2014:
Review of Hereditary Genius, The Spectator (11/27/1869)
Date:
1869
Pages: (1|2)
Source:
University College London, FG, 120/5
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Review of <i> Hereditary Genius</i>, <i>The Spectator</i> (11/27/1869)

November 27, 1869.] The Spectator 1391 [page-width hairline rule] a good many of those terrible sprightlinesses about "Scumble's" pictures, "Smithby's" waltzes, and "Twaddle's" rhymes. We do not mean to say that this sort of thing has been by any means a regular constituent in the [italics]Daily News[end italics]. That would, indeed, be a calamity. But since the various failures to remodel the [italics]Star[end italics], and its decease, we have read the [italics]News[end italics] with a good deal of anxiety, because we have felt that on the [italics]News[end italics] must depend for the future representation of all strong and deep liberal conviction which does not take its cue from the people, but seeks to give direction to the mind of the people; and we cannot but note with alarm any tendency observable in it towards even [italics]intellectual[end italics]pulpiness. If once articles without form and void, articles of mere pulp, articles not intended to either give information or to form conviction, but only to minister to a certain appetite for easy reading, are favourably regarded, the degeneration may extend only too rapidly to subjects of more moment. There is a real affinity between disregard of intellectual outline and accuracy, and disregard of moral outline and accuracy. Gelatin without fibre in matters intellectual is rarely relished or willingly manufactured except by those who can easily contract, even if they have not contracted, the taste for gelatin without fibres in matters of deeper moral and political moment. We value the [italics]Daily News[end italics] so much, as by far the highest in tone of our Liberal papers, by far the clearest and deepest in conviction, the most sincere, sober, and arduous in advancing a cause, that we watch its career with a sort of jealousy, and note any tendency to substitute what the doctors used to call "slops," - farinaceous food, "poorly pudding," and the like, -- for the strong and manly diet to which it has accustomed us, -- with a certain vexation and dread. The [italics]Daily News[end italics] is, and we hope long it will be, far the best of the daily papers which profess a Liberal faith. But whatever excellences it may borrow from among the many excellences of its rivals, we do trust it will not endeavour to provide its readers with even occasional doses of [italics[Telegraph[end italics]-and-water. That sort of thing won't bear watering, even if it were fair to try and infringe the monopoly of a patent medicine by merely diluting the ingredients of which it is composed. [centered score] Hereditary Genius. We do not see that Captain Galton has contributed very much towards the discussion of the true point at issue in this matter. His book is a very clever one, though it belongs somehow, with its shrewdness and crotchettiness and acute sense and absurd nonsense, to another age rather than this, but he has assumed throughout the subject upon which men differ. This is not whether qualities are or are not transmitted in human beings by descent, but what qualities. The old democratic assertion that all men are born alike, and that education and circumstances cause all the differences which exist, is as nearly dead as the far more absurd aristocratic theory that the longer the descent of the individual is, the further he is removed from the from the competent founder of the line, the purer is his race. The democratic theory had for warrant, we imagine, an assumption that God could not have been so unjust as to create men unequal - as though men were never born blind, or dumb, or scrofulous, -- and for evidence, the fact that the sons of eminent men are very often very silly persons, which is quite true, but which proves very little indeed, except that law apparently general may have many exceptions and limitations. Another argument that if hereditary qualities are transmitted all the sons of one father and mother ought to be alike, but are not, is stronger, but is still weak in the face of the irresistible evidence for atavism, that is, for the recurrence in a family of a particular type not regularly, but in jerks, the law usually skipping a generation. Jerome Buonaparte was a Boeotian, while Napolean was a great man, but Jerome's son is a man of exceptional ability, and Lucien's grandson, the Cardinal, is considered, we believe, on evidence which we do not quite understand, but which is entirely trusted by the people of Rome, to possess the highly exceptional brain of his greatest relative. On the other hand, the evidence for the transmission of hereditary qualities seems to be overwhelming. It is, for example, quite certain that special qualities, peculiarities, and even faculties, can be made permanent by careful breeding in all the domesticated races, and in some of the non-domesticated, as pigeons, rabbits, and, the huntsmen say, the cheetahs, or hunting leopards. A pariah dog cannot point, while the descendant of a great racer will be as certainly swifter than the descendant of a cart-horse as a young hare will be swifter than a young rabbit. It is almost equally certain that the possibility of transmission extends to human beings, for without it there would be no means of accounting for the well-proved differences of race among nations of the same colour. Why, for example, is the Jew in all countries - even when he has become, as in Germany and Italy, an intensely absorbent being - so widely separated in nature from the race whose life he lives, and whose qualities act so bitingly upon his own? If the race can vary, so can the clan, and if the clan, so can the family; and all evidence shows that this is, in fact, the case. If the defenders of the aristocratic idea know their own business, they would rely almost entirely upon two races notoriously pure from intermixture, -- the Jews, and the Brahmins of Bengal. In the first instance, -- though we admit this would not help them in England, where the Jewish nose is supposed to have been specially modeled by Providence, -- they would be able to prove that a race sprung from an ascertainable stock exhibits at the end of a career of three thousand years qualities as exceptionally high, a force as exceptionally great, and vitality as exceptionally powerful as when it started, produces in the nineteenth century a poet of rank as loftly as its poets of the tenth B.C., and religious thinkers as original as the first apostles of the monotheism. In the second instance, they would be able to prove by the record of fifty years that in an Indian province, Benares, where the castes all look alike, where there is no apparent difference of race, where the Brahmin is not the richest, and where he is emphatically the most vicious, the Brahmin child takes in the colleges of a decided lead, a lead which is menaced only by the children of the single family, and Sens, acknowledged to represent the old Medical Caste, otherwise extinct, and the Dutts, the heirs of the henchmen brought by the Brahmins into Bengal. The cause of that superiority may be hereditary cultivation, but if so, the capacity of cultivation is a transmissible quality, and it is useless, in the teeth of such evidence, to deny that [italics]something[end italics] is transmitted by descent. The real point is not, we imagine that, for that is given up, except by a few men who think that if they allow inequality of birth, they disallow equality of rights, -- two claims which have no more conceivable connection than equality of rights and identity of race, -- but what is it that is transmitted? Clearly all the parents' qualities are not, or all sons would be alike. It is conceded that it is not merely physique in the narrow sense, and the case for physique in its broadest sense will not stand examination. Suppose we assume that only those qualities which depend upon, and are connected with, the physical organization, are transmitted, then we find no doubt at starting one very noteworthy fact. The capacity of music is in the highest degree transmissible, being in fact perhaps of all capacities the one most dependant upon descent, while at the same time there is in the whole range of history but one instance of a great poet who was father or son to a great poet, and that one is only proved by traditionary evidence. If Solomon wrote the Canticles, then the son of the great poet was a great poet too, but the instance is exceptional, and the evidence far too shadowy to sustain any scientific or [italics]quasi-[end italics]scientific proposition. The effect of that illustration is strongly in favour of the physical theory, but the moment we apply it on a broader scale the illustration becomes useless. Races differ mor in their minds than they do in their bodies. Not to quote, again, the unanswerable instance of the Benares Brahmins - an instance which was enforced by the late Dr. Ballantyne, the Principal of the Benares College, through whole tables of official figures - no one seriously doubts that the Jew, the Frenchman, the Basque, the Parsee, and even the Gipsy, displays a separate mind, a something peculiar to himself, and different to all other men, which cannot be considered physical, except on the materialistic theory that [italics]all[end italics] mental operations are physical changes within the brain. [If they are, then, of course, the difficulty is thus far altered, that we have to ascertain which plate of the brain battery is transmitted, while the others are unchanged; but to save time we assume for the moment that there is a mind.] If, then, some mental characteristics are transmitted, what mental characteristics? Clearly, not that something, whatever it be, that we call genius. The entire experience of mankind forbids us to expect that Shelley's son will be Shelley, that in the few cases in which the father has possessed some power so unusual that ordinary men, who recognize it to the full, cannot define it, the son should possess it too. The first-class men of earth have rarely left heirs whom anybody ever heard of as men of equal power. Take the men of the very first class, the men who have changed the faith of tribes or nations, and there is not, that we can remember, a solitary instance of the descent of that supreme faculty. Who represents Moses, or Socrates, or Mahomet, or Confucius, or Gautama, or Calvin, or Luther, or Spinoza, or Wesley, [stamped University College of London Galton Papers 120/5] [end]

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