This is one of those obscure issues that isn’t really important per se, but which speaks to the broader incuriousness and lack of research in the fringe world. This past week I reviewed Jim Vieira’s and Hugh Newman’s Giants on Record, and in so doing I noted that the two authors plagiarized nearly verbatim (one word differed) a 2010 passage from the Princeton University Library on Patagonian giants:
Horace Walpole, the English historian and gothic novelist, published An Account of the Giants Lately Discovered: In a Letter to a Friend in the Country following the return in 1766 of Captain John Byron, who had circumnavigated the world in the HMS Dolphin. Word leaked that the crew had seen nine-foot giants in South America.
When I reviewed the book, I pointed out this passage primarily as an example of plagiarism, since the authors added but one word in turning it into part of their own text. But today I’d like to show how our authors have dishonestly used it to suggest the reality of giants that the actual sources in question don’t support. To do so, I need to back up and explain Vieira’s and Newman’s plagiarism a little more clearly.
In the passage, the two authors are discussing giants in chronological order. They just concluded discussing a sighting from 1670 and then moved on to one from 1704. Next, they paste in Walpole’s document from 1766, before weirdly announcing that “then in 1741” more were seen. Obviously, 1741 occurs before 1766, and the authors were paying no attention to their own chronology. But what’s clearer is that they were also actively ignoring their own sources, both secondary and primary.
The Princeton website makes quite plain Walpole’s Account is intended as a satirical piece of humor: “In his thirty-one-page pamphlet, Walpole satirizes the whole idea and facetiously suggests that a limited number of the giant women could be imported ‘for the Sake of mending our Breed.’” It goes on to say that when Byron’s official account was published in 1773, the “giants” shrank from nine feet down to scarcely seven, and even then they were not measured scientifically but were estimated from comparative observation. Our authors chose to ignore all of that, omitting Byron’s official account in favor of Walpole’s satirical report.
What’s interesting is that Newman and Vieira appear not to have read Walpole’s Account at all, even though it is readily available in their favorite resource, Google. A moment’s reading should have made quite plain that Walpole’s intent was humor, from his references to Jonathan Swift’s satirical works down to his references to the city of Gigantopolis. He speaks derisively of the fact that all the sailors who supposedly saw the giants kept entirely silent on the matter, and the Spaniards to whom the giants had allegedly been known for two centuries similarly spoke not a word about the giants for hundreds of years:
So they you see can keep a Secret too. But the Reasons given why we know so little of the Matter, are, that few ships ever touch on that Coast, standing more out to Sea, in order to double the Cape, and that these Giants are a roving Nation, and seldom come down to the Coast, and then I suppose, only to bob for Whales.
Our authors, having neglected to read Walpole, also miss his attestation (meant satirically, but never mind) that based on a single syllable of Giant language remembered by Captain Byron, the Giants were speaking Phoenician! Since Newman and Vieira are diffusionists, their incurious copying caused them to miss “evidence” toward their own claims!
The remainder of Walpole’s satire, and its true purpose, is to criticize British colonial policy and the lack of rights and freedoms afforded to those whom the King pretended to protect, particularly in the American colonies. The anti-authoritarian Walpole was in 1766 a Member of Parliament, serving as representative of King’s Lynn for the Whig party, so the political nature of the document is hardly secondary to the color of gigantology with which he cloaked his opinions. He, after all, classed giants alongside ghosts, witches, and werewolves as fraud.
Now, before I conclude, I want to mention that almost no one in the fringe history field manages to look in an original way on this material, or even to read Walpole’s text. While Newman and Vieira copied verbatim from Princeton, Roy Bainton, writing in the Mammoth Book of Unexplained Phenomena (2013), improves upon Newman and Vieira by copying almost verbatim, but without citation, and clearly derived from the same text:
When in 1766, Captain John Byron returned home after circumnavigating the world in HMS Dolphin, the historian and writer Horace Walpole published An Account of the Giants Lately Discovered. Stories abounded that the crew of the Dolphin had seen nine-foot (2.7 m) giants in Patagonia, South America.
I invite you to compare the remainder of Bainton’s passage to that of the Princeton University Library so you can see for yourself that he follows the whole thing from beginning to end point for point and almost word for word. Bainton, at least, is more honest in his coping insofar as he kept in the part about Walpole making fun of the giants.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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