This section is from the book "The Transmission Of Life. Counsels On The Nature And Hygiene Of The Masculine Function", by George H. Napheys. Also available from Amazon: The Transmission of Life.
We have elsewhere asked,* "Can virtuous habits be trans-mitted ? Can we secure virtues in our children by possessing them ourselves ?" And we have replied, that " we are scarcely more than passive transmitters of a nature we have received." Nevertheless, although this is true of the original nature, there are certain qualities capable of being super-imposed upon that nature. We cannot by any course of virtue beget a child free from evil tendencies, but we can give him much to combat them through the virtuous qualities of civilization. The animal nature of man cannot be modified. It is invariably transmitted. It is always the same in the barbarian and the enlightened man. But moral and mental qualities can be added, which, although they can never crush out nor wholly obscure the animal nature, can improve upon it. Unless this were so, unless intellectual and moral culture did so influence not only the individual but the offspring, and thus through future generations the race, then the educator would have to say with Macbeth :-
"Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, And put a barren sceptre in my gripe."
Dr. Moore, a high authority, remarks: "Our education may be said to begin with our forefathers. The child of the morally instructed is most capable of instruction, and intellectual excellence is generally the result of ages of mental cultivation. From Mr. Kay Shuttleworth's examination of juvenile delinquents, at Parkhurst, it appears that the ma-jority were deficient in physical organization, and this, no doubt, was traceable to the parent stock." Again, M. Giran says that 'acquired capacities are transmitted by generation, and this transmission is more certain and perfect in proportion as the cultivation has extended over more generations, and as that of one parent is less opposed by that of the other. Children receive from their parents, with the impress of their habits, all the shades of capacity aptitude, and taste which have been the fruit of such habits." The eminent physiologist, Burdach, also accords to the parent the power of transmitting to his offspring his intellectual development.
* The Physical Life of Woman, p. 121.
Inheritance of the acquired habits of life, the results of intellectual and moral training, or of daily vice, is more certain than the transmission of physical peculiarities. A course of vicious indulgence in the parent will corrupt the morals of the child. A life of virtue on the part of the parent will bear fruit in the stronger will and the increased power of conscience of his offspring. He, therefore, whose avocation it is to cultivate correct principles and habits of thought in his fellow men holds no " barren sceptre." His influence, above that of all others, is felt upon his race through many generations.
Before dismissing this subject of moral heritage, which we would like to pursue at much greater length if our space would permit, we wish to say a few more words in regard to its bearing upon the responsibility and accountability of every man for his own acts. No one has a right to urge inherited impulses in justification of his evil deeds. To do so would be to place himself on a level with the brute. Animals are swayed entirely by their instincts. Man is conscious of a higher, a moral law, the dictates of which he has it in his power to obey. In the language of the most recent writer upon this topic, " Every man is responsible for his voluntary acts, whatever the constitutional tendency. In the face of the facts before us, I see no reason to doubt or deny that one person is born with impulses and tendencies to particular forms of virtue or vice stronger than those of others, who, on the other hand, may be more prone to other forms of good or evil than the first. The passions and appetites are doubtless much keener and more difficult of control in those who inherit them from a line of ancestry who have never checked them, but in whom vice has been accounted a glory and a virtue. It is much easier for some who inherit a placid, even temperament, with no strong emotions, to be outwardly virtuous and orderly, than for those just mentioned, but all have it in their power. Habitual selfishness, disregard of the rights or feelings of others, immorality, may reduce man nearly to the level of the brute; the vicious act may seem to be due to irresistible impulse, but the perpetrator is not the less culpable for that. 11c who wilfully intoxicates himself that he may commit a murder is still a murderer, and one of the deepest dye of crime. Life to all is a warfare, to some it is much more severe than to others; but all may fight the good fight, and all may attain the reward: none are born with a constitution incapable of virtue, though many have such a one as may well make life one long struggle against the power of temptations, so severe that it is well for man that he is not alone in the mortal conflict."