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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 differ
nces 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.