Review of Hereditary Genius, The Times (1/7/1870)
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University College London, FG, 120/5
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Review of <i> Hereditary Genius</i>, <i>The Times</i> (1/7/1870)

[stamped]University College London 120/5 Galton Papers The Times, Friday, January 7, 1870. Hereditary Genius [centered score] The Darwinian theories are capable of infinite expansion, and Mr. Galton, in this volume, has asserted that they hold good not only throughout the whole organic world, but that mental and moral, as well as physical, phenomena may be explained and controlled by their application. He argues that, as it is easy by careful selection to obtain a permanent breed of dogs or horses gifted with extraordinary speed or strength, so it would also be easy "to produce a highly gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations." Mr. Galton's theory rests of necessity on a purely statistical basis, which he has gathered and arranged with the most wide-spread industry. This praise, too, he may honestly claim, that he has collected his statistics, and not [italics]selected[end italics] them: the latter is too favourite and frequent a mode of conducting an inquiry intended to support a foregone conclusion; the temptation to it in this instance was peculiarly strong, but Mr. Galton has dealt fairly with his subject, and though we shall by-and-by have to take exception to some of his arguments, or rather to mitigate their force by counter-considerations, we believe that he himself is honestly convinced, and that his views are the gradual result of conscientious investigation. The popular belief on this question is summed up in one or two proverbs or saying which are constantly repeated - to the effect that the son of a wise man is sure to be a fool, that the children of religious parents are apt to turn out ill, and so on. Against these maxims and the tenour of them Mr. Galton opens fire with all the artillery of figures. His first battery consists of a classified and analyzed table of the Judges of England between 1660 and 1863. The total number coming within the limits of this period is 286, and of these 100 are shown to possess one or more eminent relations grouping them into 85 families. It is further shown that the more eminent of the Judges possess the greater proportionate number of distinguished relations; that of Lord Chancellors, for instance, 80 per cent. are related to famous men, while of the ordinary Judges the number so connected by blood is only 36 per cent. Of course, the objection at once occurs to the reader that the Lord Chancellors have more opportunities than other Judges of thrusting relatives into high places; but this difficulty is met by the argument that reputation is a sure test of ability, and that, whether these relatives of Chancellors obtained their posts by favouritism or not, the talent of the great majority of them is beyond question. This is proved by a list given, which also demonstrates that in many instances these celebrated relatives were ancestors or descendants who could not possibly owe their advancement to the person cited as the principal member of the family group. The author all through this chapter employs a great variety of argument to strengthen his case, continually shifting his ground, and taking up new positions, which he fortifies always with diligent ingenuity, and generally with effect. The result of his examination into the relationships of the English Judges may be summed up as follows: -- During the period of 205 years which is comprised in the inquiry their number, as we mentioned, is stated at 286. Of these 109[?] possess one or more eminent relations, and it is found, on a further analysis, that the abler among them are proportionately richer than the others, in gifted kinsmen; that the distinctive characteristics which mark a Judge so often appear in his relations, that of the whole English Bench during two centuries no less than one in every nine has been father, son, or brother to another Judge; and, lastly, that the near relatives of distinguished Judges rise to celebrity much oftener than the more remotely allied. From these [italics]data[end italics] the author reasons in favour of hereditary genius, and it will be noticed that to every one of his arguments an easy and natural objection at once rises, and is grappled with by strenuous logic. Whether the logician succeeds in giving them the [italics]coup-de-grace[end italics] or leaves them with yet a little life in them will appear later on. From Judges he passes to the category of Statesmen. Those still further justify his conclusions; their relations are more rich in ability because they themselves are more eminently gifted. An unbeliever would say that the reason of this increased plurality of famous kin is to be found in the fact that where a Judge can help one relative a Statesman can help two, having the greater power. But this objection is immediately met by the reputation test. A man may be given a place because he is his father's son, but he cannot be given the capacity to fill it; that must come naturally, and it is maintained does come so in the vast majority of instances. We will not follow Mr. Galton through the statistics of commanders, men of science, literature, and art, divines and senior classes, oarsmen and wrestlers. Of each of these classes the whole or a section is most carefully tabulated and analyzed; the similarity of the results, which is often very striking, arrayed in corroboration of heredity, and all apparent contradictions explained away. It will be interesting to notice, though this is a distinction Mr. Galton has not drawn, what change there is in the number of relationships when we pass from the domains of official preferment to those in which a man depends for success purely on his own innate force. The fortunate stars of Judges, generals, and statesmen, though they shine from the zenith with great inherent light, may have owed the first ascension and strengthening of their beams to concurring circumstances - at least, ill-natured people will always say so; but none can say that art or science goes by favour. Thus it is to the ranks or authors, artists, or scientific discoverers readers would naturally turn who desire to employ the most rigid test to discover whether or no genius is hereditary. The following are Mr. Galton's statistics of those who serve the State, as Judges, Statesmen, or Soldiers. Of the first named, he adduces 286 with 109 eminent relatives; of the second class, 35, with no fewer than 102 inheritors or progenitors of their genius; while of the third class, 32 examples are cited whose famous kinsfolk number 83. Adding these together, we obtain 353 individuals who have derived or transmitted their talents from or to 294 blood relations. Strictly speaking, these numbers are not absolutely correct, for in several instances there is a double relationship, which Mr. Galton has not attempted to disentangle, and we have followed his example. These figures, roughly apportioned, tell us that six out of seven of those who are Judges, Statesmen, or Soldiers have each one kinsman who is also eminent. We will now try the same arithmetic upon authors (in which class we include poets), men of science, and artists (including musicians). It brings us to the following results - the 76 selected authors possess 146 more or less distinguished relations, while 52 artists include 80, and 65 men of science 127 eminent men in their families. The addition of the numbers shows us that 193 of these great men and women are allied to 353 who are also famous by their talent, or that authors and artists possess celebrated relations in the proportion of about 1 3/4 to each. The comparison of these two calculations certainly tends very strongly in favour of the hypothesis of hereditary genius; it shows us that, notwithstanding the fact that Commanders, Judges, and Statesmen possess and very often exercise the power of placing their kith and kin in positions where their talents have fair play and easy access to fame, if strength to grasp it, yet that the famous ancestors and descendants of authors, painters, musicians, and men of science surpass those of the official classes in the proportion of nearly two to one. We have elected to make this use of the statistics Mr. Galton has supplied, but it must not be supposed that he rests his case on any such single and slender application of them. He sets them in every combination, and from each elicits a fresh argument in favour of heredity. All through the book he contends in vigourous language and precise thought for the universal application of its inflexible laws, maintaining that they prevail in the intangible firmanent of mind as well as on the solid world of matter; that all talent whatever is as purely a physical descent as a Hapsburg lip or a Napier nose; that the power to wield a State's whole thunder is as much a matter of breeding and parentage as, let us say, gout. Despite the manifold nature of his arguments, perhaps Mr. Galton may fail to convince those who are already the determined opponents of his theory; the evidence which can be adduced on such a question is purely circumstantial, and very much of it may be made to bear a double construction; but at the same time all but the extremest bigots will attach some weight to it, and though few may be carried to its utmost comclusions, unprejudiced readers will accompany the author a great way towards them. Those who reflect fairly upon the subject will be able to gather, even from their own experience, some corroborative evidence in support of this interesting theory. Who that has known two generations of a family has not noticed mental and moral as well as physical similarities which can only be accounted for on the score of transmission? Though the father may have died while the son was still a child, nevertheless in after age how often we recognize in the latter the same peculiarities of temper or other little traits; there is no mistaking them; there they are, imitated to the life, or rather not imitated but inherited. Once past the pale of the organic world there is no reason why we should stop short; we could not fairly argue from straight hair or blue eyes to eloquence or wit, and declare that the first being hereditary proves the last are also; but when we recognize beyond doubt some virtue or vice, such as prodigality or love of money, noticing not only its abstract existence, but also a peculiar identity of practice, we are surely justified in claiming for it the explicit origin whose marks it bears; and once landed in the world of mental and moral phenomena, we may consistently extend our researches and refer other characteristics to a like parentage. We venture to differ from Mr. Galton on one point, where he will scarcely give an inch of ground, and we are disposed to take a good ell. He considers that circumstance has on the whole little to do with genius; that, generally speaking, gifts and abilities make, sooner or later, their own opportunity, and come to the surface from any depth by almost a sure law. We hardly think this can be the case; certainly the tenour of that analogy beloved of all Darwinians is not thus. We believe that nature parallels the amazing waste of her vegetable and animal kingdoms in the world of the mind, and that hereditary powers and traits are acted upon and modified from the moment of birth by influences far more uncertain and diverse than those winds which deposit one seed in a rich soil, where it grows to a perfect and full-flowered plant, and another from the same pod in some bleak spot, where it painfully achieves a wizen and withered life productive of scarcely a leaf, far less a blossom. Mr. Galton is a little too anxious to array all things in the wedding garment of his theory, and will scarcely allow them a stitch of other clothing. At page 38 he states his belief "that if the eminent men of any period had been changelings from the cradle, a very fair proportion of those who survived and retained their health up to fifty years of age would, notwithstanding their altered circumstances, have equally risen to eminence," and he declares it is incredible that any combination of adversities could have repressed Lord Brougham to the level of undistinguished mediocrity. We believe that these two suppositions are right in one sense and wrong in another; a fungus can lift a paving-stone, but touch it with your foot and it is destroyed. We hold that it is with genius after this fashion. If its roots are well nourished and it is left to itself to grapple with a dead weight it will win its way; but an unkind soil or a fortuitous blow, and it is all over with it. Keats, we suppose, is one of the most astonishing instances on record of greatness achieved under adverse circumstances. He had no education; he was a surgeon's apprentice; and yet, "without Greek," he contrived, as Byron said, to talk about the old gods and goddesses "much as they might have been supposed to speak." He thought and spoke of them as no senior classic crammed with all the learning of the schools has ever thought or spoken; he extracted more of the divine spirit of ancient fables from [italics]Lempriere[end italics] than scholars extract from the wonderful choruses they construe so glibly. He laid the dead mythology of a dictionary in his own soul, where it was re-quickened, and whence it came forth clad in shining garments. But, for all that, we affirm his greatness, like all other, was the accident of an accident; we affirm, paradoxical as it may seem, that a number of singularly felicitous circumstances must have concurred to allow his genius to assert itself. It lay at first like a vessel ice-bound in the Polar seas; before its brief voyage was done it had sailed well into the tropics, but it could never have reached open water without fortunate rifts in the ice and seasonable intervals of clear weather. His impulses must have been first stirred by some chance book, and then fostered by continual opportunity for reading and thinking; if he had been kept close to daily work to earn a bare subsistence, had gone to bed tired out with it every night, and risen to resume it every morning, poetry could never have filtered in his mind. As it happened, it was otherwise; books fell across his path; he had time to read them and time to think over them; his thoughts gradually found a channel down which they poured and hastened with incredible increase, but where they are always traceable to a first spring trickling from some fortuitous clefts in the rock. Of course, it is impossible to prove it, but we believe that Lord Brougham or Shakespeare might have been "repressed to indistinguished mediocrity" by a far slighter turn in the course of events than that implied in their being changelings at birth. A child may have within it the germ of a most truthful and heroic soul, and yet harsh treatment and punishment may cause it to grow up a liar and a coward, and in the same we believe its intellectual growth may be acted upon, and a twig be bent to the earth which otherwise would have risen to a straight and tall tree. We quite agree with Mr. Galton that a very high reputation is a sure test of very high abilities, but that very high abilities are never or very seldom destroyed in the germ is a proposition contrary to all analogy, the only argument which can be brought to bear upon it. Mr. Galton gives us a very interesting chapter on "The Comparative Worth of Different Races," in which, comparing the ancient Greeks with ourselves, he arrives at the conclusion that the Athenian race, at the brightest period of its history, ranks as far above our nation in average ability as the Negro ranks below it. Neither common sense nor common pride will allow us to concur in this. Let us see by what arguments Mr. Galton proves so humbling a proposition. He says, "We have no men to put by the side of Socrates and Phidias, because the millions of all Europe, as they have done for the subsequent 2,000 years, have never produced their equals." It is true we have no Socrates and no Phidias, but it seems to us we have many others who we can place beside if not above them as benefactors of mankind. It is a mistake to consider art and philosophy as altogether pre-eminent departments of skill and learning; no doubt they stand very high, there may be nothing higher; but there are other branches of mental and physical industry which cannot possible be compared with them, but which surely may be put into the same supreme category. Science, manufacture, literature, could not dozens of men be chosen who have laboured in these fields of human effort, in our own and earlier times, and who are worthy to be named in the same breath as Socrates and Phidias? Since their era human strength and skill have flowed in ten thousand different channels, and if those once filled so full now run shallower, still they hold a respectable stream, and there are other rivers of living water which Greece never saw, rising higher against their banks every moment. Mr. Galton concludes his work by urging that it is most essential to the wellbeing of future generations to raise the average standard of ability of the present time. Civilization progresses at railway speed, and we, the foremost in the race, are beginning to be unable to keep pace with our own work: -- "The needs of centralization, communication, and culture call for more brains and mental stamina than the average of our race possesses. We are in crying want for a greater fund of ability in all stations of life, for neither the classes of statesmen, philosophers, artisans, nor labourers are up to the modern complexity of their several professions. An extended civilization like ours comprises more interests than the ordinary statesmen or philosophers of our present race are capable of dealing with, and it exacts more intelligent work than our ordinary artisans and labourers are capable of performing." Mr. Galton would perhaps find an instance of the incapacity of our statesmen in the long period during which the Irish Question has been before the public, and the ineffectual way in which successive Ministries have fingered the Gordian knot, only to leave it tied faster than ever. Certainly, even Mr. Gladstone does not give one the idea of an Alexander about to solve the difficulty by the one stroke of a Land Bill, and even with all our hope of him and of it, we can quite echo Mr. Galton's declaration of the enormous benefit which would accrue if the national average of ability were increased by one or two grades. How this is to be done is a question Mr. Galton raises in the very first page of the book, but for which he does not give us any specific answer. The only practical suggestion he ventures to make is the abolition of marriage disabilities in College Fellowships, as, according to the laws of hereditary genius, the abrogation of these restrictions would insure the propogation of a large amount of selected ability now infertile. The reason why the author fails to take full advantage of his discovery is perfectly plain; it is, that the only possible way in which we can turn a knowledge of such laws to account is by interfering with the marriage state according to the Spartan mode, a reform beyond the boldness of the most enthusiastic theorist. That [italics]Hereditary Genius[end italics] is a most able and instructive book it is impossible to deny; but we are afraid the practical issue of all its investigations and speculations is but small, and that we must trust to Education Bills to raise the grade of ability, an leave wise men to marry foolish virgins, or learned spinsters to wed husbands of "no sort of education," as their good or evil star happens to lead them. We opened Mr. Galton's book without having formed any previous conviction on its subject, we close in entire agreement with him as to the hereditary nature of genius, but with the further belief that, were it possible to make the attempt, gifted men and women could not be bred with the same certainty as racehorses, because the mental nature, although in the germ derived from the parent, is subject from the first to influences which divert, repress, or develope[sic] it, and the power of action of which is far greater than belongs to those which surround organic life. The modification and direction of these influences, by emigrational, educational, and other means, may well engage the attention of philosophers and statesmen; the universal knowledge of reading, writing, and ciphering and the absence of pauperism would raise the national grade of ability far quicker and higher than any system of selected marriage. When by these means we have utilized our waste material; when every fibre of brain is doing its work with a prepared strength, or, in other words, when we have profited by the practical expedients ready to our hands, it will be time enough to reach new fire from heaven by taking advantage of Mr. Galton's theory. But the skies themselves will have fallen before all the "antres vast and deserts idle" of the human mind that now stretch before us are brought in the utmost cultivation of which they are capable. [centered double score] [footnote]*[italics]Hereditary Genius[end italics]. By Francis Galton, F.R.S., &c. London: Macmillan and Co., 1869. [end]

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