Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/September 1881/Inheritance



THE tendency in any new character or modification to reappear in the offspring at the same age at which it first appeared in the parents, or in one of the parents, is of so much importance, in reference to the diversified characters proper to the larvæ of many animals at successive ages, that almost any fresh instance is worth putting on record. I have given many such instances under the term of "inheritance at corresponding ages." No doubt the fact of variations being sometimes inherited at an earlier age than that at which they first appeared—a form of inheritance which has been called by some naturalists "accelerated inheritance"—is almost equally important, for, as was shown in the first edition of the "Origin of Species," all the leading facts of embryology can be explained by these two forms of inheritance, combined with the fact of many variations arising at a somewhat late stage of life. A good instance of inheritance at a corresponding age has lately been communicated to me by Mr. J. P. Bishop, of Perry, Wyoming County, New York. The hair of a gentleman of American birth (whose name I suppress) began to turn gray when he was twenty years old, and in the course of four or five years became perfectly white. He is now seventy-five years old, and retains plenty of hair on his head. His wife had dark hair, which, at the age of seventy, was only sprinkled with gray. They had four children, all daughters, now grown to womanhood. The eldest daughter began to turn gray at about twenty, and her hair at thirty was perfectly white. A second daughter began to be gray at the same age, and her hair is now almost white. The two remaining daughters have not inherited the peculiarity. Two of the maternal aunts of the father of these children "began to turn gray at an early age, so that by middle life their hair was white." Hence the gentleman in question spoke of the change of color of his own hair as "a family peculiarity."

Mr. Bishop has also given me a case of inheritance of another kind, namely, of a peculiarity which arose, as it appears, from an injury, accompanied by a diseased state of the part. This latter fact seems to be an important element in all such cases, as I have elsewhere endeavored to show. A gentleman, when a boy, had the skin of both thumbs badly cracked from exposure to cold, combined with some skin-disease. His thumbs swelled greatly, and remained in this state for a long time. When they healed they were misshapen, and the nails ever afterward were singularly narrow, short, and thick. This gentleman had four children, of whom the eldest, Sarah, had both her thumbs and nails like her father's; the third child, also a daughter, had one thumb similarly deformed. The two other children, a boy and girl, were normal. The daughter Sarah had four children, of whom the eldest and the third, both daughters, had their two thumbs deformed; the other two children, a boy and girl, were normal. The great-grandchildren of this gentleman were all normal. Mr. Bishop believes that the old gentleman was correct in attributing the state of his thumbs to cold aided by skin-disease, as he positively asserted that his thumbs were not originally misshapen, and there was no record of any previous inherited tendency of the kind in his family. He had six brothers and sisters, who lived to have families, some of them very large families, and in none was there any trace of deformity in their thumbs.

Several more or less closely analogous cases have been recorded; but until within a recent period every one naturally felt much doubt whether the effects of a mutilation or injury were ever really inherited, as accidental coincidences would almost certainly occasionally occur. The subject, however, now wears a totally different aspect, since Dr. Brown-Séquard's famous experiments proving that Guinea-pigs of the next generation were affected by operations on certain nerves. Dr. Eugène Dupuy, of San Francisco, California, has likewise found, as he informs me, that with these animals "lesions of nerve-trunks are almost invariably transmitted." For instance, "the effects of sections of the cervical sympathetic on the eyes are reproduced in the young, also epilepsy (as described by my eminent friend and master Dr. Brown-Séquard) when induced by lesions of the sciatic nerve." Dr. Dupuy has communicated to me a still more remarkable case of the transmitted effects on the brain from an injury to a nerve; but I do not feel at liberty to give this case, as Dr. Dupuy intends to pursue his researches, and will, as I hope, publish the results.—Nature.