Lo! what am I? A patch of things, Mere odds and ends of lives flung by From age-long, rag-bag gatherings, Pieced up by Fate full thriftily: Somebody's worn-out will and wit, Somebody's habits and his hair, Discarded conscience, faith once fair Ere Time, the moth, had eaten it; My great-grandfather's chin and nose, The eyes my great-grandmother wore, And hands from some remote - who knows? Perchance prehensile ancestor; Somebody's style, somebody's gait, Another body's wrist and waist, With this one's temper, that one's trait, One's tastes, another's lack of taste; Feelings I never chose to feel, A voice in which I had no voice, Revealing where I would conceal Rude impulses without a choice; Faults which this forefather or that Unkindly fostered to my ill, With others some one else begat And made the matter worser still. They chose, these masters of my fate. To please themselves, bequeathing me Base pleasure in the things I hate, Liking for what misliketh me. Out of the ashes of their fires, Out of the fashion of their bone, They fashioned me, my mighty sires, And shall I call my soul my own?
This motley from the Past flung down;
This work with no artificer;
This prince, this poet, and this clown, Deific, and a driveler;
This bequeathed brain which shall conceive
What things this borrowed frame shall do;
This will to serve, and will to leave
The outworn old, the untried new;
This quick made up of all the dead,
And this deep heart inherited, -
I call these mine, and I will be
King, emperor, tsar, and Deity!
The tenement may like me ill,
The garment ill-befitting be:
I will inhabit kingly still,
And wear my rags right regally.
These hands shall work my will, - not hers
Who fashioned them to other use;
These feet fare not as he prefers
Who shaped them, but as I shall choose;
Mine be the words these lips shall frame;
And through my great-grandmother's eyes
I front my world, not hers, and claim
Under no dead soul's sovereignties.
Ay, borrowed husk, head, heart and hand,
Slave on, and serve me till we die!
I am your Lord and your Command!
But only God knows - what am I.
- Grace Ellery Channing,
Atlantic Monthly, January, 1902
Every skilled breeder is satisfied that vigor, speed, beauty and all other qualities are, more or less, hereditary; but, when variation appears, he is slow to search for the causes which have antagonized or arrested the law of transmission, and which, undisturbed, should produce close similarity.
Since pure-bred animals are now usually reared under similar conditions (those of the North being protected from the vicissitudes of climate quite as much as those of the South), we may study pure-bred animals from the Darwinian standpoint, and expect that the inheritance of every long and well-established characteristic will be the rule and non-inheritance the exception. Without criticizing any of the breeds, it may be said that some of their characteristics have not been well established, because they have been acquired in the last few generations. The subject of inheritance of farm animals is difficult and complex, since all breeds of domestic animals may be said to be "made-up breeds"; for, in the stricter sense of the word, we have no purebred animals. But this does not concern us here and now. Under certain rules and regulations, we have agreed to call certain varieties of horses thoroughbred, pure-bred, or full-blood; but their pedigrees need not be traced back very far before they end in unknown or mixed-blooded ancestry.
A plausible but misleading theory of inheritance has been formulated as follows: The offspring receives one-half of its inheritance from its parents, - that is, one-fourth from its male and one-fourth from its female parent; one-fourth from its four grandparents, one-eighth from its eight great-grandparents, and so on. Mathematically expressed, the inheritance would be as follows:
First Second Third Fourth Fifth Total
1/2 1/4 1/8 1/16 1/32 31/32
It will be seen that one-thirty-second of the inheritance is unaccounted for in the above. This is found in the generations beyond the fifth. It is evident that there were thirty-two ancestors in the fifth generation, and that the animal in the first generation gets but one-thirty-second of its inheritance from all of them. The animal under consideration has sixty-two ancestors in the fifth generation. It might easily transpire that some one of these was eminently prepotent, and if not very remote would probably transmit far more than its math- ematical proportion of its inheritance. Let it now be supposed that in-breeding has taken place, that the prepotent blood of the superior ancestors has been freely used in the process, and that such prepotent inbred blood comes down through the sire; then the offspring would inherit far more than one-fourth of its characteristics from the sire, and less than one-fourth from the dam. Or, suppose a prepotent animal appears in the second generation, the offspring might receive nearly all of its inheritance from this single animal. It is evident to every practical stock-breeder that the mathematical theory does not hold true.
Inheritance is modified from generation to generation by change of food, climate, environment and use, or habit. In rare cases it may be so strong that the dominant characteristics persist long in spite of radical changes in food and surroundings.
Characteristics which have been long present are more likely to be transmitted than those which have been but recently acquired. Characteristics which are similar are more likely to coalesce harmoniously than those which are widely divergent; therefore, animals of widely divergent form and color should not be bred together. To secure strong inheritance in the offspring, the sire and dam should give visible evidence that they have been produced by breeding along parallel lines. Two parallel streams of nearly the same volume and rapidity of flow unite harmoniously; two streams of unlike flow and volume, united at a sharp angle, produce many counter currents and unexpected results.
What may be inherited? Nearly everything or anything. It all depends on a multitude of conditions, and it is impossible to know certainly, before the parents are united, what defects of one or both of the parents will be transmitted. Comparatively few blemishes, as ring-bone, curb, spavin, and the like, are inherited; but what is equally undesirable is too often transmitted - the lack of power of resistance. When the organs which lack resisting power are put to severe tests, the blemish which afflicted the parent, or something similar to it, makes its appearance. Under favorable conditions and absence of severe tests, especially when young, the offspring, though from unsound parents, may, and often does go through life unblemished. It is only in rare cases that tuberculosis is inherited; but the lack of power to resist the specific organism which produces the disease may be inherited. All this leads to the conclusion that pains should be taken to select such strains of animals for breeding purposes as are known to possess power to withstand, to a good degree, unusual strain and adverse conditions. Individuals, and sometimes breeds and families, show endurance and resisting power to an unusual degree.
May prepotency, or unusual power to transmit qualities, be discovered in an animal from outward characteristics? Not certainly. But something may be prophesied of the probable prepotency, or lack of it, by careful scrutiny of the animal; since there are certain outward indications which almost invariably accompany this unusual power. The eyes are bright, wide-open, alert, fairly wide apart and somewhat protruding, - or, at least, the reverse of sunken. The hair is fine and soft; the skin neither thick nor leathery, nor too thin and papery, nor of a flabby texture, but pliable, mellow and moderately thin. The bones are moderate in size and have the appearance of being of fine grain and strong, as indicated by head, limbs and feet. Such animals are usually symmetrical, although they may not be, fat. In all of their movements they are vigorous, alert and powerful, and, above all, courageous; nervy, but not nervous, - all the powers being under full control, which gives courage and confidence and the ability to direct power along efficient lines. If the prepotent animal is a poor specimen of the breed ( poor animals are sometimes prepotent), then it would really be better if the prepotent quality were wanting, for then it might chance that the offspring would take after remote, instead of immediate ancestors.
Characteristics which are much in advance of the general average are likely not to be perpetuated in full force through even one or two generations. "Sports," that is offspring which from unknown causes have made a wide and abnormal departure from the types of a breed, are difficult, and usually impossible, to perpetuate. Inheritance is not all, and is never so persistent but that it can be greatly modified by food, climate and habit. He who trusts to a long pedigree alone, is certain to be disappointed; he who trusts to food, climate, habit and use, to produce desired qualities, and practices haphazard breeding, will meet with greater disappointments. He is wise who makes full use of all the factors which enter into the maintenance and increase of valuable qualities.