Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/February 1903/A Statistical Study of Eminent Men
|A STATISTICAL STUDY OF EMINENT MEN.|
THE accounts of great men in biographies and histories belong to literature rather than to science. Modern science is either genetic or quantitative. It seeks to discover those uniformities which we call causes and to use that method of description which we call measurement. It is now time that great men should be studied as part of social evolution and by the methods of exact and statistical science.
History is only the last chapter of organic evolution, and both where similar causes are at work and where new factors have arisen, the parallel between social and organic evolution is instructive. While the Darwinian principle of natural selection as an explanation of the origin of species has an aspect which makes it almost as naive as the doctrine of special creations, it has given an extraordinary stimulus to modern thought. Natural selection is no cause of the origin of species or of anything else, but the environment is the condition of the survival of species and of individuals. Evolution has progressed through the occurrence of variations sanctioned by the environment. We are, it is true, not only ignorant of the causes of variations, but even of their nature. We do not know whether one species has been derived from another by gradual variations in many individuals or by sudden jumps in a few. We do not know whether the type prescribes the individual, or whether the individual forms the type. Yet in spite of our ignorance not only of the causes but even of the nature of organic evolution the distinctions formulated by the naturalist are fruitful when applied to social evolution.
It is evident that there are two leading factors in producing a man and making him what he is—one the endowment given at birth, the other the environment into which he comes. The main lines are certainly laid down by heredity—a man is born a man and not an ape. A savage brought up in cultivated society will not only retain his dark skin, but is likely to have also the incoherent mind of his race. On the other hand, environment has at least an absolute veto. Had the infant Newton been cast among Hottentots he could have announced no laws of motion. But were those differences—small from the point of view of organism, great from the point of view of function—which distinguished Dante from his Florentine fellow townsmen innate or due to the circumstances of his life? Here the biological parallel may be serviceable. Are those variations which produce new species caused by the environment? Can life be regarded as the resultant of physical forces? Many zoologists and physiologists answer in the affirmative, but it appears rather that life develops not on account of, but in large measure in spite of, physical forces—these tend to the dissipation of energy, they are the causes of death rather than of life. So in like manner it seems that the environment would tend to reduce the great man to its level rather than to lift him above it—Dante wrote in spite of his surroundings, not on account of them. Still the environment counts for much. If the seed of the white pine is dropped among New England rocks it will grow into a small bush, if planted in the rich soil of the south it will become a great tree. We have the 'Divine Comedy' because Dante had 'the steep stairs and bitter bread' in place of Beatrice.
As the environment tends to reduce all things to its level, so heredity tends to maintain the type. Whence then the great man who brings something new into the world? Carlyle had the same heredity and the same initial environment as his brothers. Why should he write of heroes and become one, while they remained peasants? Why, we may ask the theory of organic evolution, should certain individuals of a species possess variations tending to greater complexity, which lay down the lines of evolution? Perhaps all we can say is that the question 'why' is more in place in the nursery than in the laboratory. Why heredity should maintain the type is as obscure as why new types should arise. If the world were a chaos, no questions would be asked, as it is a cosmos it must have a certain definite order. But if when we ask 'why' we really mean 'how,' then we have the plain way of science before us. We can investigate the stability and variability of the type, we can study the effects of the environment on the individual. We know perhaps in a general way that any great war will find the material at hand for the making of a Grant and a Lee, and, on the other hand, that a Shelley may be what he is in spite of heredity and environment. More exact knowledge can only come from an inductive study of facts.
As in organic evolution the effects of variations are less obscure than their causes, so in social evolution we can trace more easily the influence of great men than we can account for their origin. As we ascend the scale of animal life and human development the role of social tradition becomes increasingly potent. A new trait in a single individual among lower animals, even though it may be both useful and stable, can have but an infinitesimal effect in altering the species. In man a new advance made by a single individual becomes quickly the common property of all. Let fire be discovered and we have a trait that endows every one. Let the printing press be invented and each can speak with a thousand tongues. Let Dante see the ideal of romantic love and every boy and girl in Christendom has his life altered thereby. What we now are—as men—depends chiefly on social tradition; withhold it for a generation and we should revert to savagery and further. It is also true that social tradition sets the course of organic development. Individuals who are unfit for their social environment can not survive in it; those who possess variations, however slight, making adjustment to social conditions and social ideals more easy are more likely to survive and to transmit their traits. If we depended only on social tradition, progress would be limited by the extreme range of individual adaptations. But by the preservation of stable variations in the line of social evolution, we secure a new type from which new forward variations are more likely.
Whether great men really lay down the line of social evolution or only anticipate and hasten its necessary course is an unsolved question. Are great men, as Carlyle maintains, divinely inspired leaders, or are they, as Spencer tells us, necessary products of given physical and social conditions? If Dante had not set the ideal of romantic love, would it not have come from other sources? Did Darwin do more than express what was 'in the air' and hasten by a dozen years the necessary course of science? We can only answer such questions by an actual study of facts.
When we regard the noteworthy men that have appeared in the world, it is evident that they have but little in common. 'Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.' We have men of genius, great men and men merely eminent. Thus many a genius has been a 'mute inglorious Milton' lacking the character or the circumstance for the accomplishment of his task. Washington was scarcely a genius, but was a truly great man. Napoleon III. was neither a genius nor a great man, but was eminent to an unusual degree. But if we simply take those men who have most attracted the eyes and ears of the world, who have most set its tongues and printing presses in motion, we have a definite group. Beginning with this we can analyse and classify; we can study these individuals, their causes and their effects; we can regard them as types of a given age and race; we can use them to measure interests and tendencies.
For these purposes our first need is a definite list of the most eminent men, sufficiently large for statistical study. The method I followed to discover the 1,000 men who are preeminent was this: I took six biographical dictionaries or encyclopædias—two English, two French, one German and one American and found the two thousand men (approximately) in each who were allowed the longest articles. In this way some 6,000 men were found. I then selected the men who appeared in the lists of at least three of the dictionaries, and from these (some 1,600) selected the thousand who were allowed the greatest average space, the value of the separate dictionaries being reduced to a common standard. Thus was obtained not only the thousand men esteemed the most eminent, but also the order in which they stand.
This list represents the point of view of these dictionaries, and would be somewhat different had other works been selected. Mathematical science can indeed assign a probable error to each name on the list, and tell us how likely it is that the man should be there, and within what limits his place on the list is likely to be correct. But the greater men of the thousand would remain whatever the authorities collated; and although the personal names of the lesser men might vary, this would affect but little the statistics sought. The preparation of this list required more work than may be supposed, but it has an objective impartiality and value, which it would not have if the names had been selected by an easier method.
According to this list the ten most eminent men are Napoleon, Shakespeare, Mahommed, Voltaire, Bacon, Aristotle, Goethe, Cæsar, Luther, Plato. There is no doubt but that Napoleon is the most eminent man who has lived. Yet it should give us pause to think that this Titan of anarchy stands first in the thoughts of most men. It is curious that these ten preeminent men are so widely separated in race and age—two Greeks, two Frenchmen, two Germans, two Englishmen, one Roman and one Arab: two in the fifth century and one in the first century before Christ, one in the sixth, one in the fifteenth, two in the sixteenth and three in the eighteenth century. The ten names last on the list are Otho, Sertorius, Macpherson, Claudian, Domitian, Bugeaud, Charles I. of Naples, Fauriel, Enfantin and Babeuf. These are scarcely great men, yet they fairly represent the lower limits of the thousand who are most eminent. Each hundred in the list shows a nice gradation in eminence. There are indeed many cases where each of us would shift a man up or down, but further examination will show that the opinion in such cases is usually individual, not having the objective validity of this series. I give for reference the thousand preeminent men of the world in the order of eminence, divided into groups of one hundred.
Talleyrand, Fénelon, Carlyle, Pius IX., Pitt, More, Hannibal, Spinoza, Chateaubriand, Abelard, Grant, Charles I. (England), Darwin, Mazarin, Bolingbroke, Elizabeth (England), Ovid, Joan d' Arc, Livy, Corneille, Rabelais, Huss, a' Becket, d' Alembert, Grotius, Peter I., Polo, Linnæus, Raleigh, Palmerston, Lamartine, Jos. Bonaparte, Tennyson, Plutarch, Charlemagne, Aristophanes, Melanchthon, St. Ambrose, Richelieu, James I., Hunter, Hugo, Disraeli, Dryden, Origen, Titian, Boccaccio, Alberoni, Lessing, Fichte, Condillac, Dickens, Wallenstein, Schelling, Dürer, Charles XII., Kepler, Trajan, Knox, Constantine, La Fontaine, Van Dyck, Cervantes, Stael, Hippocrates, Louis XVIIL, Clive, Rembrandt, Diderot, Chaucer, Montaigne, Napier, Sand, Marmont, Tiberius, Peel, Francis I. (France), Nicholas I., William I., J. S. Mill, Sophocles, J. Adams, Webster, Athanasius, Bentley, Savonarola, Marlborough, J. Cook, Seneca, Zwingle, Cavour, Buffon, Goldsmith, Brougham, Alexander VI., Gerson, Alexander I. (Russia), Louis XV., R. Bacon, Pericles.
Herodotus, Hadrian, Davy, Frederick II. (Germany), Catherine II., Condé, B. Jonson, Antony, Lucretius, Pompey, James II. (England), Canning, Strafford, Mencius, La Fayette, A. Hamilton, Alfred the Great, Gassendi, Cortez, Beethoven, L. Bonaparte, Sevigné, Xenophon, Wycliffe, Alfieri, Charles X. (France), Harvey, Marius, Juvenal, Firdousee, Gutenberg, Lope de Vega Carpio, La Place, Garibaldi, Necker, Froissart, Arius, Æschylus, Etienne, Epicurus, Mithridates, Isocrates, Jerome, A. Jackson, Canova, Atterbury, Bulwer, GayLussac, Wilhelm I. (Prussia), Niebuhr, Fielding, George IV., Haller, Schleiermacher, J. Watt, St. Bernard, William III., Joinville, Arago, Fouché, Handel, Spenser, Lagrange, Herder, Velasquez, Bunsen, Alcibiades, De Foe, Hastings, Colbert, Metternich, Richard I., Tertullian, Lamennais, Leo X., Cobden, Gustavus Adolphus, Wieland, Berkeley, Law, Maintenon, Cranmer, Coleridge, Chrysostom, Beza, Murat, Mazzini, Condorcet, Polybius, Ariosto, Chatterton, Pliny (Elder), Turgot, Tacitus, Malebranche, John of England, Danton, Chalmers, Germanicus, Haydn.
St. Basil, William of Orange, Longfellow, Philip IV., Sully, Huygens, Louis XI, Montesquieu, Eugene, Charles II. (England), Bernadotte, A. Severus, Klopstock, Innocent III., Zoroaster, Attila, G. Monk, A. Smith, Ney, Victor Emmanuel, Prescott, Pindar, Béranger, Gregory VII., Beaumarchais, Rossini, Bentham, Drake, Moreau, Faraday, Boetius, T. Moore, S. Clarke, Channing, Alexander II. (Russia), Maria Theresa, Wagner, Priestley, Josephine, Thackeray, Copernicus, Blücher, Soult, Maximilian, Carnot, Philo, Averroes, Calderon, Bolivar, Sulla, Ali-weli-zade, Le Sage, Heine, Boyle, Loyola, Marie Antoinette, Wesley, Poussin, Winckelmann, Turenne, R. B. B. Sheridan, Weber, W. Hamilton, Avicenna, Shaftesbury, Bright, Catullus, Boerhaave, C. Grey, Leopold I. (Germany), W. Irving, Henry IV. (Germany), Tamerlane, Masséna, Retz, B. Constant, Reuchlin, Sainte-Beuve, Baxter, K. W. Humboldt, Jenner, Liebig, Philip II. (Germany), Aquinas, Dumouriez, Murillo, Lucian, Agassiz, Mehemet Ali, Wolsey, Solon, Jansen, Lavoisier, R. Walpole, Hogarth, Derby, Bichat, Sherman, Frederick W. III. (Prussia), St. Simon.
Wilkes, Phidias, Philip Augustus, Mendelssohn, Boniface VIII., Cobbett, Bailley, Emerson, Joseph II. (Germany), Russell, Vauban, Ferdinand V. (Spain), Bayle, Archimedes, Christina, Scipio, Thou, T. Fairfax, Metastasio, Louis IX., L' Hôpital, Marat, Guicciardini, Berzelius, Akbar, Sarpi, Varro, Armenius, Vergniaud, Bayard, Gregory I. (Pope), Louis XIII., Beaton, Wilberforce, Tieck, Andrews, Lycurgus, O'Connell, Burnet, Reynolds, Seward, J. Franklin, Galen, A. Dumas, Alaric, Campanella, Arnauld, Balzac, Plautus, a' Kempis, Richelieu, Pius VI., Terence, Charles VII. (France), Rénan, Pizarro, Henry II. (England), Martial, Theodosius, R. Blake, J. J. Scaliger, Cardan, Cowper, Musset, Pius II., Villars, Helvétius, Belisarius, Candolle, W. Temple, Palestrina, Robertson, Strauss, Kotzebue, Bach, Madison, Hesiod, George I. (England), Dupin, F. A. Wolf, St. Hilaire, Farragut, J. Q. Adams, Cato (Elder), Gluck, Grote, Cyrus, Bunyan, J. L. Grimm, L. Bonaparte, Antoninus Pius, Chesterfield, Pius VII., Leopardi, L. de Medici, Richard II., Gouvion St. Cyr, Gregory Naz., Warburton, Strabo.
Euclid, Desmoulins, Genlis, Clarendon, De Witt, Essex, Brahé, Eusebius, Mahmud II., Ferdinand VII. (Spain), Frederick I. (Germany), Euler, G. Howard, Reid, Gambetta, Ledru-Rollin, Lulli, Michaelis, Mahmud, Southey, Monge, Lucullus, Oersted, Hutten, Selden, Henry VI., Hawthorne, Villemain, Gall, Goldoni, Beaumont, Aguesseau, Beauharnais, J. F. Cooper, Catilina, Clement, J. B. Rousseau, Castlereagh, Fontanelle, Casaubon, Cellini, Charles VI. (France), L. R. St. Simon, Lavater, Jacobi, Herod, Margaret of Anjou, Philip VI. (France), Richter, Voss, Mackintosh, Lâo-Tsze, Paracelsus, Persius, Themistocles, J. C. Wolf, Ampère, George II. (England), Huskisson, Æschines, Albuquerque, Bruyère, Dalhousie, Suwaroff, Hampden, Coligni, Photius, Cudworth, Alva, Pufendorf, Rumford, Anderson, de Malherbe, Mary, J. B. Jourdan, Louis XII., Theodoric, Barrère, Titus, Ranke, Aurelian, Gaskell, T. Paine, Herbart, Lee, Phocion, Mme. Roland, Henry III. (France), St. Pierre, Ingres, Warwick, Garrison, Erskine, Halley, Cato (younger), Gustavus I., Vasco da Gama, Maupertuis, Guyon, Courier.
Albertus Magnus, Boehme, E. T. W. Hoffmann, T. E. Hook, Marot, Henry I. (England), Massillon, Quintilian, Monmouth, Mæcenas, Philip V., Michelet, Luxembourg, Tintoretto, Vespucci, Saladin, G. Buchannan, Henry V. (England), Butler, Anselm, Rochefoucauld, Charles the Bold, Manutius, Gustavus III., Cornelius, John of Austria, Delille, Adanson, Cherubini, Champollion, Mornay, Sieyès, H. Walpole, Jenghiz Khan, Magellan, William IV. (England), Boleyn, Ronsard, Meyerbeer, Ramus, Steele, Servetus, Orleans d' P., Gray, Josephus, Royer-Collard, F. C. M. Fourier, St. Francis, H. Clay, Gioberti, Desaix de Voygoux, Grattan, Montecuculi, Sacy, Bruno, Paley, Jerome Bonaparte, Barras, Maury, De la Vigne, Ali (Ibn abi talib), Cavaignac, Cromwell, Charles d' Orleans, Sterne, Malesherbes, Middleton, Vico, Berthollet, Jane Grey, A. Sidney, Salmasius, Pliny (younger), MacDonald, Sallust, Saxe, Marmontel, Clarendon, Sylvester II., J. Taylor, Lamarck, Holbein, Henry VIII., Volta, Rosa, Whiston, Haüy, Cyprian, A. Chénier, Diocletian, Pompadour, J. Herschel, Kaulbach, Poggio, Holberg, Miller, Henry IV. (England), Oehlenschläger, Boden, Manes.
Sappho, Sarto, Anaxagoras, Isabella of Castile, A. W. Schlegel, Justin, Godoy, Epaminondas, P. Henry, Fulton, Dumont d' Urville, Garrick, Andrieu, Ginguené, Regnard, Du Guesclin, Wellesley, H. Vernet, George Eliot, Fuller, Heraclitus, Newman, Struensee, Thorwaldsen, Cleopatra, Zeno, Poushkin, E. Coke, Augereau, Brontë, Jerome of Prag., Aurungzebe, Vespasian, Philopœman, Vane, Jouffroy, Bonnet, Giotto, Agrippa, Alcuin, Gregory of Nyssa, Proudhon, Politian, Arndt, Fréret, R. Hall, Charles IX. (France), Anne, Smollett, Demetrius Polior, Democritus, Gay, Cabanis, J. Flaxman, Gallatin, Fouquet, Cujas Guido Reni, C. S. Gracchus, Jeffreys, Gardiner, Oxenstierna, Kléber, Scipio, Mabillon, Lacépède, Stewart, Lyell, Rameau, Cassini, Lalande, Sumner, Parker, Plotinus, Cagliari, Lacordaire, Marguerite d' Angouléme, Kosciusko, P. H. Sheridan, Tocqueville, Hipparchus, Henry III. (England), Whitegift, Rudolph I., de Volney, Jugurtha, Prior, Ménage, Oken, Murray, Bellarmino, Churchill, Laffitte, Henry II. (France), W. Jones, J. Owen, Cecil, Darius I., Charles Edward Stuart, Donizetti.
Hammer-Purgstall, J. L. David, Propertius, Boileau, Leighton, Correggio, Grouchy, Francke, Lysias, Lannes, Bonner, Pichegru, Erigena, Casanova, C. de Medici, Nadir (Shah), Whitefield, J. P. J. d'Orleans, Lucan, Teniers, Richard III., Apelles, Meckiewitz, Ximines, Sobieski, E. Irving, Stein, Hoche, Louvois, Saadi, Montague, Alfonso X., Scribe, Oudinot, Livingston, E. Herbert, K. W. F. Schlegel, Mariana, Rienzi, Sixtus V., Hahnemann, Celsus, von Gentz, Deák, Pym, Gustavus IV., Monroe, Gauss, Keats, C. Bell, Godwin, De la Croix, Charles VI. (Germany), Edward IV., Ennius, Epictetus, Ferdinand II., Harold II., Zeno, Fiesole, Pestalozzi, Dundonald, Tippoo Sahib, Clovis, Huet, Maistre, Cagliostro, Ray, Malthus, Atticus, Barrow, Somers, Arkw'right, Wren, Quinet, Nodier, Krüdener, Bede, Claude of Lorraine, Theocritus, L. Stanislaus, Hooker, P. Sidney, Müller, Maimonides, Odoacer, Hénault, Theresa, Barthez, Espartero, Decazes, Martineau, T. Brown, Fermat, Agathocles, Empedocles, Charles V., Banks, Zinzendorf, Thierry.T. S. Gracchus, Delambre, Caligula, Edward III. (England), Richardson, Porphyry, Nicole, Waller, Balboa, Solyman, Catherine de Medici, La Harpe, Pole, Thales, Marie de Medici, Procopius, Lactantius, Borgia, Berengarius de Tours, Tallien, Camden, Armstrong, Jeffrey, Capo, Sismondi, R. Owen, Apuleius, St. Just, Spontini, W. Laud, Irenæus, Lacretelle, J. B. Lulli, Paul I. (Russia), Stilicho, Arbuthnot, Dampier, Auber, Grégoire, Dolet, La Chaise, Francis II. (Germany), Dolomieu, Æsop, F. M. Grimm, Dupuytren, M. J. Brutus, Feuerbach, Barnaveldt, Farel, Akenside, Prince Albert, Bouillon, Hauser, Frederick Wilhelm II. (Prussia), Gerando, W. Wallace, Chamfort, Agrippa, Garat, Audubon, A. Doria, Hareeree, Cowley, Heyne, Martinez, Petronius, Hortense, Mahommed II., Mai, Sue, J. Barry, Marivaux, Sebastian, Rotrou, W. Russell, Suchet, Paoli, Bopp, Romilly, Montalembert, John XXII., Rohan, Iambi icus, Bernhard, Simonides, Baggesen, Raspail, Thomson, Louis I., Otho, Sertorius, Macpherson, Claudianus, Domitian, Bugeaud, Charles I. (Naples), Fauriel, Enfantin, Babeuf.
The preparation of this list was incidental to the main purpose of my research, and I do not wish to lay undue stress upon it. Still it is of interest to find that we can compare and even measure a thing as intangible as the eminence of great men. We should not need to refer to such a list to decide whether Homer or Virgil is the more eminent; but it may satisfy that curiosity which is the beginning of science to know that there are to the best of our present knowledge twelve men more eminent than Homer and fifty-six men more eminent than Virgil. Further by reckoning the probable errors it is found that the chances are even that Homer's place on the list is between 10 and 26 and Virgil's between 42 and 98.
But while our general knowledge apart from any such list as this may suffice to compare Homer with Virgil as accurately as is needful, this does not hold for men whose work is not readily comparable. Is Raphael, Descartes or Columbus the more eminent? As a matter of fact they stand respectively 2 2d, 23d and 24th on the list, and are equally eminent. I do not see how this result could have been reached from any general knowledge we may have of the work and fame of these men. Or again, Newton follows Homer and Hume follows Virgil on the list, consequently Newton is as much more eminent than Hume as Homer is than Virgil.
Things can be arranged in order more easily than they can be measured. We know that one sound is louder than another, though we may be unable to say whether it is more or less than twice as loud. We can arrange without much difficulty the examination papers of our students in the order of excellence, though unable to decide that one paper is twice as good as another. But the theory of probability makes even the measurement of the eminence of great men possible.
If all the men of the races and ages with which we are concerned were arranged in order, we might divide them into quarters. Supposing there to be one hundred million individuals in all from whom these men might have arisen, taking the adult male population of the countries and periods producing nearly all of them, we should have at the end the 25 million least deserving of credit, including the defective and delinquent classes. Then we should have two groups each containing 25 million, one falling below and one rising above the average. These are the ordinary men who depart from the median by an amount less than the probable error. Then at the upper end we have the group of 25 million individuals who through some special trait or through a combination of traits rise above the others. At the extreme end of this group are the thousand preeminent men of our list.
What a man is and does is the result of innumerable influences, chiefly small and independent, some pulling him down and some lifting him up. In so far as this is the case, the men will be grouped together and depart from each other in a certain definite fashion. The matter can most readily be illustrated by taking a single trait such as height. If these men were placed in a row arranged according to height, the tops of their heads would form a curve of which an exaggerated form is given. In a general way the middle man would be of the average height, say 5 ft. 8 in., and a great part of all the men would be of nearly this height, one quarter being not more than 11⁄2 inches shorter and one quarter not more than 11⁄2 inches taller. The line of the heads would be nearly horizontal, but would gradually slope more and more, until at one end we should have the comparatively few dwarfs and at the other the few giants. These relations can be illustrated by the bell shaped curve, whose properties are well known.
Five feet eight inches is the average height of men, and the number of men of that height (within say 1/10 in.) is proportional to the line OY. The number of men say 11⁄2 inches (within 1/10 in.) larger than the average by an amount equal to the probable error or 11⁄2 in. is proportional to the line PQ, and the number of men within these limits, one quarter of all the men, is proportional to the area OYQP which is one quarter the area of the curve. The number of men 6 ft. 2 in. in height—who depart from the mean by 6 in., or four times the probable error—would be OU, only 1/50 as many as are 5 ft. 91⁄2 in. in height, and but three in a thousand of all men would be taller than 6 ft. 2 in.
Now applying this to the collective traits giving efficiency, we have one half of all men coming within the limit OP which may be taken as a unit of measure. The total number of men surpassing the average by four times the amount of the average departure would be about 300,000. Most of us may hope to fall within this group. The thousand preeminent men filling the extreme area of the curve would begin at a point six times the average departure, and the relative excellence of the greater men on the list can also be expressed numerically.
Turning now to the distribution of these eminent men in time and race we may review statistics not wholly devoid of interest. The number of great men born in each half century since the beginning of history is shown in the accompanying curve. In still more remote ages there were leaders of men, gods, prophets and heroes, whose names are forgotten or obscured, and at the beginning we have four names, representing rather work than persons Zoroaster, Homer, Hesiod, Lycurgus—followed by the rise of Greek civilization and culture—the most notable event in the world's history. Here we have a race as superior to us as we are to the negroes—a great race, for whose origin we can no more account than we can explain the birth of Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon. The curve shows the progress of the Greek race as represented by its great men—leaders then and now in war, in
The Curve Represents the Distribution of the Thousand Most Eminent Men of History from 600 b. c. to the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. The numbers are given on the left side, the ordinates or height of the curve above the base line representing the number of eminent men born in each half century. Thus there were five preeminent men born between 600 and 550 b. c. and 241 in the second halt of the eighteenth century. As men attain eminence about fifty years later than they are born, the periods of productivity are one place further to the right.
statesmanship, in philosophy, in literature, in art—and its more sudden decline in the third and second centuries before Christ. But the supremacy relinquished by the Greeks was grasped by the iron hand of the Romans, who in the centuries just before Christ rise rapidly and then fall. The relation of Greek to Roman civilization is shown in a separate figure.
These curves—which of course give only a graphic representation of quantitative relations whose general character we all know—indicate that heredity, including under the term both stability and variability of the stock, is more potent than social tradition or physical environment. We have these races forming by their own inherent genius a social environment far beyond anything the world had ever witnessed, but when this was at its maximum it had not power to counteract the weakening influence of race admixture and exhaustion of the stock. The physical environment also remained the same, and those who would account for Greek and Roman culture by the favorable position of the two Mediterranean peninsulas—their climate, soil, coast line
and the like—should tell us why these could not maintain what they had formed. Why should the Greeks then have resisted the countless hordes of Persia, while recently on the same ground they fled before a few thousand Turks? Physical environment and social tradition may be conditions of development, but they are not its efficient causes.
Following the extraordinary development of the two nations of classical antiquity we have a decline, not sudden, for Rome still produced soldiers and writers, the Christian Church had its leaders and theologians, and the Greeks witnessed their Indian summer in Alexandria. But the light fails toward the fifth century—never, however, to be quenched, for there were always one or two to pass on the torch until the fire was rekindled in newer races. In Britain, in Germany and in France there developed centers of civilization. The mixed races of Italy gave birth to an art and a literature rivaling that of Greece. The Roman Catholic Church fairly established its authority by the great men it produced. It was a strange time, all Europe was in turmoil, but universities were established and the arts of peace flourished in the midst of wars.
The curve shows a rise from the tenth century increasing in rapidity as it proceeds. As the list includes only men no longer living, and as many of those born during the first half of the nineteenth century were still living and had not even attained eminence when the books of reference on which the list is based were compiled, the absolute numbers of those born since 1800 have no value, but they serve for comparison The increase in eminent men as we approach our own day may be partly a matter of perspective. Still the numbers should normally increase with larger population and multiplication of opportunity and interests. It is unfortunately very difficult to compare the number of great men with the total population from which they arose. Were a curve of this sort drawn, however, it would be very from that here exhibited. The rise in modern times would be much less; and the Greek and Roman periods would surpass that of the end of the eighteenth century.
In our curve there are three noticeable breaks. Perhaps nothing could serve better than such a curve to impress on the minds of school children, or even on our own, the eddies in the stream. It must be remembered that the curves give the numbers of men born in each half century, while the period in which they nourished is about fifty years later. Thus in the fourteenth century there was a pause followed by a gradual improvement and an extraordinary fruition at the end of the fifteenth century. Painting is represented in Italy by Raphael, Angelo, Leonardo, Titian, Correggio and Sarto, in Germany by Holbein and Dürer. Savonarola failed, while Luther led a reformation. Columbus discovered a new world and Copernicus discovered innumerable worlds. There was then a pause in progress, until a century later England and France took the lead. Spenser was quickly followed by Shakespeare, who did not stand alone among English dramatists. A little later Molière, Racine and Corneille represented the drama in a group of eminent French men of letters. Descartes and Bacon revived philosophy and science; while Italy, failing in art, produced Galileo.
The latter part of the seventeenth century was a sterile period, followed by a revival culminating in the French revolution. Here, as in other periods, it is difficult to decide how far men were made eminent by circumstance and how far great men were leaders in new movements. The social upheaval in France gave eminence to political and military leaders who otherwise would have remained in obscurity, and given a Napoleon his complement is a Wellington. The progress of science may in part be an answer to the demands of increasing population. But philosophy and art also witnessed a renaissance. In Germany we have Kant, Goethe and the development of music, in England, poets speaking a new language. Here great men seem not so much the creatures as the creators of their environment.
As we come nearer to our own times it becomes increasingly difficult to measure tendencies by the methods we are using. The positions of men on the list are subject to larger probable and constant errors. Byron may be a household word on the continent and Shelley unknown, while the best criticism may place Shelley above Byron. Our list places Mendelssohn above Bach and ignores Schumann altogether— while the last thirty years have altered not only critical opinion, but also popular taste.
If we regard now more especially the racial distribution of our great men, we get results conveniently exhibited in the accompanying figure. The heights of the rectangles are The Rectangles are Proportional to the Numbers of the Most Eminent Men Produced by Different Nations. The shaded parts represent the more eminent five hundred, and the heavily shaded parts the hundred most eminent of all. proportional to the numbers of great men produced by several nations. France leads, followed pretty closely by Great Britain. Then there is a considerable fall to Germany and Italy. Borne and Greece are nearly alike. America has produced one more eminent man than Spain (not on the chart) which is followed by Switzerland, Holland and Sweden. We then reach the nations headed by Russia, which have produced fewer than 10 preeminent men. The shaded rectangles show the distribution of the 500 men who are the most eminent and the heavily shaded rectangles the hundred who are the greatest of all. Here the relations are somewhat altered. Great Britain surpasses France, and Greece has produced more exceptionally great men than Germany.
We have already noticed the curves showing separately the Greek and Roman periods. Similar curves for the leading modern nations are given in the chart. The Italian renaissance is followed by its decadence with a partial revival in recent times. Germany for one short period in the fifteenth century rivaled France and England, but in the two following centuries lagged far behind, to rise with great rapidity in the eighteenth century. France and Great Britain, as we have seen, have produced nearly the same number of great men, and their curves during the centuries cross and recross. The British curve is somewhat more regular than the French, exhibiting perhaps certain racial characteristics. As has been already stated, the French revolution brought into prominence many men not truly great, and the position then attained by France is not held in the nineteenth century. In so far as the curves for the nineteenth century are valid, the promise for America is large. We should during the twentieth century produce more notable men than any other nation. It is ill for us, having the largest population and the richest resources, if we do not keep this promise.
Our racial divisions are given to us ready made. The subject becomes more difficult when we try to class eminent men in accordance with their traits. We can, however, perhaps use the tripartite subdivision current in psychology. There we are apt to treat separately cognitions, feelings and volitions. This classification proves useful when applied to the traits of great men. Some excel because they have strong wills, are quick and sure in action. These become leaders in war and in political affairs. Others have strong feelings—artists, poets, men of letters. Others surpass in pure thought—philosophers, scholars, men of science. Distinguishing then men of action, men of feeling, and men of thought, we secure the curves shown on the accompanying chart. It is seen that more men are eminent for action than for either thought or feeling, though if the latter two classes are combined it is found that the quiet work of the student has after all produced more eminent men than war and politics. Each class shows an increase as we approach our own time and the secular variations affect them together, though it is noticeable that men of thought have been much more constant in their appearance and bid fair to surpass the others in the twentieth century.
In passing I may state that modern psychology does not admit that we can divide mental processes into such as are cognitions, such as are feelings and such as are volitions, any more than we can divide physical bodies into such as have size, such as have color and such as have weight, but must rather regard these as aspects of all mental processes. So
with our great men—if a man excels in action he probably is not deficient in feeling and judgment—on the contrary these are probably strong. My statistics show, contrary perhaps to the current opinion, that a man who excels in one direction is likely also to excel in others. An artist is much more likely to be a poet than is an ordinary man and is, though in a less degree, more likely to be a soldier or a man of science.
Curves showing further subdivisions are also given. From the upper chart it is clear that there have been more eminent statesmen than soldiers, especially since the beginning of the eighteenth century. Soldiers are also surpassed in numbers by men of science and our curves foretell the gradual cessation of wars. Churchmen and theologians are of decreasing importance in human affairs. It is interesting to note that the sterility at the end of the seventeenth century and the subsequent revival hold for nearly every separate department. The Curves Show the Distribution of Men of Action, Men of Thought and Men of Feeling, Separated into Groups for Different Lines of Activity. Fiction and belleslettres make the only exception, their growth in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries continued in the nineteenth century, and the number of prose writers, novelists, essayists and the like, who attained eminence in the past century, surpasses that in any other department. Any librarian can confirm this by telling what books are most read. Poetry and art seem to be failing. Next to politics and belleslettres, science occupies the most important place.
The first five hundred were separated from the five hundred less eminent men, but they were found to be nearly equally divided in the different classes, except that there are more very great poets and fewer very great men of letters.
The accompanying chart shows the contributions of different nations to different departments. It is evident that France has excelled in war, in belleslettres and in science—England in politics, in poetry and in philosophy—Italy in art. Germany has produced ten and Italy six of the eighteen great musicians. Of the fourteen great explorers England has produced five and Spain four.
There are two somewhat anomalous classes of eminent men which I have not as yet mentioned. Hereditary sovereigns and those made eminent purely by circumstance. The hereditary sovereigns included are of course only the more eminent, 102 in all, but they can not be compared with the other classes. Only eight have been included under the class of those eminent by circumstance, of whom Casper Hauser is typical—but several others, especially the wives of kings, might be placed there.
I have spoken throughout of eminent men as we lack in English words including both men and women, but as a matter of fact women do not have an important place on the list. They have in all 32 representatives in the thousand. Of these eleven are hereditary sovereigns and eight are eminent through misfortunes, beauty or other circumstances. Belleslettres and fiction the only department in which woman has accomplished much—give ten names (of which three are in the first 500) as compared with 72 men. Sappho and Joan d'Arc are
the only other women on the list. It is noticeable that with the exception of Sappho a name associated with certain fine fragments—women have not excelled in poetry or art. Yet these are the departments least dependent on environment and at the same time those in which the environment has been perhaps as favorable for women as for men. Women depart less from the normal than man—a fact that usually holds for the female throughout the animal series; in many closely related species only the males can be readily distinguished. The distribution of women is represented by a narrower bell-shaped curve.
This paper is only preliminary to the real object of my research. We have many books and articles on great men, their genius, their heredity, their insanity, their precocity, their versatility and the like, but, whether these are collections of anecdotes such as Professor Lombroso's or scientific investigations such as Dr. Galton's, they are lacking in exact and quantitative deductions. Admitting that genius is hereditary, or, what is more doubtful, that it is likely to be associated with insanity, we have only the 'yes' or 'no' as our answer. But this is only the beginning of science. Science asks how much? We can only answer when we have an objective series of observations, sufficient to eliminate chance errors, such as this list of a thousand preeminent men.
When we have such a series we can use what psychological insight we possess to classify our material. We can seek to distinguish genius from talent, and, having given these terms a more exact signification, can secure quantitative data regarding their relative frequency under varying conditions. We can determine how the man of unusual endowment in its various manifestations differs from his fellow men, both in those traits which distinguish him from them and in those traits which he shares with them. With traits that can be measured such as length of life, height, etc., we can readily compare the several classes of eminent men with other classes in the community. In the case of other traits, insanity for example, we must first determine its prevalence, according to a proper definition, in the various classes of eminent men and can then give a definite statement as to its relative frequency among them and a comparison with other classes. Other more intangible traits I am also endeavoring to measure. Qualities such as originality or kindliness are graded on a scale of eight, mistakes are eliminated by the numbers and we secure fairly reliable averages. The different classes of eminent men can then be compared inter se, and with other classes of the community, when the data for these are at hand. Then we have the distinctions on which I have already dwelt. We can only determine the causes of great men and their effects by a careful study of a number sufficiently large to eliminate accidental causes and errors in our estimate; but having done this, our results can be expressed in the definite measures of exact science.
In conclusion attention may be called to the practical importance of such determinations. Science must precede the applications of science. The father must discover the laws of the pendulum before the son can apply them to the clock. A Faraday and a Henry must investigate the phenomena of electricity before we can have the electric motor. It is evident that applications of psychology and sociology are not as yet numerous or important. But may not this be chiefly because the scientific principles are wanting? Education and government are carried on by the rule of thumb, not because this is the best way, but because we lack the knowledge to prescribe a better way. The struggle for existence, careless of the individual, proceeds with reckless waste of life, and it is only the fit that survives, and not what we regard as the best. The Chinese civilization of the age of Confucius was more stable than that of classical Greece. The progress to our present civilization may have depended largely on the comparatively few men who have guided it, and the civilization we hope to have may depend on a few men. Can we not with the knowledge we have and with the knowledge we should acquire do more to produce such men, to select them, to train them and to use them?
We can not perhaps apply the methods of horticulture to society, nor carry Plato's Republic into effect. But great men tend to be proportional in numbers to the total populations producing them and to the average of the stock. If we can improve the stock by eliminating the unfit or by favoring the endowed—if we give to those who have and take away from those who have not even that which they have—we can greatly accelerate and direct the course of evolution. If the total population, especially of the well endowed, is larger, we increase the number of great men. We should make sure that all are given such preliminary education and opportunity that none fail through lack of these. Lastly great men and also the well endowed should be so placed that their abilities are not spent on trivial or selfish ends.
We may have still stocks that are immature—the Slavs, the Czechs and the Scandinavians—and there is a possibility of vitality in the negroes. But we have finally broken the links between us and the lower animals. When our stock is exhausted, when there are no longer variations towards what we regard as advance, then for thousands of years the human race may be dependent on the social tradition now set. We are perhaps beginning to fail in art and in poetry, but for a century or more science and its applications will probably be at their maximum. What is accomplished during this short period must be either the foundation for a new stock or the endowment policy for a long old age.
- The statistics of this paper were presented to the American Psychological Association in December, 1894, and an abstract was published in The Psychological Review for March, 1895. It was read in its present form as a lecture before the Philosophical Club of Yale University in 1897.
- 'Lippincott's Biographical Dictionary,' 'The Encyclopædia Britannica,' Rose's 'Biographical Dictionary,' 'Le dictionnaire de biographie générale,' Beaujean's 'Dictionnaire biographique' and Brockhaus's 'Conversationslexicon.' There is no biographical dictionary in German nor any encyclopedia as satisfactory as the Britannica, neither do such works exist in Italian, Dutch or Scandinavian, otherwise it would have been desirable to have used them.
- These relations are somewhat dependent on the authorities collated; their validity may be assigned by the calculation of probable errors, but there may be a constant error due to the fact that the collation of names depends chiefly on French and Anglo-Saxon standards.
- Since the above was written Professor Karl Pearson has questioned the lesser variability of woman. The matter can only be decided by facts; these statistics certainly show greater variability for the male.