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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/192

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

its effects would have been seen in that large number of madmen and idiots.

Although theorizers have exaggerated the influence of heredity, it cannot be denied that it plays a part in the genesis of temperament and character, and here we have a warrant for the employment of every means that will favor the transmission of the most desirable aptitudes. In ancient Rome, women of the highest distinction, who were respected by all, imported into another family, with their husbands' consent, their superiority of blood. Quintus Hortensius, the friend and admirer of Cato, having failed to win his daughter Portia, asked for his wife Marcia, and Cato gave her to him. The grossness of such customs shocks our finer sense, but its explanation is to be found in the anxiety of a Roman head of a family to insure for his descendants the highest grade of masculine vigor, and the most solid virtues.

Under the old constitution of society in France, the tenure of high offices and trusts, and the following of some special profession by one family from generation to generation, had their rise and bases in the unconscious observation that aptitudes are hereditary; and M. Sédillot regrets that the revolutions of modern society have done away with this wholesome tradition, which, in every grade of the social scale, morally constrained the son to follow in his father's steps. This point must not be overlooked by races which care for self-improvement.

Another point for such races to bear in mind, and one of readier application, is the necessity of a sound and enlightened system of education. On this topic, those who have the future of France at heart, have but one opinion, viz., that the coming generations must be invigorated by giving more prominence to bodily exercise, and by exempting children from employments injurious to health. They have no thought of interfering with classical studies or the humanities, which will continue to be the chief element in moral culture; the only question is, whether the young could not acquire the treasures of Latinity and Hellenism in less time, and bestow some little study on matters of modern interest. There are sundry branches in which they now obtain no instruction, but which they might study much to the advantage of their intellectual development. This is not the place to enforce this argument; but it does seem unquestionable that, by means of a thorough system of education, proceeding on new principles, we might be able, if not exactly to change the whole character of a people, as Leibnitz thought, at least to do away with most of the influences which, for want of suitable training, cause them to fall into decay.

The conviction that it is possible to counteract the dangerous impulsions of heredity and to triumph over the tyrannies of Fate—at least to acquire a moral superiority over them—is a most wholesome one to spread abroad and to bring into acceptance. A strong will is in itself a power. Even though it were not so easy a thing as it is, to prevail