Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/December 1890/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
A DOUBTFUL PROP OF MORALITY.

VERY persistent are the attacks of the supporters of an effete philosophy upon those intellectual views which are renewing the life of the world and enabling the human mind to shake off the burden of spiritual tyranny. Some of our readers may remember an article which we devoted a couple of years ago to a novel by a celebrated member of the French Academy, M. Octave Feuillet, the leading character in which was a young woman who had been brought up by a philosophical uncle in complete emancipation from theological beliefs, and who took, in the most natural way in the world—as the direct result, we are given to understand, of her acceptance of modern thought, and particularly of the Darwinian theory—to a career of monstrous and cold-blooded villainy. Her uncle was a benevolent old gentleman; but the evolution philosophy showed its perfect result in the niece, who had imbibed it in her very earliest years. This fine example of a "novel with a purpose" appeared first in the columns of the Revue des Deux Mondes; and to-day we find in the same periodical no less striking an example of a drama with a purpose, the author this time being M. George Duruy, and the title of his production Ni Dieu ni Maître. In this work the philosophical and philanthropical uncle of M. Feuillet's creation is replaced by a father—an eminent medical man—of similar views and similar character, who has brought up his own two children in complete independence of priestly control, and who, in return for all the affection he has lavished upon them, reaps a harvest of selfishness and ingratitude. Without being as utterly depraved as the delightful heroine of M. Feuillet's romance, they are mere creatures of pleasure and vanity, and when their poor father falls into ill-health and comparative poverty, instead of sympathizing with and aiding him, they have nothing for him but complaints and reproaches. The uncle in M. Feuillet's story and the father in M. Duruy's, it is noticeable, are both physicians, these authors paying the medical profession the compliment of thinking that the study and practice of medicine are particularly favorable to a philosophic cast of mind. M. Duruy throws in an interesting minor character in the person of a smart young physician, who had studied under the elder one, and who, in the days of the latter's prosperity, had become engaged to his daughter, but who, having got possession of the lucrative practice which the elder physician, through failing health, had been compelled to hand over to him, throws the daughter overboard without the slightest compunction. This young man, too, is offered to us as a shining example of what free-thought means when reduced to practice. Tricked out as these fictitious narratives are in all the graces of style that literary art can command, they are doubtless adapted to have an effect on a certain class of minds. Rich devotees of luxurious superstition will be greatly edified by the demonstration that not common sense but ecclesiastical authority is to determine all questions of education and conduct; and timorous souls in general will be glad to find that they are justified in refraining from any independent exercise of their minds upon moral questions. Others, among whom we count ourselves, find more of "purpose" than of honesty in these representations: to us they do not show the true working out either of the ancient or of the modern principles of morality, and we propose once more to show why.

One fact is incontrovertible, let literary or other reactionists say what they will, and that is, that in a moral point of view the world is vastly better to-day than it was centuries ago. The world has had its ages of faith; the world has now its age of comparative reason. If we want poisoners who could outdo the performances of M. Feuillet's young woman in La Morte, we go to the ages of faith, we seek them in papal courts amid cardinals and their relatives. If we want filial ingratitude in far more hideous forms than M. Duruy has undertaken to paint, the same society, in the same age, will furnish it. The true middle age is shown in the works it has produced, in the Decameron of Boccaccio and the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, in which lust and superstition walk hand in hand. Charles Reade has also given a powerful picture of it in his acknowledged masterpiece, The Cloister and the Hearth. Let any one compare the condition of Europe at that time with its condition to-day, and then say whether the material, moral, and intellectual interests of mankind have not gained immensely by the emancipation of thought and the weakening of authority.

But if we look at the case presented to us by M. Duruy in Ni Dieu ni Maître, we shall see how very ill he conceives the duties of a really enlightened father toward his children. His Pierre Nogaret. a physician in the very front rank of his profession, with an annual income of over a hundred thousand francs, has two children, Maurice and Adrienne, whose mother is dead. Instead of interesting himself in their education, he turns them over to hired teachers, and never asks what progress they are making or how their characters are developing. In a conversation between the brother and sister, the former is made to say: " I have grown up I don't know how; no one has ever told me what is right or what is wrong, and I can't find it out entirely by myself. Papa made me take up the study of the sciences, but he never took the trouble to see whether I learned anything, and now there are moments when I feel that I am not worth a rush." The sister has very much the same account to give of her education; and both brother and sister w r ere brought up, as the story shows, in very extravagant habits. Both were launched into the world of fashion without any effort being made to guard them against the temptations to which they were thus exposed.

Now why, we ask, should this be offered to us as an example of education upon modern principles? Why should a man, because he has embraced, let us say, evolutionary views, allow the education of his children to proceed at hap-hazard? Why should such a man leave his children unprotected against the seductions of a vitiated society? Why should he allow their home affections to be weakened and stunted by a senseless immersion in social gayeties? If a clever writer wishes to do justice to the great question which MM. Feuillet and Duruy approach in so partisan a spirit, let him draw a picture of a man who has discarded superstition because of its demonstrated falsity, who has embraced the principles and results of science because of their demonstrated truth, and whose aim it is to do in his lifetime the utmost amount of good that circumstances permit. Then let this man have in conjunction with these elevated views a certain amount of common sense. If he has children whom he sincerely loves—and such love is not an unreasonable postulate in a father—let him recognize that, if they are to dispense with the conventional aids to right conduct, they must have others in their place, and let him duly cultivate their moral and emotional nature. Let him refrain from placing them, or allowing them to be placed, in circumstances of too great temptation. Let him carefully guard against their becoming the slaves of luxury and idleness. Let him not give them as associates persons whose principles of action are the very reverse of his own. Let him not betroth his daughter to an intriguing jackanapes who avows himself destitute of every principle save selfish ambition. Let his love for his children be manifested otherwise than by keeping up an expensive establishment. If these conditions be observed, we shall have a man who, point for point, shall do just what Pierre Nogaret did not do, and refrain from doing what Pierre Nogaret did do. And then let it be shown, if it can, in consonance with recognized principles of human nature, how such methods of training and discipline lead directly to ill-regulated and frivolous lives on the part of the philosopher's children. Let us see just how it comes about that natural affection dies out in the atmosphere of such a philosopher's household. Let us be made to feel in a powerful manner the chasm that is left in the philosopher's family life by the absence of the priestly element. It is easy to make men of straw and then knock them over or treat them with any other indignity; but the task is not one that is worthy of a literary artist of any ability. In M. Feuillet's romance there was some attempt made to show how the doctrine of the survival of the fittest naturally inspired thoughts of murder in the female mind. We did not think much of the proffered demonstration, but it made at least a decent show of respect for the requirements of logic. In M. Duruy's drama such show of respect is wholly lacking. His philosopher entirely neglects his children's moral education, brings them up in expensive, luxurious, and idle habits, exposes them to all the temptations of a morally worthless society, and then, when they have been—not wholly, but largely—perverted by the evil influences around them, we are asked to lay the whole blame of their perversion upon their father's heterodox views, and to draw a sweeping conclusion as to the ruinous effects on morality of modern philosophy in general.

The unprejudiced reader will not draw any such conclusion. The conclusion that may be drawn is that no set of merely speculative opinions offers any guarantee for satisfactory moral development apart from a careful observance of the conditions on which the formation of sound, moral character depends. It is one thing to adopt the Darwinian theory; it is quite another to know how to bring up children: and some Darwinians, or alleged Darwinians, make nearly as poor a business of it as some clergymen. It is not the mold in which a man's opinions have run that makes him a competent moral educator; it is the amount of earnestness he throws into moral questions and the amount of practical good sense that he brings to bear in order to insure that the children committed to his charge shall be well grounded in sound moral principles and habits. The son of M. Duruy's philosopher tells his sister that if ever he succeeds in capturing a woman with a big fortune and has children, she will see how he will "stuff them with religion." Alas! the recipe is not a new one. How many children have been "stuffed with religion," only to grow up exceptionally bad! The children who do best are the children of parents whose lives bear still more powerful testimony than their words to right principles, and who are not too busy to take a constant interest in their children's education, moral as well as intellectual. To ask the world to go back to mediævalism in order to save morals from destruction is asking too much. That system has been tried and found wanting, and the world is now seeking another and a better foundation for morals. Doubtless many rush forward and grasp at the new opinions without realizing all that they involve and demand. The age is one of unsettlement; but it is one, unmistakably, of progress; and when our methods of education have been adapted to the new truths now in course of formulation, there will be no reason to regret the props and stays and leading-strings that helped to steady the morality of the past.

 

 
HUMAN SELECTION.

We published in our last number an interesting article under the above title, by Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace. Mr. Wallace is much concerned over the fact that modern society is being recruited chiefly from the ranks of its less worthy members, and is thus undergoing a constant process of deterioration. Under any form of government this would be a serious danger, but, where democratic institutions prevail, it forebodes, unless it can be arrested, nothing less than social dissolution. The more favored classes marry late, for the most part, if at all. Their children are comparatively few. The improvident and worthless marry early, without the least regard for consequences, and flood the community with their degenerate offspring. That is the situation as described by certain writers, and the remedies proposed are many and varied. One writer wants restrictions placed on marriage, whether of a physical or merely legal kind we are not sure. From the very careful manner in which Mr. Wallace touches upon this suggestion, we rather fancy that something radical in the way of surgery has been proposed. Another authority, who ought to be better advised, wishes to substitute a very high-toned system of concubinage for the present institution of marriage, so that the female sex may be able to select worthy sires for the children they are disposed to bear. Another would have premiums given to young couples of unexceptionable strain, physical, mental, and moral, so that they may start early in life to contribute good citizens to the commonwealth. Mr. Wallace does not look upon any of these plans with approval, and rightly pronounces the second "detestable." He thinks, for his own part, that we ought to have an economically reformed society a little after Mr. Bellamy's ideas, and that, if we had, the women might be trusted to take care of the future of the race.

If Mr. Bellamy had done more than dream a very incoherent dream, we might think that Mr. Wallace had struck into the right path. We believe in female selection as an influence destined to be very potent in the future, but we do not look to any such scheme as Mr. Bellamy's to bring it into play. It is being brought into play now through the growing independence and intelligence of women, and there is no doubt at all that, as women are more and more trained to practical usefulness, not only in the family but in the business world, they will consult both their own dignity and the interests of posterity more than they have hitherto done in their acceptance of the married state.

We are not disposed to consider the situation quite so serious as Mr. Wallace describes it; but doubtless there is some room for apprehension as to the future, and, if we might venture to make a suggestion in our turn, it would be that our troubles, such as they are, largely arise from over-legislation, leading to a hurtful decline in the sense of individual responsibility, and from altogether too weak methods of dealing with crime and pauperism. On the former point we have often dilated, and shall not do so further on the present occasion. On the latter point we may remark that nothing can possibly be more obvious than the necessity of isolating—permanently if necessary—the anti-social from the social members of society. In dealing with contagious diseases we carry out a rigorous system of isolation, and maintain it just as long as the danger of infection lasts. Criminals we imprison for a time, and then turn loose to prey anew upon society and beget offspring in their own depraved image. Paupers and various grades of helpless people we assist to support, without imposing any check upon their reproductive activity. All this is very foolish. A man is either able to maintain himself or he is not. If he is not, and declares himself not to be by the systematic acceptance of alms, then society may reasonably declare that he is not fit to found or control a family, and he should henceforth be assisted under such conditions and restrictions as should at least prevent him from casting new burdens upon society. If we could stop our miserable political (so called) wranglings long enough to take a common-sense view of the situation and become really interested in plans for its amelioration, the difficulties would not be found at all insuperable. Fit for civil rights or unfit for civil rights?—that is the question to be applied to every member of the community. If we persist, through sheer indolence and love for all that is paltry in the rivalry of parties and the squabbles of public men, in according civil rights to those who do not merit them through an active co-operation in the industrial life of the community, there is serious trouble in store for us. "We might as well voluntarily take diseased persons into our households as keep morally and economically diseased persons on the roll of our citizens. What the latter want is control and segregation at whatever momentary cost. We simply recommend a quarantine that society has the full right to exercise. It would be cheaper at once to give rations to these people than to allow them to subsist on occasional charity and occasional stealings, while seriously interfering with the hygienic condition of the community, to say nothing of perpetuating their kind. Just how they should be dealt with when separated, what work should be exacted in return for maintenance, what educational measures should be adopted—these are questions for later consideration. The "human selection" that is required is primarily a selection that will put aside those members of society who in moral character or in the power of self-help fall below the requirements of decent living. This can be carried out as soon as we have sense enough to attempt it; and when once such a separation has been effected, and we have no longer in the heart of society a perennial spring of baseness and incapacity, the march of improvement in all directions will be rapid; while year by year the burden thus assumed by the state will diminish.

 

 
ANNOUNCEMENT.

We have the pleasure of putting before our readers in this issue of the Monthly the first of a series of articles which will give a comprehensive view of the evolution of each of the great manufacturing industries in America since the time of Columbus. They will be written in the popular style which has always characterized the Monthly, avoiding mere technical details and wearisome columns of statistics. At the same time, the writers have had long acquaintance with the practical side of the industries which they describe, and this complete command of their subjects enables them to present just those features which the general reader demands. Mr. William F. Durfee, who opens the series with an article in the present number, is known to the iron and steel men all over the country as a man of wide experience in the building and operation of iron and steel works, and is at present General Manager of the Pennsylvania Diamond Drill and Manufacturing Company. Our history of the cotton manufacture will be furnished by Mr. Edward Atkinson, who needs no introduction to the readers of this magazine. Mr. S. N. D. North, Secretary of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers, is the author of our account of the woolen manufacture. The development of glass-making will be described by Prof. C. Hanford Henderson, whose illustrated articles in the Monthly on the present methods of this industry have been widely read. Articles on the Silk, Paper, Pottery, Shoe and Leather, Agricultural Machinery, and Ship-building industries will be furnished by equally competent hands. In describing the methods and the implements and constructions used in manufacturing, a picture is often better than pages of words; accordingly, this series will be fully illustrated. For the account of the iron and steel industry alone, sixty-eight engravings have been prepared. It will be one of the objects of the coming World's Pair to show the most important manufacturing processes of the present day in operation, and for comparison with these the methods used in other countries when Columbus discovered the New World. In view of the wide attention that will be thus drawn to the past and present of our great industries, we feel that we can not. offer our readers anything more acceptable at the present time than the series above outlined. The wonderful increase in the quantity of goods that one man's labor will turn out, the improvement in their quality, the reduction of the cost of manufacture together with the steady rise in wages during the period covered by these articles, are all due to the aid which science has afforded to the world's workers, and this is only a fraction of the field in which the influence of this great agency is active.