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The Ancestral Bond
by [?]

A WELL-KNOWN citizen of Ohio once discovered another man of the same name exactly resembling him, and writing a “hand” which, including the signature, he was unable to distinguish from his own. The two men were unable to discover any blood relationship between them. It is nevertheless almost absolutely certain that a relationship existed, though it may have been so remote a degree that the familiar term “forty-second cousin” would not have exaggerated the slenderness of the tie. The phenomena of heredity have been inattentively noted; its laws are imperfectly understood, even by Herbert Spencer and the prophets. My own small study in this amazing field convinces me that a man is the sum of his ancestors; that his character, moral and intellectual, is determined before his birth. His environment with all its varied suasions, its agencies of good and evil; breeding, training, interest, experience and the rest of it–have little to do with the matter and can not alter the sentence passed upon him at conception, compelling him to be what he is.

Man is the hither end of an immeasurable line extending back to the ultimate Adam–or, as we scientists prefer to name him, Protoplasmos. Man travels, not the mental road that he would, but the one that he must–is pushed this way and that by the resultant of all the forces behind him; for each member of the ancestral line, though dead, yet pusfaedi. In one of what Dr. Nolmes (Holmes, ed.) calls his “medicated novels,” The Guardian Angel, this truth is most admirably and lucidly set forth with abundant instance and copious exposition. Upon another work of his, Elsie Venner–in which he erroneously affirms the influence of circumstance and environment–let us lay a charitable hand and fling it into the fire.

Clearly all one’s ancestors have not equal power in shaping his character. Conceiving them, according to our figure, as arranged in line behind him and influential in the ratio of their individuality, we shall get the best notion of their method by supposing them to have taken their places in an order somewhat independent of chronology and a little different from their arrangement behind his brother. Immediately at his back, with a controlling hand (a trifle skinny) upon him, may stand his great-grandmother, while his father may be many removes arear. Or the place of power may be held by some fine old Asian gentleman who flourished before the confusion of tongues on the plain of Shinar; or by some cave-dweller who polished the bone of life in Mesopotamia and was perhaps a respectable and honest troglodyte.

Sometimes a whole platoon of ancestors appears to have been moved backward or forward, en bloc not, we may be sure, capriciously, but in obedience to some law that we do not understand. I know a man to whose character not an ancestor since the seventeenth century has contributed an element. Intellectually he is a contemporary of John Dryden, whom naturally he reveres as the greatest of poets. I know another who has inherited his handwriting from his great-grandfather, although he has been trained to the Spencerian system and tried hard to acquire it. Furthermore, his handwriting follows the same order of progressive development as that of his greatgrandfather. At the age of twenty he wrote exactly as his ancestor did at the same age, and, although at forty-five his chirography is nothing like what it was even ten years ago, it is accurately like his great-grandfather’s at forty-five. It was only five years ago that the discovery of some old letters showed him how his great-grandfather wrote, and accounted for the absolute dissimilarity of his own handwriting to that of any known member of his family.

To suppose that such individual traits as the configuration of the body, the color of the hair and eyes, the shape of hands and feet, the thousand-and-one subtle characteristics that make family resemblances are transmissible, and that the form, texture and capacities of the brain which fix the degree of natural intellect, are not transmissible, is illogical and absurd. We see that certain actions, such as gestures, gait, and so forth, resulting from the most complex concurrences of brain, nerves and muscles, are hereditary. Is it reasonable to suppose that the brain alone of all the organs performs its work according to its own sweet will, free from congenital tendencies? Is it not a familiar fact that racial characteristics are persistent?–that one race is stupid and indocile, another quick and intelligent? Does not each generation of a race inherit the intellectual qualities of the preceding generation? How could this be true of generations and not of individuals?

As to stirpiculture, the intelligent and systematic breeding of men and women with a view to improvement of the species–it is a thing of the far future, It is hardly in sight. Yet, what splendid possibilities it carries! Two or three generations of as careful breeding as we bestow on horses, dogs and pigeons would do more good than all the penal, reformatory and educating agencies of the world accomplish in a thousand years. It is the one direction in which human effort to “elevate the race” can be assured of a definitive, speedy and adequate success. It is hardly better than nonsense to prate of any good coming to the race through (for example) medical science, which is mainly concerned in reversing the beneficent operation of natural laws and saving the unfittest to perpetuate their unfitness. Our entire system of charities is of, to the same objection; it cares for the incapables whom Nature is trying to “weed out,” This not only debases the race physically, intellectually and morally, but constantly increases the rate of debasement. The proportion of criminals, paupers and the various kinds of “inmates” of charitable institutions augments its horrible percentage yearly. On the other hand, our wars destroy the capable; so thus we make inroads upon the vitality of the race from two directions. We preserve the feeble and extirpate the strong. He who, in view of this amazing folly can believe in a constant, even slow, progress of the human race toward perfection ought to be happy. He has a mind whose Olympian heights are inaccessible–the Titans of fact can never scale them to storm its ancient reign.