Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/183

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171
HEREDITY AND RACE-IMPROVEMENT

monstrate the constant and powerful influence of those forces which, as we have said, tend to modify, transform, and complicate man's thoughts, feelings, passions, manners, customs.

The special aim of education is to transmit to the child the sum of those habits to which he is to conform the course of his life, and of those branches of knowledge which are indispensable for him in the pursuit of his calling; and it must begin by developing in the pupil the faculties which will enable him to make these habits and this knowledge his own. It teaches the child to speak, to move about, to look, to use his senses, to hear, to understand, to judge, to love. But now the influence of education, opposed as it is to that of heredity, is so great, that in most cases it is of itself alone capable of producing a moral and psychological likeness between children and parents. If heredity determined irresistibly and infallibly in the descendants the essential characters of their ancestors' personality, education would be superfluous. When once it is admitted that education, a long, watchful, laborious training, is indispensable in order to call forth and perfect in the child the development of aptitudes and of mental qualities, we must conclude that heredity acts only a secondary part in the wonderful genesis of the moral individual. The argument is unassailable. That hereditary influences make their mark in predispositions, in fixed tendencies, it were unscientific to deny; but yet it would be inexact to pretend that they implicitly contain the future states of the psychical being, and determine its evolution.

There is nothing more complex than education, nor must we think here of studying its general economy, which has been the theme of so many books. The importance which is generally attributed to works on pedagogy is of itself a protest against the abuse of hereditarian theories. Some fresh details as to one of the chief agencies in education, viz., the instinct of imitation, and the part it plays in the development of individuals and of races, will suffice to demonstrate the energy of certain influences which have nothing to do with heredity.

An accomplished English historian, Bagehot, recently published some excellent observations, which go to show what great influence is exerted in the formation of customs and of tastes, and also how their periodic revolutions are explained, by the unconscious imitation of a favorite character or type, and by the general favor accorded to the same. According to him, a national character is only a local character which has been favored by fortune, precisely as a national language is only the definitive extension of a local dialect. There is nothing more undoubted than the force of this tendency to imitation. It is in virtue of this that certain processes in manufacture, art, literature, manners, discovered under peculiar circumstances, attain a general ascendency, and are rapidly imposed, first upon the docile and unthinking multitude, and then on those who possess all the means of inquiry and resistance. Here it may be observed that the élite are almost always