The Dial/Volume 15/Number 169/The Works and Work of Francis Galton

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The Works and Work of Francis Galton.[1]

Two remarkable books have just appeared by Mr. Galton. "Hereditary Genius" was published in 1869, but has for years been out of print. Mr. Galton has written a new preface for it, and reprinted it otherwise as it first appeared. "Finger-Prints" is entirely new, and embodies the author's latest study along a novel line. Between 1869 and 1892, between the publication of "Hereditary Genius" and "Finger-Prints," three other notable works by the same author were published: "English Men of Science," "Inquiries into Human Faculty," and "Natural Inheritance." There are perhaps not five such original books in the language; certainly there are few scientific works in any language that are dictated by so honest a purpose. Mr. Galton is now a man of seventy, and it may not be uninteresting to review here his scientific work.
Two subjects perhaps have attracted his particular attention, Heredity and Identification. The former is dealt with in all his books, the latter in "Finger-Prints." Everywhere Mr. Galton is an anthropologist and a statistician. He reduces his results, wherever practicable, to mathematical form and statement. In "Hereditary Genius" he assumes that high reputation is a fairly accurate test of high ability (=genius). From this assumption he proceeds to study certain groups of eminent men. He considers first the judges of England from 1660 to 1868, and carefully examines into the family histories to ascertain how many and what eminent relatives they had. Similar studies are made of the statesmen of the time of George the Third, of the Premiers of the last hundred years, of men of literature, scientists, painters, musicians, divines, and scholars. Lastly, some data from oarsmen and wrestlers are presented. In each series it is shown that there are more eminent relatives in the families of given men of talent than mathematical probabilities require. Some few quotations or conclusions may be interesting—some of them important in the discussion, some merely incidental.

Talent, it seems, is dreadfully rare; mediocrity is painfully common. Out of any million of Englishmen over fifty years old only about two hundred and fifty are really eminent.

"Ability, in the long run, does not start suddenly into existence and disappear with equal abruptness, but rather it rises in a gradual and regular curve out of the ordinary level of family life. The statistics show that there is a regular average increase of ability in the generations that precede its culmination and as regular a decrease in those which succeed it. In the first case the marriages have been consentient to its production; in the latter they have been incapable of preserving it."

One of the best tables in the work is the one giving the facts regarding statesmen. These are generally eminently gifted, and their relationships are rich in ability. Nor is the ability distributed at haphazard: it clearly affects certain families. Moreover, the peculiar combination of gifts that make up a good statesman—high intellectual power, tact in dealing with men, power of expression in debate, ability to endure exceedingly hard work—is hereditary.

Incidentally, Mr. Galton makes some suggestive statements regarding the cause of peerages dying out, why very pious parents may have wicked children, and how the church has hindered man's progress. Men of ability who are raised to peerages are prone to marry heiresses; or, if they do not do so themselves, their sous do. But the heiress—only child in a family—comes from an infertile stock, and is little likely to be herself the mother of a vigorous family. Pious persons, according to Mr. Galton, are naturally endowed with high moral characters combined with instability of disposition,—peculiarities in no way connected. The child may inherit both, or he may inherit one without the other; in neither of the latter cases will he be markedly pious, in one he may be truly bad. Mr. Galton claims that the policy of the church during the middle ages, in enforcing or encouraging celibacy in the best men and women of the time, placed a premium upon mediocrity.

Our author believes that the chance for eminence in the relationship of an eminent man varies with the degree of kin. He says:

"I reckon the chances of kinsmen of illustrious men rising or having risen to eminence to be fifteen and one-half to one hundred in case of fathers, thirteen and one-half to one hundred in the case of brothers, twenty-four to one hundred in the case of sons. Or, putting these and the remaining proportions in a more convenient way, we obtain the following results: In the first grade, the chance of the father is one to six; of each brother, one to seven; of each son, one to four. In the second grade, of each grandfather, one to twenty-five; of each uncle, one to forty; of each nephew, one to forty; of each grandson, one to twenty-nine. In the third grade the chance of each brother is about one to two hundred, except in case of first cousins, where it is one to one hundred."

Nor are different races equally gifted with ability. Mr. Galton considers the Negro race two grades in his scale of ability below the English. But he believes that we are surpassed by the Athenians at their prime by at least an equal amount. This claim may be true, but it is not palatable. In this discussion the author strikes the key-note of his work, the underlying idea of all his study. He believes that we ought to raise the grade of ability of our race, that we should breed a nobler posterity. Earlier marriage of the capable is the only way for the intellectually and morally fit to survive. This practical application of the results of his apparently non-utilitarian and theoretical studies is ever the most striking feature in Mr. Galton's writings.

Passing by his "English Men of Science" and "Investigations into Human Faculty," although both are interesting and characteristic, we will consider "Natural Inheritance" the most mathematical of the series. To discover the parental influence upon the offspring, he finds it necessary to get rid of sex, and transforms the female character of the mother into male equivalents; he then combines the parental influences, and, by averaging, secures an ideal mid-parent whose qualities are what are really inherited. He finds a constantly operative law of regression toward mediocrity, and shows that gifts of high order are little likely to be transmitted fully. "The more bountifully a parent is gifted by nature, the more rare will be his good fortune if he begets a son who is as richly endowed as himself, and still more so if he has a son endowed still more largely." But the law is even-handed, and the son no more inherits all his father's wickedness and disease than he does his good points. In this study, the heredity of stature, eye, color, artistic taste, disease, and the matter of latent characters, are discussed. The material used is interesting. What was needed was the facts regarding several succeeding generations, each containing a considerable number of individuals equally related to each other (fraternities, etc.) ; groups, not individuals. Mr. Galton offered a considerable sum in prizes for family records, which were used as the basis of these studies. Some material was also secured at his Anthropometric Laboratory. But human material, sufficient in quantity and precise in character, is very difficult to obtain ; and to secure fraternities of the desired size and representative of several generations, Mr. Galton directed careful cultures of sweet peas and "pedigree moths." He concludes that every individual receives from each parent one-fourth of his endowment and from each grandparent one-sixteenth. As a final conclusion, he says : "Suppose two couples, one consisting of two gifted members of a poor stock and the other of two ordinary members of a gifted stock. The difference between them will display itself in their offspring. The children of the former will tend to regress ; those of the latter will not." Here again we see his plan for amelioration.
We have referred above to Mr. Galton's Anthropometric Laboratory. It is known to most visitors to the South Kensington Museum. In it anyone may be thoroughly examined and measured free of charge ; a permanent record is made of his measurements and faculties, and a copy is given to him for his own use. For use in this Laboratory, Mr. Galton has devised some most ingenious pieces of apparatus for the study of delicacy in hearing, quickness of blow, keenness of eyesight, etc. In devising such instruments and pieces of apparatus for clearly illustrating points of considerable mathematical complexity, Mr. Galton is a veritable genius. He is also the inventor of composite photography, which has been used in so many ways in science. For some years past those who were measured in the Laboratory have left the impression of their finger-tips behind them, and a study of this material has led to his last book, " Finger-Prints."
As in all his writing, Mr. Galton presents first a summary of the treatment to be pursued in the book. Finger-prints have been used among various peoples in signing legal papers, but have seldom been used for purposes of identification. Sir William Herschel made such use of them in India. A full statement of the methods of taking finger-prints, of enlarging them, and of study, are then given. Anyone who will look at his own finger-tips will see that they are covered with curved ridges surrounding a central core ; this core may be either an arch, a loop, or a whorl. Taking into consideration the ridges above and below these cores, and the cores themselves, some nine fundamental patterns may be made out. These may serve as a basis for classification. In any given pattern there are also minor details which characterize it. But confining attention to only the more important points, one may easily and exactly describe any given combination. Mr. Galton thinks that he finds, from careful study of a considerable number of cases, that the patterns are persistent from birth to death. If this is so, and it is likely that finger-prints of two persons are never identical, we have here, of course, an important means for identification. After finding how many points of comparison are presented in a single finger-print, Mr. Galton calculates the mathematical probability of any two persons having the print made by any single finger identical, at 1:236, or 1 to 6400 millions. "It is a smaller chance than 1 to 4 that the print of any single finger of any given person would be exactly like that of the same finger of any other member of the human race." What would the probability of identity be if all ten finger-prints of one man were compared with all ten of those of another? Everyone knows how important a rapid, simple, and certain means of identification is to-day. Bertillon's method of measurement met the demand so well that it has rapidly been adopted in reformatories and prisons, but it is by no means certain. It is true that a man who can make Bertillon's measurements is more readily found than one who can compare finger-prints ; but two minutes' time would add a card of finger-prints to the anthropometric data secured in Bertillonage, and the combined data would make identification absolutely sure. Mr. Galton, after considering the identification value of finger-prints, makes some study of the heredity of patterns, which he believes to exist; he finds considerable resemblances also between twins. His study of finger-prints of different races is not very extensive; but he has studied some material from Welsh, Hebrew, Negro, and Basque sources. From this he concludes that there are no ethnic peculiarities. It seems to us, however, that such a conclusion is premature.

Such, in brief, is Mr. Galton's work, remarkable alike for its originality, its practical importance, and its scientific value.

  1. Hereditary Genius; Natural Inheritance; Finger-Prints. By Francis Galton. New York: Macmillan & Co.