The Century of the Child

The Right of the Child to Choose his Parents



   Up to the present day, partly as a result of a perverted modesty in such things, science has only been able to offer incomplete observations on the physical and psychical conditions for the improvement of the human type in its actual genesis.

   Ontogeny is really a new science in our century, introduced by Van Leeuwenhoek, de Graaf, and others. It was founded in 1827, by von Baer. The differences of opinion and the discovery of different theories are very far from being ended. Purely scientific points of view are being combined with social, physiological, or ethical ones. It is maintained that by changing the diet of the mother the sex of the child can be determined. Attempts have been made to show that about three fifths of all men of genius were firstborn children.

   People are studying what influence the age of parents has on the child; extreme youth of parents seems unfavourable for the offspring as well as extreme age. The first child of a too youthful mother is often weak, and besides ordinarily the joys of motherhood are not desired, because she feels that physically and psychically a child is too great a burden to her, who herself is only a child. The conditions of a strong, well-nourished offspring require the postponement of the marriage age for women. In northern countries it should be established, if not by law at least by custom, at about twenty years. This is all the more necessary because then the young woman can have behind her some years of careless youthful joy, an undisturbed self-development, and will also have reached the physical development necessary for motherhood. While twenty years should be regarded as the earliest period of marriage it should actually be often postponed some years still for the well-being of the woman, the man, and the children, and married life as a whole, in which most conflicts arise because women have decided about their fate before their personality was definitely formed, before their heart was able to find its choice. The love of the man chooses and the young girl often confuses the happiness of being loved with the happiness of loving, an experience which later on is gone through in a tragic way. To the many questions which are related to heredity and natural selection, belongs one which notices the significance of nature's purpose to cause strong opposites to exert upon one another the strongest attraction. This attraction often during married life changes into antipathy; it almost results in impatience against the characteristics which originally had so deep an attraction. Nature in this case seems to wish to reach its end with the greatest lack of consideration for the happiness of the individual. So often the contradictions of parents seem really to be moulded in full in the child. Occasionally these contradictions are expressed as a deep discord, but in both cases there often arises an exceptional being. To attain correct results in this case, belongs to the numerous still open possibilities.

   Differences of opinion are most apparent in the theory of heredity, where there is a struggle between Darwin's view, that even acquired characteristics are inherited, and Galton's and Weissmann's conviction that this is not the case. In connection with this stands, also, the question of the marriage of consanguineous relations; some regard these marriages as dangerous, per se, for the posterity; others only as dangerous from the point of view that the same family trait is often found in both parents, and so becomes strongly impressed on the children. For example, congenital shortsightedness of both parents develops into blindness of the children, their stupidity becomes idiocy, their melancholy, insanity.

   The Occident has gradually abolished the Oriental marriage law to which Moses gave validity, while other Oriental legislators, for example, Manes and Mohammed, are still followed to a great extent. In China, too, similar prohibitions have a binding power. Here and there the feeling of the significance of heredity has vaguely appeared in some Occidental writers. Sir Thomas More, like Plato, required a physical examination before entering into marriage. It was not until the nineteenth century that the question of the rights of the child in this respect began to be noticed. It was Robert Owen who in one way awakened the general right feeling in favour of children, by investigations begun in 1815. They showed that children under eight years old were forced to work by blows from leather whips, to work from fifteen to sixteen hours a day, with the result that a fourth or fifth of them ended as cripples. Another Englishman, Malthus, published in 1798 an essay on the Principle of Population, and directed the attention of society to the conditions which had caused him to write his work. He pointed to the deficiency of food supply produced by over-population and the obstacles it offered to legitimate marriages. Again, these conditions, he showed, resulted partly in great mortality among children, partly in the murder of children. Malthus saw the significance of selection and the danger of degeneration. With perfect calmness of conscience he met the storm he had evoked. Personally a blameless and tender hearted man, Malthus, as all other reformers of moral ideas, had to allow the shameless accusations of corruption and immorality to pass over his head. Harriet Martineau, who advocated Malthus's views, had the same experience. When she wrote her novels on this subject she knew very well to what she was exposing herself; but this remarkable woman, who died unmarried and childless, was at an early period of her life filled with a feeling for the holiness of the child. When nineteen years old, at the time of the birth of a small sister, she fell on her knees and devoutly thanked God that she had been allowed to be the witness of the great wonder of the development of the human being from the beginning. The same feeling caused her in her novels to expound the duty of voluntary limitation of population. She was pained by the thought of the fate endured by children, when they were so numerous that their parents were unable to maintain and educate them. This part of the subject of the right of the child called forth in all countries books for and against it. Everywhere the question is discussed. I shall briefly handle the differences of opinion about other sides of the right of the child.

   In Francis Galton's celebrated work, Hereditary Genius, almost all has been said that is required to-day from the point of view of the improvement of the race. Galton, as early as the seventies, opposed Darwin's view that acquired characteristics were inherited. In this respect he had a fellow-champion in the German Weissmann, who on his side was opposed, among others, by the English Darwinian Romanes.

   Galton invented from a Greek word a name for the science of the amelioration of the race, Eugenics. He showed that civilised man, so far as care for the amelioration of the race is concerned, stands on a much lower plane than savages, not to speak of Sparta which did not allow the weak, the too young, and the too old to marry, and where national pride in a pure race, a strong offspring, was so great that individuals were sacrificed to the attainment of this end. Galton, like Darwin, Spencer, A. R. Wallace, and others, has brought out the fact that the law of natural selection, which in the rest of nature has secured the survival of the fittest, is not applicable to human society, where economic motives lead to unsuitable marriages, made possible by wealth. Poverty hinders suitable marriages. Besides the development of sympathy has come into the field as a factor which disturbs natural selection. The sympathy of love, chooses according to motives that certainly tend to the happiness of the individual, but this does not mean that they guarantee the improvement of the race. And while other writers hope for a voluntary abstinence from marriage in those cases, where an inferior offspring is to be expected, Galton, on the other hand, is in favour of very strict rules, to hinder inferior specimens of humanity from transmitting their vices or diseases, their intellectual or physical weaknesses. Just because Galton does not believe in the inheritance of acquired characteristics, selection has the greatest significance for him.

   On the other side, he advocates using all means to encourage such marriages, where the family on both sides gives promise of distinguished offspring. For him, as later for Nietzsche, the purpose of married life is the production of strong, able personalities.

   Galton makes it plain that civilised man, by his sympathy with weak, inefficient individuals, has helped to continue their existence. This tendency on its own side has lessened the possibility of the efficient individuals to continue the species. Wallace, too, and several others, have on different occasions declared that men in relation to this question must have harder hearts, if the human race is not to become inferior. The moral, social, and sympathetic factors, they say, which in humanity work against the law of the survival of the fittest, and have made it possible for the lower type, to continue and to multiply in excess, must give way to new points of view where certain moral and social questions are concerned. So the natural law will be supported by altruism, instead of as now being opposed by this sentiment.

   Spencer's thoughts contain a great truth. They have been quoted in just this connection. He says: We see the germ of many things that later on are developed in a way no one now suspects. Profound transformations are worked in society and its members, transformations which we could not have hoped for as immediate results, but which we could have looked for in confidence as final consequences. The effort to find natural laws which cause racial progress or deterioration is one of these germinal ideas. As to scientific investigation in this field, we can apply another maxim of the same thinker, one often overlooked by science. "The passion to discover truth must be accompanied by the passion to use it for the welfare of mankind." But science must really reach universally accepted conclusions before we can expect humanity to begin seriously its self-purification; but it is certain to come then. When we read in ethnographical and sociological works what restrictions in marriage are imposed by savage people on themselves, and religiously obeyed on the ground of superstitious prejudice, we have a right to hope that civilised men will one day bow before scientific proofs. This hope is not too optimistic.

   Wallace pleads not for such absolute regulations as Galton, in order to prevent the marriages of the less worthy and to encourage the marriages of the superior types of humanity. He perceives that the problem is tremendously complicated. One thing is, that the personal attraction of love is extremely essential from the point of view of the improvement of the race. If human beings could be bred like prize cattle, it is not likely that a superior type of humanity would be produced. In the Middle Ages, the human race deteriorated, Galton said, because the best fled to the monasteries and the worst reproduced themselves. But if Galton's strict requirements had to be carried out in every case before a marriage could be allowed, not only would marriage lose its deepest meaning, but the race also would lose its noblest inheritance.

    But even with a strict limitation of Galton's principles and with a wise limitation of his requirements, science has already shown the truth of so many of the first, that the significance of the last, taken as a whole, must be granted. We know that in the inherited tendencies of children, often another form is taken from that which appears in their parents. Of three hundred idiots, one hundred and forty-five had alcoholic parents. Epilepsy, too, is often produced by the same cause. It is known that apparently sound individuals are often attacked at the same age by a disease to which their parents were subject. On the other hand, there are fortunately proofs that individuals endowed with power of will can resist certain dangerous inherited weaknesses. In the discussion on this subject, it should also be justly brought out, that it is possible for the unsound tendency of one parent to be neutralised in the case of children, by the soundness of the other. But this result, as well as the many other questions involved, as I have shown above, are far from being established.

   The question as to the inheritance of mental diseases has been especially examined by Maudsley. In this case, too, nervous and psychic diseases of the parents often change their character in the children. He requires medical testimony before marriage, and asks that the appearance of mental diseases after marriage shall form a legitimate ground for divorce. And he hopes that a pure descent, in a new sense of the word, will be as important for the marriages of the future, as for aristocratic marriages in early times. One of Maudsley's statements is so interesting that it should be mentioned here. Fathers, he says, who have directed their whole energy towards attainment of wealth, have degenerate children; for this sort of nerve strain undermines the system as infallibly as alcohol or opium. If this statement be true, we would add another point of view to the many already existent, that show how hostile to life is our best social order, which aims at power and gain. It proves how necessary is that transformation of existence which will make work and production serve a new end. Each man should claim to live wholly, broadly, and in a way worthy of humanity. He should be able to leave behind him a posterity provided with all capacities for a similar life. When this day dawns people will regard, as a terrible atavism, that expression on the face of a child, which an artist of the present day has preserved in a picture of a boy represented as a future millionaire.

   I will mention now from literary sources, some of Nietzsche's work on this subject. Although this author did not base his ideas of the "superman" directly on Darwin's theories, yet they are, as Brandes has lately shown, the great consequences of Darwinism, that Darwin himself did not see. In no contemporary was there a stronger conviction than in Nietzsche that man as he now is, is only a bridge, only a transition between the animal and the "superman". In connection with this, Nietzsche looked upon the obligations of man for the amelioration of the race as seriously as Galton, but he expressed his principles with the power of poetic and prophetic expression, not with scientific proof.

   Literature on this subject is increasing every day; different opinions press one another hard. As long as this is the case, there is every reason to observe the warning of the German sociologist Kurella, who says that we must reckon with social as well as with anthropological factors if we wish to prevent the degeneration of the human species. A vital point in his position is, that it is a matter of indifference whether the Darwinian theory of the transmission of acquired characteristics, or its contrary is victorious. The former is the theory of an unchangeable germ plasm transmitted by the parents to the children; so that better types can only originate through a new combination of the characteristics of father and mother, and also by natural selection in the struggle for existence. We must be careful before beginning to act in a social and political way on the basis of anthropological motives. He finally lays down with perfect justice, that the material to be gathered from the works of Spencer, Galton, Lombroso, Ferri, Ribot, Latourneau, Havelock Ellis, J. B. Haycraft, Colajanni, Sergi, Ritchie, and others, must be systematically worked over. The sociologist must be zo÷logist, anthropologist, and psychologist before his plans for civilising man, and for elevating the human race could be carried out.

   As to intellectual characteristics it has been maintained that exceptionally gifted men have mostly inherited their characteristics from the mother. This fact has in our day, so very much increased the interest taken in the mothers of famous men. This truth is supposed to hold good for a son, but if the daughter is gifted, her talent is held to come from the father. Another and certainly a better founded phenomenon seems to be this: That when in a family characteristics find their culmination in a world genius, this genius either remains childless or his children are not only ordinary, but often insignificant. It may be that nature has exhausted her power of production in these great personalities, or as is often assumed, the creative power of genius in an intellectual direction, diminishes the creative power in the physical direction.

   Along with the question of heredity stands that of the development of races. In the beginning of the Origin of Species Darwin showed how essential pure descent is for the production of a noble race. This theory is appealed to by a modern anti-Semitic writer, who represents the Jew as a typical example of pure race, an idea which one of the most conspicuous representatives of Judaism, Disraeli, has also expressed in the following words: "Race is everything; there is no other truth, and every race which carelessly allows mixed blood, perishes." Yet other specialists consider some racial mixture as highly advantageous to the offspring.

   Professor Westermark has offered a good reason for the significance attached to beauty in the case of love, and therefore its importance for the race. He has shown how man has conceived physical beauty to be the full development of all of those characteristics which distinguish the human organism from the animal, and which mark sex distinctions, and, most of all, race distinctions. He thinks individuals with these characteristics are best suited for their life work. Accordingly it is the result of natural selection that exactly those individuals are found most beautiful and are most desired, who first as human beings best fulfil the general demands of the human organism, as sexual beings fulfil those of their sex, and as members of the race are best suited to the conditions which surround them. In the struggle for existence, those are overcome, who are descended from human beings, whose instincts of love are directed to individuals badly adapted to that struggle; while those who are victorious are children happily so adapted. In this way, taste has developed by which, what is best adapted to environment appears as the highest beauty. This is equivalent to health, the power to resist the attacks of the external world. While every considerable deviation from the pure type in sex and race, has a lesser degree of adaptability; that is of health, and also of beauty.

   Another writer has used the foot as an example of this principle. The small, high-arched foot with the fine ankle is always, he says, regarded as the most beautiful. But such a foot is only combined with a fine, strong, and elastic bony structure. Such a foot besides has, by its great elasticity, a considerably higher power of bearing weight than the flat foot. The high-vaulted foot, in walking and jumping, increases the activity of the lungs and the heart. This again makes the walk elastic, strong, and easy, agile and stately. These traits, for the same reason as the beauty of the foot itself, are looked upon as a racial sign. This physical power and ease influence the mind, and produce self-confidence, and so increase the feeling of superiority and the joy of living, marks of distinction in human beings.

   Whether the illustration in this special case holds good or not, it proves nothing against the truth of the theory on which it rests, and which is gradually becoming prevalent; the view I mean, according to which souls and bodies are mutually developed through adaptability to their surroundings.

   So it is necessary not only to investigate what conditions give the best selection, but also what external ones strengthen or weaken the characteristics found in natural selection. We must again see the importance of bodily exercise. Painful experiences have taught us to prevent the consequences of overstrain, over-exertion in competitive imbecility, and mania for sport. Such results have specially shown themselves to be harmful for women in respect to motherhood. Sport and play, gymnastics and pedestrianism, life in nature and in the open air, a regenerated system of dancing, after the model of the Swedish peasant dances, will be most excellent bases for the physical and psychical renewal of the new generation.

   In plans concerning this renewal, people have pointed to the influence of art; it has been shown how Burne-Jones created the new English type of woman. It was formed by an adaption to the quiet, distinguished style, by a process that went slowly on. This was the type regarded by him as the model one. It is maintained that we only need to see a pair of young English girls in front of one of his pictures, in order to notice how not only the faces but the expressions show a resemblance. The artist has impressed his trait on youth before it was conscious of it. Before these forms they grew up, they have seen them in their picture books, they have been dressed in clothes cut in the fashion of the master's pictures. There is another reason. Mothers of the present day are supposed to have passed on to their children the Burne-Jones type in the same way in which the charm of the Greeks was influenced by the beauty of their statuary. In antiquity it was believed, even in other details, (for example, in attaining the much-longed-for blonde hair) that this end could be secured by observing the proper directions.

   As to the significance of external influences of this kind on mothers, there is too little material still to build up conclusions. On this point, learned men also disagree. I have only, therefore, incidentally mentioned this factor among others. All should be established before we can get a final and certain insight into the conditions of human birth. In the absence of scientific knowledge I can only refer to the literature and comprehensive investigations commenced in the preceding century, that throw light on the riddle of man's coming into the world. Many of these matters are still involved in obscurity. But man's spirit is resting on the waters; gradually a new creation will be called forth from them.


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