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.
This question brings us face to face with the consideration of the hereditary character of crime.
Michel de Montaigne was a profound observer of man, as well as a genial essayist. One of his papers is entitled " Of the Resemblance of Children to their Fathers." In it he expresses his wonder at the mysterious nature of that heritage which transmits to us not merely the bodily form, but even ' the thoughts and inclinations of our fathers. A much older writer than he, Aristotle, also alludes to the transmission of moral qualities by inheritance. He tells of a man who excuses himself for beating his father by saying that, "my father beat his father, and my son will beat me, for it is in our family." History is rich in illustrations of moral heritage. Alexander VI. and his children, the Borgias, will ever live upon its pages because of their atrocities. The crimes of the Farnese family are too infamous for mention. The same taint of wickedness runs through the cruel nature of the Medici and the Vicontes, the latter of whom are accredited with the invention of the " forty days torture." Sextus VI. and his children were notorious for their crimes, and to the Cond6 family have been attributed in addition to their courage and brilliant intellect, "odious vices of character, malignity, avarice, tyranny, and insolence."
Modern society furnishes us with an example and a proof of the hereditary nature of crime which touches us more nearly. There exists a distinctive criminal class in all our cities. This dangerous class is marked by certain physical and mental peculiarities. These so distinguish them that they can be readily pointed out in any promiscuous assembly. Even in Shakspeare's time this was possible. In Macbeth, one of the murderers, in defending his fellows, says: -
" We are men, my liege."
To which the king replies: -
"Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men; As hounds, and grayhounds, mongrels, spaniels, ours, Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are classed All by the name of dogs; the valued file Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle, The housekeeper, the hunter, every one According to the gift which bounteous nature Hath in him clos'd; whereby he does receive Particular addition, from the bill That writes them all alike ; and so of men."
Those who are born and live in crime are all marked by the same traits of physical degeneration, as well as mental and moral depravity. The truth in great measure, of the assertion of Lemnius, that the "very affections follow the seed, and the malice and bad conditions of children are wholly to be imputed to their parents," is also shown by the family histories of the criminal class. It would be easy to fortify this statement by quotations from prison reports, for which, however, we have not space.
There are some who, while they do not pretend to deny the inheritance of physical infirmities and diseases, still maintain that all men are born alike, intellectually and morally, and that it is entirely due to circumstances and education that they differ from each other. As well could they uphold the doctrine that all men are born with equal tenacity of life, and vigor of constitution. Such thinkers hesitate to admit the heritage of immorality because they fear that the admission would remove the check of individual responsibility. They forget that it is merely the tendencies which are inherited, not the acts themselves. As Dr. Elam well observes, "man's freedom is not obliterated, but he is destined to a life of more or less strife and temptation, according as his inherited dispositions are active and vicious, or the contrary. Every sane man knows that, despite of allurements or temptation, he can do or leave undone any 'given act; he is therefore free, but his freedom is more or less invaded, in accordance with the laws under consideration." How true then is it that " it is the greatest part of our felicity to be well born; and it were happy for human kind if only such parents as are sound of body and mind should marry."
We have given instances of the inheritance of gluttony and intemperance, and of families remarkable for their crimes of violence. Theft, among other crimes, is hereditary. Dr. Steinase says, from personal observation, he has known it to be hereditary for three generations. A man, named P____, acquired in his native village the sobriquet of " The thief." His son, although in prosperous business and beyond want, was remarkable for his propensity to steal small things. His son, the grandson of " The thief," when only three years of age, would clandestinely take more food than he could eat; afterward he began to take small sums of money and soon larger amounts. Before he was fourteen years of age he had become an expert pickpocket and was confined in the House of Correction. Pride is passed down from father to son; the Stuart and Guise family afford illustrious examples. Of the latter it has been said that "all the line of the Guises were rash, factious, insolently proud, and of most seducing politeness of manner." Cowardice, jealousy, anger, envy, and libertinage are all met with as family traits. The passion of avarice is no exception to the others as is shown by the family of Charles IV., that emperor of Germany of whom it has been wittily recorded that he " vendait en detail l'em-pire qu'il avait achet6 en gros.'" There is also such a thing as an hereditary passion for gambling. A lady, so strongly addicted to gambling that she passed all her nights at play, died of consumption, leaving a son and daughter, both of whom inherited from her alike her vice and her disease.
These facts, in regard to the inheritable nature of our mental and moral qualities which we have been considering, suggest to every thoughtful mind the inquiry