Popular Science Monthly/Volume 59/May 1901/The Blood of the Nation I


Part I—In Peace.



"Over trench and clod
Where we left the bravest of us,
There's a deeper green of the sod."

I. In this paper I shall set forth two propositions, the one self-evident, the other not apparent at first sight, but equally demonstrable. The blood of a nation determines its history. This is the first proposition. The second is: The history of a nation determines its blood. As for the first, no one doubts that the character of men controls their deeds. In the long run and with masses of mankind this must be true, however great the emphasis we may lay on individual initiative or on individual variation.

Equally true is it that the present character of a nation is made by its past history. Those who are alive to-day are the resultants of the stream of heredity as modified by the vicissitudes through which the nation has passed. The blood of the nation flows in the veins of those who survive. Those who die without descendants can not color the stream of heredity. It must take its traits from the actual parentage.

II. The word 'blood' in this sense is figurative only, an expression formed to cover the qualities of heredity. Such traits, as the phrase goes, *run in the blood.' In the earlier philosophy, it was held that blood was the actual physical vehicle of heredity, that the traits bequeathed from sire to son as the characteristics of families or races ran literally in the literal blood. We know now that this is not the case. We know that the actual 'blood' in the actual veins plays no part in heredity, that the transfusion of blood means no more than the transposition of food, and that the physical basis of the phenomena of inheritance is found in the structure of the germ cell and its contained germ-plasm.

III. But the old word well serves our purposes. The blood which is 'thicker than water* is the symbol of race unity. In this sense the blood of the people concerned is, at once, the cause and the result of the deeds recorded in their history. For example, wherever an Englishman goes, he carries with him the elements of English history. It is a British deed which he does, British history that he makes. Thus, too, a Jew is a Jew in all ages and climes, and his deeds everywhere bear the stamp of Jewish individuality. A Greek is a Greek; a Chinaman remains a Chinaman. In like fashion, the race traits color all history made by Tartars, or negroes, or Malays.

The climate which surrounds a tribe of men may affect the activities of these men as individuals or as an aggregate; education may intensify their powers or mellow their prejudices; oppression may make them servile or dominion make them overbearing, but these traits and their resultants, so far as science knows, do not 'run in the blood.' They are not 'bred in the bone.' Older than climate or training or experience are the traits of heredity, and in the long run it is always 'blood which tells.'

IV. On the other hand, the deeds of a race of men must in turn determine its blood. Could we with full knowledge sum up the events of the past history of any body of men, we could indicate the kinds of men destroyed in these events. The others would be left to write the history of the future. It is the 'man who is left' in the march of history who gives to history its future trend. By the 'man who is left' we mean simply the man who remains at home to become the father of the family—as distinguished from the man who in one way or another is sacrificed for the nation's weal or woe. If any class of men be destroyed by political or social forces, or by the action of institutions, they leave no offspring, and their like will cease to appear.

V. 'Send forth the best ye breed.' This is Kipling's cynical advice to a nation which happily can never follow it. But could it be accepted literally and completely, the nation in time would breed only second-rate men. By the sacrifice of their best, or the emigration of the best, and by such influences alone, have races fallen from first-rate to second-rate in the march of history.

VI. For a race of men or a herd of cattle are governed by the same laws of selection. Those who survive inherit the traits of their own actual ancestry. In the herd of cattle, to destroy the strongest bulls, the fairest cows, the most promising calves, is to allow those not strong, nor fair, nor promising, to become the parents of the coming herd. Under this influence the herd will deteriorate, although the individuals of the inferior herd are no worse than their own actual parents. Such a process is called race-degeneration, and it is the only race-degeneration known in the history of cattle or men. The scrawny, lean, infertile herd is the natural offspring of the same type of parents. On the other hand, if we sell or destroy the rough, lean, or feeble calves we shall have a herd descended from the best. It is said that when the short-homed Durham cattle first attracted attention in England, the long-horns, which preceded them, inferior for beef or milk, vanished as if smitten by a pestilence.' The fact was that, being less valuable, their owners chose to destroy them rather than the finer Durhams. Thus the new stock came from the better Durham parentage. If conditions should ever be reversed, and the Durhams were chosen for destruction, then the long-horns might again appear, swelling in numbers as if by magic, unless all traces of the breed had in the meantime been annihilated.

VII. In selective breeding with any domesticated animal or plant, it is possible, with a little attention, to produce wonderful changes for the better. Almost anything may be accomplished with time and patience. To select for posterity those individuals which best meet our needs or please our fancy, and to destroy those with unfavorable qualities, is the function of artificial selection. Add to this the occasional crossing of unlike forms to promote new and desirable variations, and we have the whole secret of selective breeding. This process Youatt calls the 'magician's wand' by which man may summon up and bring into existence any form of animal or plant useful to him or pleasing to his fancy.

VIII. In the animal world progress comes mainly through selection, natural or artificial, the survival of the fittest to become the parent of the new generation. In the world of man similar causes produce similar results. The word progress is, however, used with a double meaning, including the advance of civilization, as well as race improvement. The first of these meanings is entirely distinct from the other. The results of training and education lie outside the scope of the present discussion. By training the force of the individual man is increased. Education gives him access to the accumulated stores of wisdom built up from the experience of ages. The trained man is placed in a class relatively higher than the one to which he would belong on the score of heredity alone. Heredity carries with it possibilities for effectiveness. Training makes these possibilities actual. Civilization has been defined as 'the sum total of those agencies and conditions by which a race may advance independently of heredity.' But while education and civilization may greatly change the life of individuals, and through them that of the nation, these influences are spent on the individual and the social system of which he is a part. So far as science knows, education and training play no part in heredity. The change in the blood which is the essence of race-progress, as distinguished from progress in civilization, finds its cause in selection only.

IX. To apply to nations the principles known to be valid in cattle-breeding, we may take a concrete example—that of the alleged decadence of France. It is claimed that the birth-rate is falling off in France, that the stature is lower, and the physical force less among the French peasantry than it was a century ago. If all this is true, then the cause for it must be in some feature of the life of France which has changed the normal processes of selection.

X. In the present paper I shall not attempt to prove these statements. They rest, so far as I know, entirely on assertions of French writers, and statistics are not easily obtained. It suffices that an official commission has investigated the causes of reduced fertility, with chiefly negative results. It is not due primarily to intemperance nor vice nor prudence nor misdirected education, the rush to 'ready-made careers,' but to inherited deficiencies of the people themselves. It is not a matter of the cities alone, but of the whole body of French peasantry. Legoyt, in his study of 'the alleged degeneration of the French people,' tells us that "it will take long periods of peace and plenty before France can recover the tall statures mowed down in the wars of the republic and the First Empire," though how plenty can provide for the survival of the tallest this writer does not explain. Peace and plenty may preserve, but they can not restore.

It is claimed, on authority which I have failed to verify, that the French soldier of to-day is nearly two inches shorter than the soldier of a century ago. One of the most important of recent French books, by Edmond Demolins, asks, "in what consists the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon?" The answer is found in defects of training and of civic and personal ideals, but the real cause lies deeper than all this. Low ideals in education are developed by inferior men. Dr. Nordau and his school of exponents of 'hand-painted science' find France a nation of decadents, a condition due to the inherited strain of an overwrought civilization. With them the word 'degenerate' is found adequate to explain all eccentricities of French literature, art, politics, or jurisprudence.

XI. But science knows no such things as nerve-stress inheritance. If it did, the peasantry of France have not been subjected to it. Their life is hard, no doubt, but not stressful, and they suffer more from nerve-sluggishness than from any form of enforced psychical activity. The kind of degeneration Nordau pictures is not a matter of heredity. Wlien not simply personal eccentricity, it is a phase of personal decay. It finds its causes in bad habits, bad training, bad morals, or in the desire to catch public attention for personal advantage. It has no permanence in the blood of the race. The presence on the Paris boulevards of a mob of crazy painters, maudlin musicians, drunken poets, and sensation-mongers proves nothing as to race degeneracy. When the fashion changes they will change also. Already the fad of 'strenuous life' is blowing them away. Any man of any race withers in an atmosphere of vice, absinthe and opium. The presence of such an atmosphere may be an effect of race decadence, but it is not a cause of the lowered tone of the nation.

Evil influences may kill the individual, but they can not tarnish the stream of heredity. The child of each generation is free-born so far as heredity goes, and the sins of the fathers are not visited upon him. If vice strikes deeply enough to wreck the man, it is likely to wreck or kill the child as well, not through heredity, but through lack of nutrition. The child depends on its parents for its early vitality, its constitutional strength, the momentum of its life, if we may use the term. For this a sound parentage demands a sound body. The unsound parentage yields the withered branches, the lineage which speedily comes to the end. But this class of influences, affecting not the germplasm, but general vitality, has no relation to hereditary qualities, so far as we know.

In heredity there can be no tendency downward or upward. Nature repeats, and that is all. From the actual parents actual qualities are received, the traits of the man or woman as they might have been, without regard, so far as we know, to the way in which these qualities have been actually developed.

XII. The evolution of a race is selective only, never collective. Collective evolution, the movement upward or downward of a people as a whole, irrespective of education or of selection, is, as Lepouge has pointed out, a thing unknown. 'It exists in rhetoric, not in truth nor in history.'

No race as a whole can be made up of 'degenerate sons of noble sires.' Where decadence exists, the noble sires have perished, either through evil influences, as in the slums of great cities, or else through the movements of history or the growth of institutions. If a nation sends forth the best it breeds to destruction, the second best will take their vacant places. The weak, the vicious, the unthrifty will propagate, and in default of better, will have the land to themselves.

XIII. We may now see the true significance of the 'Man of the Hoe,' as painted by Millet and as pictured in Edwin Markham's verse. This is the Norman peasant, low-browed, heavy-jawed, 'the brother of the ox,' gazing with lack-lustre eye on the things about him. To a certain extent, he is typical of the French peasantry. Every one who has traveled in France knows well his kind. If it should be that his kind is increasing, it is because his betters are not. It is not that his back is bent by centuries of toil. He was not born oppressed. Heredity carries over not oppression, but those qualities of mind and heart which invite or which defy oppression. The tyrant harms those only that he can reach. The new generation is free-born and slips from his hands, unless its traits be of the kind which demand new tyrants.

Millet's Man of the Hoe is not the product of oppression. He is primitive, aboriginal. His lineage has always been that of the clown and swineherd. The heavy jaw and slanting forehead can be found in the oldest mounds and tombs of France. The skulls of Engis and Neanderthal were typical men of the hoe, and through the days of the Gauls and Romans the race was not extinct. The 'lords and masters of the earth' can prove an alibi when accused of the fashioning of the terrible shape of this primitive man. And men of this shape persist to-day in regions never invaded by our social or political tyranny, and their kind is older than any existing social order.

That he is 'chained to the wheel of labor' is the result, not the cause, of his impotence. In dealing with him, therefore, we are far from the 'labor problem' of to-day, far from the workman brutalized by machinery, and from all the wrongs of the poor set forth in the conventional literature of sympathy.

XIV. In our discussion of decadence we turn to France first simply as a convenient illustration. Her sins have not been greater than those of other lands, nor is the penalty more significant. Her case rises to our hand to illustrate a principle which applies to all human history and to all history of groups of animals and plants as well. Our picture, such as it is, we must paint with a broad brush, for we have no space for exceptions and qualifications, which, at the most, could only prove the rule. To weigh statistics is impossible, for the statistics we need have never been collected. The evil effects of 'military selection" and allied causes have been long recognized by students of social science, but their ideas have not penetrated into the common literature of common life.

The survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence is the primal cause of race progress and race changes. But in the red field of human history the natural process of selection is often reversed. The survival of the unfittest is the primal cause of the downfall of nations. Let us see in what ways this cause has operated in the history of France.

XV. First, we may consider the relation of the nobility to the peasantry, the second to the third estate.

The feudal nobility of each nation was in the beginning made up of the fair, the brave and the strong. By their courage and strength their men became the rulers of the people, and by the same token they chose the beauty of the realm to be their own.

In the polity of England this superiority was emphasized by the law of primogeniture. On 'inequality before the law' British polity has always rested. Men have tried to take a certain few to feed these on 'royal jelly,' as the young queen bee is fed, and thus to raise them to a higher class—distinct from all the workers. To take this leisure class out of the struggle and competition of life, so goes the theory', is to make of the first-born and his kind harmonious and perfect men and women, fit to lead and control the social and political life of the state. In England, the eldest son is chosen for this purpose, a good arrangement, according to Samuel Johnson, 'because it ensures only one fool in the family'. For the theory of the leisure class forgets that men are made virile by effort and resistance, and the lord developed by the use of 'royal jelly' has rarely been distinguished by perfection of manhood.

The gain of primogeniture came in the fact that the younger sons and the daughters' sons were forced constantly back into the mass of the people. Among the people at large this stronger blood became the dominant strain. The Englishmen of to-day are the sons of the old nobility, and in the stress of natural selection they have crowded out the children of the swineherd and the slave. The evil of primogeniture has furnished its own antidote. It has begotten democracy. The younger sons in Cromwell's ranks asked on their battle-flags why the eldest should receive all and they nothing. Richard Rumbold, whom they slew in the Bloody Assizes, "could never believe that Providence had sent into the world a few men already booted and spurred, with countless millions already saddled and bridled for these few to ride." Thus these younger sons became the Roundhead, the Puritan, the Pilgrim. They swelled Cromwell's Army, they knelt at Marston Moor, they manned the Mayflower, and in each generation they have fought for liberty in England and in the United States. Studies in genealogy show that all this is literally true. All the old families in New England and Virginia trace their lines back to nobility, and thence to royalty. Almost every Anglo-American has, if he knew it, noble and royal blood in his veins. The Massachusetts farmer, whose fathers came from Plymouth in Devon, has as much of the blood of the Plantagenets, of William and of Alfred as flows in any royal veins in Europe. But his ancestral line passes through the working and fighting younger son, not through him who was first born to the purple. The persistence of the strong shows itself in the prevalence of the leading qualities of her dominant strains of blood, and it is well for England that her gentle blood flows in all her ranks and in all her classes. When we consider with Demolins 'what constitutes the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon,' we shall find his descent from the old nobility, 'Saxon and Norman and Dane,' not the least of its factors.

XVI. On the continent of Europe the law of primogeniture existed in less force, and the results were very distinct. All of noble blood were continuously noble. All belonged to the leisure class. All were held on the backs of a third estate, men of weaker heredity, beaten lower into the dust by the weight of an ever-increasing body of nobility. The blood of the strong rarely mingled with that of the clown. The noblemen were brought up in indolence and ineffectiveness. The evils of dissipation wasted their individual lives, while casting an ever-increasing burden on the villager and on the 'farmer who must pay for all.'

XVII. Hence in France the burden of taxation led to the Revolution and its Reign of Terror. I need not go over the details of dissipation, intrigue, extortion and vengeance which brought to sacrifice the 'best that the nation could bring.' In spite of their lust and cruelty, the victims of the Eeign of Terror were literally the best from the standpoint of race development. Their weaknesses were those of training in luxury and irresponsible power. These effects were individual only, and their children were free-born, with the capacity to grow up truly noble if removed from the evil surroundings of the palace.

XVIII. In Thackeray's 'Chronicle of the Drum,' the old drummer, Pierre, tells us that

"Those glorious days of September
Saw many aristocrats fall,
"Twas then that our pikes drank the blood
In the beautiful breast of Lamballe.

"Pardi, 'twas a beautiful lady,
I seldom have looked on her like.
And I drummed for a gallant procession
That marched with her head on a pike."

Then they showed her pale face to the Queen, who fell fainting, and the mob called for her head and the head of the King. And the slaughter went on until the man on horseback came, and the mob, 'alive but most reluctant,' was itself forced into the graves it had dug for others.

And since that day the 'best that the nation could bring' have been without descendants, the men less manly than the sons of the Girondins would have been, the women less beautiful than the daughters of Lamballe. The political changes which arose may have been for the better; the change in the blood was all for the worse.

XIX. Other influences which destroyed the best were social repression, religious intolerance and the intolerance of irreligion and unscience. It was the atheist mob of Paris which destroyed Lavoisier, with the sneer that the new republic of reason had no use for savants. The old conservatism burned the heretic at the stake, banished the Huguenot, destroyed the lover of freedom, silenced the agitator. Its intolerance gave Cuvier and Agassiz to Switzerland, sent the Le Contes to America, the Jouberts to Holland, and furnished the backbone of the fierce democracy of the Transvaal. While not all agitators are sane, and not all heretics right-minded, yet no nation can spare from its numbers those men who think for themselves and those who act for themselves. It cannot afford to drive away or destroy those who are filled with religious zeal, nor those whose religious zeal takes a form not approved by tradition nor by consent of the masses. All movements toward social and religions reform are signs of individual initiative and individual force. The country which stamps out individuality will soon live in the mass alone.

XX. A French writer has claimed that the decay of religious spirit in France is connected with the growth of religious orders of which celibacy is a prominent feature. If religious men and women leave no descendants, their own spirit, at least, will fail of inheritance. A people careless of religion inherit this trait from equally careless ancestors.

XXI. Indiscriminate charity has been a fruitful cause of the survival of the unfit. To kill the strong and to feed the weak is to provide for a progeny of weakness. It is a French writer again, who says that "Charity creates the misery she tries to relieve; she can never relieve half the misery she creates."

There is to-day in Aosta, in Northern Italy, an asylum for the care and culture of idiots. The crétin and the goitre are assembled there, and the marriage of those who can not take care of themselves ensures the preservation of their strains of unfitness. By caring devotedly for those who in the stress of life could not live alone for a week and by caring for their children, generation after generation, the good people of Aosta have produced a new breed of men, who can not even feed themselves. These are incompetent through selection of degradation, while the 'man of the hoe' is primitively ineffective.

The growth of the goitre in the valleys of Savoy, Piedmont and Valais is itself in large part a matter of selection. The boy with the goitre is exempt from military service. He remains at home to become the father of the family. It is said that at one time the government of Savoy furnished the children of that region with lozenges of iodine, which were supposed to check the abnormal swelling or the thyroid gland, known as the goitre. This disease is a frequent cause of idiocy or cretinism, as well as its almost constant accompaniment. It is said the mothers gave the lozenges only to the girls, preferring that the boys should grow up to the goitre rather than to the army. The causes of goitre are obscure, perhaps depending on poor nutrition, or on mineral substances in the water. The disease itself is not hereditary so far as known, but susceptibility to it certainly is. By taking away for outside service those who are resistant, the heredity of tendency to goitrous swelling is fastened on those who remain.

Like these mothers in Savoy was a mother in Germany. Not long since, a friend of the writer, passing through a Franconian forest, found a young man lying senseless by the way. It was a young recruit for the army who had got into some trouble with his comrades. They had beaten him and left him lying with a broken head. Carried to his home, his mother fell on her knees and thanked God, for this injury had saved him from the army.

XXII. The effect of alcoholic drink on race progress should be considered in this collection. Authorities do not agree as to the final result of alcohol in race selection. Doubtless, in the long run, the drunkard will be eliminated, and perhaps certain authors are right in regarding this as a gain to the race. On the other hand, there is great force in Dr. Amos G. Warner's remark, that of all caustics gangrene is the most expensive. The people of southern Europe are relatively temperate. They have used wine for centuries, and it is thought by Archdall Reid and others that the cause of their temperance is to be found in this long use of alcoholic beverages. All those with vitiated or uncontrollable appetites have been destroyed in the long experience with wine, leaving only those with normal tastes and normal ability of resistance. The free use of wine is, therefore, in this view, a cause of final temperance, while intemperance rages only among those races which have not long known alcohol, and have not become by selection resistant to it. The savage races which have never known alcohol are even less resistant, and are soonest destroyed by it.

In all this there must be a certain element of truth. The view, however, ignores the evil effect on the nervous system of long-continued poisoning, even if the poison be only in moderate amounts. The temperate Italian, with his daily semi-saturation is no more a normal man than the Scotch farmer with his occasional sprees. The nerve disturbance which wine effects is an evil, whether carried to excess in regularity or irregularity. We know too little of its final result on the race to give certainty to our speculations. It is moreover true that most excess in the use of alcohol is not due to primitive appetite. It is drink which causes appetite, and not appetite which seeks for drink. In a given number of drunkards but a very few become such through inborn appetite. It is influence of bad example, lack of courage, false idea of manliness, or some defect in character or misfortune in environment which leads to the first steps in drunkenness. The taste once established takes care of itself. In earlier times, when the nature of alcohol was unknown and total abstinence was undreamed of, it was the strong, the boisterous, the energetic, the apostle of 'the strenuous life,' who carried all these things to excess. The wassail bowl, the bumper of ale, the flagon of wine, all these were the attribute of the strong. We can not say that those who sank in alcoholism thereby illustrated the survival of the fittest. Who can say that as the Latin races became temperate they did not also become docile and weak? In other words, considering the influence of alcohol alone, unchecked by an educated conscience, we must admit that it is the strong and vigorous, not the weak and perverted, that are destroyed by it. At the best, we can only say that alcoholic selection is a complex force, which makes for temperance—if at all, at a fearful cost of life which without alcoholic temptation would be well worth saving. We cannot easily, with Mr. Reid, regard alcohol as an instrument of race-purification, nor believe that the growth of abstinence and prohibition only prepares the race for a future deeper plunge into dissipation. If France, through wine, has grown temperate, she has grown tame. "New Mirabeaus," Carlyle tells us, "one hears not of; the wild kindred has gone out with this, its greatest." This fact, whatever the cause, is typical of great, strong, turbulent men who led the wild life of Mirabeau because they knew nothing better.

XXIII. The concentration of the energies of France in the one great city of Paris is again a potent agency in the impoverishment of the blood of the rural districts. All great cities are destroyers of life. Scarcely one would hold its own in population or power were it not for the young men of the farms. In such destruction Paris has ever taken the lead. The education of the middle classes in France is almost exclusively a preparation for public life. To be an official in a great city is an almost universal ideal. This ideal but few attain, and the lives of the rest are largely wasted. Not only the would-be official, but artist, poet, musician, physician or journalist seeks his career in Paris. A few may find it. The others, discouraged by hopeless effort or vitiated by corrosion, faint and fall. Every night some few of these cast themselves into the Seine. Every morning they are brought to the morgue behind the old Church of Notre Dame. It is a long procession and a sad one from the provincial village to the strife and pitfalls of the great city, from hope and joy to absinthe and the morgue. With all its pitiful aspects the one which concerns us is the steady drain on the life-blood of the nation: its steady lowering of the average of the parent stock of the future.

XXIV. But far more potent for evil to the race than all these influences, large and small, is the one great destroyer—War. War for glory, war for gain, war for dominion, its effect is the same whatever its alleged purpose.