"Man is composed of characters derived from pre-existing germ-cells, over which he has no control. Be they good, bad, or indifferent, these factors are his from his ancestry; the possession of them is to him a matter of neither blame nor praise, but of necessity. They are inevitable." - Leighton.
The body is composed of myriads of cells of protoplasm, in each of which, is a nucleus which contains the factors of the hereditary nature of the cell. In growth, the nucleus splits in half, a wall grows between and each new cell has half the original factors,
Female ovum and male sperm (the cells concerned with reproduction) divide, thus losing half their factors, and when brought together by sexual intercourse form a germ-cell having an equal number of factors from mother and father.
How these factors are mingled - whether shuffled like two packs of cards, or mixed like two paints - we do not know. If two opposite factors are brought together, one must lie dormant. The offspring may be male or female, tall or short; it cannot be both, nor will there be a mixture. This rule only applies to clearly defined factors.
We are made by the germ-plasm handed down to us by our ancestors; in turn we pass it on to our children, unaltered, but mixed with our partner's plasm.
"The Dead dominate the Living" for our physical [pg 119] and mental inheritance is a mosaic made by our ancestors.
Variations which may or may not be inheritable do arise spontaneously, we know not how, and by variations all living things evolve.
A child resembles his parents more than strangers, not because they made cells "after their own image" but because both he and they got their factors from the same source.
Man's physical and mental, and the basis of his moral, qualities depend entirely on the types of ancestral plasm combined in marriage. Man may control his environment; his heritage is immutable. To suppress an undesirable trait the germ-cell must unite with one that has never shown it—one from a sound stock. An unsuitable mating in a later generation, however, may bring it out again (for factors are indestructible), and the individual showing it will have "reverted to ancestral type".
To give an instance: Does the son of a drunkard inherit a tendency to drink? No! The father is alcoholic because he lacks control, consequent upon the factors which make for control having been absent from his germ-plasm. He passes on this lack; if the mother does the same, the defect occurs—in a worse form—in the son. If the mother gives a control factor, the son may be unstable or apparently stable, this depending entirely on chance, but if the mother's plasm contains a strong control-factor, the defect will lie dormant in her son, who will have self-control, though if he marries the wrong woman he will have weak-willed children.
If the son becomes a toper, therefore, it is because he, like his father before him, was born with a defect - weak control - which might have made of him a drug-fiend, a tobacco-slave, a rake, or a criminal; in his home drink would naturally be the temptation nearest [pg 120] to hand, and he would show his lack of control in drunkenness.
The way a lily-seed is treated makes a vast difference to the plant which arises. If sown in poor soil, and neglected, a dwarf, sickly plant will result; if sown in rich soil, and given every care that enthusiasm, money and skill can suggest or procure, the result will be magnificent.
So with man. A well-nourished mother, free from care and disease, may have a finer child than a half-starved woman, crushed by worry and work, but neither starvation nor nourishment alter the inborn character of the child.
The body-cells are greatly changed by disease, poison, injury, and overwork, but these changes are not passed on, and despite the influence of disease from time immemorial, the germ-cell produces the same man as in ancient days. Without this fixity of character, this "continuity of the germ-plasm", "man" would cease to be, for the descendants of changeable cells would be of infinite variety, having fixity of neither form nor character.
Epilepsy, hysteria and neurasthenia are all outward signs of defect in the germ-plasm, and so they (or a predisposition to them) can be passed on, and inherited.
If a man shows a certain character, his plasm, had, and has, the causative factor. He may have received it from both his parents, when it will be strong, or from one only, when it will be normal. If he have it not, it is absent. The same applies to the plasm of the woman he mates, so there are six possible combinations, with results according to "Mendel's Law."
All the children will not inherit a taint unless both parents possess it, but, however strong one parent be, if the other is tainted, none of the children can be absolutely clean, but will show the taint, weak, strong, or dormant. This means that neuropathy will recur - and [pg 121] that it has previously occurred - in the same family, unless there be continual mating into sound stocks. If there is continual mating into bad stocks, it will recur frequently and in severe forms. All intermediate stages may occur, depending entirely on the qualities of the combining stocks.
From this we shall expect, in the same stock, signs of neuropathic taint other than the three diseases dealt with here, and these we get; for alcoholism, criminality, chorea, deformities, insanity and other brain diseases, are not infrequent among the relatives of a neuropath, showing that the family germ-plasm is unsound.
Epilepsy, one symptom of taint, is more or less interchangeable with other defects; the taint, as a whole, is an inheritable unit whose inheritance will appear as any one of many defects. This is shown by the fact that very few epileptics have an epileptic parent. Starr's analysis of 700 cases of epilepsy emphasizes this point.
|Epilepsy in a parent||6|
|Epilepsy in a near relative||136|
|Alcoholism in a parent||120|
|Nervous Diseases in family||118|
|Rheumatism and Tuberculosis||184|
|Combinations of above diseases||142|
As medicine and surgery cannot add or delete plasmic factors, the only way to stamp out neuropathy in severe forms would be to sterilize victims by X-rays. This would be painless, would protect the race and not interfere with personal or even with sexual liberty. In fifty years such diseases would be almost extinct, and those arising from accident or the chance union of dormant factors in apparently normal people could easily be dealt with.
There are 100,000 epileptics in Great Britain, and as all their children carry a taint which tends to reappear as epilepsy in a later generation the number of epileptics doubles every forty years. We protect these unfortunates against others; why not posterity against them?
Neuropaths must pass on some defect; therefore, though victims may marry, no neuropath has a right to have children.