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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/106

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Again, for many generations a considerable portion of the male population of Switzerland have practiced rifle-shooting as a national sport, yet in international contests they show no marked superiority over our riflemen, who are, in a large proportion, the sons of men who never handled a gun, Another case is afforded by the upper classes of this country, who for many generations have been educated at the universities, and have had their classical and mathematical abilities developed to the fullest extent by rivalry for honors. Yet now, that for some years these institutions have been opened to dissenters whose parents usually for many generations have had no such training, it is found that these dissenters carry off their full share or even more than their share of honors. We thus see that the theory of the non-heredity of acquired characters, whether physical or mental, is supported by a considerable number of facts, while few if any are directly opposed to it. We therefore propose to neglect the influence of education and habit as possible factors in the improvement of our race, and to confine our argument entirely to the possibility of improvement by some form of selection.*

Among the modern writers who have dealt with this question the opinions of Mr. Galton are entitled to be first considered, because he has studied the whole subject of human faculty in the most thorough manner, and has perhaps thrown more light upon it than any other writer. The method of selection by which he has suggested that our race may be improved is to be brought into action by means of a system of marks for family merit, both as to health, intellect, and morals, those individuals who stand high in these respects being encouraged to marry early by state endowments sufficient to enable the young couples to make a start in life. Of all the proposals that have been made tending to the systematic improvement of our race, this is one of the least objectionable, but it is also, I fear, among the least effective. Its tendency would undoubtedly be to increase the number and to raise the standard of our highest and best men, but it would at the same time leave the bulk of the population unaffected, and would but slightly diminish the rate at which the lower types tend to supplant or to take the place of the higher. What we want is, not a higher standard of perfection in the few, but a higher average, and this can best be produced by the elimination of the lowest of all and a free intermingling of the rest.

Something of this kind is proposed by Mr. Hiram M. Stanley in his article on Our Civilization and the Marriage Problem, already referred to. This writer believes that civilizations perish

  • Those who desire more information on this subject should read Wcismann's Essays on Heredity.