Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/357

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which has been going on through past ages irregularly and blindly. The time, in fact, has come when mankind should awake to the momentous reflection how great is the power which it may exert over its own destiny, and to the resolution methodically to use it. In fulfilling this paramount duty, upon whom will the function of inquiry and instruction immediately rest, but upon those who make the laws of vital development and function their study, and the application of the knowledge to further the well-being and development of the organism their work? Clearly, the medical investigator need not lapse into despair because he has no new conquests to make.

You will not be long in practice before you will have many occasions to take notice how little people ever think of the power which they have over their own destiny and over the destiny of those who spring from them—how amazingly reckless they show themselves in that respect. They have continually before their eyes the fact that by care and attention the most important modifications may be produced in the constitution and character of the animals over which they have dominion—that by selective breeding an animal may almost be transformed in the course of generations; they perceive the striking contrast between the low savage with whom they shrink almost from confessing kinship and the best specimens of civilized culture, and know well that such as he is now such were their ancestors at one time; they may easily, if they will, discover examples which show that by ill living peoples may degenerate until they revert to a degraded state of barbarism, disclosing their former greatness only in the magnitude of their moral ruins;—and yet, seeing these things, they never seriously take account of them, and apply to themselves the lessons which lie on the surface. They behave in relation to the occult laws which govern human evolution very much as primeval savages behaved in relation to the laws of physical Nature of which they were entirely ignorant—are content with superstitions where they should strive to get understanding, and put up prayers where they should exert intelligent will. They act altogether as if the responsibility for human progress upon earth belonged entirely to higher powers, and not at all to themselves. How much keener sense of responsibility and stronger sentiment of duty they would have if they only conceived vividly the eternity of action, good or ill; if they realized that under the reign of law on earth sin and error are inexorably avenged, as virtue is vindicated, in its consequences; if they could be brought to feel heartily that they are actually determining by their conduct in their generation what shall be predetermined in the constitution of the generation after them! For assuredly the circumstances of one generation make much of the fate of the next.

In the department of medical practice in which my work mainly lies I have this amazing recklessness strongly impressed upon me; for it occurs to me, from time to time, to be consulted about the propri-