Popular Science Monthly/Volume 1/September 1872/Town and Country as Producers of Intellect

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By G. M. B.

THE last number of the Journal of the Statistical Society had an interesting article, by Mr. Hyde Clarke, on the "Geographical Distribution of Intellectual Qualities in England."

The writer proves, by the use of a numerical test, that the towns contribute most of the intellectual laborers of note, and that the popular notion that genius is generally of low origin or derived from obscure districts is a mistake. Some "village Hampden," it is true, may adorn the region of politics, but this is an exceptional distinction. It is needless to premise that Mr. Clarke has considered the influence of population, and has not merely enumerated the clever men from given places. He has taken 2,000 names of men of genius or high intellectual powers, and sorted them out into districts, and this forms the basis of his calculations. He says:

The more important matter is to ascertain how far the external influence of the community has affected the birth or production of men of ability, genius, or celebrity, exemplified in intellectual endowment‥‥On the whole, such men are rather born in towns than in the country, and examples to the contrary, as those of Newton, Dryden, etc., admit of explanations which neutralize their apparent antagonism.

Speaking of the preëminence of London in the production of such men, he says:

If we test this for other countries, whether in ancient or modern times, we shall find the same thing. Rome and Athens will assert a metropolitan position, and so will Paris. A map of the geographical distribution of such elements will safely mark out the most famous cities of antiquity. A map of England, of France, of Germany, or Italy, will show the like modern results. The town population being the smaller portion in each country, yet the larger number of names will belong to the town population, and not to the rural population; and, on the whole, the names which can be marked as first and second class will belong in the larger proportion to the town population.

Of the 2,000 names, three-eighths belong to the country, and five-eighths to the town districts.

The following extracts give the main points in the interesting analysis:

In regarding the distribution among the town population, again, the unequal distribution gives in most cases a larger pro rata proportion to the large towns over the small. The most striking case is, however, that of London (333), and, as that is supported by the example of other metropolitan cities, ancient and modern, it can be accepted as an authenticated fact that the larger the population the larger the proportion of distinguished men. Edinburgh gives 73, and Dublin 53. The proportion of those metropolitan cities to the whole number is about 22 per cent. Still, on examining the smaller towns among themselves, this by no means holds good. Many small towns furnish more names than those of larger population, and these will be found to be cathedral and university towns. What is to be marked is the low position of such great modern centres of industry and population as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, Bradford, etc‥‥The relation of names may, therefore, be considered to be, not to the population generally in gross, but rather to the classes engaged in the pursuit of learning, to the educated classes, and those in easy circumstances. This explains best the phenomena of London, and the preponderant towns, and likewise what may be called the intellectual rise of the manufacturing cities in modern times‥‥It does not appear to be the case, on the whole, that men of distinction spring from the lowest classes, as some assert. It may be that such a man is the son of a poor man, or of one in an inferior trade, but the greater men are ascertained to spring from gentlemanly families or from families formerly in easy circumstances. The popular belief is the other way, because we have books giving the names of those who have risen from the lowest pursuits.

From a table given, it appears that out of the 2,000 English writers of celebrity, only 58 exercised a mechanical trade, and only 40 were sons of such, thus giving a total of only 3 per cent. connected with such occupations.

The conclusion to be drawn is, that intellectual exertion is not manifested in the lower classes, or in the children of such, to the same extent as in those where the means of instruction are more available.

This seems corroborated by a glance at the relative proportion of distinguished men in the several districts of England. The south and south midland districts contributed 60 per cent., the north and north midland 17, Wales 1, Scotland 12, and Ireland 4 per cent. The low figures for Wales and Ireland are accounted for by the Celtic language prevailing, the influence of this being further shown by the fact that Cornwall produced 21, and Devon 97 instances, though the two counties join.

London has produced, not only in number, but also in value, a larger portion of the celebrities of the country—Milton, Spenser, Pope, Byron, Chaucer, Cowley, Gray, Surrey, Herrick, Keats, Johnson, Fletcher, Gibbon, Mitford, C. Mill, Camden, Bacon, Canning, Fox, Blackstone, De Foe, Arnold, etc‥‥The facts appear to show that literary attainments are in relation to literary culture, or the culture of the educated classes, and not of the uneducated classes‥‥The development of intellectual improvement cannot be effected by sole exertion of the nervous system, but by the proper application of all the faculties dependent on the physical condition of men. It is, in fact, a creation of selection on the best principles.—Journal of Mental Science.