By Francis Galton (1865)

The power of man over animal life, in producing whatever varieties of form he pleases, is enormously great. It would seem as though the physical structure of future generations was almost as plastic as clay, under the control of the breeder's will. It is my desire to show more pointedly than -- so far as I am aware -- has been attempted before, that mental qualities are equally under control.


So far as I am aware, no animals have ever been bred for general intelligence. Special aptitudes are thoroughly controlled by the breeder. He breeds dogs that point, that retrieve, that fondle, or that bite; but, no one has ever yet attempted to breed for high general intellect, irrespective of all other qualities. It would be a most interesting subject for an attempt. We hear constantly of prodigies of dogs, whose very intelligence makes them of little value as slaves. When they are wanted, they are apt to be absent on their own errands. They are too critical of their master's conduct. For instance, an intelligent dog shows marked contempt for an unsuccessful sportsman. He will follow nobody along a road that leads on a well-known tedious errand. He does not readily forgive a man who wounds his self-esteem. He is often a dexterous thief and a sad hypocrite. For these reasons an over-intelligent dog is not an object of particular desire, and therefore, I suppose, no one has ever thought of encouraging a breed of wise dogs. But it mould be a most interesting occupation for a country philosopher to pick up, the cleverest dogs he could hear of, and mate them together, generation after generation -- breeding purely for intellectual power, and disregarding shape, size, and every other quality.


[How to breed a better man:  Find him a better woman!]

As we cannot doubt that the transmission of talent is as much through the side of the mother as through that of the father, how vastly would the offspring be improved, supposing distinguished women to be commonly married to distinguished men, generation after generation, their qualities being in harmony and not in contrast, according to rules of which we are now ignorant, but which a study of the subject would be sure to evolve!

It has been said by Bacon that "great men have no continuance." I, however, find that very great men are certainly not averse to the other sex, for some such have been noted for their illicit intercourses, and, I believe, for a corresponding amount of illegitimate issue. Great lawyers are especially to be blamed in this, even more than poets, artists, or great commanders. It seems natural to believe that a person who is not married, or who, if married, does not happen to have children, should feel himself more vacant to the attractions of a public or a literary career than if he had the domestic cares and interests of a family to attend to. Thus, if we take a list of the leaders in science of the present day, the small number of them who have families is very remarkable. Perhaps the best selection of names we can make, is from those who have filled the annual scientific office of President of the British Association. We will take the list of the commoners simply, lest it should be objected, though unjustly, that some of the noblemen who have occupied the chair were not wholly indebted to their scientific attainments for that high position. Out of twenty-two individuals, about one-third have children; one-third are or have been married and have no children; and one-third have never been married. Among the children of those who have had families, the names of Frank Buckland and Alexander Herschel are already well-known to the public.

There has been a popular belief that men of great intellectual eminence, are usually of feeble constitution, and of a dry and cold disposition. There may be such instances, but I believe the general rule to be exactly the opposite. Such men, so far as my observation and reading extend, are usually more manly and genial than the average, and by the aid of these very qualities, they obtain a recognised ascendancy. It is a great and common mistake to suppose that high intellectual powers are commonly associated with puny frames and small physical strength. Men of remarkable eminence are almost always men of vast powers of work. Those among them that have fallen into sedentary ways will frequently astonish their friends by their physical feats, when they happen to be in the mood of a vacation ramble. The Alpine Club contains a remarkable number of men of fair literary and scientific distinction; and these are among the strongest and most daring of the climbers. I believe, from my own recollections of the thews and energies of my contemporaries and friends of many years at Cambridge, that the first half-dozen class-men in classics or mathematics would have beaten, out of all proportion, the last half-dozen class-men in any trial of physical strength or endurance. Most notabilities have been great eaters and excellent digesters, on literally the same principle that the furnace which can raise more steam than is usual for one of its size burn more freely and well than is common. Most great men are vigorous animals, with exuberant powers, and an extreme devotion to a cause. There is no reason to suppose that, in breeding for the highest order of intellect, we should produce a sterile or a feeble race.

Many forms of civilization have been peculiarly unfavourable to the hereditary transmission of rare talent. None of them mere more prejudicial to it than that of the Middle Ages, where almost every youth of genius was attracted into the Church, and enrolled in the ranks of a celibate clergy.

Another great hindrance to it is a costly tone of society, like that of our own, where it becomes a folly for a rising man to encumber himself with domestic expenses, which custom exacts, and which are larger than his resources are able to meet. Here also genius is celibate, at least during the best period of manhood.

A spirit of caste is also bad, which compels a man of genius to select his wife from a narrow neighborhood or from the members of a few families.

But a spirit of clique is not bad. I understand that in Germany it is very much the custom for professors to marry the daughters of other professors, and I have some reason to believe, but am anxious for further information before I can feel sure of it, that the enormous intellectual digestion of German literary men, which far exceeds that of the corresponding class of our own country-men, may, in some considerable degree, be traceable to this practice.

So far as beauty is concerned, the custom of many countries, of the nobility purchasing the handsomest girls they could find for their wives, has laid the foundation of a higher type of features among the ruling classes. It is not so very long ago in England that it was thought quite natural that the strongest lance at the tournament should win the fairest or the noblest lady. The lady was the prize to be tilted for. She rarely objected to the arrangement, because her vanity was gratified by the éclat of the proceeding. Now history is justly charged with a tendency to repeat itself. We may, therefore, reasonably look forward to the possibility, I do not venture to say the probability, of a recurrence of some such practice of competition. What an extraordinary effect might be produced on our race, if its object was to unite in marriage those who possessed the finest and most suitable natures, mental moral, and physical!

Let us, then, give reins to our fancy, and imagine a Utopia -- or a Laputa, if you will -- in which a system of competitive examination for girls, as well as for youths, had been so developed as to embrace every important quality of mind and body, and where a considerable sum was yearly allotted to the endowment of such marriages as promised to yield children who would grow into eminent servants of the State. We may picture to ourselves an annual ceremony in that Utopia or Laputa, in which the Senior Trustee of the Endowment Fund would address ten deeply-blushing young men, all of twenty-five years old, in the following terms:

"Gentlemen, I have to announce the results of a public examination, conducted on established principles; which show that you occupy the foremost places in your year, in respect to those qualities of talent, character, and bodily vigour which are proved, on the whole, to do most honour and best service to our race. An examination has also been conducted on established principles among all the young ladies of this country who are now of the age of twenty-one, and I need hardly remind you, that this examination takes note of grace, beauty, health, good temper, accomplished housewifery, and disengaged affections, in addition to noble qualities of heart and brain. By a careful investigation of the marks you have severally obtained, and a comparison of them, always on established principles, with those obtained by the most distinguished among the young ladies, we have been enabled to select ten of their names with especial reference to your individual qualities. It appears that marriages between you and these ten ladies, according to the list I hold in my hand, would offer the probability of unusual happiness to yourselves, and, what is of paramount interest to the State, would probably result in an extraordinarily talented issue. Under these circumstances, if any or all of these marriages should be agreed upon, the sovereign herself will give away the brides, at a high and solemn festival, six months hence, in Westminster abbey. We, on our part, are prepared, in each case, to assign 5,000£ as a wedding-present, and to defray the cost of maintaining and educating your children, out of the ample funds entrusted to our disposal by the State."

If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create! We might introduce prophets and high priests of our civilization into a world as surely as we can propagate idiots by mating crétins. Men and women of the present day are, to those we might hope to bring into existence, what the pariah dogs of the streets of an Eastern town are to our own highly bred varieties.

The feeble nations of the world are necessarily giving way before the nobler varieties of mankind; and even the best of these, so far as we know them, seem unequal to their work. The average culture of mankind is become so much high, than it was, and the branches of knowledge and history so various and extended, that few are capable even of comprehending the exigencies of our modern civilization; much less fulfilling them. We are living in a sort of intellectual anarchy, for want of master minds. The general intellectual capacity of our leaders requires to be raised, and also to be differentiated. We want abler commanders, statesmen, thinkers, inventors, and artists. The natural qualifications of our race are no greater than they used to be in semi-barbarous times, though the conditions amid which we are born are vastly more complex than of old. The foremost minds of the present day seem to stagger and halt under an intellectual load too heavy for their powers.

[On Americans]

Let us consider an instance in which different social influences have modified the inborn dispositions of a nation. The North American people has been bred from the most restless and combative class of Europe. Whenever, during the last ten or twelve generations, a political or religious party has suffered defeat, its prominent members, whether they were the best, or only the noisiest, have been apt to emigrate to America, as a refuge from persecution. Men fled to America for conscience' sake, and for that of unappreciated patriotism. Every scheming knave, and every brutal ruffian, who feared the arm of the law, also turned his eyes in the same direction. Peasants and artisans, whose spirit rebelled against the tyranny of society and the monotony of their daily life, and men of a higher position, who chafed under conventional restraints, all yearned towards America. Thus the dispositions of the parents of the American people have been exceedingly varied, and usually extreme, either for good or for evil. But in one respect they almost universally agreed. Every head of an emigrant family brought with him a restless character, and a spirit apt to rebel. If we estimate the moral nature of Americans from their present social state, we shall find it to be just what me might have expected from such a parentage. They are enterprising, defiant, and touchy; impatient of authority; furious politicians; very tolerant of fraud and violence; possessing much high and generous spirit, and some true religious feeling, but strongly addicted to cant.

[As is mildly suggested by the preceding passage, Galton's discussions of the character of other "races" would no doubt offend the modern sensibilities!]

Originally published in Macmillan's Magazine, 12, 157-166, 318-327.

Classics in the History of Psychology
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York University, Toronto, Ontario