Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/69

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
59
A STUDY OF BRITISH GENIUS.
A STUDY OF BRITISH GENIUS.
By HAVELOCK ELLIS.
V. CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH.

IF we consider the time of birth of our group of British persons of preeminent ability we find that April shows the largest number of births and January the fewest number. In passing from January to February there is a marked and sudden rise, so that when we consider the total births, according to the quarter of the year, the first, second and fourth quarters are fairly equal, but there is a decided deficiency in the third quarter. This is not quite the result which we find on considering the birth-rate among the ordinary population of England and Wales during the nineteenth century. Here the birth-rate during the first and second quarters agrees in being very high, while the third and fourth quarters invariably show a low rate. The discrepancy is in the fourth quarter, persons of preeminent ability being born during that quarter in unduly high proportion. In order to reach the time of conception, and so consider the possible significance of these facts, we must, of course, push these periods three months forward.[1]

The first significant fact we encounter in studying the life-histories of these eminent persons is the frequency with which they have shown marked constitutional delicacy in infancy and early life.[2] A group of at least five—Joanna Baillie, Hobbes, Keats, Newton, Charles Wesley—were seven months children, or, at all events, notably premature in birth; it is a group of very varied and preeminent ability. Not including the above (who were necessarily weakly), at least eight are noted as having been very weak at birth, and not expected to live; in several cases they were, on this account, baptized on the same day. In addition to these, fifty-five are described as being of very delicate health in infancy or childhood. Further, we are told of sixty-nine

  1. For a discussion of the normal phenomena, see H. Ellis, 'Studies in the Psychology of Sex,' 'The Phenomena of Sexual Periodicity.'
  2. Mr. A. H. Yoder ('Pedagogical Seminary,' October, 1894) stumbled across this fact in the course of his interesting study of the early life of a group of men of genius, but failed to realize its significance. He put it aside as due to a desire on the part of biographers to magnify the mental at the expense of the physical qualities of their subjects. There is no evidence whatever for this gratuitous assumption.