Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/394

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

cases the opposite prevails, and jurors are strangely stubborn in their unreasoning convictions for the prisoner. This is naturally the outcome of placing untrained men in positions which they can not fill, and requiring of them clear judgment under circumstances where it is almost impossible to act normally.



IT is not many years ago that the occurrence of pulmonary tuberculosis in a person stamped the family of the sufferer as tainted. So lax was the common as well as the professional logic, and so imperfect were the observations drawn from experience, that the fact of inheritance clearly seen in some diseases was immediately applied to all cases where there was any ground for the analogy. What was true of one case must necessarily be true of all others that seemed similar; and the growing belief in heredity helped to make this opinion progressively stronger. Even to-day there still remains with thousands of people a belief in the "taint" of a family that has unfortunately had a tubercular disease in one of its members, and the general public is merely beginning to awaken to the distinction between an inherited disease and an inherited predisposition to that disease. As a matter of fact there exists between these two things the widest space; indeed, a predisposition may act as a warning, may insure a greater care and a better conformity to laws of right living, so that the threatened persons are often able to avoid dangers which formerly they might have dreaded as inevitable.

Tuberculosis is not by any means the only sickness which carries with it a widespread "taint." In the same way that an almost insuperable objection to a man or a woman contemplating marriage was a "consumptive strain in the blood," so an equally potent obstacle was relation to a lunatic. There are still other parallels between the two cases: one's brother who died of pulmonary consumption cast a cloud upon one's physical reputation; but if that same brother had suffered from a white swelling of the knee (tuberculosis of the joint), it carried but little significance with it. Likewise, mania cursed a whole family in all its ramifications; but marked eccentricity, kleptomania, or wrong conduct amounting to what we now call moral insanity would be entirely harmless, would be strictly confined to the person in whom it appeared.

This lack of knowledge and the consequent laxity in judgment have wide-reaching results. Outside of those immediately appar-