Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/602

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branch, not only of the family of the man who first bore his name, but of progenitors hidden still deeper in the mists of antiquity. We so often hear of families either dying out altogether or ending in females, that we come to think that such a fate is the eventual end of all families; but this is far from being the case. Every man living could, if he only knew where to find the data, count up from son to father, from father to grandfather, from generation to generation, until he came to Adam himself. And this is the great difference between good families and families of all other kinds: the members of a good family can tell who their forefathers were, where they lived, and whom they married; while those who belong to no families in particular are classed in a body as those who don't know their own grandfathers, or who perhaps never had any to know. The goodness of a family depends much more on the number of its known generations than on any other condition. Given two families in which the numbers of recorded generations are equal, doubtless the family whose members have been the more illustrious would be reckoned the better of the two; but a family of only two or three generations, however illustrious their members might have been, would certainly not constitute what is known as a good family. As in the case of many popular ideas, there is some little substratum of reason in this belief. If to be educated and cultivated is an object of ambition, and if there is anything in the doctrine of heredity, it may be supposed that the members of a family who have been of importance enough to leave their names scattered on the bank of the river of time have had a better chance of being polished, and of handing down their good qualities to their posterity, than those who were swept away by the tide without leaving any mark.

It is not much to be wondered at that there is such a general mistiness as to the ancestors of any particular person. I wonder how many readers of this page can tell straight off the Christian names of their two grandmothers—very few, I suspect—and yet these are facts very close at home in any one's genealogy. I am sure no one who has not especially looked up the point could tell the Christian names of his great-grandmothers, though they also stand at the threshold of a pedigree. Unless recorded in the family Bible or otherwise committed to writing, such names soon fade from the memory. People are anxious enough that they themselves shall not be forgotten. Such a feeling is the root of all ambition; and there is a difference in degree only, not in kind, between writing one's name on the page of the history of one's country and carving one's initials on a wooden bench, or scribbling them with pencil on the walls of some famous and frequented house. But people are not so desirous to perpetuate their father's memory, or to hand down to future ages their grandfather's name, and they take no steps to that end; and the consequence is that of the mass of the people below the class immortalized in such books as Burke's "Landed Gentry," but few know whence they come, or anything at all about