From the presence of the woolly hair or lanugo on the human foetus, and of rudimentary hairs scattered over the body during maturity, we may infer that man is descended from some animal which was born hairy and remained so during life. The loss of hair is an inconvenience and probably an injury to man, even in a hot climate, for he is thus exposed to the scorching of the sun, and to sudden chills, especially during wet weather. As Mr. Wallace remarks, the natives in all countries are glad to protect their naked backs and shoulders with some slight covering. No one supposes that the nakedness of the skin is any direct advantage to man; his body therefore cannot have been divested of hair through natural selection. (21. 'Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection,' 1870, p. 346. Mr. Wallace believes (p. 350) "that some intelligent power has guided or determined the development of man"; and he considers the hairless condition of the skin as coming under this head. The Rev. T.R. Stebbing, in commenting on this view ('Transactions of Devonshire Association for Science,' 1870) remarks, that had Mr. Wallace "employed his usual ingenuity on the question of man's hairless skin, he might have seen the possibility of its selection through its superior beauty or the health attaching to superior cleanliness.") Nor, as shewn in a former chapter, have we any evidence that this can be due to the direct action of climate, or that it is the result of correlated development.
The absence of hair on the body is to a certain extent a secondary sexual character; for in all parts of the world women are less hairy than men. Therefore we may reasonably suspect that this character has been gained through sexual selection. We know that the faces of several species of monkeys, and large surfaces at the posterior end of the body of other species, have been denuded of hair; and this we may safely attribute to sexual selection, for these surfaces are not only vividly coloured, but sometimes, as with the male mandrill and female rhesus, much more vividly in the one sex than in the other, especially during the breeding-season. I am informed by Mr. Bartlett that, as these animals gradually reach maturity, the naked surfaces grow larger compared with the size of their bodies. The hair, however, appears to have been removed, not for the sake of nudity, but that the colour of the skin may be more fully displayed. So again with many birds, it appears as if the head and neck had been divested of feathers through sexual selection, to exhibit the brightly-coloured skin.
As the body in woman is less hairy than in man, and as this character is common to all races, we may conclude that it was our female semi-human ancestors who were first divested of hair, and that this occurred at an extremely remote period before the several races had diverged from a common stock. Whilst our female ancestors were gradually acquiring this new character of nudity, they must have transmitted it almost equally to their offspring of both sexes whilst young; so that its transmission, as with the ornaments of many mammals and birds, has not been limited either by sex or age. There is nothing surprising in a partial loss of hair having been esteemed as an ornament by our ape-like progenitors, for we have seen that innumerable strange characters have been thus esteemed by animals of all kinds, and have consequently been gained through sexual selection. Nor is it surprising that a slightly injurious character should have been thus acquired; for we know that this is the case with the plumes of certain birds, and with the horns of certain stags.
The females of some of the anthropoid apes, as stated in a former chapter, are somewhat less hairy on the under surface than the males; and here we have what might have afforded a commencement for the process of denudation. With respect to the completion of the process through sexual selection, it is well to bear in mind the New Zealand proverb, "There is no woman for a hairy man." All who have seen photographs of the Siamese hairy family will admit how ludicrously hideous is the opposite extreme of excessive hairiness. And the king of Siam had to bribe a man to marry the first hairy woman in the family; and she transmitted this character to her young offspring of both sexes. (22. The 'Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication,' vol. ii. 1868, p. 237.)