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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/588

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

aspects, it will be well, in the first place, to recall a fact in relation to epidemics.

Medical history proves, on the subject of epidemic and contagious maladies, a marked fatality at the time of their first appearance, followed by slowly-decreasing violence from generation to generation. In our own memory the epidemic visits of cholera have diminished in frequency and intensity within a short period of time. Previously to our day, syphilis and varioloid, two infective diseases, differing in their nature, and in their modes of transmission, had presented the same phenomenon—Extreme intensity at the beginning, diminution from period to period.

If this diminution belonged to the nature of the maladies, populations infected for the first time in the nineteenth century should have suffered less than those infected in previous centuries. But this is not what has occurred. When a savage population has recently been visited, for the first time, by the infection of small-pox, it has suffered as much as the Europeans at the beginning of the malady in Europe. It is the fact of invading a new field which renders epidemics destructive. Upon a little reflection, the reason of this is easy to comprehend.

When an epidemic falls upon a population for the first time, the. greater part of the individuals disposed to receive the disease are attacked. They die in great numbers. Subsequent births are the offspring of persons who did not contract the disease, or, at the least, who contracted, yet survived it; that is to say, of persons better constituted than others to resist the disease. By virtue of the ordinary resemblance of children to their parents, the new generation will be less disposed to suffer from the epidemic. There will be then a diminution of the violence of the disease, or a temporary disappearance. For the most part I presume a diminution, because that the resemblance of children to their grandparents (which is called atavism) is not very rare, and tends to reproduce certain forms or physiological conditions in families. At the end of two or three generations, that special cause for the return of the epidemic is less felt, the resemblance to a great-grandfather, or ancestor still more removed, being more rare than the resemblance to a grandfather. But then the bulk of the population will no more have been exposed, by itself, or by its fathers and mothers, to the malady in question, or will have been but slightly exposed. Thus is constituted anew, by the very purity of the disease, a proportion of individuals who have not been submitted to the proof of the infection, or of whom the parents have not been submitted to the test; a proportion on whom the malady will be severe, and among whom the law of selection will recommence to operate.

The law of events (force des choses) introduces then a variation in the intensity of every disease, except that it does not act upon diseases of which people rarely die, or which fall principally upon the