Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 62.djvu/243

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237
VARIATION IN MAN AND WOMAN.
VARIATION IN MAN AND WOMAN.
By HAVELOCK ELLIS.

ARE variations more common in males than in females? That is a question which has passed through various phases during the past century. John Hunter, who touched on the matter from a biological standpoint, vaguely indicated that males are more variable than females. Meckel, on the contrary, came to the conclusion, on pathological grounds, that in the human species females show a greater degree of variability, and he thought that since man is the superior animal and variation a sign of inferiority the conclusion was justified. "We may state as a principle," Meckel wrote ninety years ago at the outset of his manual of descriptive and pathological anatomy, "that anomalies are more common in the female. This phenomenon seems to depend on the eighth law [Meckel's 'law of development,' according to which woman is more primitive than man] since the organization of the female results from development being arrested at an inferior degree." But while he regards deviations as on the whole more common in woman he admits certain exceptions, and more especially instances the heart and the bladder as more variable in man. Meckel was a profound student of anatomy, but not a very luminous thinker. Some years later Burdach took up the question in his 'Physiologie.' That great biologist at once raised the problem to a higher level, realized its wider bearings and cleared away the prejudices which had surrounded it. He recognized that in some respects women are more variable than men, but pointed out that, contrary to Meckel's opinion, this was no indication of woman's organic inferiority. He showed from the statistics of the Anatomical Institute of Konigsberg that we must distinguish between different kinds of abnormality. Further he referred to the facts that indicate that woman is more childlike than man, but, he added, "it is a very common but a very gross error to consider age as a scale of perfection and to regard the child as absolutely imperfect as compared to the adult. It is not imperfection but simply certain childlike characteristics which women preserve"; and, he points out, it is in decrepitude that women take on the characteristics of the so-called superior sex. His general conclusion was that the nature of man and the nature of woman are both excellent, but there are wider variations in men, more genius and more idiocy, more virtue and more vice.