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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/331

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THE GENIUS AND HIS ENVIRONMENT.

does certainly bring up a biological line of thought, and the analogy from evolution doctrine is materially helpful; so we need not be afraid of it.

Generally, then, who is eligible for the social inheritance? This heir to society we are, all of us. Society does not make a will, it is true; nor does society die intestate. To say that it is we who inherit the riches of the social past of the race, is to say that we are the children of the past in a sense which comes upon us with all the force that bears in upon the natural heir when he finds his name in will or law. But there are exceptions. And before we seek the marks of the legitimacy of our claim to be the heirs of the hundred years of accumulated thought and action, let us say, of this American continent, it may be well to advise ourselves as to the poor creatures who do not enter into the inheritance with us. They are those who people our asylums, our reformatories, our jails and penitentiaries; those who prey upon the body of our social life by demands for charitable support, or for the more radical treatment by isolation in institutions: indeed, some who are born to fail in this inheritance are with us no more, even though they were of our generation; they have paid the penalty which their effort to wrest the inheritance from us has cost, and the grave of the murderer, the burglar, the suicide, the red-handed rebel against the law of social inheritance, is now their resting place. Society then is, when taken in the widest sense, made up of two classes of people—the heirs by right and the rebels by birth.

We may get a clear idea of the way a man attains his special heritage by dropping figure for the present and speaking in the terms of plain natural science. Ever since Darwin propounded the law of "natural selection" the word "variation" has been current. The student in natural science has come to look for variations as the necessary preliminary to any new step of progress and adaptation in the sphere of organic life. Nature, we now know, is fruitful to an extraordinary degree. She produces many specimens of everything. It is a general fact of reproduction that the offspring of plant or animal is quite out of proportion in numbers to the parents that produce them, and also to the means of.living which await them. One flower produces seeds which are carried far and near—to the ocean and to the desert rocks, no less than to the soil in which they may take root and grow. Insects multiply at a rate which is simply inconceivable to our limited capacity for thinking in figures. Animals also produce more abundantly, and man has children in numbers which allow him to bury half his offspring yearly and yet increase the adult population from year to year. This means, of coarse, that whatever the inheritance is, all can not inherit it—-