Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/November 1902/Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty IV

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1413553Popular Science Monthly Volume 62 November 1902 — Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty IV1902Frederick Adams Woods




Evidence from Sweden.

Gustavus Vasa to Charles XIII.

THE houses of Vasa, Palatine and Holstein, which held the throne of Sweden from 1527 to 1818, give us the names of 48 related persons in the direct family and cover a period of eleven generations. By including the ancestors to the third degree for each generation of children, we bring in 122 more names, and have in this total of 170 an abundant and interesting field for the study of heredity. These families of Sweden are full of eccentricities, abilities and weaknesses, and the tracing of these peculiarities will be the subject of this section of the work.

Gustavus I. Vasa, 1496-1560, the founder of the celebrated dynasty bearing his name, was a most remarkable and inspiring character. Of a noble though poor and uninfluential family, young Gustavus gave proof even in youth of that striking personality which was destined to deliver Sweden from the terrors of misrule and foreign control, and make his name ever cherished in the hearts of his countrymen. Even as a boy he 'played the king' and declared he would live to drive the Danes out of Sweden.

In 1517 Gustavus was captured by a Danish ship of war and imprisoned for a year in castle Kalloe in North Jutland. Having escaped from prison, he fled to the mountains of Dalencaride, where, after enduring great hardships, he at last succeeded in attaching to himself a powerful party, with which he marched towards Stockholm, which finally surrendered in 1524 after an obstinate defense. The throne of Sweden was now offered to him, but he at first refused. At last, after general solicitation with the interest of the welfare of his country at heart, he accepted and was crowned king in June, 1527.

Born in a private station and bred in the school of adversity, equally great in the public characters of a legislator, warrior and politician, he distinguished himself in every station of life, whether we consider his cool intrepidity and political foresight, his talents for legislation, his propensity to letters and encouragement of learning, his affability to the lowest ranks and his solid and enlightened piety. All his qualities set off by a majestic and graceful person and still further heightened by the most commanding eloquence, drew the esteem and admiration of all, so that it might justly be said that the most arbitrary monarch never exercised a more unbounded sway over his vassals than Gustavus possessed from the voluntary affection of his free-born subjects. In a word he was a sovereign who was esteemed by foreigners no less than by his own people, by contemporaries as well as by posterity, one of the wisest and best that ever adorned a throne.[1]

We shall see later how closely he was reproduced in his grandson Gustavus Adolphus the Great.

The father of this founder of the house was Eric Johnson, who is described as an insignificant little man with a violent and uncontrollable temper.[2] The other ancestors are 'obscure' and, as far as known, were without special gifts of any sort. So Gustavus Vasa must be considered a new variation or a 'sport' in biological terminology. How this genius was transmitted we shall see in the subsequent history of the house.

Of the nine children available for our study, we have very complete accounts concerning five. These are Eric, John, Charles, Magnus and Cecelia. The others did not distinguish themselves in any way as far as known. Of these five, all but one, Charles, were violent or eccentric or both. The mother of all but Eric, Margaret Lejonhufond, was a gentle, beautiful and tactful princess[3] with whom Gustavus lived very happily. Therefore, since the grandfather, Eric, was violent and cruel, and since insanity appeared in Eric and Magnus, the children of both marriages of Gustavus, it seems fair to assume that the lack of mental balance was hereditary, and on the male side. Whatever may have been its origin, the neurosis was a family trait and eccentricities of one sort or another will be found in several of the descendants.

Eric, the eldest son and next king, was suspicious, gloomy and cruel; and finally becoming insane was obliged to abdicate.[4] He was nevertheless extremely learned, having a profound acquaintance with the classics and all the sciences of his day, especially the occult branches.

John, the second son, was both passionate and weak.

His tender conscience, though it did not prevent him poisoning his father, Eric, yet induced him to pay a most scrupulous obedience to the ridiculous penance ordered by the pope for commission of the murder. His temper hasty, his disposition selfish, with strong instinctive attachments, so that in domestic life he oscillated between the extreme of indulgence and severity. . . he at last grew to be afraid of his own shadow.[5]

Magnus became insane. Cecelia, his sister, brought disgrace on the family even in her youth. Later she went to England with her husband, where she got frightfully into debt, and died after leading a rambling and dissolute life.[6]

Charles IX., by far the flower of the family, inherited much of the genius and character of his father.

Although the transcendent merits of Charles the Ninth are eclipsed by the superior qualities of his father and son, yet even as the son of Gustavus Vasa and father of Gustavus Adolphus he seems to shine no less with nature than reflected luster. He was enterprising yet cautious in war, sagacious and decisive in the cabinet, a friend to humanity, yet severe in punishment of crimes. Attached by principle to the Protestant cause, he raised it, almost drooping, again to preeminence. Zealous to promote the interest of his people, he built towns, encouraged commerce and agriculture and patronized letters. Of quick and lively feelings, he was subject to violent but short transports of passion, which harassed his frame and finally occasioned his death.[7]

Another type of Vasa eccentricity is found in the career of Gustavus, the son of the mad Eric XIV. Gustavus had from youth an adventurous and curious existence. Rescued when an infant from the sac in which he was to have been murdered, he was conveyed from Sweden to the Jesuit convents of Thorn and Vienna.

In these different seminaries he made considerable progress in literature and in particular distinguished himself in so much by his proficiency in chemistry that he was called the second Paracelsus. He was no less remarkable for his knowledge of languages, speaking with fluency, besides his native tongue, French, Italian, German, Polish, Russian and Latin. He was indeed so zealous in the prosecution of his studies, that on account of his indigent circumstances, after attending the schools by day, he used in the evening to play at the inns in the lowest capacity, in order to procure a scanty subsistence. His literary acquisitions, however, did not advance his future, for he passed a wandering life in the greatest misery; was reduced to such straits that he frequently had recourse to charity and at other times earned his living by the meanest occupations.[8]

Here we see a striking instance of a son resembling his father. The literary and scientific one-sidedness so strongly marked appears with equal force even under these trying and humble circumstances, and when no influence of family example could have taken a share in its formation, since Gustavus when an infant was removed from the surroundings in which he was born.

Sigismond III., 1566-1632, the next to be considered, was also in his way a rather unusual character, though the figures 4.5 do not indicate it. This son of the brother. John, and of Catherine, daughter of Sigismond I. of Poland, acquired the throne of Sweden before his uncle, Charles IX. The bigotry of Sigismond, combined with his weakness and peevishness, led to discords and estranged his subjects from him, so that his uncle, Charles, was gladly welcomed as a deliverance to the country, and Sigismond was formally deposed in 1601.

It should be noticed that of all the children of the illustrious Gustavus Vasa, Charles IX. was by far the best, and it was the son of this king who became the brightest light in Swedish history, probably everything considered, the greatest figure in all modern royalty, and one of the most ideal heroes who ever lived, Gustavus Adolphus the Great.

To recount the characteristics of this celebrated champion of the Protestant cause would be but to repeat again the eulogies for the founder of the house, his grandfather. The nobility and genius of Gustavus Adolphus are too well known to need much comment here. It will be sufficient to quote a few extracts from the many works devoted to his life and achievements.

He ascended to the throne in his seventeenth year and soon gave proof of his extraordinary abilities. The military talents of Gustavus Adolphus were of the highest order, but they were surpassed by his admirable qualities as a man and his virtues as a ruler.[9] Gustavus was, says Schiller, incontestably the first commander of his century and the bravest soldier in the army which he created. His eye watched over the morals of the soldiers as strictly as over their bravery. In everything their lawgiver was also their example. In the intoxication of his fortune he was still a man and a Christian, and in his devotion still a hero and a king.

Such is the universal testimony of both contemporaries and historians in admiration of the sublime personality of Gustavus Adolphus. the Lion of the North, who like a brilliant comet flashed for a brief time over European affairs, until his course was terminated all too soon while defending the faith for which he gave his life.

Cut off in his thirty-eighth year, when most men are only beginning to assume the full responsibilities for which they are fitted, we do not know what might have been the limit to the manifold acts of benefit and righteousness that would have been conferred by Sweden's greatest king. Let us pause in passing to consider the mysteries of fate that heaped upon this man, sandwiched in between the maniacs and weaklings of his family, all the gifts of mind and heart ever allotted to mortals. If great men are divine, then heredity is, for Gustavus Adolphus is but a perfect repetition of his illustrious grandfather.

After the death of the great king, Sweden passed into the hands of a regency for Christina, his only child. Her sprightly wit and spirit, her energy and taste for learning, all gave her countrymen the greatest hope for a brilliant future for their beloved little queen 'who astonished her guardians by the vigor of her understanding.' In 1614 on her eighteenth birthday, she assumed supreme power and for some time fulfilled all the expectations which had been formed for her reign.

The Swedish people were anxious that Christina should marry, but she declined to sacrifice her independence. In 1649, however, she persuaded the Diet to accept as her successor the best of her suitors, Charles Gustavus of Palatine-Deux-Ponts, the son of the only sister of Gustavus Adolphus. In the following year she was crowned with great pomp.

About this time Christina's character seemed to undergo a remarkable change. She became wayward and restless, neglected her tried counsellors, and followed the advice of self-seeking favorites. So much discontent was aroused by her extravagance and fickleness that she at last announced her determination to abdicate.[10]

After abdication in 1651 she left for foreign courts, where her eccentricities and daring disregard for conventionalities became the talk of Europe. Upon the whole her character presents a strange combination of faults and foibles, pushed to the most extravagant excess. She says of herself, 'that she was mistrustful, ambitious, passionate, haughty, impatient, contemptuous, satirical, incredulous, undevout, of an ardent and violent temper and extremely amorous.'

The violent temper was common to a large number of her paternal ancestors, but it is especially interesting to note that the change in her character was very similar to that of her uncle, Eric XIV., who' began his reign very well, and whose unstable temper did not display itself until he was about twenty-five years old.[11] Magnus, his brother, likewise became insane at just about the same age. The inconsistencies of character which stand out so strongly in many of the members of this family have not been very common among royalty. They were found to be very common among the relations of Peter the Great, where they were considered related to a family neurosis. Here there is also a neurosis, so we have in the coincidence a very strong proof that much of the moral nature here inherited in the form of inconsistencies, as well as the mental, is subject to heredity.

Since Christina abdicated to her cousin, Charles Gustavus, we now take up the Palatine Deux-Pont dynasty of Sweden, which includes the characters numbered from 19 to 27 inclusive.

Charles Gustavus, it is to be remembered, was the best of the many suitors for the hand of the eccentric Christina, and although he, like all the others, failed to change her mind regarding her determination to remain single, her appreciation and regard for him were such that she succeeded in having the succession made in his name. The father to this new heir to the throne was likewise a man of excellent character, energy and abilities. Besides, we find Wolfgang of Palatine, 1569, the great grandfather, a man of great distinction in his day. As Catherine, the mother of Charles and sister of the great Gustavus Adolphus, was intellectual and energetic, we have here in starting the new dynasty a selection of by far the better members of the family.

Charles X., himself, was a rather remarkable character, being a man of the greatest enterprise and, as a commander, showed the family brilliancy in a striking degree. His measures were in general entirely just, his only noteworthy weakness being his passionate temper.[12]

The only child of Charles X. was Charles XI., who became king of Sweden in his turn and began to exercise his power in 1692. He seems to repeat the character of his father almost exactly.

Charles was chaste, temperate, economical, vigilant and active, a patron of letters, severe yet not implacable, prone to anger but easily softened. If we consider the interior administration of affairs, Charles XI. was one of the wisest monarchs who ever sat upon the throne of this kingdom. To him Sweden stands indebted for many excellent regulations which still subsist.[13] He promoted manufacture, commerce, science and arts, subverted the power of the senate, and when he died, left a flourishing kingdom to his son Charles XII.[14] He died aged forty-two, lamenting, it is said, upon his death bed, as the only reproach to his memory, the natural violence of his temper, which he had not sufficiently corrected.[15]

Charles XI. married Ulrica Eleonora, a virtuous and intellectual princess. She was a daughter of Frederick III. of Denmark, and sole representative among six children of that little group of brighter lights forming Denmark's highest intellectual wave, and centered about Christian IV., her greatest king.

From this union sprang two daughters, in no way remarkable, beside one son, born in 1682, who, as Voltaire says, 'became as Charles XII. perhaps the most remarkable man who ever existed upon this earth, who united in himself all the great qualities of his ancestors, and who had no fault or misfortune except in having them too greatly exaggerated.' Invincibly obstinate from childhood, the only way of moving his will was through his sense of honor. Charles was inordinately ambitious from youth, his only desire being to imitate the career of Alexander the Great. When only eighteen years old an opportunity was given him to display his 'extraordinary martial genius' in his unequal contest against three of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. Peter the Great, of Russia; Frederick IV., of Denmark, and Augustus, King of Poland, thinking on account of the youth of Charles to divide his kingdom between them, formed a league against him. With only 20,000 Swedes he attacked 80,000 Russians under the Czar Peter who were besieging Narva and then, with only 8,000 men, before the arrival of his main army, gave the Russians such a severe defeat that they were filled with consternation.[16] A little later when Peter made overtures for peace he replied that he would 'treat with the Czar at Moscow.'

Charles was by no means successful in his subsequent battles, but considering the enormous odds against him, this demibarbarian 'whose ambition was madness and whose valor was ferocity' may justly be considered one of the greatest commanders of modern times, as well as one of the most remarkable men who ever lived. Rude, but chaste, frugal in his dress, food and mode of living, he seems to have had few failings save his impetuosity and inordinate ambition.

Of course such a character as Charles can never be directly derived from any law of heredity like Galton's. A man who has more of certain characteristics than other men can not be produced by adding together in a proportionate way the same characteristics of his ancestors. But if these extreme types like Charles, Peter the Great, Don Carlos, son of Philip II., and Frederick the Great occur most frequently where there is much of the same sort of character in several of the ancestors, we are better satisfied that the types are the product of hereditary influence, than if they frequently occurred in regions where none of the relatives show the character in question. The wave does not flow back towards the mean for every child or even for every generation. It also flows in an upward swell, and it is only to be expected that variations shall occur that show its highest manifestation where there is already some considerable indication of its presence in the neighborhood of the person in whom it appears in such an extreme degree.

In referring back to the ancestry we find the character of Charles XII. almost exactly repeated, though in a lesser degree, in both his father and grandfather. They were both active, vigilant, enterprising and warlike, frugal in daily living, but passionate in their temper. There were ambitions or marked talents in nearly all the other ancestors. His mother was intellectual and virtuous and derived as we have seen from the most able region of Denmark. So, after all, taking into consideration the two sisters of Charles XII., who were nobodies in the intellectual scale, we do not find this fraternity to which he belongs giving us more than is called for.

We are now brought to the dynasty of Holstein, which in the six characters, numbered from 28 to 33 inclusive, gives us no names that amount to anything; nor am I able to find out anything concerning the apparent nonentities who formed the ancestry and relationship of these. With the exception of Charles Frederick of Holstein, also an inferior character, this new dynasty is in no way related to the former dynasty of Palatine, which, like that of Vasa, we have found so remarkable.

Adolphus Frederick of Holstein, one of the inferior ones above mentioned, married Louisa Ulrica, a sister of Frederick the Great. We find in her a woman of a very different stamp. Among all the richly endowed sisters of Frederick the Great, Louisa Ulrica, Queen of Sweden, stands probably at the head of the list. An idea of her character and attainments can be drawn from several contemporaries here quoted.

The Queen Dowager to whom we had the honor of being presented, a sister of the King of Prussia. . . a princess who resembled her brother as well in the features of her countenance as in those eminent qualities which characterize the house of Brandenburg.

She was accustomed to rule the cabinet with absolute authority in the reign of her husband.[17]

A great and inflexible woman of rare endowment and uncommon cultivation. Really merited the appellation of the 'Minerva of the North.'

Since Louisa Ulrica belongs, of course, among the Hohenzollerns, we have passed rather rapidly over the dynasty of Holstein, which to this point has furnished no great names. The next generation, children of Adolphus Frederick and Louisa Ulrica, gives us four, and among them, third in the list, Gustavus Adolphus III., who was destined to shine as another Swedish king of extraordinary ability.

His ardent mind and fertile genius acted as a perpetual impetus to things that were new, grand and out of the common track. He was so accomplished a gentlemen that there was scarcely a professor of literature or any of the liberal arts but he was able to excel each in his own peculiar study. He was always spoken of as a prodigy of talents.[18]

Lippincott's 'Biographical Dictionary' says that

In addition to his talents as a statesman, he was distinguished as a poet and dramatist.

This literary bent was very strong in his mother as well as in many members of her family.

His sister, Sophia Albertina, 'was possessed of a great share of personal virtue and a capacity as vast and varied as her brother, and unsullied by his vices.' The oldest brother amounted to nothing, while the youngest, as Charles XIII., showed in his ambition, wisdom and skill in the management of the country's affairs much of the family genius.

Gustavus IV., the only son of Gustavus III. and the last of the family, though gifted to a certain extent, carried ambition to madness and folly, and being finally deposed, supported himself by writing, together with a small pension. Since Charles XIII., the uncle of Gustavus IV. who succeeded him on the throne, adopted and made successor, Bernadotte, Napoleon's agent, we have now reached the close of our chapter on modern Sweden.

In the study of this country, from Gustavus Vasa to Gustavus III. Adolphus, we find throughout a most perfect confirmation of the theory of mental and moral heredity. We find that in selecting those who were to become the progenitors of the next generation, twice a choice of the best among them all in Charles IX. and Charles X., and the cause of this selection lay in the fact that their very merits brought to them the throne. In the union of Charles the Tenth's great son with the strongest part of Denmark's dynasty, we have still another point where the genius was not allowed to die. We find no more great names, only the petty Holsteins, until Gustavus III. Adolphus reclaims once more the glory of his ancestors, but this we find to be not the ancient genius but a fresh graft, and from the famous Hohenzollerns taken at the height of their intellectual eminence in the time of Frederick the Great.

In all this Swedish history the lives of these men and women can not be explained by environment. If we adopt this view, why did so many among them who must have had most abundant opportunities, fail entirely to exhibit any of these remarkable mental statures? The only serious failing on the moral side was their violent and ungovernable temper. Since there was also mental unbalance in the family, it seems fair to assume that these violent tempers were a manifestation of the neurosis, and not to be ascribed to their high and arbitrary position.

Also, relative to the moral qualities in this family, there does not seem to be any good reason from the standpoint of environment, why there should be such an absence of that dissolute and licentious type so continually found in Spain, France and Russia during these same centuries. But if we look at it from the standpoint of heredity, we can easily see why this is so, since it was neither there to any great extent in the earlier generations, nor was it in those who became the subsequent ancestors of the different male lines considered. It does not seem as if the example set to princes by their parents should be of more effect than general temptations such as come to all who have abundant means at their disposal; and we know too many examples both in royalty and out, where parental influence has sadly failed to inculcate such desirable lessons.

  1. Coxe, 'Travels in Russia, Sweden and Denmark,' IV., 132-134.
  2. Geijer, 'History of Sweden,' I., 97.
  3. Geijer, I., 127.
  4. Coxe, 'Travels,' IV., 126, and 'Ency. Brit.,' 8th ed.
  5. Coxe, Op. cit., IV., 247.
  6. W. B. Rye, 'England as seen by Foreigners,' 1865, introduction.
  7. Coxe, V., 175.
  8. Coxe, 'Travels in Russia, Sweden, Denmark,' IV., 251.
  9. Lippincott's 'Biog. Dict.'
  10. 'Ency. Brit.,' 9th ed., art. Sweden.
  11. Cont. Geijer 'Hist. Sweden,' I., 148.
  12. Coxe, 'Travels,' IV., 34. 'Ency. Brit.' 9th ed.
  13. Coxe, 'Travels, IV., 39.
  14. Lippincott's 'Biog. Diet.'
  15. Schloetzer's 'Briefwechsel,' I., 147.
  16. Lippincott's.
  17. Coxe, 'Travels,' IV., 30.
  18. J. Brown, 'Northern Courts.'