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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Heredity: Its Influence on the Physical and Moral Training of Children

by A. H. Tubby, M.S., M.B. Lond., F.R.C.S
Volume 2, 1891/92, pgs. 293-302


What is Heredity? Häckel defined it as simple continuity of growth. This definition might be considered as a play upon words, but it is more than this, and such a definition, rightly applied, points to the only path which can lead to the comprehension of Heredity. Certain small organisms which are only composed of a single cell, millions of similar cells being found in our own bodies, increase by the simple process of fission. Each individual attains a certain size, and then divides into two parts, which are exactly alike in structure, so that it is impossible to decide whether one is younger or older than the other. Hence, in a certain sense, these organisms possess immortality; they can, it is true, be destroyed, but if protected from a violent death, they would live on indefinitely, and would only from time to time reduce the size of their overgrown bodies by division. From the mode of increase of a number of these small cells, we can, to a certain extent, understand why the offspring, being, in fact, a part of its parent, must therefore resemble it. But when we pass on to the higher organism we find ourselves baffled, our theories at fault.

Suffice it to say that Heredity is an inevitable law working by results, the hidden operations of which are veiled from our view. The habits and mode of life of animals are largely fixed by instinct, and there can, I think, be no dispute, that instinct passes by hereditary transmission: "the ant inherits the instincts of the ant, the bee those of the bee, the beaver those of the beaver," as distinctly as each inherits the outward shape and inward structure of its predecessors. A young duck thrown into the water commences to swim at once. Sixty years ago, Knight made some experiments with some pointer pups. The first day, on taking them into a field, one of the pups stood trembling with excitement, its eyes fixed, and all its muscles strained, pointing at the partridges as its ancestors had been taught to do.

There can be no doubt that instincts are so hereditary that the transmission of them persists long after the conditions of life to which they were adapted have passed away. This has been shown by Darwin. Among other instances he mentions that "the dog, however well and regularly fed, oftentimes, like the fox, buries superfluous food; and turns round and round on a carpet before lying down as if to trample down grass to form a bed."

Darwin pointed out in "The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection," that those habits and instincts were acquired which were most likely to be serviceable to the animal as a means of protection; and secondly, that when new conditions, such as domestication, which altered the organism, came into play, other instincts were developed, while the old ones not in use remained in abeyance. The original instinct of the dog was to howl like a wolf; its acquired instinct, which it has possessed so long that it has become natural, is to bark.

Let us turn now to the question of heredity in ourselves, and to the transmission of certain qualities more particularly. Mr. Galton, in his work on hereditary genius, which I shall have occasion to quote again, says, "I have no patience with the hypothesis continually expressed, that babes are born pretty much alike, and that the sole agencies in creating differences between boy and boy and man and man are steady application and moral effort. It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality."

Whether it be true or not, it is often said that no two leaves, no two blades of grass are exactly alike. There can be little doubt that no two persons are or have been exactly alike. However close the resemblance between them, each one has some characteristic which distinguishes him from someone else, and which affects the course of his destiny. There is a destiny made for each one by his inheritance. "That dread inevitable destiny which plays so great a part in Grecian tragedy, and which Grecian heroes are represented as struggling manfully against, knowing all the while that their efforts were foredoomed to be futile, was surely but a just recognition of that terrible law by which the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generations."

The least observation of a young child's mind, as its faculties are unfolded by education, shows how much it owes to heredity. How easily does a well-born European child learn in a short time, what-- were it not that it has in its constitution the benefits of ages of human culture, the quintessence, so to speak-- it would not learn in years, if it learned at all. Whoever doubts this let him take the child of an Australian savage and the child of an ordinary European parent, and let him bestow the same pains to give each an education, and note the result.

Surely the very science of Ethnology, the study of nations and peoples, rebukes us when we seek to thrust aside the law of heredity. The existence of nations is founded upon it; and in all ages people of every land and tongue have confessed its truth. The stolidity and thoroughness of the German, the vivacity and versatility of the Frenchman, the keen, practical common-sense of the Englishman, serve most effectually to raise a barrier between these nations, which no amount of commercial relations, no amount of friendly reciprocities, can break through.

In support of such general remarks particular instances should be adverted to. Mr. Darwin says, "On what a curious combination of corporeal structure, mental character, and training, must handwriting depend! Yet everyone must have noticed the occasional close similarity of handwriting in father and son." A great collector of signatures assured him that there were several franks of father and son hardly distinguishable, except by their dates. Hofacker, in Germany, remarks on the inheritance of handwriting. It has even been asserted that English boys when taught to write in France, naturally cling to the English manner of handwriting. Taken as a whole, the handwriting of an Englishman differs largely from that of a Frenchman. The former usually writes a bold clear hand, with well-rounded curves and an absence of flourishes, the latter a somewhat cramped hand, with flourishes here and there, serving only to make the individual letters more insignificant.

Peculiar tones of voice run very largely in families, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish, without seeing them, which one of the sons of a large family may be speaking. The arrival of a son and heir, or a much-wished-for daughter is almost sure to evoke the remark from the admiring relatives or friends, that he or she "is exactly like" the father or the mother. And indeed it is but natural that the pride of possession of parental love in the mother's heart should find a stimulus in tracing out resemblance of features to the father or herself; more often, with the natural unselfishness of a mother, to the former. As the years go on, the parents and friends constantly note, with becoming pride, the increased likeness to parents, either in feature or in the child's "ways." this feeling of pride and keenness to note the points of similarity is but another unconscious testimony to the law of inheritance. First there is the earnest conviction that the child should resemble its parents, and then the satisfaction that the child is no exception to the rule increases with its growth.

On the easily handled matter of the ultimate stature of children, Mr. Galton, in his address to the Anthropological Section at the British Association Meeting, 1885, showed very conclusively that the height of the offspring depends very largely on the height of the parents, and that if the average height of the parents presents a certain amount of deviation from the general average, the deviation of the children will be two-thirds that of the parents. Or, to put it in other words, under the influence of Heredity, deviation from a given type in the parent is followed in the children by a tendency to return to that type, otherwise the race would become all giants or all dwarfs.

In athletics the hereditary influence is often to the front. Although cricket may not appear to be a distinctly hereditary gift, yet proficiency in it seems to run in families: witness the Steels, Studds, and Graces. It is a trite remark that it takes three generations to develop a perfect glass-blower, and one can well believe it, when the combination of skill and good lungs required is considered.

So far, I think, I have demonstrated the physical side of the question; let us now revert to the mental side.

George Meredith, in his "Diana of the Crossways," writes, "And old Dan is dead, and we are the duller for it! Which leads to the question, Is genius hereditary? And the affirmative and negative are respectively maintained, rather against the Yes in the dispute, until a member of the audience speaks of Dan Merrion's having left a daughter reputed for a sparkling wit not much below the level of his own." Mr. Galton, some years ago, wrote an interesting work entitled, "Is Genius Hereditary?" To substantiate his proposition he took the pains to investigate the relationships of several classes of men, especially Judges, Statesmen, Commanders, Literary Men, and Men of Science. Taking the judges, he has made a list of 286, between the years 1660 and 1865, and he finds that 109 had one or more eminent relations, and these may be grouped in 85 families. Thus, 39 had 1 relative of eminence, 32 had 2 or 3, and 15 had 4 or more relatives of great reputation and fame. During this period there were 30 Lord Chancellors, 24 of whom had eminent relatives. Out of 286 judges, more than 1 in every 9 have been either father, son, or brother to another judge. There cannot remain a doubt that the peculiar type of ability which is necessary for a judge is often transmitted by descent.

It might be objected that in selecting these examples only the successes have been selected, and the failures expunged. Eminent men may have eminent relations, but they may also have those who are of ordinary ability, or even stupid, and, may be, downright mad. This is so, but it does not upset the argument. Because one or both of a child's parents are able, it does not in the least follow as a matter of necessity, but only as one of moderately unfavourable odds, that the child will be able also.

The giants in ability are found amongst the great commanders, and here, too, the natural inheritance is prominent. Alexander the Great, the greatest commander of his own, and probably of any age, was the son of Philip of Macedon, himself a great king and commander.

One of the greatest families of modern times is that of William the Silent, the great defender of Dutch liberty. He was connected by one wife with the Duc de Montmorency, Marshal of France, and with the Colignys, Marshal and Admiral of France respectively. His son was Maurice of Saxony, the greatest captain of his age, and by another wife, William the Silent was the ancestor of Turenne, the ablest of French pre-Napoleonic generals; from him, too, was descended William III., the wisest of our kings. In still more modern times I need only mention the names of Wellington, his brother the Marquis Wellesley, and another brother, Early Cowley, the diplomatist, and the famous family of the Napiers.

So I might continue through all classes and professions of men, but suffice it to speak of the illustrious relatives of Bach and Mozart, the Teniers, father and son, and of the great names of Bacon, Newton, Boyle, Herschel, Darwin, Humboldt, Hooker, and many other luminaries of science, in all of whom a great family ability displayed itself.

So much, then, for the work-a-day side of the question; let us now look on the sadder and darker side, the side of suffering, and let us see to what extent the inexorable law enforces its stern and relentless mandates. But before doing so, I would revert to a case somewhat in point in the animal kingdom.

The noteworthy experiments of Dr. Brown-Séquard, Professor of Physiology in the University of Paris, are very striking. By dividing certain nerves painlessly in guinea-pigs, he produced definite effects in the descendants of these animals. Epilepsy followed to the fifth and sixth generation after division of a large nerve in the leg, and the ears became deformed when a nerve in the neck was severed.

As in animals, so in man, bodily deformities are distinctly transmitted, and here I may be permitted to mention that i have under my care at the National Orthopaedic Hospital three children in one family suffering from curvature of the spine, and the mother tells me she has two more at home similarly afflicted. Recently I have seen children from two families. In one family, three, and in the other, two children were sufferers from "clubfoot." It is far from my wish to harrow your feelings with any of the details of the more strictly hereditary diseases, but I will speak of an instance of inherited colour-blindness. A man colour-blind had three children, two of whom were males, but their vision was natural. The eldest son had seven descendants, three of whom, all boys, were colour-blind. The second son had twenty-five descendants, seven of whom were colour-blind, six of them being boys, thus showing that the disease was mainly transmitted in the male line. The peculiar tendency to bleed persistently under the slightest provocation, generally ascribed by the laity to the absence of one of the three skins said to be possessed by us, but really due to inherent defects in the walls of the blood-vessels, is very hereditary in its nature. It rarely affects the females of a family, but is transmitted by them to the males, and so skips a generation, thus illustrating the law of atavism, or the transmission of qualities possessed by the grandparent to the grandchildren.

The subject of consumption will, perhaps, be a painful one to speak of, but the fearful results of consumptive people marrying cannot be too strongly insisted upon. Taking 100 children who have had one or both parents consumptive, it is found that fifty per cent. ultimately die of it in some form or another. Gout, too, is so essentially inheritable that the appearance of it at middle life used to be claimed as an evidence of gentle birth.

Certain nerve diseases in parents are followed by distinct attacks of madness in some one or other of the children. The vice of intoxication in a parent is certainly instrumental in inducing a craving for that kind of stimulus in a child, which is often passed on to succeeding generations. Our Saxon forefathers loved strong ale, and drank it hugely. Their descendants to-day are known as the most drunken race on the face of the civilised earth, despite all the efforts of temperance and teetotal advocates.

Morel quotes the history of one family, which may be taken as an example of the natural course of degeneration passing unchecked through generations. The great-grandfather evinced depravity and alcoholic excess, and was killed in a fight. Grandfather, hereditary drunkenness, occasional madness; son was sober, but subject to depression; fourth generation, defective intelligence, and ultimately idiotic; no issue-- i.e., the degeneracy of the race had fortunately rendered it sterile.

The practical aspect of our question may be summed up under two headings-- What are we to do for ourselves, and what are we to do for our children?

1st. What are we to do for ourselves? The Delphic oracle gave the sage advice to a certain Greek, "[insert Greek characters here]," "know thyself," and to that might not inappropriately be added "[insert Greek characters here]," and "in all things be temperate." Here is the gist of the matter. By what means are we to fulfil the duty of knowing ourselves, and ascertaining the capabilities which lie dormant within us? Those on the surface will only be too readily pointed out to us by admiring friends, or made the most of by those eager for our detraction. To get the best knowledge of our latent possibilities it would be well to study their developments in fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, and in all branches of the family tree. Explicit in them, we shall read what is implicit in ourselves. In them we shall see shining brightly what is but dimly reflected in ourselves, yet awaiting a potent stimulus to burst forth into a consuming fire in our children.

The duty of parents is, then, to examine themselves, and

becoming fully acquainted with, so cultivate those traits of character which they would deem most advisable and wish to reappear in their children, and to repress those evil tendencies of which they are conscious, by all means in their power.

How shall we in all things be temperate? What is true education? It is bringing oneself in harmony not only with one's surroundings, but with mankind. "Misanthropy is madness in the making." The last point in the road of true humanisation is active living sympathy with all. Let us aim at the state of stable mental equilibrium called temperance, and avoid those passions that war against the soul, remembering that each oblique thought, each angry word, each excess of feeling, each yielding to unconsidered impulses, each reversion to our lower natures, leaves its indelible impress upon our mental and physical organisms, which will be but too surely reproduced in an aggravated form in our children and their descendants.

There is one point I would fain touch on, though with all gentleness and delicacy. It is a point which now admits of no dictation, but when the race has arrived at its highest condition of humanisation will be seen in its true bearings. It was an Oriental idea that a complete being in primeval times had been divided into two halves, which have ever since been seeking to join together, and to reconstitute the divided unity. This is but as a beautiful allegory of the complete and perfect marriage union, physically and mentally, the outcome of which will doubtless be perfect children. But what can be said of a union, especially for monetary or family considerations, between two imperfect beings who may or may not be alike, and which will develop and bear ill fruit in their children.

If two individuals of mean, suspicious, and misanthropic character marry, surely their ill-regulated tendencies are but too likely to run into the seediness of positive mental aberration in their children. Still more so will this be the case if the persons marry their next of kin. The millennium will have dawned when it will be considered an offence against the laws of humanity for people, whose heritage is some dread physical malady, to marry, and so fix the disease more firmly in their descendants.

What are we to do with children? Armed with such knowledge as I have indicated, the path to pursue is clear. It is necessary, however, to remark that inherited qualities do not always unfold themselves gradually, but appear at different times in the course of life. A sudden emergency will call forth some unsuspected quality, not a little to the surprise of those around, who remark "that they didn't think it was in him." Every nature has its own peculiar tendencies, and too often it happens that bad training aggravates an inherent fault. "He is so spoiled,," says a foolish mother placidly of her child, as though she were saying something creditable to it, little thinking of the terrible truth in the words and the ruin it may bring.

Much has been written on education, and your National Union has its very raison d'être in the subject. I would only say, Know yourselves, watch and strive. Carefully repress any evil leanings, encourage all that is good, in your children.

My own ideas of education may be somewhat crude and visionary, but it seems to me that there is some most radical defect in our system. The tendency of our age is to educate children out of harmony with their natural surroundings. Children are exposed like Strasburg geese to the stuffing of mental food in over-heated and often insanitary rooms; a forcing process goes on, which ends in premature decay or unnatural production. I would have every child educated away from London and large towns, and be taught by object lessons for two or three years, with but little book work. Teach a child to observe and reflect and know "the why and wherefore of things." This habit can only be acquired by constant intercourse with nature in her varying moods.

The boy eager for knowledge, if he cannot get it in the only rational way, will read with avidity every book he sees, and get into the habit of sitting indoors with head bent and cramped chest, laying the foundation of physical disease, and training his mind in an evil course, by encouraging the habit of receiving knowledge second-hand.

The opinion seems to prevail that the only way to the brain is through the eye, but I am glad to note the great effort that is being made to combat this idea by means of Technical education.

Should a boy or girl show special aptitude for some one pursuit, encourage it wisely, but remember that it has been shown that only one in 79,000 attains moderate eminence, and one in a million is a genius, and still fewer are those who leave a permanent mark on the age. Over-education or bad education consists in the development of one side of the human being at the expense of, or to the neglect of, the rest. The precociously artistic child is encouraged to dabble in colours, and the musician of five years is placed in the hands of a master; and, perhaps for the sake of gain to its parents, appears before huge audiences, who applaud such vicious transgression of the laws of nature.

Encourage sports of all kinds in children, especially if, as in the case of the cricketing families alluded to, they show special fondness for one form. A healthy mind in a healthy body is trite enough and true enough, but not seldom disregarded. Too often long school hours are made use of by weak parents as a means of getting their children out of the way, and kept in order, because they are too feeble-minded to do it for themselves.

Should there be any inherent physical disease, then strive all you can to place the child in those natural conditions which are antagonistic to such disease. If there be a consumptive tendency, plenty of fresh air and good food are necessary.

Many a man, under difficult and trying circumstances, has had great cause to be thankful for good parentage, to bless the strength of his natural inheritance, and the sound and vigorous character which his parents endowed him with, and fostered in him.


Typed by K. B., April 2013