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The Problem Of Human Heredity

If materialism were the whole truth, it ought to explain the whole of
heredity; instead of that it clashes with almost all the problems of
life. Physical substance offers for analysis none but physical
phenomena: attraction, repulsion, heat, electricity, magnetism, vital
movement; the anatomical constitution of the highest--the
nerve--tissue, presents only the slightest differences in the animal
series, if these differences are compared with the enormous
distinctions in the qualities it expresses. Differences of form,
visible to the microscope, are at times important, we shall be told,
and those that affect the atomic activity and groupings[71] are
perhaps even more important. That is true, especially in whatever
concerns man.

Intelligence cannot always be explained by the complexity of the
brain--though this complexity is the condition of faculty, as a
rule--insects such as ants, bees, and spiders, whose brains are
nothing but simple nerve ganglia, display prodigies of foresight,
architectural ability and social qualities; whilst along with these
dwarfs of the animal kingdom, we see giants that manifest only a
rudimentary mind, in spite of their large, convoluted brains. Among
the higher animals, there is not one that could imitate the
beaver--which, all the same, is far from being at the head of the
animal series--in building for itself a house in a river and storing
provisions therein.

There is a vast gulf, in the zoological series, before and after these
insects, as there is before and after the beaver; whilst an even wider
gulf separates the highest specimens of the animal world from man

Nor do the weight and volume of the brain afford any better
explanation of the difference in intellect than does its structural

The weight relations between the brain and the body of different
animals have been estimated as follows by Debierre (La Moelle et l'

Rabbit 1 of brain for 140 of body.
Cat 1 " 156 "
Fox 1 " 205 "
Dog 1 " 351 "
Horse 1 " 800 "

If matter were the only condition sine qua non of intelligence, we
should have to admit that the rabbit was more intelligent than the
cat, the fox, the dog, and even than the horse.

In the same work the following figures express the average size of the
brain in different races of men.

Pariahs of India 1332 cubic centimetres.
Australians 1338 "
Polynesians 1500 "
Ancient Egyptians 1500 "
Merovingians 1537 "
Modern Parisians 1559 "

This would prove that the people who built Karnac and the Pyramids,
who raised to an elevation of about 500 feet blocks of granite, one of
which would require fifteen horses to drag it along a level road, who
placed these enormous stones side by side without mortar or cement of
any kind and with almost invisible joints, who possessed the secret of
malleable glass and of painting in colours that have not faded even
after the lapse of centuries ... that such a race of men were inferior
to the rude, uncultured Merovingians, and scarcely the equals of the

Science also tells us that in a child five years of age the human
brain weighs, on an average, 1250 grammes--this, too, would bear no
relation whatever with the intellectual and moral development of a
child of that age and that of an adult man.

Though Cuvier's brain weighed 1830 grammes, and Cromwell's 2230, that
of Tiedemann, the great anatomist, when placed on the scales, weighed
no more than 1254, and that of Gambetta only 1246.

The physical body of itself can give no reason for a host of
psychological phenomena on which, however, a flood of light is shed if
one recognises the existence of other vehicles of consciousness
possessing more far-reaching vibrations, and consequently capable of
expressing higher faculties. During sleep, for instance, which is
characterised by the Ego having left his physical body, reason is
absent, and what we call dreams are generally nothing but a tissue of
nonsense, at which the dreamer feels astonishment only when returning
to his body on awaking. On the other hand, as we have seen in Chapter
I., when the Ego succeeds in imprinting on the brain the vibrations of
the higher consciousness, it is able to regain the memory of facts
long forgotten and to solve problems that could not be solved during
the waking state. There are madmen who have ceased to be mad during
somnambulism; persons of rudimentary intelligence have proved
themselves to be profound thinkers during the mesmeric trance; when
under somnambulism vision is possible to those born blind and certain
people can see things that are happening a great distance away, and
their reports have been proved correct; certain phenomena of
double-consciousness cannot be explained without the plurality--the
duality, at all events--of the vehicles of consciousness.

To return to the role played by the germ in the question of
heredity, we repeat that the physical germ, of itself alone, explains
only a portion of man; it throws light on the physical side of
heredity, but leaves in as great darkness as ever the problem of
intellectual and moral faculty. If it represented the whole man, one
would expect to find in any individual the qualities manifested in his
progenitors or parents--never any other; these qualities could not
exceed the amount possessed by the parents, whereas we find criminals
from birth in the most respectable families and saints born to parents
who are the very scum of society. You may come across twins, i.e.,
beings born from the same germs, under the same conditions of time
and environment, one of whom is an angel and the other a demon,
though their physical forms closely resemble each other.

Child prodigies are sufficiently numerous to frequently trouble the
thinker with the problem of heredity. Whence came that irresistible
impulse towards poetry in Ovid which showed itself from his earliest
youth and in the end overcame the vigorous opposition of his parents?

Pascal in his youth met with keen opposition from his parents, who
forbade him to think of mathematics and geometry. He besought his
father to tell him, at all events, "what was that science of which he
was forbidden to think, and what it treated of." The answer was given
to him that "it is the method of making correct figures and finding
out the proportions they bear to each other." With nothing more than
this information and the aid of reflection, he discovered for himself
the first thirty-two propositions of Euclid by means of "circles and
lines" traced in secret.

Mozart, at the age of three, learnt the clavecin by watching his
sister play; a year afterwards he composed admirably, at the age of
seven he played the violin at first sight without having had any
teacher, and proved himself a composer of genius before he reached his
twelfth birthday.

Pepito Ariola, the little Spaniard, was only three years of age when,
about ten years ago, he filled with astonishment the Court of Madrid
by his wonderful playing on the piano.

In the lineage of these prodigies has there been found a single
ancestor capable of explaining these faculties, as astonishing as they
are premature? If to the absence of a cause in their progenitors is
added the fact that genius is not hereditary, that Mozarts,
Beethovens, and Dantes have left no children stamped from birth as
prodigies of genius, we shall be forced to the conclusion that, within
the limits it has taken up, materialism is unable to explain heredity.

A few more words must be said on physical heredity to explain why
moral qualities in men of average development are often on a par with
the same in their parents.

In reality, the physical germs only multiply the organic elements of
the ovule, and as this latter contains the cell-types of all the
tissues, it follows that these cell-types will possess the qualities
of the tissues that exist in the parents. For instance, germs of
sufferers from arterio-sclerosis will supply a vascular apparatus
predisposed to arterio-sclerosis; tuberculous subjects will supply
germs in which the vital vibrations and cellular solidity will be
below the normal, and bring about those degenerate tendencies which
characterise the tuberculous subject; those of sanguine constitution
will transmit a faculty for vital assimilation and considerable
corpuscular production, and so on.[72]

In this transmission there are two main factors: the male and the
female germs. The former represents force, it imprints on the ovule
the initial vital vibration which is to be that of each of the cells
of the organism in course of construction. The function of this germ
may be studied more easily in animals, because their heredity is not
complicated by the individual differences due to the mental vehicle.
The stallion supplies the vital qualities--the blood, i.e., the
vivacity, brio, pace; physical resistance comes from the mare. To
sum up, the modalities of matter are supplied by the feminine germ.

Peculiarities of form proceed from several causes. Phrenology and
physiognomy are sciences, though the studies hitherto known by these
names are almost valueless because they have not been carried on with
the necessary scientific precision. Doubtless Gall and Lavater
possessed the gift of penetrating both mind and heart, as was also the
case with Mlle. Lenormand Desbarolles and the genuine graphologists;
but this gift was not the result of mathematical deduction, but
rather a psychometric or prophetic faculty; for this reason neither
they nor their books have produced pupils worthy of the name. The main
features and lines only of the human form have a known meaning--and
not always a very precise one--for every physical, passional, mental,
or spiritual force possesses an organ of expression in the visible
body, and the varieties of form of this organ enable one to judge of
the degrees of force they express on the earth plane. On this basis,
peculiarities of form mainly stand; and the intensity of certain
defects or qualities is at times expressed so strongly that it
completely modifies the tendencies it would seem that heredity ought
to pass on. The similarity of form between parent and child is not
exact, because it proceeds from the peculiarities of the individual in
incarnation far more than from the collective tendencies of the
embryonic cells in process of proliferation.

The being charged with building the body can, in turn, considerably
modify its form, copying specially striking features found in the
mother's thought; certain characteristic family traits, the Bourbon
nose, for instance; those belonging to strangers in continual
relationship with the mother, and those that a babe, fed and brought
up away from home, takes from his nurse or from the surroundings amid
which he lives; all these probably leave their impress in the same
way. In this case, indeed, the "builder"--who, it must be added,
ceases the work of construction only when it is on its way to
completion, which happens about the age of seven--is influenced by the
forms of the new surroundings, and at times copies them, more or less,
and we may ask ourselves if the unexplained fact of negro children
being born to a white woman--the widow of a negro--remarried to a
white man is in no way connected with the reproduction of a mental
image of the coloured children of a former marriage.

Another fact: observers have noticed that almost all great men have
had as their mother a woman of lofty character. This preponderance of
the maternal influence will be understood if we remember that the
cellular mass that composes the child's body belongs to the mother,
not only because this mass originates from the proliferation of the
ovule, and, consequently, is only the multiplication of the maternal
substance, but also because the materials that have formed it and have
been transmuted into flesh have been supplied by her; indeed,
everything comes from this cellular mass, the elements drawn from the
amniotic fluid and the blood, the milk, which, after birth, continues
for long months to build up the child's body and the magnetic fluid,
the "atoms of life," which are continually escaping from it and which
the babe absorbs whilst receiving incessant attention from his mother.

This exchange of atoms is of the utmost importance, for these
ultra-microscopic particles are charged with our mental and moral
tendencies as well as with the physical qualities; personally, I have
had many direct proofs of this, but the most striking came at a
critical period of my life. One day, when nervous exhaustion, steadily
increased by overwork, had reached an extreme stage, a great
Being--not a Mahatma, but a Soul at a very lofty stage of
evolution--sent to me by destiny at the time, poured into my shattered
body a portion of his physical life. Shortly afterwards a real
transformation took place, far more of a moral than of a physical
nature, and for a few hours I felt myself the "copy" or counterpart of
that great Soul, and the divine influence lasted twenty-four hours
before it gradually died away.

I then understood, better than by any other demonstration, the
influence of the physical upon the moral nature and the method of the
subtle contagion often effected by mesmerism. A man is known by the
friends he keeps is an old proverb.

If atoms of life can have so marked an influence upon a man nearly
forty years of age, i.e., at a period when he is in full possession
of himself, how much more powerful is this influence when exercised
upon the child--a delicate, sensitive body, almost entirely lacking
the control of the soul? This is the reason hired nurses often
transmit to the child their own physical features and countless moral
tendencies which last some time after weaning; orphans, too, morally,
often resemble the strangers who have brought them up. Like physical
tendencies these moral propensities disappear only by degrees,
according to change of environment, and especially to the degree in
which the body is controlled by the reincarnated soul.[73]

The most important, however, of the moral influences at work on the
being again brought into touch with earth-life is connected with the
emotions, the passions and thoughts of those around. The child--and
under this name must be included the embryo and the foetus--possesses
bodies the subtle elements of which are in a dormant state; his mental
and sense organisms are scarcely more than masses of substance that have
not yet been vitalised--a sort of collection of germs of good or of
evil, which will yield fruit when they awake. The passional and mental
vibrations of the parents play on the matter capable of responding to
them in the invisible bodies of the child; they vivify it, attract atoms
of the same nature taken from the finer atmosphere around, and awake in
it passional and mental centres which, but for them, might have remained
latent, or, at all events, would only have developed at a later stage,
when the Ego, master of its vehicles, would be in a position to struggle
against the outer evil influences and not permit them to have effect
save within the limits imposed by will. In this way, it is possible to
bring to birth evil instincts in a child, and intensify them to a
considerable extent, before a single virtue has succeeded in expressing
itself on the new instrument in course of development. This mental
action is so strong that it colours vividly, if not altogether, the
morality of the little ones living beneath its influence, and even older
children are still so sensitive to it that whole classes are seen to
reflect the moral character of the teacher who has charge of them. This
influence, too, does not cease with childhood, it weighs--though far
less heavily--on the man during the whole of his life; and families,
nations, nay, even races, each see through the prism of their own
special atmosphere. Mighty and subtle is this illusion which man, in the
course of his pilgrimage towards divine Unity, must succeed in piercing
and finally entirely dissipating.

Our responsibility towards children is all the more serious in that,
to the deep impression which thought makes on the subtle, plastic, and
defenceless mental bodies of the little ones, is added the fact that,
could one prevent the development of the germs of evil in the course
of one incarnation, these germs, not having fructified, would transmit
nothing to the causal body after death, and would disappear[74] with
the disintegration of the matter of which they were composed.
Consequently, with regard to children especially, we should cultivate
none but noble emotions and lofty thoughts, so as to create centres of
pure and worthy activity within their vehicles in course of
reconstruction, and to turn their early impulses in the direction of
good, their first actions towards duty and their first aspirations
towards the lofty and luminous heights of spirituality.

One may see from this rapid sketch how numerous and important are the
influences added to and blended with those of physical heredity. This
group of influences, some maleficent, some beneficent, is chosen by
the Beings who control destiny and give to each Ego, on reincarnation,
the body and environment it has merited, or rather that are needed,
for the harmonious development of its faculties. A young soul[75]
still at the mercy of the animal impulses--necessary impulses at the
outset of human development--of its kamic, i.e., desire, vehicle, is
sent to parents who will be able to supply its body with material
elements of a particular density without which these impulses could
not manifest themselves. An Ego that is approaching maturity will be
drawn to a family that is physically and morally pure, in which it
will receive both the finer physical vehicle it needs and that lofty
environment which, when it enters upon earth life, will develop the
centres of expression for its nobler faculties. Those who are named in
the mystic phraseology of the East, the "Lords of Karma," in their
choice of the race, the family, and the environment in which the
reincarnated soul is to appear, seek to give this latter the most
favourable conditions for its evolution. An Ego whose artistic side
needs to be developed will often be born in a family which will supply
it with a nervous system accustomed to the kind of vibrations
required, and an environment favourable to the early development of
the physical centres of these faculties; to assist a being whose
scientific, mystical, or metaphysical side needs to be developed,
other environment and parentage will be chosen, and it is this
relative parallelism existing between the moral qualities of the
parents and those of the children which has deceived observers
insufficiently instructed in the mystery of heredity, and made them
believe in the influence of the physical germ alone.

It is an easy matter to supply an Ego of average development with a
vehicle; an ordinary body is all that is needed. There may be extreme
difficulty, however, when a new instrument has to be found for a lofty
soul, and when we think that, in pressing instances when the fortune
of humanity is at stake and the hour of destiny has struck, certain
great Souls accept very imperfect bodies for want of better ones, we
shall no longer be astonished at finding that any particular
Messenger, in his compassion for the humanity he has to enlighten and
to direct to the ancient, eternal Source of Truth, has clothed himself
with a body of flesh the ancestry of which was far from being adapted
to the expression of his lofty faculties; courageous Souls are well
able to put on the robe of pain and to submit to slander and calumny
when the world's salvation can only be achieved at such a cost. We
know scarcely anything of the conditions that control the return to
earth of the Avataras, the "Sons of God," except that sometimes great
Initiates, after purifying their bodies, voluntarily hand them over to
the "gods," who come down to earth--a sublime sacrifice which, like
that of the Saviours who consent to come amongst us, shows forth that
supreme characteristic of divinity; the gift of oneself.

Nor is heredity always realised; many a physical characteristic is not
reproduced; in families tainted with dangerous physiological defects,
many children escape the evil, and the diseased tendencies of the
tissues remain latent in them, although they often afflict their
descendants. On the other hand, as already stated, extremely divergent
mental types are often met with in the same family, and many a
virtuous parent is torn with grief on seeing the vicious tendencies of
his child. Here, as elsewhere, the hand of Providence, as Christianity
calls it--the Intelligence that brings about evolution, the Justice
that controls and the Love that animates it--the hand of God or of
those who, having become divine, collaborate in the divine plan, comes
to make up for the imperfection of the vehicles, and they permit only
what is necessary to come to each one--only what he has deserved, as
is generally said: this hand can create a physical or a psychic malady
even where heredity and environment could not supply it, just as it
can preserve a pure soul from the moral infection of the surroundings
into which it is thrown.[76] This is the reason we find that heredity
and environment either fail to fulfil their promise or else give what
was not their's to give.

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