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8. The Ugly Face of China: Bayard Taylor’s Travels in Asia


George West and William Heine could justifiably look to Bayard Taylor to save their panorama from financial doom because, by 1856, he had become a genuine hero and celebrity in the eyes of many Americans. Although Taylor had been well-known before joining Commodore Matthew Galbraith Perry’s expedition to Japan in 1853, his reputation as “the Great American Traveler” was now solidified by that illustrious adventure. 1 He was without doubt the most famous person in his day to lecture on and write about China. He was not, however, even close to being the most qualified. That distinction belonged to Samuel Wells Williams, who also accompanied the expedition to Japan because Perry desperately needed someone possessing both knowledge of Asian customs and proficiency in Asian languages. Perry’s realization that Williams fit this description perfectly came probably after reading The Middle Kingdom. 2

Despite Williams’s exhaustive knowledge, his example demonstrates that the most qualified do not always exercise the greatest influence. In the 1850s, more Americans learned about China from Bayard Taylor, who did not speak the language, spent a mere two months in the country, observed only parts of Shanghai and Canton, and held precious few conversations with Chinese people. In fact, Taylor was not even very particularly interested in the Chinese; he voyaged to Asia in the early 1850s partly to escape the depression that followed a tragic loss. His young wife Mary (née Agnew) had died in 1850, shortly after their marriage. When Taylor joined the Perry expedition in 1853, he had a heavy heart, and the effects of intense and prolonged mourning were etched on his face. “There were lines that had been traced by suffering,” John Sewall, a captain’s clerk in the U.S Navy, wrote in his logbook, “and we learned afterward of the death of his young wife.” 3

His countrymen were examining Bayard Taylor’s face just as in China and Japan he was examining the appearance of others. Since he lacked the experience, linguistic ability, and scientific expertise to make a thorough ethnographic study of the Chinese, he attempted to compensate by applying a pseudoscientific technique called physiognomy. According to the most basic claim of physiognomy, the human eye, if properly trained, could do more than observe mere surfaces; it could probe the depths and uncover the true moral nature of a person or even of an entire race. Samuel Wells Williams criticized travelers who, using “the physiognomy God has marked upon the features” of the Chinese, made devastating value judgments, 4 and Caleb Cushing had blocked efforts by phrenologists to infect his mission with their theories. But Taylor placed absolute faith in the value of physiognomy as a means to demystify the Chinese. In short, a pseudoscientific system, now discredited, undergirded Taylor’s portrayal of China.

Once he had made his assessment, Taylor effectively employed three different media to disseminate his views: a popular travelogue, a fabulously successful lecture tour, and a widely read series of letters published in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. Unlike Kellett, Taylor did not merely endorse popular stereotypes in his presentations. For whereas Captain Kellett sought to maximize profits by reinforcing the public’s mocking attitude toward China, Taylor knew that his personal popularity guaranteed high book sales and well-attended lectures regardless of how he constructed China. After all, he, and not China, was the marketable commodity. Freed from market considerations, Taylor could dissent from the popular view and challenge Americans to see China in a new light, as Nathan Dunn, Samuel Wells Williams, John Peters, and George West had done before him. At this point, though, the similarities with his predecessors in China end. In Taylor’s opinion, the Chinese demonstrated such moral depravity that they deserved not ridicule but outright condemnation.

An Instantaneous Ethnography

Philadelphia was the center for phrenology at the time of Dunn’s museum, and ripples of influence emanated out to nearby towns and villages. In 1839, Dr. Thomas Dunn English of Philadelphia, then experimenting with the pseudoscience, traveled out to Chester County, Pennsylvania, to give a lecture on Franz Joseph Gall and Joseph Spurzheim. The following day, he visited the local jail to inspect the heads of the inmates. Phrenologists commonly performed examinations on criminals because a convincing demonstration that criminals had some proclivity toward unlawful behavior would lend the science some validity. The sheriff, Joseph Taylor, allowed the examinations to take place and then, on a whim, asked English to perform a reading on his fourteen-year-old son. Joseph informed English that he planned to make a farmer out of young Bayard. However, after studying the boy’s head, English turned to the elder Taylor and made an augury the latter did not want to hear: The boy would resist any attempt by his father to impose the farmer’s life on him because Bayard Taylor was destined to “ramble around the world.” Furthermore, the lad also possessed “all the marks of a poet,” and a life of physical labor would only stifle his creativity. 5


Assuming that the above story is not apocryphal, English’s head inspection would prove eerily accurate, as Bayard Taylor did become a poet of minor repute and a travel writer with a national following. However, the same prediction could have been made by anyone with access to young Taylor’s scrapbook. Indeed, the articles he chose to paste into it offer us a window into the mind of an intellectually curious boy. The pages are filled with clipped newspaper and magazine stories on literature and poetry, voyages to foreign countries, and even phrenology. 6 With this strong yearning to travel and a curiosity for distant climes, Taylor’s interests reflected those of his era. Like many of his countrymen, he read with a voracious appetite the accounts of explorations to uncharted parts of the globe. These works fired the young man’s imagination and intensified his hunger to see the world, an ambition that rivaled his parallel ambition of becoming a poet. 7

As Taylor reached adulthood, the presence of these two competing desires created an internal conflict. He made repeated attempts to join the ranks of America’s most respected poets but failed to achieve the lofty status enjoyed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier. Although some of Taylor’s poems were published, these neither generated enough revenue to allow him to support himself nor enjoyed the kind of popularity necessary to lift his name out of obscurity in the literary world. While he waited for his verses to receive the recognition he believed they deserved, Taylor turned to the second of his passions, travel, in order to earn a livelihood.

After returning from a two-year walking tour through Europe in 1846, Taylor described his experiences in Views A-Foot, a travelogue that transformed him into a celebrity almost overnight. In the ensuing years, a trip to the American West during the Gold Rush and the subsequent publication of Eldorado solidified his reputation as America’s great travel writer. As the ninth edition of Views A-Foot went to the printers, Taylor expressed his astonishment at the celebrity status he had achieved in such a short time: “I am amazed—thunderstruck, almost—at the extent to which I am known and appreciated all through the United States.” 8

But Taylor soon grew uneasy with his newfound fame. As a travel writer, he found himself occupying an undesirable middle ground between the two poles, both of them more noble, of poetry and exploration. His vocation shared some of the attributes of each, but in Taylor’s view it did not have the intrinsic worth of either. One needed literary talent to succeed in travel writing as well as in poetry, but Taylor revered the latter and denigrated the former as a profane waste of his artistic ability. For this reason, he looked on his loyal readers with ambivalence, appreciating their fanatical embrasure of his travelogues while resenting their cool indifference to his poetical genius. “I am known to the public not as a poet, the only title I covet, but as one who succeeded in seeing Europe with little money,” Taylor confided in a friend. “Now this is truly humiliating. It acts as a sting or spur which touches my pride.” 9

If travel writing paled in comparison to the “glorious art” of poetry, it fared even worse when measured against exploration. Both the travel writer and the explorer voyaged great distances, endured harsh climes, and lived amongst foreign peoples, but only the explorer added to world knowledge in a significant way. As a mid-nineteenth-century travel writer, Taylor lived in the long shadow cast by such contemporaries as Elisha Kent Kane, the intrepid leader of two Arctic expeditions in the 1850s, who possessed the training and scientific expertise Taylor lacked.

To guide his ships to their destination, Kane knew how to use the stars in conjunction with the most sophisticated navigational instruments of his age. Having received his M.D., Kane served as the surgeon for Caleb Cushing’s mission to China in 1843. And in all subsequent voyages launched under his leadership, his men could depend on him to treat their injuries and illnesses. Kane also had more than a rudimentary knowledge of chemical compounds. On one occasion, he performed the daring feat of lowering himself into the Taal Volcano in the Philippines to study its sulfurous compounds. And in the Arctic region he studied wind patterns, water currents, and magnetic fields and once even spent twelve consecutive hours with his telescope in temperatures hovering at _43 degrees Fahrenheit to observe the occultation of Saturn and Mars. With some training as a naturalist, Kane could classify previously unknown forms of plant and animal life and collect specimens for botanists and zoologists back home. Finally, he also had expertise as a surveyor, which meant he could easily map huge swaths of terrestrial space with mathematical precision. 10

Bayard Taylor, in contrast, was quite limited. He did not know how to navigate a sailing vessel, treat anything other than a minor injury, or convert any of the natural phenomena he observed into useful knowledge. He edited the Cyclopædia of Modern Travel: A Record of Adventure, Exploration, and Discovery, for the Past Fifty Years (1856), which was essentially the worshipful Taylor’s paean to the modern explorers. In the preface, he explained how the modern explorer, unlike his predecessor, had sophisticated instruments and scientific knowledge at his disposal: “He tests every step of the way by the sure light of science. . . . The pencil, the compass, the barometer, and the sextant accompany him; geology, botany, and ethnology are his aids.” 11 Yet being very self-aware, Taylor knew that he possessed none of the expertise that he ascribed to these men. He was a travel writer, a decidedly lower form of adventurer, who, in status, prestige, glory, and heroism, occupied a position on the hierarchy well beneath that of the great scientific explorer. As such, he could do little more than arrive at a particular destination and describe what he saw. “I have relapsed into a traveler, an adventurer,” he wrote to a friend from China, “seeking the heroic in actual life, yet without attaining it.” 12

Taylor’s inferiority complex came to the foreground in 1856, two years after returning from China and Japan, when he traveled to Germany and met with the man to whom he had dedicated the Cyclopædia—the colossus of exploration himself, Alexander von Humboldt. Having retired from active life, Humboldt was engaged in writing the massive work that was to represent the culmination of his storied career. In Cosmos, Humboldt rather audaciously attempted the grandiose undertaking of explaining “the whole of the physical aspect of the universe in one work . . . from the nature of the nebula [of the stars] down to the geography of the mosses clinging to a granite rocks.” 13 According to Taylor, nothing was beyond Humboldt’s abilities. “Alexander von Humboldt is the world’s greatest living man,” Taylor wrote, “a throned monarch in the world of science.” 14

Face to face for the first time with the man he lionized above all others, Taylor gave into his emotions: “I had approached him with a natural feeling of reverence, but in five minutes I found that I loved him.” The two quickly established an easy rapport in German, a language Taylor was fluent in, 15 and the American travel writer soon felt comfortable enough to confess his vexing concern that his “lack of severe and specific training” diminished his contribution to knowledge. Humboldt, recognizing Taylor’s acute self-doubt, quite generously responded by refusing to concur. “But you paint the world as we explorers of science cannot,” Humboldt assured Taylor. “Do not undervalue what you have done. It is a real service; and the unscientific traveler who knows the use of his eyes observes for us always without being aware of it.” According to Humboldt, the nonscientific observer complemented the scientific work of the explorer; by using his eyes, the travel writer could add to humankind’s understanding of the world in a way the explorer could not. Heartened by this vote of confidence, Taylor began to see his role in a new light. He was engaged in the noble work of constructing a “human cosmos”—a description and explication of the many types of people that inhabited the globe. 16 Even with this newfound respect for travel writing, however, Taylor would still always feel unworthy when, on the lecture circuit, his hosts introduced him as “the American Humboldt.” 17

This exchange with Humboldt is worth mentioning because it reveals a Taylor who doubted the worth of his descriptions and insights as they lacked a proper foundation in science. Perhaps to compensate for this shortcoming and to confer on his work an aura of scientific rigor, he utilized another “science,” the mastery of which did not require years of training. Taylor learned the art of physiognomy, the lesser-known parent science of the more popular phrenology. In fact, he even conducted a quick physiognomical study of Humboldt’s face, unbeknown to the retired explorer. 18

Physiognomy had existed in some form for centuries, but the unique brand Taylor practiced had been developed by Johann Caspar Lavater (1741–1801) of Zurich. Lavater argueed that a perfect unity existed between the body, mind, and soul and that therefore one could ascertain the character or moral worth of an individual merely by studying the face and body. Physiognomy and phrenology shared the same assumption that intellectual and spiritual qualities were manifest in the corporeal form. Yet physiognomy did more than just predate phrenology. Phrenology would not have arisen without it. It was Lavater’s theories that first inspired Franz Joseph Gall to investigate the relationship between behavior and the contours of the human head. 19

Although Taylor never touched a single scalp in China or Japan, he performed an equivalent sort of examination by studying the skeletal and facial structures of the Chinese and Japanese people he encountered, and he used his findings to read deeply into their moral character. Physiognomy fit Taylor’s needs because it lent his untrained observations some of the prestige of science, a form of validity he desperately craved. Lavater had always insisted that physiognomy was a legitimate science, arguing that, whenever “truth or knowledge is explained by fixed principles, it becomes scientific.” 20 Physiognomy appealed to Taylor also because it brought his beloved art into his ethnographic study. He could use the ancient sculptures of Greece and Rome—they represented physiognomical perfection in their “Harmony” and “Proportion”—as the standard against which all human forms were to be measured. 21

Along with the concepts of harmony and proportion, that of symmetry assumed importance in the lexicon of physiognomy and related pseudosciences. In an article on phrenology and physiognomy pasted into Taylor’s childhood scrapbook, “symmetrical features” were described as the most desirable in the human form. 22 The major works of Lavater employed the term symmetry, as did The Pocket Lavater, a small handbook published after his death, that offered the basic principles in a concise format. 23 (Caleb Cushing, in denouncing physiognomy, claimed that its practitioners did little more than look for a “symmetry of countenance” in making rash judgments of people. 24) Samuel George Morton observed in his Crania Americana (1839) that many tribes of North and South America were “remarkable for their perfect symmetry.” 25 Taylor thought highly enough of Morton’s work that he referred to the doctor’s racial theories in his lectures. 26 When Taylor studied the faces and physiques of the Chinese and Japanese, he was looking for the symmetry described in these works.

Taylor’s awareness of such theories is in no way surprising. In his day, American culture was steeped in pseudosciences. Editions of Lavater’s seminal works were still readily available in bookstores. Other manuals or handbooks were also on the market, such as J. W. Redfield’s Outline of a New System of Physiognomy, which simplified Lavater’s voluminous teachings and illustrated their practical applications. 27 In fact, Lavater was so well known that in 1850, five decades after his death, P. T. Barnum could refer to him in a news item about the Chinese Belle, Pwan Ye Koo, that he penned for the Herald

It is a curious philosophy, that of Lavatar [sic], which deduces the intellectual character of the human being from the configuration and expression of the human face. According to this philosophy, the Chinese Beauty would rank very high in the scale of mental energy, for her facial angle is remarkable and her countenance a singular admixture of the better features of the Caucasian and the native American races. Have you been to the Chinese Museum yet? 28

That Barnum invoked Lavater in his advertisement for Pwan Ye Koo suggests he believed the paper’s readers would be familiar with the name.

Ironically, one man who would not have approved of Taylor’s use of physiognomy was America’s most visible advocate of phrenology, Orson Fowler. Fowler entertained deep reservations about the reliability of physiognomy and periodically used the pages of his American Phrenological Journal to admonish his readers. Mainly, the mutability of the human face is what gave Fowler cause for concern. Whereas phrenology required its practitioners to make careful measurements of the human skull, which was fixed and unchanging, physiognomy depended on a hasty reading of the face, which underwent countless transfigurations in the course of a single day. “When one feels emotion,” Fowler argued, “the muscles of the face change one’s countenance depending on whether one feels at that moment love, fear, anger, suspicion, or hope.” The skull, being immune to the “metamorphoses” that plagued the face, offered a “true mental index.” Although Fowler did not reject physiognomy entirely, he believed it could be used responsibly only in tandem with phrenology, never in lieu of it. 29

And so, when Taylor headed to the Far East in 1851, he carried in his mental toolkit a set of theories, a system for understanding human nature, that even a quack scientist regarded with deep suspicion. While physiognomy’s merits were suspect, it clearly empowered those who believed in it. It allowed Taylor to practice a kind of instantaneous ethnography, in which he could ascertain with a mere glance the chief moral and intellectual traits of a given race. Confident in his methods, he set out to add the Chinese and the Japanese to the list of races in his grand “human cosmos.” In his mind, he would superimpose his rigid geometry over their eyes, noses, lips, and cheekbones and see how these compared against the perfect aesthetic forms from his beloved world of art.

Touring China during the Taiping Rebellion

As China opened four additional ports to commerce, merchants seeking new markets would look with high optimism on their chances of making inroads into a previously impenetrable society, as would missionaries intent on saving souls. The Opium War and the Cushing Mission had aroused America’s interest in China, and now the conclusion of the War with Mexico in 1848 intensified it. After the annexation of a vast territory that included much of the Pacific coast, Americans fixed their collective gaze on Asia. With the full support of the federal government, business interests conceived of a steamship line that would connect San Francisco to Shanghai. According to preliminary calculations, a consignment of goods traveling from New York to Shanghai via Panama would arrive in forty-five days, three weeks faster than a parcel leaving London and bound for the same destination. With the establishment of such a line, the United States could control a greater portion of the China trade and thereby gain an advantage over its chief European rival in the high stakes of global commerce.


However, the success of the hypothetical enterprise depended on the cooperation of Japan, for two reasons. First, the proposed route passed right through the Japanese Isles, a course that was problematic, as Japan had been inhospitable to the surviving sailors of wrecked American whaling vessels. Second, the boilers of steamships required tremendous amounts of fuel for the transpacific journey, and Japan was believed to possess large deposits of coal. If Japan could be brought out of its self-imposed isolation and could be convinced to supply coal to steamships in transit, then the United States could become the preeminent trading power in the Pacific. With this ambition providing the impetus, the federal government appointed Commodore Matthew Perry to lead an expedition to Japan. While Perry’s stated purpose was to secure better treatment for luckless American sailors marooned on Japan and to establish a coaling station, the prospect of greater intercourse with a newly opened China loomed not far behind the mission. 30

After listening to the U.S. government’s arguments in favor of the Perry expedition, Samuel Wells Williams promptly dismissed them. Assistance for marooned sailors and coaling stations provided the “ostensible reasons for this great outlay,” but something larger lurked behind the expedition. And the skeptical Williams had a theory as to exactly what the true impetus was: “The real reasons are glorification of the Yankee nation &food for praising ourselves.” At mid-century, America’s self-confidence was surging, and this pride was now manifesting itself in foreign policy, with this audacious move of sending a “powerful squadron” to open Japan. Despite his criticism, Williams did of course agree to join the expedition, and we should not be surprised to learn his reason. God meant to use the “fear of force” inspired by Perry to jolt Japan out of self-imposed isolation; then and only could the Bible reach the Japanese people. As in the case of the Opium War, Williams disapproved of a government’s action on the plane of human affairs, but on the all-important heavenly plane he discerned a divine plan: “There lies God’s purposes of making known the Gospel to all nations.” Perry’s squadron constituted a second battering ram of God. 31

The importance of the Perry expedition was not lost on Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune. While Bayard Taylor was in Constantinople, Greeley sent him a communication stating that he, Taylor, was to sail for Hong Kong to join Commodore Perry’s expedition. Although Perry had not offered any overt indication of his willingness to accept a civilian like Taylor, Greeley had received “indirect assurance” that he would be taken on. 32 Sure enough, Perry eventually did agree to make Taylor a temporary officer with a modest rank. 33 P. T. Barnum, who was always sensitive to the public’s desires, also recognized the nation’s renewed interest in Asia. Having recently purchased John Peters’s Chinese collection, he now predicted that, with the launching of the Perry expedition, Japan was certain to attract the same national attention as did China. And so when Barnum heard of the dramatic change in Taylor’s itinerary, he excitedly wrote to Taylor to request “drawings &sketches” (for his publication the Illustrated News) and oriental curiosities (for the American Museum). 34

Taylor traveled first by steamer to Singapore, where he immediately came into contact with a Chinese settlement.

This was my first sight of a large Chinese community, and the impression it left was not agreeable. Their dull faces, without expression . . . and their half-naked, unsymmetrical bodies, more like figures of yellow clay than warm flesh and blood, filled me with an unconquerable aversion. The scowling Malay, with his dark, fiery eye, and spare but sinewy form, was ennobled by comparison, and I turned to look upon him with a great sense of relief. 35

Taylor detested the Chinese at first sight. But more interesting than the disgust is the system of belief working behind it: the principles of physiognomy. The pseudoscience taught that the inner worth of a race manifested itself in the body, and so Taylor believed that he could focus entirely on the physicality of the Chinese and that he did not need to investigate any further into their actions, customs, or productions. 36

After Singapore, Taylor headed to Hong Kong, where he briefly disembarked before boarding the steam-powered frigate the Susquehanna, bound for Macao. Although he had by this time endured two years of difficult travel, he continued to exude strength and confidence in the company of others. “His stalwart manhood impressed us,” wrote John Sewall, a clerk in the U.S. Navy, after seeing the travel writer for the first time. 37 After Macao, Taylor planned to proceed next to Canton, where he would tour the famous Chinese port while awaiting the arrival of Commodore Perry. However, he revised this itinerary after the U.S. commissioner to China, Humphrey Marshall, made him the tantalizing offer to head further north. This was a rather bold proposition, as China in 1853 was in a state of tremendous upheaval caused by the Taiping Rebellion. After failing the imperial exams four times, Hong Xiuquan used the Christian theology he had read in a missionary tract to interpret his own fantastic dreams. Believing himself to be the son of God and the brother of Jesus Christ, Hong fomented in southern China a movement that, by 1853, had grown to such proportions that it posed a legitimate threat to the Qing government. Marshall decided to ascertain the true intentions of the Taipings with regard to foreigners so as to determine whether any precautions needed to be taken to ensure the protection of American interests. 38

Marshall also enlisted Peter Parker, the medical missionary, along with several others, in addition to Taylor, for a diplomatic mission to the seat of war further north. On arriving in Shanghai on the Susquehanna, they received the uncertain intelligence that the Taipings had successfully captured the city of Nanjing and proclaimed it their capital. Marshall, deciding to establish contact with the Taipings in order to declare the official neutrality of the United States, ordered that the Susquehanna proceed up the Yangtze River to Nanjing. Unfortunately, the mission sputtered before it could get very far when the heavy steamship ran aground on a shoal. Taylor returned to Shanghai, where he found he had nothing to do except wait for Commodore Perry to reach China. 39

Yet Taylor craved material for a future travelogue, and so, when presented with this downtime, he set out to observe Chinese life both in Shanghai and in the surrounding countryside. Although he seldom communicated with the Chinese, his desire to see the land and its people made some form of interaction inevitable. For example, during his jaunts through rural villages, he demonstrated a strange propensity to burst into Chinese homes completely unannounced. These intrusions, however, produced little in the way of new ethnographic material, for a reason he explained. “It is not advisable to be too curious, or to spend much time in inspecting Chinese dwellings, on account of their abundant vitality,” he explained. “For the same reason, many features of domestic life among the lower classes must be passed over in silence.” One could interpret “abundant vitality” in different ways, but most likely Taylor barged in on Chinese couples during moments of intimacy before he quietly withdrew himself from the scene. 40

Aware of the poverty of the countryside, he often used his money to provoke amusing reactions among the Chinese. Sometimes, these activities were harmless and good-natured. For instance, he liked to purchase pastries and candy and distribute them to children. Other times, however, Taylor patronized the Chinese with games. In one instance, he climbed to the top floor of a pagoda in order to achieve a lofty vantage point from which he could view the surrounding landscape. When a crowd of beggars congregated below, he realized the situation offered a rare opportunity for entertainment. He dropped coins over the ledge and then promptly stepped backward, rendering himself invisible to the throng below. After several repetitions of these “miraculous showers,” his curiosity got the better of him, and he expressed “a desire to see the beggars scramble.” The beggars, identifying their mysterious benefactor for the first time, cried and waved their arms “greedily,” and Taylor “enjoyed the feeling of a monarch, who scatters gold largesse.” 41

In seeing what the poor would do for money, Taylor found amusement, but the physical form of the Chinese is what continued to interest him most. In order to observe the Chinese body unclothed, Taylor on one occasion stole into a public bath, where nude bathing was common, and became something of a voyeur: He lurked in the darkness and inspected the bathers from a distance. Since it was late in the day, the water had become stale and fetid and attracted mostly people who belonged “to the lower classes.” He tried holding his breath to avoid inhaling the foul air but, when the “reeking den” became more than he could bear, he darted out of the bath and into a changing room. As he observed the unclothed Chinese bodies, Taylor gathered the visual evidence required for the following physiognomical assessment:

Among the bathers in the outer room there are several strong, muscular figures, but a total want of that elegant symmetry which distinguishes the Caucasian and Shemitic races. They are broad shouldered and deep-chested, but the hips and loins are clumsily moulded, and the legs have a coarse, clubby character. We should never expect to see such figures the fine, free attitudes of ancient sculpture. But here, as everywhere, the body is the expression of the spiritual nature. There is no sense of what we understand by Art—Grace, Harmony, Proportion—in the Chinese nature, and therefore we look in vain for any physical expression of it.

The Chinese body did not hold up well against his standards, and Taylor left the bathhouse wondering whether “it is worth satisfying one’s curiosity at the expense of so much annoyance and disgust.” 42

Taylor’s account of the public bath provides us with the clearest articulation of his faith in the most essential tenet of physiognomy—that “the body is the expression of the spiritual nature.” Pushing his theory even further, Taylor argued that if the spirit was flawed, as the Chinese spirit clearly was in his opinion, an asymmetrical physique would not stand alone as the only indicator. The flaw would corrupt essentially anything that the Chinese created, such as music, language, and architecture. For this reason Taylor expected to find all aspects of Chinese culture contaminated, and, true to this prediction, he observed precisely that. Chinese music evinced not “harmony” but “dreadful discord”; the language was “composed of nasals and consonants,” and “the only symmetrical things in Chinese architecture” were pagodas, which, he asserted, probably should be credited to India, not China. So revolted was Taylor by what he saw that he felt comfortable issuing a blanket statement that could be applied to anything the Chinese made: “The wider its divergence from its original beauty or symmetry, the greater is their delight.” 43

In Taylor’s view, the depravity of the Chinese even vitiated the rural landscapes in which they lived and worked. Before Taylor, the American imagination was wont to associate the Chinese landscape with charming pastoral vistas filled with hills and streams, cottages and pagodas, tea and rice fields, and picturesque farmers and fishermen. Taylor proceeded to shatter this image: “Even in the country, which now rejoices in the opening of spring, all the freshness of the season is destroyed by the rank ammoniated odors arising from the pits of noisome manure, sunk in the fields.” “There is nothing striking or picturesque in the scenery of this part of China,” Taylor continued, as the “country is a dead level, watered with sluggish creeks, and intersected with ditches and canals.” Although the small towns and hamlets “have a pleasant rural aspect” when viewed from afar, they are “most disgusting when you draw near.” The Chinese landscape that Taylor observed would never adorn blue-and-white porcelain. 44

For his portrayal of the city, Taylor unleashed more jets of vitriol. He saw Shanghai just prior to the buildup of foreign concessions later in the 1850s; thus, it was still very much a Chinese city. Before providing the details of his promenade through the streets of Shanghai, Taylor admonished his readers to demonstrate “patience” in enduring the “disgusting annoyance” and “disagreeable features” of the Chinese. While he might like to protect them from the grim reality of Chinese life, as a “conscientious traveller” he was obliged to report what he saw. 45 In describing a group of people he dubbed “Chinese Gypsies,” Taylor claimed that their “degradation is almost without parallel, and I doubt if there be any thing in human nature more loathsome than their appearance.” Looking into their dens, he spied “figures so frightfully repulsive and disgusting, that we move away repenting that we have disturbed this nest of human vermin.” Taylor described in revolting detail the unsanitary conditions of life in the city streets. “Porters, carrying buckets of offal, brush past us,” he wrote, “and the clothes and persons of the unwashed laborers and beggars distil a reeking compound of still more disagreeable exhalations.” As for the beggars, Taylor remarked that he would “almost as willingly touch a man smitten with leprosy, or one dying of the plague.” To Taylor, Shanghai lacked any redeeming qualities and was remarkable only for its “horrid foulness.” “I never go within its walls but with a shudder,” he reported, “and the taint of its contaminating atmosphere seems to hang about me like a garment long after I have left them.” 46

Shocked by the filth and poverty of the Chinese and convinced that their physiognomies signified an interior degradation, Taylor delivered his devastating verdict: “It is my deliberate opinion that the Chinese are, morally, the most debased people on the face of the earth.” He claimed that beneath the surface he had found “deeps on deeps of depravity so shocking and horrible, that their character cannot even be hinted.” These “dark shadows” were sufficient “to inspire me with a powerful aversion to the Chinese race.” 47

As devastating as this assessment was, Taylor went yet further, applying it to Chinese immigration to the United States, a domestic issue there that was gathering increasing importance as the century progressed. In the 1850s, the arrival of Chinese laborers and gold miners out in the American West was just beginning to receive nationwide attention. The Chinese populations in California still amounted to only several thousand, but Taylor was ready to sound a clarion call to action. “Their touch is pollution,” he said, and “justice to our own race demands that they should not be allowed to settle on our soil.” In a fashion that must have been upsetting both to the immigrants themselves and to the Western business interests that coveted Chinese labor, Taylor at an early stage gave prominent voice to what would soon become a familiar argument for an exclusionary immigration policy. 48

How can we account for his extreme view? In addition to physiognomy, the crises afflicting Shanghai in the 1850s merit attention. No doubt, Taylor did observe much poverty and squalor in and around the city. His error, though, lay in his insistence on imputing China’s problems to innate racial characteristics while ignoring the unique historical circumstances in which he found himself—China was in the throes of a massive internal rebellion. While he did not witness any of the actual carnage wrought by the rebellion, as Shanghai was not attacked by the rebel armies during his brief stay, the city was still far from being immune to strife and turmoil. Along with the Taiping Rebellion that raged to the south and to the west, a related armed uprising started by the local Small-Sword Society also destabilized areas near Shanghai. As a travel writer, Taylor might have observed the devastating impact of these revolts on the people and landscape and incorporated it into his writings.

Before the onset of war, the Yangtze Valley region had been noted for the vibrant trade that flourished along its river ways. The Taiping Rebellion now disrupted commerce and caused mass unemployment. 49 Many area residents fled their farms and villages to avoid either the war or the ruthless looting practiced by armies on the move. 50 As a result, Shanghai experienced a massive influx of refugees, men and women seeking work and shelter until the various armed struggles abated. When these fugitives and castaways descended on the city, they collided with an economy and a physical infrastructure that were utterly incapable of absorbing their numbers. And so with the sudden surge in population came the inevitable concomitants: crowding, unemployment, vagrancy, extreme poverty, and disease. 51 In sum, many of the horrible scenes of filth and poverty witnessed by Taylor flowed not out of the racial character of the Chinese, as he believed, but rather out of the massive dislocation of a nation in a state of upheaval.

While enduring the chaos caused by the Taiping Rebellion, the region was also starting to feel the ill effects of the Opium War when Taylor visited. Between 1843 and 1857, the amount of opium streaming into the Shanghai area quadrupled. 52 Economically, opium traders were slowly weakening China’s markets by siphoning off the nation’s stores of silver. Socially, the opium trade was placing undue stress on families and communities, as individuals who had once been productive members of society were now reduced to illness and poverty through their addiction. En route to Japan, Taylor received a graphic lesson of the drug’s ill effects when he watched Samuel Wells Williams’s Chinese teacher, “Old Sieh,” deteriorate and die:

The latter fell a victim to the practice of smoking opium. He attempted to give it up . . . . [N]o medicines produced any effect, and he sank into a state of nervelessness and emaciation shocking to witness. His body was reduced to a skeleton, and all his nervous energy so completely destroyed, that for a week before his death every fibre in his frame was in a state of constant agitation. His face was a ghastly yellow, the cheeks sunken upon the bones, and the eyes wild and glassy with a semi-madness which fell upon him. His whole aspect reminded me of one of those frightful heads of wax, in the museum of Florence, representing the effects of the plague. 53

Despite witnessing Old Sieh’s ghastly demise, Taylor insisted on knowing the drug through “personal experience.” On arriving in Canton after the expedition to Japan, Taylor elected “to make a trial of the practice” by smoking nine pipes of opium in the home of an addict. He seems to have enjoyed the experience immensely. While under the influence of the drug, he could not control his laughter and delighted in gazing at the “brilliant colors” that “floated before my eyes,” “sometimes converging into spots like the eyes in a peacock’s tail, but often melting into and through each other, like the hues of changeable silk.” 54

But besides smoking opium, Taylor engaged in few other activities in Canton. Most visitors arrived in the city brimming with curiosity, but Taylor asserted that sightseeing in Canton had “very little to offer the traveller.” In truth, he had had enough of the “living purgatory,” as he called China. 55 “I was so thoroughly surfeited with China,” he wrote, “that I made no effort to see more than the most prominent objects.” 56 On departing on September 9, 1853, he wrote what was now obvious to his readers: “The reader may have conjectured that I am not partial to China, but this much I must admit: it is the very best country in the world—to leave.” 57

“I Am Carried from Place to Place in Triumph”

When Bayard Taylor arrived in New York on December 20, 1853, he found to his astonishment that in his absence his reputation had grown to colossal proportions. By traveling to the places others could only dream of seeing, he had become the envy of a nation. Perceptive to the desires of his readership, Orson Fowler decided to perform a phrenological examination of the conquering hero and feature his findings in an issue of the American Phrenological Journal. Not surprisingly, the resulting article bordered on hagiography, as Fowler found that his subject demonstrated all the attributes of the intrepid adventurer: He “courts opposition,” “loves excitement and adventure,” “knows nothing of fear,” is “stimulated to new exertions by danger and difficulties,” and is “noted for his daring and love of adventure.” 58


Taylor found his sudden fame perplexing. How was it that he had become a national celebrity when India, China, and Japan, the travelogue that would contain his account of the trip, would not be available in bookstores for more than a year? He soon discovered that the answer was newspapers. During the two years and four months he had been out of the country, he had mailed to the New York Tribune dozens of letters in which he described his experiences, and on reaching the United States those letters would take on a life of their own. Not only would smaller papers across the country lift his letters from the Tribune and reprint them, 59 but the Tribune itself enjoyed a nationwide circulation. As a result, people across the country had followed his peregrinations closely. In Milwaukee, Taylor was flabbergasted to learn that almost everyone there subscribed to the Tribune and had “read every one of my letters conscientiously.” “I had no idea before,” he confided in his mother, “that I was half so well known.” 60 And in Newark, Ohio, a man informed him that he once “rode several miles through inclement weather in order to borrow a copy of the Tribune so his sick wife could be cheered by Taylor’s letter.” 61

But as Taylor soon discovered, these people were not content just to read about his exploits in the newspapers; they wanted to meet the man himself. Not long after his return from Asia, Taylor was besieged by invitations from all over the country to come and deliver a lecture. 62 In need of money, he obliged his fans and launched a tour of the country in the spring of 1854. Over the course of more than two years, he traveled about four thousand miles and delivered 285 lectures, receiving a payment of fifty dollars for each engagement. 63 He lectured in the cities and towns of Pennsylvania, upstate New York, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and even Canada. And of course, toward the end of the tour, he spoke in Manhattan before crowds simultaneously watching the grand panorama of George West and William Heine.

In letters to friends and family members, Taylor offered a glimpse of his life on the lecture circuit. Every night he appeared before “crammed houses” 64 filled with legions of “worshippers.” 65 Most cities treated him like royalty: “I am carried from place to place in triumph, have the best rooms at hotels,” and receive “the most obsequious attention.” All the adulation took him by surprise and even overwhelmed him. “The people are infatuated,” he wrote, “and I can’t understand why.” 66 But Taylor did come to understand the motivation of his audiences quite well, writing that “most of them admire me hugely for having gotten over so much ground.” 67 Indeed, people who flocked to his lectures were also animated by a yearning to explore the world, the same yearning that he was able to convert into a career. Although responsibilities at home or at work prevented them from visiting foreign lands, they could enjoy the thrill of travel vicariously through Taylor’s books, letters, and lectures. He could take them to China and Japan for an evening, and they loved him for it. “Curiosity is alive,” he reported in upstate New York, “to see ‘The Great American Traveler.’” 68

Wherever Taylor went the adoring crowds followed. For an engagement in Penn Yan, New York, Taylor learned of a special train coming down from Canandaigua, “solely on my account!” 69 The town of Rockford, Illinois, regaled Taylor with a serenade. 70 Indiana State College in New Albany made Taylor an honorary professor so that he could lecture in a hall reserved exclusively for faculty. 71 To flatter the traveling celebrity, audience members often told him how far they had traveled to hear him speak; distances of twenty miles or more were not uncommon, 72 and one group of men endured a seventy-mile trek, even though they had already heard Taylor lecture at a previous engagement. 73 Farmers out in rural areas often covered long distances to reach the venue, and so they did not want to leave without meeting the Great American Traveler and introducing him to their wives. Unfortunately, these poor ladies were usually “so overcome with awe” in Taylor’s presence that, as he put it, “they cannot say a word.” 74

Of all of Taylor’s admirers, women were often the most fanatical. When he took the stage, he observed “young ladies stretching their necks” and crying, “There he is, that’s him!” On catching a glimpse of the intrepid traveler, many began to swoon and had to be carried out of the hall. 75 Other women employed aggressive tactics to attract his attention. One mysterious admirer followed him on the train as he traveled from city to city; another bought up all the tickets for the entire front row and then sat there all alone in an otherwise packed house and distracted him with seductive stares as he delivered his lecture. 76 Now that several years had passed since his wife’s death, Taylor sometimes appreciated the flirtations of young women. But many women clearly repulsed him, such as the one “whose face was like a raw beefsteak, with two pickled onions upon it.” That was the only physiognomical attention her visage would receive. 77

Showered by so much adulation, Taylor griped about his “dismal popularity” 78and referred to the audiences as “natives.” 79 He found “ambitious young gentlemen” excessively tiresome when they attempted to show off their own knowledge by asking astute questions. 80 He grew aggravated by “hearing the same remarks twenty times a day” and by answering “questions that have become hideous by endless repetition!” He would sometimes “snap” at his audience out of frustration, but these outbursts provided him with little satisfaction because the people believed they were “my way of talking” and refused to take offense. 81 Most of all, he resented that his fans prized only his travel writing and ignored his beloved poetry: “I find that this business of travelling has entirely swamped and overwhelmed my poetical reputation.” 82 To Taylor’s complaints about the irritating people he added more about the poor food, inclement weather, head colds, and extreme fatigue. He had found a strenuous journey through Asia to be invigorating, but the trains and hotels of the American Midwest wore him out: “It is Civilization which kills, and Barbarism which cures me.” 83

Japan and China Compared

As for the content of the lecture, Taylor gave greater emphasis to Japan. In 1854, Americans eagerly sought information on a nation that, until the Perry expedition, had effectively sealed itself off from the world. And for the parts that covered the expedition, Taylor had to rely completely on his memory, since the U.S. Navy confiscated his journal at the conclusion of the expedition and Taylor never recovered it. 84


Before his arrival in Japan, Taylor predicted that he would detest the Japanese as he did the Chinese, but the Japanese ended up surprising him. 85 While ethnologists tended to lump the Chinese and Japanese together as “Mongolian,” Taylor perceived large differences separating the two Asian peoples. In fact, he was so fascinated by his discovery that he decided to make his contrast between them the centerpiece of the lecture. 86 “Contrary to the common opinion,” he informed his audience, “there are many radical differences between them [the Japanese] and the Chinese, and a running comparison of the two may not be uninteresting.” Of course, for Taylor the chief differences lay in the faces and bodies of the people, and so he couched his remarks in the lexicon of physiognomy, which served to lend his lectures a scientific patina.

After establishing his most basic principle, that the “body . . . is always an expression of the spiritual nature,” Taylor faulted the Chinese body for its “total want of that elegant symmetry which distinguishes the Caucasians.” That the physiques were “coarse and ungraceful,” never approaching “ancient sculpture,” proved that the “Chinese nature” was also flawed. 87 Taylor also noted that he was not alone in holding this view, as the Japanese also looked down on the Chinese as inferior. When a contingent of Japanese officials and interpreters boarded the Susquehanna and saw the twenty Chinese employed by Perry, they looked at the deckhands “with a face expression of great contempt and disgust” and inquired, “Is it possible that you have Chinese among your men?” Fearing that the mere presence of Chinese would prompt the Japanese to lose respect for the mission, A. L. C. Portman, a Dutch interpreter, responded that the Chinese were merely the servants of the sailors, and the Japanese visitors were apparently satisfied by his hasty reply.

Besides demonstrating that the Japanese held the Chinese in low regard, this anecdote reminds us that Taylor did not observe all classes of people in Japan as he did in China. Ostensibly he based much of his positive assessment of the Japanese on the physiognomies of the people, but other circumstances almost certainly colored his findings. In China, Taylor had witnessed a people wracked by war and opium. Yet instead of understanding the extraordinary nature of the times, he attributed the problems he observed to an inherent racial depravity that manifested itself in the physical form of the people. But whereas Taylor could wander about Shanghai and its environs freely to see the legions of refugees and beggars, in Japan he found his mobility severely circumscribed.

Indeed, the Japanese government exerted tremendous control over his experience, deciding where he could go and whom he could meet. Consequently, Taylor met only with an impressive façade composed of the lavishly dressed members of the nobility, the dignified government officials in their scholarly attire, and the young soldiers with their chiseled bodies and handsome uniforms. Hidden from his view were the beggars, the sick, the insane, the criminals, and the destitute—the types of people who had been so visible in war-torn China. Taylor believed the doctrines of physiognomy were blind to class and thus deemed himself an impartial judge, but he could easily have allowed the impressive trappings, the comportment, and the good health of the particular Japanese people he confronted to distort his readings of the race as a whole.

For whatever reason, the Japanese fared well when Taylor applied physiognomy’s principles to their countenances and physiques. Among the Japanese rowers who ferried officials and interpreters to and from the Susquehanna, Taylor observed many “admirable specimens of manly strength and symmetry.” “They were tall, compared with the Chinese,” he added, “deep-chested, and with muscular and symmetrical limbs.” As for the distinguished gentleman they conveyed, Taylor was equally impressed with his facial structure: “One of their interpreters,” said Taylor, “would have attracted notice in any part of the world by his regular, finely-moulded features, his large, well-balanced head, and the genial, intellectual expression of his countenance.”

In enumerating the noteworthy features of the Japanese facial structure and their corresponding moral attributes, Taylor did detect one flaw, however.

Their eyes are somewhat larger and not so obliquely set as those by the Chinese, their foreheads broader and more open, with a greater facial angle, and the expression of their face denotes a lively and active mind. Notwithstanding that spirit of cunning and secrecy, which, through the continual teachings of their Government, has become almost a second nature to them, their countenances are agreeable and expressive . . . and it was the unanimous decision of all our officers . . . that they were as finished gentlemen in their manners, as could be found in any part of the world.

In the Japanese face, Taylor descried a proclivity toward “cunning and secrecy” that he imputed to the despotic government; by indoctrinating the people, Japan’s leaders had altered the mind of the people and, in so doing, had effected a parallel change in the face. Whereas Taylor had attributed problems in China to the racial makeup of the people, here, in the case of Japan, he implied that the adoption of a republican form of government would provide the antidote for this note of deceit that had entered into their features.

In fact, on several occasions in the lecture, Taylor expressed his view that a change in government could unleash the potential of the Japanese people. While studying Japanese faces, he detected untapped reservoirs of ingenuity and an openness to new ideas. These traits that he found reflected in their faces he would find manifest during demonstrations of mechanical models. The Japanese showed “a grave interest” in the miniature train’s steam engine; only the “wild, unearthly shriek” of the whistle could interrupt their intense concentration. And when invited to partake in a meal served in the Western style, they “handled their knives and forks with as much dexterity as if they had never known chop-sticks.” In Taylor’s estimation, the typical Japanese was “the most curious and inquiring person—next to a genuine Yankee—in the world”; he would be an “inventor” if not for the restraints imposed by his own government, “which fears no enemy so much as a new idea.” The government’s “exclusive policy” stood in “direct opposition” to the people’s will. When that “unnatural bar” was removed, the world would bear witness to “a rapid progress in all the arts which have given the Caucasian race its supremacy.”

Taylor’s observations convinced him that Japanese civilization was sure to transform itself in the near future. As might be expected, he was not so sanguine about China’s future. While Chinese civilization sorely needed such change, he pessimistically believed the Chinese race incapable of bettering itself. The “Chinese nature,” he insisted, was “so thoroughly passive” that it had produced a “mental inertia” in the people, rendering them “almost hopeless of improvement.” Taylor lauded missionaries for their “zealous and devoted” attention to the Chinese, but he nevertheless judged that the entire missionary enterprise in China was futile and doomed to fail. 88 In sum, the Chinese could not help themselves, and the missionaries faced a task far too daunting even for their noble efforts to match.

Interestingly, if we revisit Taylor’s exact words on this issue, we note that he said China was “almost hopeless of improvement”—that is, almost hopeless but not completely. In fact, he found cause for optimism in an event most people considered a horrible tragedy—the Taiping Rebellion. This civil war, in that it affected the lives of millions of Chinese, could succeed in spurring beneficial change. Should the Taipings emerge victorious, Taylor wrote to the Tribune “the probable effect will be to open all parts of China to the world.” 89 Regardless of the rebellion’s outcome, Taylor argued, massive upheaval would necessarily have a salutary effect on China, because it would break “the most profound apathy” that currently gripped Chinese culture. In this way, Taylor enthusiastically embraced national catastrophe as the only possible agent of change in China: “I say, welcome be the thunder-storm which shall scatter and break up, though by the means of fire and blood, this terrible stagnation!” 90


Although it was a bogus science that led Bayard Taylor to his predictions, the events of the latter half of the nineteenth century left him looking somewhat prescient. With respect to the adoption of Western ideas and machinery, Japan did ascend rapidly along an upward trajectory during the Meiji Revolution. China’s modernization, meanwhile, although less ambitious, was in fact indirectly caused by the Taiping Rebellion. The uprising convinced some officials of the urgent need for Western arms and military techniques; acquisition of these could help preserve the stability of the nation and keep the Qing government in power. The Taiping Rebellion also catapulted several capable men into positions of power. Most notable among these was Zeng Guofan, a scholar-official whose military leadership was instrumental in suppressing the Taipings. In the 1870s, Zeng Guofan’s vision of a stronger China became Qing policy through the launching of the Self-Strengthening Movement, which was designed to reform China’s military and industrial institutions by borrowing Western ideas and technologies. The gains achieved through the Self-Strengthening Movement were modest, but a small emanation from it touched the United States. As is explained in the next chapter, a group of Chinese boys studying in American schools under the auspices of the Chinese government were able to teach some Americans, in direct contradiction of Bayard Taylor’s pronouncements, that the Chinese could indeed be innovative, forward-looking, and capable of change.



Note 1: Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Marie Hansen-Taylor and Horace E. Scudder (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1885), 1:269.  Back.

Note 2: Perry prepared for Asia by reading every source he could find on it. Alhough one cannot maintain with absolute certainty that he read Williams’s The Middle Kingdom, it would be hard to believe otherwise, given that the book became the authoritative work on China and that Williams was asked to join the expedition. William Heine, With Perry to Japan: A Memoir, trans. and ed. Frederic Trautman (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), 6.  Back.

Note 3: John S. Sewall, The Logbook of the Captain’s Clerk: Adventures in the China Seas, ed. Arthur Power Dudden (Chicago: Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley and Sons , 1995), 152. Sewall participated in Perry’s expeditions to Japan in 1852–53 and 1854. He published this account in 1905.  Back.

Note 4: Samuel Wells Williams, The Middle Kingdom: A Survey of the Geography, Government, Education, Social Life, Arts, Religion, &., of the Chinese Empire and Its Inhabitants (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1848), 1:xv.  Back.

Note 5: Albert Smith, Bayard Taylor (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1896), 19–20.  Back.

Note 6: Joseph Taylor’s daybook also contains Bayard Taylor’s scrapbook. Doc. 712, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library.  Back.

Note 7: Carl Bode, The Anatomy of American Popular Culture, 1840–1861 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), 223.  Back.

Note 8: Bayard Taylor to John Phillips, letter, 3 August 1848, Selected Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Paul C. Wermuth (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1997), 70.  Back.

Note 9: Bayard Taylor to George Boker, letter, 4 April 1852, Selected Letters, ed. Wermuth, 95.  Back.

Note 10: Interview on 3 September 2001 with Mark H. Metzler Sawin, author of “Raising Kane: The Creation and Consequences of Fame in Antebellum America; or, The Thrilling and Tragic Narrative of Elisha Kent Kane and His Transformation into Dr. Kane, the Hero of the Romantic Age” (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2001).  Back.

Note 11: Bayard Taylor, comp., Cyclopædia of Modern Travel: A Record of Adventure, Exploration, and Discovery, for the Past Fifty Years (Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keys, 1856), vii.  Back.

Note 12: Bayard Taylor to Richard Stoddard, letter (13 August 1853), Selected Letters, ed. Wermuth, 110. One writer commented that the proliferation of travelogues in the antebellum era did not bring about an increase in knowledge of foreign countries: “Of all observers, the most unreliable and useless for the seeker after truth is the traveler. . . . Running hastily through a country, observing and understanding by halves, and generalizing from a remarkably limited number of ill-appreciated facts, your ambitious traveler is the least trustworthy person in the world for the manners and customs of the people.” Charles Nordhuff, “The Woman’s Question in China,” Ladies’ Repository (September 1859), 545.  Back.

Note 13: William H. Goetzmann, New Lands, New Men: America and the Second Great Age of Discovery (New York: Penguin, 1986), 59.  Back.

Note 14: Bayard Taylor, “Humboldt at Home,” Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art (March 1857), 388. Bayard Taylor, At Home and Abroad (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1860), 354.  Back.

Note 15: Later in his career, Taylor translated Goethe’s Faust from German to English.  Back.

Note 16: Smyth, 98; Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, 1:327.  Back.

Note 17: Selected Letters, ed. Wermuth 347.  Back.

Note 18: “The first impression made by Humboldt’s face was that of a broad and genial humanity. His massive brow, heavy with the gathered wisdom of nearly a century, bent forward and overhung his breast. . . . In those eyes you read that trust in man. . . . You trusted him utterly at the first glance. . . . His nose, mouth, and chin had the heavy Teutonic character, whose genuine type always expresses an honest simplicity and directness.” Taylor, At Home and Abroad, 353–54.  Back.

Note 19: John Graham, Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy: A Study in the History of Ideas (Berne: Peter Lang, 1979), 35; John B. Davies, Phrenology: Fad and Science: A Nineteenth-Century American Crusade (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955), 7.  Back.

Note 20: Johann Caspar Lavater, Essays on Physiognomy (London: William Tegg, 1869), 37–40.  Back.

Note 21: Bayard Taylor, India, China, and Japan (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1855), 336.  Back.

Note 22: Bayard Taylor’s Scrapbook, contained in Joseph Taylor’s daybook. Doc. 712, Downs Collection, Winterthur Library.  Back.

Note 23: Lavater, Essays on Physiognomy, 350; Lavater, Physiognomy; or, The Corresponding Analogy between the Conformation of the Features and the Ruling Passions of the Mind (London: Thomas Tegg, 1844), 94; and Lavater, The Pocket Lavater; or, The Science of Physiognomy (New York: C. Wiley, 1829), 29.  Back.

Note 24: Caleb Cushing, “Delusions of Science,” National Magazine and Republican (March 1839), 257–58.  Back.

Note 25: Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana; or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839), 71.  Back.

Note 26: “Dr. Morton, in measuring the internal capacity of the cranium, found it to correspond with the angle of the forehead. The scale of mental capacity, as determined by him in this manner, is as follows; commencing with the lowest:—Australian, Negro, Malay, Mongolian, Caucasian.” Bayard Taylor, “Man and Climate,” 28. This hand-written lecture was first delivered in 1860. Box “Lectures of Bayard Taylor,” Chester County Historical Society (hereafter referred to as CCHS).  Back.

Note 27: This book instructed readers to identify the “faculty of Secretiveness” in another human being by observing the nose and judging whether it resembled a Chinese nose. The Chinese, Redfield asserted, “are the most remarkable people in the world for secretiveness.” J. W. Redfield, Outlines of a New System of Physiognomy (New York: Redfield, 1848), 12.  Back.

Note 28: New York Herald(4 May 1850).  Back.

Note 29: See two different articles entitled “Physiognomy” in the same journal: American Phrenological Journal 13 (1851): 7–8; and American Phrenological Journal 15 (1852): 7–8.  Back.

Note 30: Peter Booth Wiley, Yankees in the Land of the Gods (New York: Viking, 1990), 87–88; and William L. Neumann, “Religion, Morality, and Freedom: The Ideological Background of the Perry Expedition,” Pacific Historical Review (August 1954): 248.  Back.

Note 31: Bayard Taylor to Frederick Williams, letter, 16 July 1853, box 1, series 1, Samuel Wells Williams Family Papers, Manuscript Collections, Yale University Library.  Back.

Note 32: Bayard Taylor to Carter Harrison III, letter, 6 August 1852, Selected Letters, ed. Wermuth, 99.  Back.

Note 33: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 361.  Back.

Note 34: Selected Letters of P. T. Barnum, ed. A. H. Saxon (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 62–63.  Back.

Note 35: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 285. Interestingly, Samuel Wells Williams observed precisely the opposite with regard to the physical nature of the Chinese: “Their form is well built and symmetrical.” Williams, The Middle Kingdom, 1:36.  Back.

Note 36: Taylor believed so fervently that the spirit was revealed in the human face that in India he boasted that he could “distinguish between the followers of the rival religions, without reference to any distinguishing mark of the dress, and merely the expression of the face.” In Benares, he claimed that “the faces of the women” showed signs of “the teachings of missionaries.” Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 84, 244.  Back.

Note 37: Sewall, The Logbook of the Captain’s Clerk, 152.  Back.

Note 38: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 287–88. Jonathan D. Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York: Norton, 1990), 171–78.  Back.

Note 39: When Perry arrived, he was outraged to discover that, to handle an affair in China, Humphrey had used a steamship meant for the expedition to Japan. Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 297–303. Chester Bain, “Commodore Matthew Perry, Humphrey Marshall, and the Taiping Rebellion,” Far Eastern Quarterly (May 1951): 262–70.  Back.

Note 40: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 351.  Back.

Note 41: Taylor also paid a soldier he found “lazing about” to perform his military exercises for thirty minutes. Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 352–53, 355. Taylor was not the only one to toss coins from high places in order to see the ensuing scramble below; B. L. Ball notes the same pastime in his travelogue Rambles in Eastern Asia, Including China and Manilla (Boston: James French, 1855), 132.  Back.

Note 42: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 336–38.  Back.

Note 43: Ibid., 352–54.  Back.

Note 44: Ibid., 329, 350.  Back.

Note 45: Ibid., 322.  Back.

Note 46: Ibid., 325–29.  Back.

Note 47: Ibid., 354.  Back.

Note 48: Ibid.  Back.

Note 49: For a well-researched study on the vibrant economy and culture of the region before the onset of the Taiping Rebellion, see William T. Rowe, Hankow: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796–1889 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984).  Back.

Note 50: After touring parts of the Chinese interior, Yung Wing, the first Chinese to graduate from Yale, noted a precipitous drop in population and added that refugees had fled to Shanghai to avoid the bloodletting. Yung Wing, My Life in China and America (New York: Holt, 1909), 93–94, 126.  Back.

Note 51: Linda Cooke Johnson, Shanghai: From Market Town to Treaty Port, 1074–1858 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 267. Kerrie L. Macphereson, A Wilderness of Marshes: The Origins of Public Health in Shanghai, 1843–1893 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 5, 21.  Back.

Note 52: Stella Dong, Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 23. Johnson, 231.  Back.

Note 53: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 390; Samuel Wells Williams, “A Journal of the Perry Expedition to Japan,” Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan (1910), 28.  Back.

Note 54: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 492–94.  Back.

Note 55: Ibid., 477.  Back.

Note 56: Ibid., 489.  Back.

Note 57: Ibid., 499.  Back.

Note 58: “Bayard Taylor. A Phrenological Character, Biographical Sketch, and Portrait,” American Phrenological Journal 20 (1855): 3.  Back.

Note 59: See, for example, Taylor’s account of his exploration of the Japanese-controlled island of Loo Choo (now called Okinawa) in P. T. Barnum’s Illustrated News (19 November 1853), 57. Also see Taylor’s analysis of the Taiping Rebellion in the American Republican (7 June 1853).  Back.

Note 60: Bayard Taylor to Taylor’s mother (from Milwaukee, 16 March 1854), Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:273.  Back.

Note 61: Bayard Taylor to George Boker, letter (from Newark, Ohio, 30 April 1854), Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:276.  Back.

Note 62: Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:264.  Back.

Note 63: Richard Croom Beatty, Bayard Taylor: Laureate of the Gilded Age (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1936), 147–48.  Back.

Note 64: Bayard Taylor to Richard Stoddard, letter (from Buffalom 5 March 1854), L 23211, Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 65: Bayard Taylor to Richard and Elizabeth Stoddard, letter (from Adrian, Michigan), 9 November 1854, Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 66: Bayard Taylor to Taylor’s mother (from Milwaukee, 16 March 1854). Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:273.  Back.

Note 67: Bayard Taylor to Richard Stoddard, letter (from Buffalo, 5 March 1854), Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 68: Bayard Taylor to James T. Fields (from Penn Yan, New York, 17 February 1854), Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:269.  Back.

Note 69: Ibid..  Back.

Note 70: Bayard Taylor to Taylor’s mother (from Milwaukee, 16 March 1854), Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:273.  Back.

Note 71: Bayard Taylor to Taylor’s mother (from New Albany, Indiana, 23 April 1854), Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:275.  Back.

Note 72: Bayard Taylor to Taylor’s mother (from Corning, New York, 25 February 1854), Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:270.  Back.

Note 73: Bayard Taylor to Taylor’s mother (from Milwaukee, 16 March 1854), Life and Letters of Bayard Taylor, ed. Hansen-Taylor and Scudder, 1:273.  Back.

Note 74: Ibid.  Back.

Note 75: Bayard Taylor to Richard Stoddard (from Buffalo, 5 March 1854), Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 76: Bayard Taylor to Richard and Elizabeth Stoddard (from Auburn, New York, 9 November 1854), Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 77: Ibid.  Back.

Note 78: Ibid.  Back.

Note 79: Ibid.  Back.

Note 80: Bayard Taylor to Richard and Elizabeth Stoddard (from Detroit, 6 March 1855), Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 81: Bayard Taylor to Richard Stoddard (from Buffalo, 5 March 1854), Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 82: Bayard Taylor to Richard Stoddard (from Buffalo, 5 March 1854), Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 83: Bayard Taylor to Richard and Elizabeth Stoddard (from Hamilton, Canada, 21 November 1854), Letters of Bayard Taylor, CCHS.  Back.

Note 84: Smyth, 93. Taylor’s Japan journal is now in the possession of Rutgers University.  Back.

Note 85: Taylor expresses his low expectations for Japan in a letter to the New York Tribune (19 October 1853). Taylor had seen Japanese people prior to his arrival in Japan. In January 1853, a ship from Boston picked up a crew of Japanese sailors in the Pacific Ocean who had been blown far from their home by a storm. After a brief stay in San Francisco, they were taken to China, where some of them agreed to travel with the expedition to Japan. Perry believed an attempt to repatriate them would demonstrate his goodwill toward the Japanese government. Illustrated News (22 January 1853), 57.  Back.

Note 86: Taylor’s handwritten lecture is owned by the CCHS (box “Lectures of Bayard Taylor”). All subsequent quotes from his lecture come from this source.  Back.

Note 87: In lectures, Taylor did modify the damning views on Chinese immigrants contained in the travelogue. The Chinese “who have energy enough to leave their country,” he said, should “be considered as exceptional specimens, which do not represent the average of the race.”  Back.

Note 88: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 333–34.  Back.

Note 89: New York Tribune (2 June 1853).  Back.

Note 90: Taylor, India, China, and Japan, 333-334.  Back.


The Romance of China: Excursions to China in U.S. Culture: 1776-1876



1. Xanadu
2. Romantic Domesticity
3. The China Effect
4. China in Miniature
5. Floating Ethnology
6. God's China
7. Fruits of Diplomacy

8. Bayard Taylor's Asia
Taiping Rebellion
"I Am Carried ..."
Japan and China

9. Exposition of 1876