Popular Science Monthly/Volume 79/August 1911/Francis Galton
CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON
TO the man of affairs the progress of science must seem monotonously methodical. Should he walk through the scientific section of a great library he would find massive walls of books, journals and learned transactions, and would note that year by year the tomes of which these walls are built up become a little thicker and that new and more specialized series are interpolated among the old.
Blowing the dust from the tops and cutting pages here and there he would soon find himself completely confused. Nowhere would he be able to turn down the page corner and say, "This is fundamental: this represents a real step forward: this is one of the milestones in the advance of science."
Those who are not visitors in the stacks but work there, know that except in the accumulation of facts the growth of science has by no means been a movement of uniform acceleration. Most scientific investigators are imitative, contributing to detail but setting no new landmark on the horizon. Now and then, however, a man of keener imagination and clearer mental vision sees a new and attractive region for exploration and blazes a trail. Sometimes the new field is reached after great effort, sometimes only an easy ridge has to be crossed. Others at once follow his leadership, clearing, mapping, describing and illustrating. The work of both is essential, but the one we honor as an explorer and the other we respect as a surveyor. Most men of science are surveyors merely.
On January 17, 1911, one of the great explorers, both literally and figuratively, laid down his active work in the sciences and humanities. Had death come a quarter of a century ago, scientific men would have mourned the loss of an able colleague. To-day, sadness can not be limited by the boundaries of the divisions of the many ologies, for the world has lost another of the great Victorian minds, the peer of Huxley, Spencer and his own cousin, Charles Darwin; yet regret must be tempered with a profound thankfulness that a life so rich in achievements and in personal influence could be granted the full term of nearly ninety years. Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Galton had already contributed his "Tropical South Africa" and the "Art of Travel" to the literature of geographical research. His inventive genius and mechanical ingenuity had been telling factors in the nascent science of meteorology. Human faculty in various phases had interested him, and as early as 1869 he had published the great work entitled "Hereditary Genius," and in "Inquiries into Human Faculty" of 1883, he had suggested the term eugenics for the science of race improvement, and had advanced strong arguments in favor of its practicability.
Had 1885 instead of 1911 staid his pen, we should have been deprived of "Natural Inheritance." We should have lacked his greatest contribution to scientific method—one of the most powerful tools of research—the correlation coefficient. Criminologists would have missed his contribution of the finger print method of identification. Biometry would have wanted his personal stimulus and support which has counted so much in the development of the new science. Humanitarians would have had to wait from another not only the initiation of comprehensive quantitative investigations of the relative significance of heredity and environment—of nature and nurture, as he happily expressed it—but also the courage to urge the possibility of the improvement of the human stock under present conditions of law and sentiment.
Ancestry and Training
One of Galton's great problems, that concerning the relative importance of nature and nurture in determining the characteristics of the individual, might be hard to solve from a study of his own family history.
When one is told that Francis Galton and Charles Darwin were both grandsons of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and learns the mental traits and physical powers of other direct and collateral ascendants, he is ready to cast the ballot at once for inheritance, or nature. But when one opens the delightfully written "Memories of My Life" and reads of his home life and of his contact with profound and alert minds in hospitals and at Cambridge, one hesitates and wonders whether environment, or nurture, should not be credited with a substantial share of his greatness.
In human families, however, nurture is largely a product of nature. It was not by accident that Samuel John Galton, the manufacturer and contractor, grandfather of Francis Galton, was associated with such men as Priestley, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, Keir the chemist, Withering the botanist, Watt and Boulton. So in the other associations of the family, one can see ability seeking its like; while his attainments may be in part due to economic independence and propitious environment it must be also borne in mind that independence and environment are in their turn referable to the innate ability of the stock from which he came.
The greatness of the man is attested by the facts that there was a minimum of training and a maximum of accomplishment, and that as in the case of many other intellectual leaders it is impossible to differentiate clearly preparation and life work. In some of our institutions a man eager for research in any field must have his enthusiasm smothered and his personal ingenuity choked down by all of the minor requirements for the gilt seal of the university degree. Independent of the university stamp Mr. Galton spent his youth using his eyes and mind while working with the best men he could in hospitals and at Cambridge, where owing to a serious breakdown in health he contented himself with a poll degree instead of reading for mathematical honors. Throughout life the discipline which made possible the next and greater task yielded its own contribution to science. Days and nights in wards demand keenness of observation. This and his early travels in Egypt and Syria prepared him to be a scientific explorer instead of merely a gentleman sportsman bagging big game in tropical Africa. His fascinating book on Damara and Ovampo Land gave him the scientific standing of a gold medalist of the Royal Geographical Society in 1853, but his "Art of Travel" which grew naturally (for a man of Mr. Gal ton's type of mind) out of his Syrian and African experience perhaps counted for more in the advancement of geography. The one contained its own quota of concrete facts; the other served to instruct others in the art of exploration. First-hand experience with clinical thermometers, practical use of sextants in the wilderness and early experiments with a printing telegraph are good preparation for an active part in the work of the standardization of instruments and of the development of methods for the publication of meteorological data. Human faculty and heredity are closely linked together, and from heredity to eugenics is only a short step, and one forced upon the man who goes deeply into the former.
Some of the reminiscences of the period of training which have been given us in the "Memories" are interesting even to those whose lives go back to the early days of modern medicine.
His life as indoor pupil in the Birmingham General Hospital began in the fall of 1858.
Once a powerful drayman was brought in dead drunk with both of his legs crushed and mangled by a heavy wagon.
Writing of student days at King's College where, or at the home of Professor Partridge, he came in contact with such men as Dasent, Daniell, Todd, Smee and Wheatstone he says:
The impression from his first work in Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1840 are worth quoting for those interested in education,
It is perhaps fortunate that in 1840 Galton found his knowledge of chemistry and German hardly sufficiently advanced for him to profit by Liebig's teaching in Giessen, for the spirit of travel was strong within him and he "determined to throw that plan over, to make a dash and go as far as my money allowed." This dash carried him from Giessen to Linz, thence by rowboat to Vienna, by steamer down the Danube, overland to the Black Sea, to Constantinople, Smyrna, Syra, Trieste and home by way of northern Italy and Switzerland. "This little expedition proved to be an important factor in moulding my after-life. It vastly widened my views of humanity and civilization, and confirmed aspirations for travel which were afterwards indulged."
The next lesson in travel was a journey up the Nile, where by good fortune one Arnaud Bey urged him not to be content with the attainments of ordinary tourists but to strike overland by camel in the caravan of the Sheikh of the Bisbari Desert to Berber.
Prom Berber a boat was hired to work up to Khartum and from thence a short excursion was made up the White Nile. Later his path led him through Syria, and back to England where hunting and shooting, extensive reading and digesting what he read by much thinking about it, completed what we have for convenience differentiated off as the period of training.
The only published paper of this period was a pamphlet, entitled "Telotype, a Printing Electric Telegraph." The following sixty odd years of his life were to be devoted to productive work in the most varied branches of science.
Exploration and Geographical Science
In an atlas of to-day the white areas on the map are very small in comparison with those which are meshed with the highways. The editions in 1849 were very different. "It was a time when the ideas of persons interested in geography were in a justifiable state of ferment."
The journey up the Nile and into the Soudan had been "a tour hastily performed, but sufficient to imbue or poison me with the fascination for further enterprise, which African tourists have so especially felt—a fascination which has often enough proved its power by urging the same traveler to risk his comfort, his health and his life, over and over again, and to cling with pertinacity to a country which after all seems to afford little else but hazard and hardships, ivory and fever."
It was not merely the enticement of big game, of which wonderful stories had begun to come back to England, that attracted Mr. Galton to South Africa. Every chapter of his book, "The Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa," bespeaks keenness of observation and solicitude for scientific precision. It can not be abstracted here, neither can space be spared for quotations to show its literary charm. The difficulties of the journey are summarized—and very modestly—in the last chapter.
The importance to geography of this exploration of the countries of the Namaquas, the Damaras and the Ovampo is perhaps best described in the words of the president of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Roderick Murchison, in presenting its gold medal to Mr. Gallon in 1854.
On his return Mr. Galton threw himself into the work of the Royal Geographical Society. Those were days when geography required explorers, not surveyors. The reports of snow-covered mountains in eastern Africa were fiercely criticized by some and only half credited by others. The source of the Nile was a subject of bitter controversy. The Congo had still to be explored. During the half century, more or less, that he was officially connected with the work of the society Mr. Galton had much to do with the chief figures in African exploration—Speke, Burton, Grant, Baker, Livingstone and Stanley. An interesting chapter is given to these matters in the "Memories."
Science has probably not lost by the impaired health which precluded further exploration. Syria, Egypt, the Soudan and tropical South Africa had yielded the first-hand experience which made possible the collating and sifting of the work of others and the moulding of it into a compact compendium.
On reading the narrative of the explorations in tropical South Africa one is impressed with the large place that is given to method. The breaking in of oxen, the seasoning of an axle tree, the making of a krall, the best way of carrying a gun on horseback were the things absorbing his attention. In his work in the Royal Geographical Society and in his contact with the majority of the prominent explorers he saw the opportunity of executing the task which he had conceived while in the South African brush, and the "Art of Travel" was issued in 1854. Darwin was a good prophet when he wrote, ". . . what I fully expect is that it will have a long sale," for at least four editions have been issued.
"The Art of Travel" is a truly remarkable book. Its conciseness, clearness and comprehensiveness must be judged from its own pages, not from those of a review.
Some of the fellows of the Royal Geographical Society are now feeling a keen satisfaction in the work which the society has done to advance geographical teaching. In the initiation of this movement for a larger place for the science of geography in education Mr. Galton had a pioneer part. First the public schools were interested in annual competitions for gold and bronze medals to be awarded for the best papers in the competitive examination. This not only interested the students, but it also showed up for correction weaknesses in the current instruction. Later the problem of geography in the university was taken up, and it probably has now a firm foothold at both Oxford and Cambridge.
Physical Sciences and Meteorology
Francis Galton's contribution to the physical sciences, conventionally so called, was not large. We find no paper on chemistry, and those of a physical or mathematical character impress one as the recreations of a brilliantly ingenious amateur rather than the wood hewing and the water drawing of the trained and speciality limited professional. It would be hardly fair to quote as examples of his work in this field such experiments as those with spectacles for divers or stereoscopic maps for tourists, although these may be in a way illustrative for ingenuity. Neither can his printing electric telegraph or his suggested principle for the protection of riflemen be regarded as strictly typical. These do not seem to belong on the same thread as the other contributions which are to be spoken of in this section. This thread is the unity and perhaps unconscious seriousness of purpose to secure greater exactness in fields where only rough description had hitherto been thought possible.
The work of Kew Observatory, widely known among physicists, offered an attractive field of activity for a man of Mr. Galton's tastes. He was associated with the work of the institution for many years before he became its chairman in 1889, to continue in this post until the observatory was merged in the National Physical Observatory in 1901.
Among the problems which occupied him there were the standardization of sextants, and other angular instruments, and the rating of watches and the rapid verification of clinical thermometers.
The laws of the weather were at that time beginning to attract serious attention. The collection of numerous simultaneous observations demanded the development of self-recording instruments; in this work he also had a share. Particular credit is due to him for the first charting of the weather.
As early as 1861 he pointed out the needs of presenting the meteorological conditions observed over a given region graphically and published an illustrative map. This first map which we may recognize as the progenitor of our daily weather map, was printed from moveable type, especially designed for the purpose. Later many experiments were made with different devices for engraving plates from which the meteorological charts might be printed. In 1863 he published a volume of charts under the title "Meteorographica." He was a member of the Meteorological Committee (later Meteorological Council) formed in 1868 for the purpose of giving storm warning to seaports, for obtaining data for marine charts, and for maintaining a few observatories with self-recording instruments. His service during the thirty years that he was connected with the work of the committee and council may be best expressed in the words of Sir Richard Strachey, in a letter written to Mr. Galton on his retirement from the council in 1901. Only a paragraph can be given.
Composite photography may be mentioned here, although in explaining its origin we must refer to matters more properly belonging to a subsequent section.
The blending of physiognomies by allowing each to make upon the sensitive plate but a fraction of the impression required for a clear picture may in the hands of some be only a harmless amusement for the scientific amateur, but the mother of this invention was the necessity for the securing of greater precision in the determination of family, class or racial types. Composite photography is the mechanicographical method by which its inventor attempted to solve the problem. He points out that human features must show great differences, since we are able to recognize a familiar face among thousands. This is possible because the general expression of a face is the sum of a multitude of small details which are viewed so quickly that they are apparently taken in at a single glance. If any difference from a remembered face be present it immediately looms large before the eye and overshadows all the many points of resemblance. It is impossible to measure these infinitesimal differences between individuals and to determine by statistical means what is the characteristic physiognomy of a race. The selection and photographing of "typical" or "representative" individuals—the course commonly adopted—is altogether untrustworthy, since the judgment of the observer is itself fallaceous, easily swayed by gross and exceptional features rather than by the ordinary ones, so that the carefully chosen typical portrait is more apt to be a caricature.
In a composite photograph family or racial characteristics are strongly impressed upon the film, while the individual idiosyncrasies average out—much as they do in statistical analysis—or to use Galton's own phrase, "leave but a ghost of a trace of individual peculiarities." To discuss in detail the practical applications which have been made, or which may probably be made of composite photography would lead us too far afield.
Biology and Biometry, Human Faculty and Heredity
When Charles Darwin's name was proposed before the French Academy for membership in the zoological section one of the immortals strongly opposed, and offered to put a hundred others before him because of their contributions of demonstrable facts.
Now whether Darwin is to be ranked as a zoologist or Galton as a biologist is one of those irrelevant questions the answer to which depends entirely upon definition. If biologist means only a worker in a historically fenced in field, then Mr. Galton has little claim to be known as a biologist. If, however, the term biology belongs to a living instead of a dead language and is capable of changing its meaning as men untrammeled by traditional barriers suggest new methods which broaden and deepen, if a man is to be judged by the directing influence he exerts as well as by the pages he publishes, then Francis Galton must take rank as a very great biologist indeed.
His South African narrative contains practically no observations on natural history of the kind generally found in works of exploration. Possibly this side of the work was left entirely to his companion, Charles J. Andersson, who was particularly interested in natural history, and afterwards continued observations and wrote on the region which they had opened up, for there are in Mr. Galton's book many keen observations on the behavior of his cattle. This interest in and capacity for detailed study of the behavior of animals is also evident in the "Art of Travel." A paper on "Gregariousness in Cattle and in Men" was published in 1872.
The only piece of work along at all conventional lines was his memoir on "Patterns in Thumb and Finger Marks," published by the Royal Society.
Experimental methods in biology attracted him. He wrote on experimental moth breeding as a means of verifying certain important constants in the general theory of heredity, and performed experiments to test the theory of pangenesis by breeding from rabbits of a pure variety into whose circulation blood from other varieties had been largely transfused. Thus forty years ago he undertook problems analogous to those which are now being attacked by quite a different method—namely by the transplantation of ovaries. Experimental studies in the inheritance of size of seed in sweet peas formed a part of the basis of his well-known law of regression.
If, as will be shown later, Francis Galton's great contribution to botany and zoology was that of method, the case is very different in that branch of biology which pertains to man.
The volume on South Africa attests a live interest in racial traits and racial competition. Between this and "Hereditary Genius" a period of sixteen years elapsed, during which the "Origin of Species" had appeared. Thus neither of these volumes was the product of a running pen. The book, he tells us, grew out of a purely ethnological inquiry into the mental peculiarities of different races.
"The theory of hereditary genius," Mr. Galton says in the preface, "though usually scouted, has been advocated by a few writers in past as well as in modern times. But I may claim to be the first to treat the subject in a statistical manner, to arrive at numerical results, and to introduce the 'law of deviation from an average' into discussions on heredity."
This is a late date to review a book like "Hereditary Genius." Some day it may take its proper rank alongside the "Origin of Species." If one wants higher praise than that in the "Descent of Man" he may read Mr. Darwin's letter.
Down, Beckenham, Kent, S. E.
My dear Galton:—I have only read about 50 pages of your book (to judges) but I must exhale myself, else something will go wrong in my inside. I do not think I ever in all my life read anything more interesting and original—and how well and clearly you put every point! George, who has finished the book, and who expressed himself in just the same terms, tells me that the earlier chapters are nothing in interest to the later ones I It will take me some time to get to these latter chapters, as it is read aloud to me by my wife, who is also much interested. You have made a convert of an opponent in one sense, for I have always maintained that excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; and I still think this is an eminently important difference. I congratulate you on producing what I am convinced will prove a memorable work. I look forward with intense interest to each reading, but it sets me thinking so much that I find it very hard work; but that is wholly the fault of my brain and not of your beautifully clear style.
Yours most sincerely,
In 1874 "Hereditary Genius" was supplemented by a little book entitled "English Men of Science, their Nature and Nurture." Abandoning a chronological sequence for the moment we may mention "Noteworthy Families" by Galton and Schuster, published in 1906. These two volumes supply "what may be termed a natural history" of modern English men of Science.
"Inquiries into Human Faculty" of 1883 embodied the supplemented essentials of papers which had appeared subsequently to "Hereditary Genius" of 1869, and which "may have appeared desultory when read in the order in which they appeared" but which had nevertheless "an underlying connection." Possibly the work falls somewhat short of his others, but it is fascinating and above all suggestive reading for the psychologist. Among the topics discussed, such as color blindness, capacity for distinguishing shrill sounds, criminality and insanity, gregarious and slavish instincts, mental imagery, number forms and color associations, only one may be noticed in further detail. This is a study of the sensitiveness of blind and seeing, savage and civilized individuals. As a result of his personal experience in barbarous and cultured lands, he concludes that savages have no keener senses than civilized man; and as a result of his experiments in schools for the blind he finds that the popular belief that in senses other than sight the blind are more sensitive than normal individuals has no foundation in fact.
After a lapse of six years "Natural Inheritance" was given to the public.
Mr. Galton came to be interested in finger prints in 1888, in connection with preparations for a lecture on personal identification and description. Having some misgivings concerning the adequacy of M. Bertillon's system of identification by measurement—because physical characters are not independent, but correlated—he cast about for other possible means, and undertook the investigation of finger prints.
Fortunately, Sir William Herschel who had actually used finger prints as a means of identification while commissioner in India learned of Mr. Galton's work and came to his aid with valuable prints and suggestions.
Identification by means of impressions of the papillary ridges of the thumbs has been so much exploited in fiction that a general explanation is unnecessary. This does not mean that an immense amount of hard work had not to be done on it by Mr. Galton before a British prison commission could adopt it. Besides the technique of taking really good impressions it was necessary to prove, not assume, that the patterns remain the same throughout life, that the variety of patterns is really very great, and that they admit of being classified or indexed. So when an individual set is submitted to an expert he can tell by reference to suitable records whether a similar set has been recorded.
These things were successfully accomplished and Mr. Galton's system of identification was adopted in Scotland Yard, and is now widely used throughout the world. His books on the subject are "Finger Prints," "Blurred Finger Prints" and "Finger Print Directory."
Space can not be taken for a review of the various anthropological questions which interested Mr. Galton, but a word must be said concerning anthropometric laboratories. Writing of Darwin's provisional theory of pangenesis in 1869, he said,
Realizing "the pressing necessity of obtaining a multitude of exact measurements relating to every measurable faculty of body or mind, for two generations at least, on which to theorize "he set about in many different ways to achieve this object. In 1882, he published a plea beginning" When shall we have anthropometric laboratories, where a man may from time to time get himself and his children weighed, measured and rightly photographed, and have each of their bodily faculties tested, by the best methods known to modern science?"
This plan was realized in 1884 when Mr. Galton established an anthropometric laboratory at the International Health Exhibition, London. Subsequently the laboratory was maintained in the Science Galleries of the South Kensington Museum for about six years.
It is impossible to summarize fitly the consequences of the establishment of these laboratories. Certainly they are not to be gauged by the tangible data which they yielded. The measurement of the various faculties required special apparatus, and our psychological laboratories and college gymnasia are greatly indebted to these pioneer institutions. From anthropometry in particular is a natural step to biometry in general.
With Francis Galton anthropometry was largely a means to an end—heredity. The titles of his major works on inheritance have already been given. Heredity in its turn was merely the scientific prerequisite for a humanitarian movement—eugenics. To this end it was with the few exceptions mentioned above concentrated upon man.
Among biologists one often hears misgivings expressed concerning studies of heredity based on man. "Obviously enough the laws of inheritance are the same for man as for other animals, or as for plants, but the material is not suitable for investigation," is the substance of frequent comments. In a degree this criticism is quite justified. Human pedigrees are collected with great difficulty, as compared with those of peas or fowls or mice. Even where the greatest caution is exercised, the opportunities for deception and concealment are very great, and individual pedigrees must be looked upon with the greatest caution.
These objections can not detract in the slightest degree from the credit due to Francis Galton. The work of an individual to be justly appraised must be judged in relation to the intellectual environment of his time, just as social or religious movements to be intelligible must be studied in their historical setting. In "Hereditary Genius" Mr. Galton records the results of an exploration of an entirely new field. In it he entered a terra incognita just as truly as when he turned his back upon the missionary outposts and his face towards the land of the Ovampo. Up to Galton's time men discussed heredity. He set about to measure its intensity. Even after much of his epoch-making work was published, prominent and otherwise well-informed men denied the existence of heredity in man. It is still urged by some that in the mental qualities nurture is of far greater importance than nature. So at the time when he struck out in a new direction in biology it was by no means obvious that heredity—to say nothing of the laws of inheritance—was common to man and the lower organisms. Our present belief that this is true is largely due to the labors of Galton and his school.
Again we must remember that even in "Hereditary Genius" he had definitely in view the possibility of race improvement. However unsuited human material may be for unravelling recondite laws of inheritance, it must be admitted that from its high sociological importance the problems of heredity and environmental influence must be investigated in the human species.
To discuss Galton's work on inheritance in greater detail at the present time would be a thankless task, for his immense service to the science of heredity and the great value of his methods for some problems of inheritance have been generally obscured by the enthusiasm over other means of attack. With a little time and a bit of Galtonian patience we shall perhaps arrive at a saner point of view than that now prevailing.
Galton's application of quantitative methods to the problems of human faculty and heredity is one of the forces which has gone into the formation of the biometric school of biologists. His influence in connection with this school is his greatest service to biology.
It may not be amiss to state here what the fundamental articles of faith of the biometrician are. They seem both simple and highly reasonable.
First, the biometrician requires that all observations shall be reduced, in so far as the material permits, to a quantitative basis. Gallileo's injunction to measure what is measurable and to render measurable what is not, must become the ideal of biologists, as it has long been of physicists, chemists and astronomers. "When a sufficient number of biologists have made this the guiding principle of their work, the hoary and decrepit distinction between precise and biological sciences will pass away.
Second, the biometrician insists that generalizations be drawn only from adequately large series of observations. The living substance is so subject to as yet unknowable, or at least immeasurable, influences that we dare not trust the "individual instance "; it is only upon a large number—and sometimes a very large number—of individual instances that conclusions of value may be drawn.
Third, the biometrician demands that the actual data, quantitative in quality and adequate in amount, shall be interpreted by sound logic. The most suitable logic, he believes, is that of the mathematician. This is agreed upon in theory by the most severely and variously disciplined minds. It has been rigorously tested in practise by the physicist and the astronomer, and the engineer joins with them in recommending it to the biologist and sociologist.
Surely these are simple articles of faith. Accompanied by the resolution to base theories on the entire array of observed facts pertinent to the problem in hand, instead of picking and choosing favorable evidence, and to fit theories to observation instead of gathering observations to fill out and stiffen up limp theories, they are, so far as I am aware, the whole creed of the working biometrician. He has no petrified hypotheses, and his theories are so plastic that they fit all but the minor irregularities of his data. He believes that industry in the description of natural phenomena by statistical constants is more important than assiduity in the imagination of explanations of them. He has no dogmas except unimpeachable quantitative data, sound logic, checked up arithmetic and cautious open-mindedness in interpretation.
Though simple in definition these ideals are attainable in practise only with the greatest care and exertion. After pointing out some of these difficulties in an essay on biometry written as an editorial for the first pages of Biometrika, Mr. Galton says:
The last ten years has shown the truth of these words. Those who have stood for biometry have had to do rather more than "abide for some time in patience," for lack of "sympathy from the outside" has been replaced by open hostility, often coupled with misrepresentation. The biological lump has been sodden and heavy, but the leaven is at last penetrating. A few years ago papers were not infrequently refused publication merely because they were biometric. Now every volume of the best biological journals bears more or less distinctly the impress of the methods associated with the names of Francis Galton and Karl Pearson.
A careful study of Mr. Galton's many short papers soon reverses any first impression of desultory ingenuity. Not only a connecting purpose but a practical end is often evident. Detailed illustration would be tedious. Military men have praised the "Art of Travel." His work at Kew Observatory and on the Metereological Council bear witness to this characteristic. The great success of finger print identification is perhaps a better example.
Nowhere is the bent for the practical to be more clearly seen than in his work on heredity. In the introductory chapter to "Hereditary Genius" of 1869 we read:
The subject had been discussed by him four years earlier in Macmillan's Magazine. In "Inquiries into Human Faculty" of 1883 we read:
It must not be thought that Francis Galton's contribution to this branch of social science was merely the demonstration of the inheritance of both normal and abnormal bodily and mental traits. In "Human Faculty" of 1883 and in the preceding memoirs upon which it was based are many topics of great sociological importance: gregarious and slavish instincts, population, and racial migrations, early and late marriage, and marks for family merit.
One of these questions which Galton discussed a quarter of a century and more ago has attracted and is bound to attract increasingly the attention of sociologists. It is the question of the relative contribution of town and country families to future generations. "Urban selection" has often been discussed by anthropologists. If it be true that the physically fitter and psychically superior are drawn into the grind of the city, and if it be true that both physical and mental traits are inherited, then it becomes of paramount importance to learn whether the families in the city do their share towards filling the ranks of the oncoming generation. Under any system in which they do not, every large city is an open wound from which the best blood of the nation is being poured. As long ago as 1873, Galton attempted to measure the relative rate of supply of city and country families to the population of future generations.
The new science which purposes to gather and sift and coordinate data concerning factors which are of significance in determining the characteristics of races was christened eugenics by Mr. Galton as early as 1883. As defined in the publications of the laboratory which he has endowed "National eugenics is the study of agencies under social control, that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally."
Mr. Galton realized that nowhere is a scientific groundwork more essential than in eugenics. Compared with the dilettante in eugenics the quack in medicine is nothing in his power for harm. The danger reef lies in its attractions to the superficial and the hasty.
To the fundamental requisites of race improvement Francis Galton contributed in a two-fold manner. He gave much of the best vigor of his own long working lifetime and in his old age provided for its wider growth by endowing a university laboratory where the work might be continued along the lines which he began.
In the early sixties little more than superstition reigned concerning the influence of heredity and environment in man. Scientific data were almost unknown. Galton not only backed up his arguments by the best available evidence, but always dissatisfied with this and believing that "the basis of science is exact measurement" he gathered fresh quantitative data and taught others to do the same. Realizing that statistics "are the only tools by which an opening can be cut through the formidable thicket of difficulties that bars the path of those who pursue the science of man" he worked out methods for the more refined analysis of statistical data, out of which a whole modern science has grown.
If one turns from the work which he personally did to that of his laboratory it need only be said that if those laboratories to be patterned after this in other universities make good as it has done under the direction of his friend, Professor Pearson, a few years must show a marked advance in our knowledge of many of the basal problems of biology and sociology. From the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics have come, to mention only major topics, researches into the inheritance of the insane and tubercular diathesis, into the physique and intelligence of school children, into the influence of parental alcoholism on the physique and intelligence of the offspring, into the relative significance of constitution and infection in tuberculosis.
When a theory or a social propaganda wins its ways to public notice the historical critic seeks to trace it to its origin. Rarely is the credit of conception to be assigned to one man, although almost alone he may have compelled the world's attention.
The ideal of eugenics is no exception to this rule. The retrospectively inclined may look back as far as Plato. But the undeniable fact remains that it is Francis Galton who has forced thinking men to take these matters into consideration. The explanation is not far to seek. To-day men demand more than will-o'-the-wisp ideals. The dreamer who conceives and the engineer who executes are both essential and both to be honored, but for efficiency and progress their talents must be combined. Once the idealist, the prophet, the man religiously aflame passed through the street and swept the mob along with him. Now social advance is coming to depend more and more upon the results of cold scientific research.
Herein lies the success of Galton's movement. No accomplishment of recent times is of greater interest to scientific men, for the success which has been attained is due to a social and religious appeal made from a solid foundation of scientific facts. Opinions as to the direction of eugenic reform, or indeed as to the advisability of any immediate attempt at practical work, differ greatly but the widespread interest in its problems is an equally widespread admission that biology is to stand in the most vital relation to sociology, that science is to be the handmaiden of statecraft.
Hero worship must not blind the scientific biographer to the fact that in the doing of this Francis Galton was by no means single-handed. Those who preceded him in the fruitless suggestions of race improvement may be left out of account; those who labored with him can not. Indeed. I personally feel that in this work there is one name generally closely associated with his own which should take equal rank with his.
But Francis Galton must always rank as the pioneer—as the one who while the fighting was still hot around the "Origin of Species" and before the "Descent of Man" had yet been written had the insight to see and the courage to say not merely that man was to be included in the evolutionary chain but also that evolution has more than academic interest in its relation to man. He had the courage to argue that just as animals and plants are plastic in the hands of the breeder, so the physical strength and mental vigor of future generations may be moulded by a scientifically enlightened and morally quickened community.
The Man and His Methods
"The greatness of a man is shown in what he is, in what he does, and in what he sets a-doing."
It would be presumptuous for any one who had not the privilege of years of intimacy to write of Mr. Galton's character and personality. In paragraphs ranging from exploration through physical and biological sciences to eugenics an outline of what he did and what he set adoing has been given. The two objects of this section are to state for the benefit of those who can not study his work in detail some of the characteristics of the investigator, and the cardinal features of his contributions to science. In essence, we have to determine what shall be understood by Galtonian.
A first characteristic was the ability to see essentially new problems or new methods of accomplishing things that needed doing. Some of his results—daily weather charts, anthropometric laboratories, human heredity—like those of Benjamin Franklin, had an obviousness which was cryptic to other eyes. Not only did he see problems but he had a peculiar faculty for searching out the significant thing and limiting his attention to it. Volumes have been written on palmistry, without the slightest practical outcome. Galton at once passed by the conspicuous wrinkles and folds of the palm, "which are no more significant. . . than the creases in old clothes" and concentrated upon the minute papillary ridges of the thumbs and fingers with the consequence of a workable system of finger print identification.
Correlated with this ability to look with discerning eyes on either side of the beaten trail and into the jungle was a peculiar independence of the herd. Most investigators are not surveyors merely, but in so far as specialty fences will allow, crowd with the gregariousness of cattle into the same field. Ecological surveys are in fashion to-day, centrifuging eggs holds the attention of the crowd to-morrow. Francis Galton's association with men was wide and intimate, he sought help from those of the most diverse accomplishments and always urged friendly cooperation and criticism, but as a conceiver of problems and methods his independence was all but complete. Perhaps this self reliance was gained in his early explorations. It is seen not merely in the formulation of problems, but in his freedom from the conventional paraphernalia and impedimenta of research. Every difficulty or emergency was an opportunity; the ready ingenuity was in direct proportion to difficulties opposed. Many uses for the sextant may be found in the literature, but it required a Galton to apply it for obtaining anthropometric measurements of Hottentot dignitaries where conventional methods might have been undiplomatic. Most travelers when ready to sail from a country would have swallowed their wrath at the loss of a favorite ox or would have retaliated blunderingly. By putting himself under the command of a Hottentot chief with his band, with the stipulation that a flogging was to be the only punishment of the Damara miscreants, Mr. Galton at once turned the annoying incident into a golden opportunity of studying the tactics of a savage raid.
Francis Galton by his studies of noteworthy men of science found that no special education other than self instruction is really necessary to the attainment of eminence. Access to superior tuition and laboratories have doubtless helped some to attain distinction who could not otherwise have done so, but they are by no means all important factors. "The facts that lie patent before the eyes of every medical man, engineer and the members of most professions, afford ample material for researches that would command the attention of the scientific world if viewed with intelligence and combined by a capable mind." The truth of these views he exemplified by his own life.
Writing of scientific eminence and scientific ability in 1869 Mr. Galton observed that some men become renowned because of a single striking discovery. Others of equally high natural gifts and energy in application have not this good fortune. Their results are valuable and remain, but the worker is forgotten. Still a third class "have shown their original powers by little more than a continuous flow of helpful suggestions and criticisms, which were individually of too little importance to be remembered in the history of science, but which in their aggregate, formed a notable aid towards progress." Notwithstanding all of the important fields in which his name should take honorable place, a writer in Nature, and one who is evidently qualified to write of the more personal side of Mr. Galton's life, has told us that his own strongest impetus to science was probably this continuous flow of helpful suggestions and criticisms, this personal inspiration, which he exercised over those with whom he came in contact.
Probably this is true. If one looks for the thing which was next in importance to the personal influence which he exerted, it will not be found in recorded observations but in scientific method. Were his share in the advancement of science to be measured by the quantity of bricks and mortar that we call concrete facts which he made available for others, his place would be an honorable one. But the question which seemed always uppermost in his mind was, how can the essential facts concerning this phenomenon be most easily and accurately obtained and interpreted? Everything he came in contact with presented a problem of method. He touched many fields, and so the problems in method which he set himself were numerous. The "Art of Travel," the standardization of instruments, the installation of self-recording meteorological batteries, the charting of meteorological data, the identification of criminals by finger prints, composite photography, methods and instruments for anthropometry, photographic records of pedigree stock, and finally the correlation coefficient, all attest his inventive genius and his eagerness to attain greater precision in every problem which he touched.
In the case of both Darwin and Galton the greatness of the man has stood in the way of his recognition. Sorting the work of either of them into the compartments of the specialty cabinet and comparing it there with that of others who have devoted themselves to one subject only, it seems meager in volume. Most men are interested in the contents of but one pigeon hole, or are incapable of considering more than a single compartment at a time. If we look under geography or geology, botany or zoology, anthropology, psychology or social science, we find the impress of Darwin and Galton there. But judged as specialists merely there may be some misgivings as to the claim to eminence of either of these grandsons of Erasmus Darwin. But now and then a man appears who chafes at the limits of a single cell, who feels that there should be additional compartments, or that partitions between established divisions should be broken and become nominal merely. He may even insist that the point of view or the method of research of all the specialists requires modification. Such a man may be so far in advance of his time that he is largely unappreciated by his contemporaries. This has been to some extent the case with Darwin and with Galton. Happily both lived to receive some parts of the tributes they deserved from their fellows.
How great is the debt of humanity to the Line of Darwin!
On the basis of an immense collection of the facts of natural history, Charles Darwin gave the world a theory which soon swept beyond the boundary lines of biology and by its clarification and unification of knowledge has been one of the powerful factors in modern life. Francis Galton was a leader in giving science methods which bring within the grip of mathematical analysis a wide range of biological, social and other natural phenomena hitherto regarded as outside the pale of exact science. Fifty years has made cultured men of all disciplines evolutionists, and Darwin's name is carved higher than that of any other who worked towards this goal, but after these fifty years we are still in deep ignorance concerning the processes by which evolution has taken place. This problem which has been the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night in the onward march of biological research, awaits solution by the methods of Galton. Charles Darwin and the great men who came to his support sought to show that historically, in origin, man is not a separately favored being set in a garden of all living things to have dominion over them, but that his origin is a natural consequence of the struggle for existence, that step by step he has fought his way to the top of the evolutionary ladder, matching sinew with sinew and cunning with cunning.
Francis Galton and his school have proved that as applied to man this evolutionary process is not of class-room interest merely, but that its factors are of vital social importance to-day. A complex civilization may be likened to a cathedral of arches, every stone of which is under stress. The permanency of the civilization is limited by the physical and mental soundness of the component human stocks, just as the stability of the cathedral is limited by the texture of the stones which went into its building. Galton and his school have proved that in the determination of the character of the individual, nature is of greater significance than nurture—that the strength of the stone depends primarily upon the quarry from which it came, not upon the height to which it is polished nor upon the elegance of theinto which it is built. They have shown that in our strenuous modern life the statistician can point to some factors which tend to conserve and to others which tend to destroy the types of men which have made high civilization possible, and they have told us in ringing words that it is the duty of the man of science to apply the most rigorously exact methods to the investigation of all those factors which tend to improve or impair the racial qualities of generations yet unborn.