Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/206

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192
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE SECRET OF ATAVISM.
By F. L. OSWALD.

THE laws of Nature reveal themselves most plainly in the extremes of their manifestations, and a month ago the remark of an American press correspondent must have called the attention of thousands to a suggestive curiosum of hereditary influences.

"This city is decked with voluntary bunting in honor of the Czar," he writes from Wiesbaden; "and it is certainly a remarkable fact that the most amiable of the Romanoffs should be the son of a narrow-minded despot, while whole-souled Kaiser Friedrich, the modern Titus, the idol of his countrymen, was guilty of being the father of the most unpopular prince who perhaps ever succeeded to a hereditary throne."

At first glance the coincidence does look like an altogether exceptional freak of chance, but, on second thought, one is surprised to find the alleged portent recall analogies far too numerous to be classed with the exceptions that confirm a rule.

Peter the Great, a more absolute autocrat than the first Napoleon, was the son of the dawdler Alexis, a puppet in the hands of his tutor Morouzoff, and of favorites of the Buckingham type, a holiday prince not wholly adverse to administrative reforms, but with no more backbone than a man of straw.

Witty, skeptical Frederick the Great, the worshiper of Voltaire and the Muses, a genial host, but a political Iscariot and a shocking husband, was the undoubtedly legitimate son of an illiterate ruffian, a miser and bigot whose only redeeming traits were his conjugal fidelity and his temptation-proof loyalty as a vassal of his Kaiser.

And even slander-mongering Fouché did not question the legitimacy of the Duke of Reichstadt as the son, if not the primogenitus, of the Corsican demigod. The poor youngster, it is true, was saddled with Austrian tutors, selected by the Cultus Minister, with no special reference to modern culture; but decided talents would have asserted themselves in spite of such handicaps, and Dr. Hentzen, an intelligent and impartial observer, admits that the young exile was "modest, rather good-natured, but hopelessly indolent and incurious—indifferent alike to the marvels of Nature and art. But for a love of good cheer, not always distinguishable from gluttony," he adds, "one might suppose that he was pining away and had turned from earthly to hyperphysical hopes."

Indolent, good-natured, and gluttonous—the son of the man who would "dine on the wing of a chicken, and on that frail support fly through Europe in a cloud of blood and fire!"