Full text: Problems in eugenics

Presidential Address. 
There is, however, on the other hand another method by which each 
generation receives a heritage from its predecessors, and to which an 
adequate share of human thought has never as yet been given. With 
every increase in our scientific knowledge of the laws of life it becomes 
increasingly evident that the inborn qualities of the child are derived 
from its ancestors in accordance with laws which, though now but imper¬ 
fectly known, are gradually but surely being brought to light. ]f the 
future is thus tied to the past in accordance with these laws of heredity, 
we must be entirely dependent on our knowledge concerning them when 
endeavouring to ascertain whether the inherent qua'lities of the individuals 
composing the coming generations will show an improvement or the reverse 
in comparison with our standards of to-day; and, when thus peering into 
the future, it is therefore evident that a mere study of the factors directly 
and immediately affecting our present environment, however important it 
may be, is wholly insufficient for our needs. There are, in fact, two great 
factors influencing us all through our lives, heredity and environment; and 
if at this Congress we are chiefly concerned with the former—that is with 
nature rather than with nurture—it must not be assumed that little import¬ 
ance is attached by us to the many endeavours now being made to improve 
the environment of the people, an object unquestionably greatly worth 
striving for. If we choose natural inheritance as the field for our 
operations, it is partly because it is not wise to attempt to cover too much 
ground on one occasion, and partly because this branch of enquiry into 
human affairs, being surrounded with many difficulties and having been 
much neglected in the past, seems now to be the one most in need of our 
efforts. Then again, not only are the careers of all men largely influenced 
by their inborn qualities, but the surroundings which each man steps into 
at his birth undoubtedly in large measure depend—indeed in so far as 
they are under human control perhaps wholly depend—on the inborn 
qualities of those of their ancestors and predecessors who were instrumental 
in moulding that environment. Thus any steps which we may now take 
tending to improve the racial characteristics of the generations of the 
immediate future will undoubtedly benefit the countless millions of the 
more distant future as regards the heritage they will receive at birth in 
the form, not only of inborn qualities, but also of improved surroundings. 
To endeavour both to study the laws of heredity and practically to apply 
the knowledge thus acquired to the regulation of our lives, seems, therefore, 
to be a paramount duty which we owe to posterity. 
But when we embark on such a comprehensive study of life as is here 
suggested, it soon becomes apparent that the history of the world is not 
a tale of a continuous and uninterrupted advance. Nature seems to have 
been making innumerable experiments, of which many proved to be failures. 
New species have often arisen in the long by-gone ages merely, it would 
seem, to become extinct and to leave no living traces behind them. New 
B 2

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