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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/73

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THE PHENOMENA OF HEREDITY.

courage at the side of his commander. The young officer had with him his wife, Letitia Ramolino, a woman of Roman beauty, and of a strong and masculine character. Napoleon was conceived in his tent, on the eve of a battle, at the distance of two paces from the batteries which faced the enemy. Robespierre was born in 1758, the year which saw Damiens tortured and dragged about the Place de Grève, a year of war, of famine, and of discontent. His father was an attorney, and an insatiable reader of the "Contrat Social." Peter the Cruel, King of Castile, was the son of Alfonso XI., who was ever at variance with his wife. Scandalous scenes of anger, jealousy, and rage, continually disturbed the royal household, and the fruit of the commerce of this wedded pair was Peter the Cruel, a monster of ugliness, physical and moral. History shows to us the parents of Raffaelle both devoted to the art of painting. The wife, a true Madonna, delighted in subjects where grace and piety prevailed; the husband, a great dauber, preferred strength for his part.

M. Ribot, in the remarkable work which he has just written on the subject of heredity, investigates the laws of this mysterious influence, which he regards as a sort of habit, an eternal memory. These laws are little more than a statement of the habitual directions of hereditary impulsion. Sometimes heredity passes from the father to the daughter, from the mother to the son; again the child inherits from both parents. Finally, it often happens that the child, instead of resembling his immediate parents, resembles one of his grandparents, or some remote member of a collateral branch of the family. This is called atavism. This fact was well known to the ancients. Montaigne regarded it with wonder. "Is it not astonishing," says he, "that this drop of seed from which we are produced should bear the impression not only of the bodily form, but also of the thoughts and the inclinations of our fathers? Where does this drop of water keep this infinite number of forms? and how does it bear these likenesses through a progress so haphazard and so irregular that the great-grandson shall resemble the great-grandfather, the nephew the uncle?" Montaigne's wonder has good ground; nor do we to-day know any better than those of the sixteenth century the causes of these strange transmissions.

Such are the facts. In vain would we multiply them, or comment upon them, to change their character. Cases of heredity will never be, in the domain of physiology, any thing more than exceptions, as compared with the cases which make against heredity. But now, if these are only exceptions, by what right shall any man set up heredity as the general law of the development of intellectual activity, or affirm that heredity is here the law, non-heredity the exception? Ribot accumulates the subtlest of arguments to strengthen this singular proposition, but he is wasting his time, wasting his talent. Explain as you will how the heredity of intellectual aptitudes is almost ever overcome