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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/185

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HEREDITY AND RACE-IMPROVEMENT.

own thoughts; as for her, if she cannot talk, she is undone. The instinct of imitation is in an inverse ratio to the power of mental abstraction.

From these details it will be seen that this strong instinctive force of imitation, which plays so important a part in the education of individuals and of races, is a very different thing from heredity. It may and it does act in concert with hereditary impulsions; but far more frequently it works independently and even in a direction counter to them. And the same is to be said of another force—a more determined rival still, and a more puissant antagonist of heredity, viz., personality, whose functions we have next to consider.

The individual personality of the soul, which is preëminently the instrument of free inventiveness and the unfailing spring of the innovative faculty, might, in contrast with heredity, be called spontaneity.[1] To give a notion of the power of spontaneity, as compared with that of heredity, we might draw up lists exhibiting cases in which the manifestation of various passions or talents does not come from ancestry, and in which the individual is born different from his parentage, or distinguishes himself from them by the reaction of his own will. Such lists would be endless; for, the opinion of the partisans of absolute heredity to the contrary notwithstanding, spontaneity and personal activity are the rule in the development of the mind. In short (and this is the main point), heredity has its root in spontaneity; for, after all, those aptitudes, those qualities, which parents transmit to their children, must necessarily have originated, at some time, from the spontaneous action of a more or less independent will. We hear of idiots, and of hysterical and epileptical subjects, or, on the other hand, of painters, musicians, and poets, who derive from their parentage the sinister or the beneficent activities which characterize them. True enough; but the question for us is, Whence did the parents themselves derive this activity? In taking a retrospective view of the ascendants, we must reach the point where spontaneity is preëminent; and this preëminence is all the less questionable in proportion as it reappears in the descendants. The effects of heredity appear and disappear; at first, they overmaster spontaneity, suspending its influence; then they are exhausted, and spontaneity again reclaims its rights. Thus spontaneity is a continuous, persisting force, while heredity is intermittent and transitory. Human nature, considered in its progress from age to age, is a succession of independent minds, all the more independent in proportion as they have less need of the concurrence of mechanical or organic powers in willing and acting. Where they require such concurrence, a portion of their innate independence is surrendered to the blind influences of heredity. And yet, even as regards the origin of æsthetic aptitudes, spontaneity is the stronger of the two.

  1. Spontaneous. Produced without being planted.—(Webster.) Native, innate.