet six inches; and one of the King of Prussia’s grenadier guards measured the same height. Reishart, a native of Frielberg, near Frankfort, in Germany, was eight feet three inches. there is the skeleton of an Irishman [Charles Byrne] in the museum of the London College which measures eight feet four inches. Gilby, a native of Sweden, who was exhibited as a show, was eight feet in height. 

   There have been a number of instances of children attaining great preternatural growth at a very early age; among these we may mention one of the most extraordinary instances – a boy of the hamlet of Bouzanquet, in the diocese of Alais, now the department of Gard, in France. Though this child was of a strong constitution, he appeared to be knit and stiff in his joints till he was about four years and a half old. During this time, nothing farther was remarkable in him than an extraordinary appetite, which was satisfied only by giving him plenty of the common feed used in the country, consisting of rye-bread, chestnuts, bacon, and water; but soon after this his limbs became supple and pliable, and his body beginning to expand itself, he grew up in so extraordinary a manner, that, at the age of five years, he measured four feet three inches; and at six he was five feet high, and bulky in proportion. Such was the rapidity of his growth that we might fancy we saw him grow. Every month his clothes were required to be made longer and wider; and, what was still very extraordinary in his growth, it was not preceded by any sickness, nor accompanied, as usual, with any pain. At the age of five years his voice changed, and at six he had all the appearance of a man of thirty. 

   Though his sensibility was greater than is commonly observable at the age of five or six years, yet its progress was by no means in proportion to that of his body; his air and manner still remained childish, though, by his thickness and stature, he resembled a complete man, which at first sight produced a singular contrast. His voice was strong and manly, and his great strength rendered him fit for the labours of the country. At the age of five, he could carry to a great distance three measures, weighing eighty-four pounds. When just turned of six years, he could lift up easily on his shoulders and carry loads of 150 pounds weight to a considerable distance; and these exercises were exhibited by him as often as the curious instigated him by any present. Such beginnings made people think that he would soon shoot up into a giant. A mountebank was already soliciting his parents to allow him to be exhibited, flattering them with hopes of putting him in the way of making a great fortune. But all these fond ideas soon vanished; his legs became brooked, his body shrunk, his strength diminished, his voice grew insensibly broken, and he at last sunk into a state of total imbecility. 

   A similar instance of a girl is recorded in the French Memoirs. This girl, at three years of age, resembled the generality of females of fourteen. When four years old, she was four feet six inches in height, and her limbs straight, and in all respects had the appearance of a well-grown girl of eighteen. These remarkable instances are the more to be wondered at, as taking place in northern climates, where mankind are later of arriving at maturity than in the southern countries. 

   The existence of a pigmy race has not recently been supported by any testimony worthy of credit, and all the accounts which have been detailed are now believed to be founded either in fable or error; but that dwarfs are and have been common in all countries and times, is so well known as to preclude the necessity of discussing the point. 

   Dwarfs, as well as men of great stature, formerly constituted a part of the equipage of a court. The dwarf, the fool or jester, and the giant, were marks of distinction attendant on the great. Geoffrey Hudson, who was born at Buckingham, in 1619, was a favourite at the court of James the [Sixth]. This celebrated dwarf was the son of a labourer, and was born at Oakham, in Buckinghamshire, in the year 1619. At seven years of age he entered into the service of the Duke of Buckingham, being then only eighteen inches high. On the queen being entertained at Burleigh-house, the seat of the duke, little Geoffrey was brought on the table in a cold pie, the crust of which being broken, he was taken out and presented by the duchess to her Majesty, queen of Charles the First, who took him into her service, and afterwards sent him to France to fetch over her mid-wife. In a masque at court, the king’s gigantic porter drew him out of his pocket, as if going to eat him, to the great surprise and diversion of all the spectators. In his passage to France he was taken by a pirate and carried to Dunkirk. His captivity and engagement with a turkey cock in that port were celebrated by Mr William Davenant, in his poem entitled Geoffreidos. It is said that after he was thirty years of age, he again commenced growing, and reached the height of three feet nine inches. His diminutive size did not prevent his acting in a military character; for, during the civil war, he was elevated, and served as a captain of cavalry. He followed his fortunes in France, in 1644, where he unluckily engaged in a quarrel with Mr Crofts, who, on a duel being agreed on, came into the field armed only with a syringe. A second meeting was appointed on horseback, in which Geoffrey killed his antagonist at the first shot. For this he was expelled the court, which induced him to go to sea, where he was again taken by a Turkish corsair, carried to Barbary, and sold as a slave. He found means, however, to obtain his release, and on his return was made a captain in the royal navy, and, on the final retreat of Queen Henrietta, attended her to France, and remained there till the Restoration. In 1682, he was committed to the Gate-House on suspicion of his being concerned in the Popish plot, where he ended his life at the age of sixty-three. 

   In the reign of Charles the First, a dwarf, named Richard Gibson, who was a page of the back-stairs, and a favourite at court, was married to Miss Ann Shepherd, another dwarf. His Majesty honoured this singular wedding with his presence, and gave away the bride; on which occasion Waller the poet composed the following verses:- 

Design or chance makes others wive, 

But nature did this match contrive. 

*      *      *      *      * 

Thrice happy is that humble pair, 

Beneath the level of all care, 

Over whose head those arrows fly 

Of sad distrust and jealousy; 

Secured in as high esteem 

As if the world had none but them. 


To him the fairest nymphs do show 

Like moving mountains topp’d with snow; 

And every man a Polypheme1 

Does to his Galatea2 seem: 

Ah, Chloris,3 that kind nature thus 

From all the world had sever’d us; 

Creating for ourselves us two, 

As love made me for only you. 

   The bridegroom and bride measured each three feet ten inches. Mr Gibson’s genius led him to painting; his performances in water colours were esteemed in his days, but the copies he made of Sir Peter Lely’s portraits gained him the greatest reputation. He had the honour to be employed in teaching Queen Anne the art of drawing, and was sent into Holland to instruct her sister, the Princess of Orange, He lived to the advanced age of seventy-five; his wife survived him nearly twenty years, and died in 1709, at the great age of eighty-nine. 

   A dwarf of the name of Coan was exhibited in most parts of England for some years. He was likewise brought on the stage of one of the London theatres, where he was contrasted with a giant, each of whom sung for the entertainment of the company. He was only three feet high. 

   In the year 1823, there was exhibited in a caravan a dwarf of the diminutive size of two feet two inches. He was remarkably well proportioned, but of a very delicate constitution. He was so light, that we easily held him on the palm of our hand with outstretched arm. 

   In the year 1710, Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia, celebrated a marriage of dwarfs at St Petersburgh, which was attended with great parade. Although this monarch was possessed of genius of the first order, yet he was far from being refined in his intellectual enjoyments. The scenes in which he took delight were of a vulgar cast, and however they might have amused people in a humble rank, yet they were ill befitting a great prince. Upon a certain day, which was announced by royal proclamation some months previously, he invited the whole body of his courtiers, and all the foreign ambassadors, to be present at the nuptials of a pigmy man and woman. The preparations for this marriage were not only magnificent, but executed in a style of barbarous ridicule. He ordered all the dwarfs, both male and female, who resided within two hundred miles of St Petersburgh, to repair to the capital, and be present at the ceremony. Proper vehicles were supplied for transporting them; but he so contrived it, that one horse was seen dragging a dozen of them into a city at once, while the mob followed, shouting and laughing, from behind. At first, some of these little people were unwilling to appear at the ceremony which they were well aware was calculated to turn them into ridicule, and consequently failed to obey the summons of the emperor. He, however, soon compelled them to bend to his sovereign will, and, as a punishment, enjoined that they should wait upon the rest at dinner. The whole assemblage of dwarfs amounted to seventy, exclusive of the bride and bridegroom, who were richly adorned, and dressed in the extremity of the fashion. 

   Every article to be used by this diminutive company was in miniature – a low table, small plates, little glasses, and, in short, every thing corresponding to the size of the guests. It afforded the emperor great amusement to watch the gravity and pride manifested by these dwarfs, and the contention of the females for superiority over the men. This point he attempted to adjust, by ordering that the most diminutive should take the lead; but this did not answer the purpose, and bred disputes, for none would then consent to sit foremost. All this, however, being at last settled, dancing followed the dinner, and the ball was opened with a minuet by the bridegroom, who measured exactly three feet two inches high. In the end, matter were so adjusted that this diminutive company, who met together in gloomy pride, and seemed unwilling to be pleased with an entertainment which they attended through compulsion, being at last familiarized to laughter, joined the diversion, and became extremely sprightly and entertaining. 

   The following interesting history of a dwarf is taken from the Histoire Naturelle of Daubenton:- “This dwarf, whose name was Baby [Bébé], was well known, having spent the greater part of his life at Louisville, in the palace of Stanislaus, the titular king of Poland. He was born near the village of Plaisne, in France, in the year 1741. His father and mother were peasants, both of good constitutions, and inured to a life of husbandry and labour. Baby, when born, weighed about a pound and a quarter. We are not informed of the dimensions of his body at that time; but we may conjecture they were very small, as he was presented on a plate to be baptised, and for a long time lay in a slipper. His mouth being very small, he was obliged to be suckled by a she goat that was in the house, and that served as a nurse, attending to his cries with a kind of maternal solicitude. He began to articulate some words when eighteen months old, and at two years he was able to walk alone. He was then fitted with shoes that were about an inch and a half long. He was attacked with several acute disorders; but the small-pox was the only one which left any marks behind it. Until he was six years old, he ate no other food but pulse, potatoes, and bacon. His father and mother were, from their poverty, incapable of affording him any better nourishment; and his education was little better than his food, being bred up among the rustics of the place. At six years old he was about fifteen inches high, and his whole body weighed but thirteen pounds. Notwithstanding this, he was well-proportioned and handsome; his health was good; but his understanding scarcely passed the bounds of instinct. It was at this time that the king of Poland, having heard of such a curiosity, had him conveyed to Lunenville, gave him the name of Baby, and kept him in his palace. 

   Baby having thus quitted the hard condition of a peasant, to enjoy all the comforts and conveniences of life, seemed to receive no alteration from his new way of living, either in mind or person. He preserved the goodness of his constitution till about the age of sixteen; but his body seemed to increase very slowly during the whole time, and his stupidity was such, that all instructions were lost in improving his understanding. He could never be brought to have any sense of religion, nor even to show the least signs of a reasoning faculty. They attempted to teach him dancing and music, but in vain; he never could make any thing of music; and as for dancing, although he beat time tolerably exact, yet he could never remember the figure, but while his dancing-master stood by to direct his motions. Nevertheless, a mind thus destitute of understanding was not without its passions. 

   At the age of sixteen, Baby was twenty-nine inches high; at this he rested; but having thus arrived at his acme, the alterations of old age came fast upon him. From being very beautiful, the poor little creature now became quite deformed; his strength entirely forsook him; his back-bone began to bend; his head hung forward; his limbs grew weak; one of his shoulders turned awry; and his nose grew disproportionably large. With his strength his natural spirits also departed; and by the time he was twenty, he was grown feeble and decrepit, and marked with the strongest impressions of old age. It had been before remarked by some, that he would die of old age before he arrived at thirty; and in fact, by the time he was twenty-two, he could scarcely walk a hundred paces, being worn out with the multiplicity of his years, and bent under the burden of a protracted life. In this year he died. A cold, attended with a slight fever, threw him into a kind of lethargy, which had a few momentary intervals; but he could scarcely be brought to speak. However, it is asserted, that in the five last years of his life he showed a clearer understanding than in his times of best health; but at last he died, after enduring great agonies, in the twenty-second year of his age.” 

   A learned physician presented, in 1809, a paper to the Royal Society, describing the preserved body of a pigmy which he had examined in the West Indies, the property of a Frenchman, who pretended that he brought the man living from Madagascar, where a whole nation existed of men and women varying from thirty-two to forty inches high. Their manners and customs were also described; but the whole depended on the veracity of the Frenchman, who appeared in a questionable character. In short, since the above period no trace whatever has been discovered of this wonderful race of people. 

1  Polyphemus, the son of Neptune, a huge and cruel monster, with only one eye in the middle of his forehead, which Ulysses destroyed with a firebrand. 

2  Galatea, the daughter of Nereus and Doris, passionately loved by Polyphemus. 

3  The poet’s mistress. 

2 thoughts on “Giants, Dwarfs, and Pigmies, Saturday, June 8, 1833, pp.149-150.

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