September 8, 2009

Francis Galton's "Hereditary Genius"

I'm rereading Francis Galton's 1869 book Hereditary Genius, which argues for the heritability of ability (he wrote in 1892 that he should have named it Hereditary Ability). From a glass-half-full perspective, it's certainly impressive. The novelty of so much of the reasoning in it is extraordinary.

I read it a decade ago from a glass is half empty perspective and found it unconvincing. But, of course, Galton couldn't have been wholly convincing back in 1869: Galton had to dream up most of the conceptual tools (such as twin studies and the correlation coefficient) he needed to prove his insight, which he proceeded to do over the second half of his long and remarkably productive life.

In Hereditary Genius, Galton's basic methodology is to come up with lists of eminent people and determine how many prominent relatives they have. Galton was a great believer in the accuracy of long-term reputation.

Strikingly, he prefers to use other people's lists of eminent men that were created for other purposes so that his biases won't interfere with who makes the list. For example, among statesmen, he is aware of how far men can be propelled by inheritance, luck, and so forth, so he restricts his list to two sources: Prime Ministers (on the ground that you had to have something on the ball to make it all the way to very highest post) and a book written by one of Galton's heroes, Henry Brougham: Sketches of the Statesmen of the time of George III.

Galton cites Brougham, the brilliant Whig politician who largely pushed through the Reform Act of 1832 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, as the exemplar of the man of parts so talented that he would achieve great renown under any circumstances.

Ironically, Brougham is even more overlooked today than Galton. In contrast, Galton's other hero, his own half-cousin Charles Darwin, is now titanically famous. And yet, at least to me, Darwin and Galton, the grandsons of the polymath Erasmus Darwin, appear to be very similar in talents and accomplishments. Darwin, the older of the pair, had the single best idea, but Galton, who was healthier and more energetic, may have had more good ideas (e.g., besides the basic concept of a science of human differences, he invented the concept of regression toward the mean, the basic math of correlation, the weather map, the silent dog whistle, and the system for classifying fingerprints).

Neither Darwin nor Galton radiated an air of being a supreme genius. Both seemed more like enormously curious and resourceful wealthy English amateurs with lots of time on their hands, to the sciences what Lord Peter Wimsey is to fictional crime solving. If Darwin and Galton hadn't been born into a rich family of Whig views and a scientific bent, would they have become so eminent?

The concept of the control group hadn't been dreamed up by 1869 (I don't believe), but Galton cleverly self-analyzes his sample by showing that the likelihood of a relative becoming eminent himself is proportional to the genealogical distance: sons or brothers or fathers of eminent men are more likely to be eminent than nephews, while nephews are more likely to be eminent than cousins or great-nephews.

Galton is aware of the nature-nurture conundrum (he coined the term "nature v. nurture"), so he suggests looking at the careers of favorite nephews of Italian popes. In recent centuries, after the end of the great Renaissance families, the Church became less aristocratic, and popes tended to be the most impressive figure of less distinguished families. How did their favorite nephews do? Not as well as sons do in non-celibate professions, he asserts.

Galton offers other interesting if not wholly convincing arguments for heredity of ability. He wrote in 1869:
Another argument to prove, that the hindrances of English social life, are not effectual in repressing high ability is, that the number of eminent men in England, is as great as in other countries where fewer hindrances exist. Culture is far more widely spread in America, than with us, and the education of their middle and lower classes far more advanced; but, for all that, America most certainly does not beat us in first-class works of literature, philosophy, or art. The higher kind of books, even of the most modern date, read in America, are principally the work of Englishmen. The Americans have an immense amount of the newspaper-article-writer, or of the member-of-congress stamp of ability; but the number of their really eminent authors is more limited even than with us. I argue that, if the hindrances to the rise of genius, were removed from English society as completely as they have been removed from that of America, we should not become materially richer in highly eminent men.

I certainly found that true when forced to study the early classics of American Literature in high school. Before Huckleberry Finn, what from American lit is really worth reading: Bartleby the Scrivener? The Tell-Tale Heart? The best I could say for Thoreau's Walden was that its prose style wasn't quite as soporific as Emerson's Self-Reliance. Most of the early classics appear to be classics mostly out of New Englandish self-regard. New Englanders started most of the colleges, so they got to decide what should be taught in the colleges.

The most prodigious intellectual effort of early American letters, Ben Franklin's 1751 essay Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, which, as Malthus admitted in his second edition, foreshadowed him by a half century, is almost unknown today.

Galton's book remains full of great data nerd stuff, such as this digression on an issue that comes up in assessing the talent of military commanders:
There is a singular and curious condition of success in the army and navy, quite independent of ability, that deserves a few words. In order that a young man may fight his way to the top of his profession, he must survive many battles. But it so happens that men of equal ability are not equally likely to escape shot free. Before explaining why, let me remark that the danger of being shot in battle is considerable. No less than seven of the thirty-two commanders mentioned in my appendix, or between one-quarter and one-fifth of them, perished in that way; they are Charles XII., Gustavus Adolphus, Sir Henry Lawrence, Sir John Moore, Nelson, Tromp, and Turenne. (I may add, while talking of these things, though it does not bear on my argument, that four others were murdered, viz. Caesar, Coligny, Philip II. of Macedon, and William the Silent; and that two committed suicide, viz. Lord Clive and Hannibal. In short, 40 per cent. of the whole number died by violent deaths.)

There is a principle of natural selection in an enemy's bullets which
bears more heavily against large than against small men. Large men are more likely to be hit. I calculate that the chance of a man being accidentally shot is as the square root of the product of his height multiplied into his weight;¹ that where a man of 16 stone in weight, and 6 feet 2.5 inches high, will escape from chance shots for two years, a man of 8 stone in weight and 5 feet 6 inches high, would escape for three. But the total proportion of the risk run by the large man, is, I believe, considerably greater. He is conspicuous from his size, and is therefore more likely to be recognised and made the object of a special aim. It is also in human nature, that the shooter should pick out the largest man, just as he would pick out the largest bird in a covey, or antelope in a herd.

...
This is really an important consideration. Had [Admiral] Nelson [killed at Trafalgar in 1805] been a large man, instead of a mere feather-weight, the probability is that he would not have survived so long.

In short, to have survived is an essential condition to becoming a famed commander; yet persons equally endowed with military gifts—such as the requisite form of high intellectual and moral ability and of constitutional vigour—are by no means equally qualified to escape shot free. The enemy's bullets are least dangerous to the smallest men, and therefore small men are more likely to achieve high fame as commanders than their equally gifted contemporaries whose physical frames are larger.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

58 comments:

The Undiscovered Jew said...

The enemy's bullets are least dangerous to the smallest men, and therefore small men are more likely to achieve high fame as commanders than their equally gifted contemporaries whose physical frames are larger.

Wouldn't a problem with this idea be that his calculations only apply in the age of firearms?

For most of human history, men have fought with swords. I would imagine that being a large man would have been selected for during the pre-firearm age of warfare because being tall gives a fighter a certain edge in combat.

Anonymous said...

This principle seems to apply to a goodly proportion of world leaders

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=5314996&page=1

Is it 'small man's disease' with something to prove or something more?
Even before stones/arrows/bullets ,the size of the target, and the niftiness of his movements would aid his survival.

Large guys seem to be more affable, a little less pugnacious more relaxed in their abililty to see a bit further?

Bill said...

Hmm. Interesting point about size there. Brings Michael Collins to mind.

Lexington Steele said...

Size matters.

Toadal said...

Like many who received the US Selective Service draft notice during WWII, my father left it unopened and joined the US Navy the next day. He was from Kentucky and knew Kentucky draftees would likely serve in US Army rifle battalions.

Oddly enough, as a young teenage gunnery mate, he shared cigarettes and conversations with a young Jewish naval officer named Herman Wouk while serving on the USS Zane in the south Pacific. They fought with and destroyed Japanese gun emplacements before beach landings.

Other children of WWII sailors I've spoken to have said their fathers followed the same path.

Uncle Peregrine said...

I'd think that high school students would be most likely to enjoy Poe of all the pre-Huck Finn American writers.

Anonymous said...

The most prodigious intellectual effort of early American letters, Ben Franklin's 1751 essay Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, which, as Malthus admitted in his second edition, foreshadowed him by a half century, is almost unknown today.

I could never understand why Franklin groups the Swedes and Germans together with Spaniards and Italians as far as complexion is concerned.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall that Galton was quite gifted as a child, although he had a nervous breakdown preparing for the mathematical Tripos at Cambridge. I would have guessed he was intellectually stronger than Darwin, although Darwin did have that one big idea ;-)

For those interested, you can read Hereditary Genius and other Galton works here:

http://galton.org

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1212060/Ancient-skeletons-discovered-Georgia-threaten-overturn-theory-human-evolution.html


1.8 million year old human skulls found in Georgia (supposedly). This is also supposed to "overthrow" the theory of an "out of Africa" evolution of man.

They look like children-sized skulls to me. I knew this would be of interest on this website.

Anonymous said...

For example, among statesmen, he is aware of how far men can be propelled by inheritance, luck, and so forth, so he restricts his list to two sources: Prime Ministers (on the ground that you had to have something on the ball to make it all the way to very highest post)

I wonder how valid this is -- even in Britain, I don't think every Prime minister was particularly distinguished by ability. Balfour, for example (coming decades after Galton, of course) seems to have got in largely by virtue of his uncle being Lord Salisbury. And if one considers the prime ministers of Japan, it's even more clear that ancestry is playing more than the usual role.

Every prime minister since Koizumi has been the son or grandson of a prime minister. Abe Shinzo was the son of Kishi Nobusuke and the grand-nephew of Sato Eisaku. Fukuda Yasuo was the son of Fukuda Takeo. The outgoing PM, Asou Tarou, is the grandson of Yoshida Shigeru (and the great-great-grandson of Okubo Toshimichi, a leading statesman in the Meiji Restoration). The incoming PM, Hatoyama Yukio, is the grandson of Hatoyama Ichiro, the prime minister who ushered in "1955 system" (of LDP dominance).

These aren't even the most ludicrously hoch und wohlgeboren postwar Japanese prime ministers. The first opposition PM since 1955 was Hosokawa Morihiro, descended from the Hosokawa daimyos of Kumamoto (if the Japanese had won the war, he would have been the 6th Marquess of Kumamoto). Through the Hosokawas, I believe he was descended from the Ashikagas (ruled Japan as Shoguns during the Muromachi period) and through the Ashikagas, the the Minamoto clan, who were prominent during the Heian era, over 13 centuries before. Through his mother, he was the grandson of Prince Fumimaro Konoe, who had been prime minister during the War, and through the Prince, he was descended from the Fujiwaras, who had ruled Japan as regents -- sessho and kanpaku -- during the Heian era.

Inheritance doesn't just take you most of the way -- it can take you all the way.

Anonymous said...

The concept of regression to the mean seems intuitively obvious. Galton was probably just the first to put his idea down in a published work.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you're forgetting Moby Dick.

Anonymous said...

Between 1800 and 1914 when people thought of leaders of armies, their minds immediately brought them back to the figure of Napoleon. He was the top dog in that field in that century, he made the biggest impression, and reputation-wise everyone else was a midget compared to him.

Napoleon was famously short and pudgy. This must have introduced a degree of cognitive dissonance into 19th century minds - he didn't look the way one wanted someone like that to look. Perhaps the passage you quoted started out as a way for Galton to resolve this cognitive dissonance. Just a guess.

Edward said...

De Tocqueville thought the relative lack of quality of American intellectual product was due to its democratic society - everyone thought they knew best so writers appealed to their tastes rather than attempted to change their opinions. That's Malcolm Gladwell's MO to a T.

In aristocracies readers are difficult and few; in democracies it is less hard to please them and their number is enormous. Hence the result is that in aristocratic peoples, one may hope to succeed only with immense efforts, and these efforts, which can give much glory, can never procure much money; whereas in democratic nations a writer can flatter himself that he may get a mediocre renown and a great fortune cheaply. For that it is not necessary that one admire him; it is enough that one have a taste for him.

----


Not only do Americans draw every day on treasures from English literature, but one can truthfully say that they find the literature of England on their own soil. Among the few men in the United States who are occupied in composing works of literature, most are English at bottom and above all in form. Thus they transport into the midst of democracy the ideas and literary usages that are current in the aristocratic nation they have taken for a model.


Taken in its entirety, literature in democratic centuries cannot present the image of order, of regularity, of science, and of art as in aristocratic times; in it, form will ordinarily be found neglected and sometimes scorned. Style will often show itself bizarre, incorrect, overloaded, and soft, and almost always bold and vehement. Authors will aim more at rapidity of execution than at perfection of details. Small writings will be more frequent than large books, spirit than erudition, imagination than profundity; an uncultivated and almost savage force will reign in thought, and often a very great variety and a singular fruitfulness in its products. One will try to astonish rather than to please, and one will strive to carry away passions more than to charm taste.

albertosaurus said...

The reason that Galton enjoyed better health than Darwin is probably because Darwin suffered from Chaga's disease. It is believed that he contracted this disease from a Kissing Bug while on his famous Beagle voyage.

Math and statistics don't expose you to as many parasitic vectors as does zoological fieldwork. In this case the crucial difference is environmental.

albertosaurus said...

Steve, I believe that you like me are six four. I find it hard to consisder six two and a half as being particularly large. No one turns to stare at a man who is only six two. No one spontaneously remarks on how big you are if you are six two. Basketball players who are six eight get that kind of notice. I'm sure Michael Chrichton got that kind of attention, but not a guy who was a mere six two and a half.

As for bulk, let me recommend the Swine Flu diet. I've lost ten pounds in three days so far.

At lot of this little man syndrome nonsense stems from the near universal misperception that Napolian was unusually short. He was in fact five six and a half. In the early part of the nineteenth century the French were the shortest people in Europe. At mid century they rapidly got taller - nutrition I suppose.

Napolian's height was missreported at his death in the English newspapers. There was a confusion over which inch to use. The legend of his shortness was mostly post mortem. In his day the average Frenchman was only about five four.

The previous poster who claimed that for most of human history men fought with swords was wrong unless perhaps you only mean written history. Effective hand guns are about three hundred years old. Effective swords perhaps two thousand. But humans have been fighting each other as sapiens with clubs for at least fifty thousand years and as erectus for over a million.

The cruder the weapon the greater the advantage to the big man. Only in the fifteenth century with the introduction of real gunpowder for the first time was there a power source other than muscle. Big men with bigger muscles had always had the advantage in the million year "Age of Muscles".

Of course the real advantage of a bigger body for a general is the liklihood of a bigger brain. Brain size correlates with IQ at as much as .50.

Nelson didn't live long because he was magnificent, not because he was small. He like Alevander (another small leader) was pathologically brave. Most of such leaders die in their first engagement. The few who survive become legends.

Anonymous said...

"For most of human history, men have fought with swords. I would imagine that being a large man would have been selected for during the pre-firearm age of warfare because being tall gives a fighter a certain edge in combat."

No, they fought with arrows, bolts, javelins and slingstones when at a distance, where Galton's argument would still apply, and at close quarters they generally fought with pole arms such as spears, axes and various poleweapons (halberds, etc.). Height helps somewhat in wielding these types of weapons, but not as much as with swords, as polearms, given their length, provide most of the reach and leverage. It is true that a few cultures did fight mainly with swords at close quarters (notably the Romans), but they tended to fight in ranks hiding behind large body shields.

"I could never understand why Franklin groups the Swedes and Germans together with Spaniards and Italians as far as complexion is concerned."

I have no idea for Swedes, as they are very fair, but, having lived in the UK and several parts of Germany, Germans are much darker on average than Brits except for the North Coast, where they resemble Dutch and Danes. Outside the north coast, complexions are more likely to be 'brunet white' rather than pale or ruddy and hair is usually various shades of brown. In the UK, by contrast fair, ruddy or milky white skin (often with freckles) is much more common, as is blond and especially red hair.

Anonymous said...

"The enemy's bullets are least dangerous to the smallest men, and therefore small men are more likely to achieve high fame as commanders than their equally gifted contemporaries whose physical frames are larger."


Is this why Napoleon did so well?

Duke said...

Interesting stuff.

I'm pretty sure Galton was a child prodigy (or nearly so, anyway). Somewhere, I read excerpts from a letter he had written as a 5-year old and he we clearly precocious.

Also: Galton was the first to apply the term nature vs. nuture, but he the phrase itself originates from a line in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

My understanding is that Darwin was very much the country gentleman, who was very close to going down the path of idleness without making any major contributions. His father had essentially written him off by the time of his voyage.

Jeff008 said...

Steve says, "Before Huckleberry Finn, what from American lit is really worth reading: Bartleby the Scrivener?"

I would second Uncle Peregrine and recommend Poe, but I would also argue that Hawthorne and Melville--while both "difficult"--are even more brilliant than Poe.

RobertHume said...

Yes indeed, Melville. Much better than Twain, in my opinion. I should check what Charles Murray's book says.

Jeff said...

Edgar Allan Poe was not a New England person. He was a genius who generally gets trashed by the education establishment.

I am not a New England person, and I do not like Hawthorne or Melville. Teachers tried to make me read their books in high school, and I tried to do it, but after a few pages I gave up.

The only Mark Twain book that the education establishment likes is Huckleberry Finn, and that is because of its sympathetic treatment of a black slave.

Any book that praises African-Americans or trashes southern whites is okay with the education establishment.

Anonymous said...

While Brits may indeed be smarter on average than Americans, I think his choice of literature as a yardstick is myopic. British publishers actively discriminated against American writers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, probably out of spite about the wars. The first American work to be published widely was Washington Irving's Sketch Book, which is largely an extravaganza of English but-kissing.
There's also the question of the relative mind set and emphasis of a society. America was a frontier nation in those days. Yet more inventions came out of the US between 1860 and 1900 than out of all other countries combined in the history of the world. (Steam ship, coton gin, sowing machine, light bulb, phonograph, telegraph, telephone anesthesia, etc.)
Moreover, in the early twentieth century America produced several major poets, TS Eliot, Pound, Frost. All considered foremost in their arena.

Whiskey said...

Most Western Combat in the pre-firearms era was heavy infantry, armored and armed very well, in a wall or a square formation, crashing headlong into the enemy with the idea of annihilating him completely. Most of the Roman legions were made up of small men, certainly in the days of the Republic. What mattered most was group discipline not individual weapons-skill and fighting.

Modern Warfare with commanders not at the front of battle, and the battlefield much larger, tend to produce relatively few fatalities of commanders. Patton died in a car accident, not in battle. Ike, Bradley, all died long after the war, as did Mark Clark, Douglass McArthur, Matthew Ridgeway, and Curtis LeMay. Rommel was killed by Hitler, but most of his other generals survived the War.

More to the point, in most of the Wars the US has fought since the Civil War, losses have been percentage wise relatively light, even in the officer corps, and even in WWII where the heaviest losses occurred. Generally, with good naval support and air cover, and following doctrine, most US forces most of the time face little chance of being wiped out or nearly so, from Korea onwards (if one accepts the Army's unwise failure to secure it's rear on the advance to the Yalu as violating doctrine).
------------
Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast is a classic Steve. As a native Californian you are missing something if you don't read it -- what California was like before the Gold Rush, particularly Southern California which was known almost exclusively for leather exports.

MQ said...

"Moby Dick" has a good claim to being the greatest American novel. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are close to being the greatest American poets (Wallace Stevens maybe would compete?) and are prior to Huckleberry Finn. I think literature is not Steve's strong point.

Anonymous said...

Plus, in chess, America had Paul Morphy and Harry Nelson Pillsbury by the year 1900, both of whom won major international competitions in Germany. No non Jewish English player ever did similar.

Jim O'Sullivan said...

If Galton was so eminent - as an author! - why couldn't he learn the proper uses of commas? Jeez, those misplaced commas are a significant distraction, n'est pas?

Thursday said...

The best I could say for Thoreau's Walden was that its prose style wasn't quite as soporific as Emerson's Self-Reliance.

Emerson deserves better. He is, as James Kalb says in this essay, the philosopher of America. Almost every American policy maker before 1950 has been massively influenced by him, as well as entrepeneurs like Henry Ford. He was widely admired in Britain and on the continent too. He was a crucial influence on Nietzsche.

Anonymous said...

. This is really an important consideration. Had [Admiral] Nelson [killed at Trafalgar in 1805] been a large man, instead of a mere feather-weight, the probability is that he would not have survived so long.
wellington and washington were large men and seemingly impervious to bullets (both had several go through their hats and had horses shot from under them. Nelson, on the other hand, couldn't seem to avoid them.. he lost an important body part nearly every battle (eye, arm)

n/a said...

"I have no idea for Swedes"

Presumably, the "Swedes" Franklin was exposed to descended from permanent settlers of New Sweden, who evidently were predominantly Finnish:

It is highly probable that up to 3/4ths of Delaware's permanent settlers were people from Sweden's Finnish forests.

While not generally "swarthy", Finns are sallow compared to the ruddy-complected Northwestern Europeans Franklin identified with.

Steve Sailer said...

Another factor besides size is a good immune system: Alexander the Great was wounded eight times in battle but recovered each time, before succumbing of fever at peace.

Anonymous said...

Germans are much darker on average than Brits.

I second that as a Brit meeting Germans here and visiting Germany. I didnt realise it when I was younger, I just assumed Germans were as pasty as us!

Anonymous said...

I have heard that one reason Great Britian tends to have good leadership is that the system requires that the prime minister speak before parliment on a weekly basis. By doing so it insures that they have a high verbal IQ (unlike our last president). At the very least the British PM must have some leadership skills.

Melykin said...

anoymous wrote:
"In the UK, by contrast fair, ruddy or milky white skin (often with freckles) is much more common, as is blond and especially red hair..."
------------------------------

Milky white skin combied with blue eyes and black hair is also quite common.
Example:
http://www.toptenz.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/elizabeth-taylor.jpg

CJ said...

Culture is far more widely spread in America, than with us, and the education of their middle and lower classes far more advanced; but, for all that, America most certainly does not beat us in first-class works of literature, philosophy, or art.

That is an extremely open-minded attitude for a Brit. English literature was very strong indeed until the middle of the 20th century. And, the overall point Galton is making does seem true. After all, modern New Labour Britain has tried all kinds of measures to eliminate class distinctions, but there has clearly been no increase in the numbers of outstandingly talented people.

wintermute said...

Emerson deserves better.

Steve's complaints about Self-Reliance are well taken. I think anyone who wants to improve their opinion of Emerson's prose style should read his book Nature. Virtually every paragraph has some remarkable observation:

We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man's condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put.

[. . . ]

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!

[. . .]

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun.

[. . . ]

Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.

And so forth. All of the above are taken from the first ten paragraphs of the book.




I second that as a Brit meeting Germans here and visiting Germany. I didnt realise it when I was younger, I just assumed Germans were as pasty as us!

That's the propaganda talking. Don't worry, it should wear off in about a century or two.

As for Galton's 'small man' theory of history, wasn't Adenoid Hynkel famous for dodging bullets during the First World War?

Antoine Zhang said...

" I think literature is not Steve's strong point."

You mention "Moby Dick" and Wallace Stevens as great examples of American letters?

Literature is obviously not your strong point either.

Anonymous said...

WM - I didnt realise there was propaganda involved. Until I'd met a few Germans face to face I just assumed they were the same complexion as the average Anglosaxon.

Anonymous said...

anon,

it was a Brit, Joe Swan, who invented the light bulb.

Agree with you about 20th century American poets though.

Richard

Anonymous said...

What about Whitman, Leaves of Grass was published in 1855?

Anonymous said...

I was recently in Frankfurt and was struck by how many brunettes there were. Southern Germans probably are descended from darker Celtic peoples while northern Germans are descended from fairer Germanic peoples. There's a lot of brunettes in England as well, particularly as you get away from the southeast. I am guessing that blondes originated in the Baltic and radiated out.

Anonymous said...

Jeff said: "Edgar Allan Poe was not a New England person. He was a genius who generally gets trashed by the education establishment."

Actually, although he lived most of his life in the mid-Atlantic and is mostly associated with Baltimore, he was born in Boston.

Anonymous said...

Follow up: Washington and Wellington were 'lucky' but naval warfare in the 19th and 18th cent was very different from land warfare - much higher concentration of bullets, flying wood splinters when cannon balls would hit the ship (much more deadly than cannon balls to the average sailor) etc.

That said, Nelson's captain, Hardy, was well over six feet and was on the same quarterdeck.

@ trafalgar nelson was urged not to wear his medals and ribbons but he refused to take them off, thus he was an easy target for french marines on the fighting tops, who had been told to look out for him.

Markku said...

While not generally "swarthy", Finns are sallow compared to the ruddy-complected Northwestern Europeans Franklin identified with.

How common are Prince Harry lookalikes in terms of skin complexion in Britain in comparison to Finland? I am a Finn and among my classmates in senior high school there were two pure redheads and many blonds with reddish skin complexions.

Dutch Boy said...

Prior to the invention of electronic communication on the battlefield, good commanders stayed close to the front (where they were most likely to be killed). The more daring and enterprising the commander, the higher the risk and the greater the casualty rate [esp. w/ firearms (see the high casualty rate for civil war generals)]. A small but timid man would thus be a less likely casualty than a large, intrepid type. As for Mr. Galton's search for inherited ability in politicians, let us recall the Gilbert & Sullivan ditty:
I grew so rich that I was sent by a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call
and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little they rewarded me
By making me the ruler of the Queen's navy.

Peter A said...

On the flip side of the Swede/German vs. Spanish/Italian comparison, don't forget that Franklin's conception of a Spaniard or Italian was probably far lighter than what Americans think of today. Many Spaniards have light hair and green eyes, in Northern Italy light brown hair and fair complexion is also not uncommon. Moreover, the upper class of both countries - presumably the examples Franklin had most occasion to meet is, like in most places, lighter than the general population. The image of "swarthy Italians" took hold in the US when America started being inundated by Southern Italians, who are much darker, in the late 19th century. I think Americans also confuse "Spaniard" with "Mexican" in their heads - actual Spanish people are not very dark as a rule.

John Seiler said...

I wonder if the U.S. Army and Marines have done studies on the height factor in combat. They have extensive data on troops in combat in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. It wouldn't be that hard to control other factors (health, IQ, etc.) to see if those who were taller suffered more casualties.

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Germany for four years, I can assure y'all that Germans are similar to other Europeans in that their typical complexions and physiques lighten and lengthen as you travel northward. The old Roman Empire areas from northern Italy to Britain have a similar genetic component: Romanized Celtic with a somewhat uneven Germanic overlay (recent studies of the British genome suggest an 80% concordance with the stone age population). Distribution of blue eye color in Britain follows the rule: most common in the north (the old Danelaw), least common in the Romano-Celtic South.

Duke said...

Although Darwin is a hero of mine, it seems that his monumental discovery was in great part a product of its time rather than a radical leap of vision. Wallace independently "discovered" natural selection at nearly the same time as Darwin. If Darwin had never been born, we'd still have the theory of natural selection. Estimates of Darwin's IQ always seem to land in the 130s. Intelligent, yes, but probably not at the same intellectual level as many of the other influential Western thinkers. Galton was almost certainly well above that, I'd say.

Anonymous said...

"I find it hard to consisder six two and a half as being particularly large. No one turns to stare at a man who is only six two. No one spontaneously remarks on how big you are if you are six two. Basketball players who are six eight get that kind of notice. I'm sure Michael Chrichton got that kind of attention, but not a guy who was a mere six two and a half."

Albertosaurus, given your comments about Napoleon below, it's amazing you dont consider the time period involved. 6'2.5" isn't extraordinary today. According to the NCHS, the average US non-Hispanic white male in his 20s and 30s is 5'10.4" and 6'2.9" will put you in the 95th percentile. However, in the 19th C. in Europe, thing were different. In "A Farewell to Alms" Gregory Clarke gives an average height of about 5'6.5" for 19th C. Englishmen (an 5'8.5" for the upper classes). 6'2.5" back in those days was as far above average in those days as is someone 6'6.5" today. Someone 6'6.5" would attact the notice you described.

With respect to Napoleon, the confusion about his height arises from measurement conversions. He was 5'2" French measure. A French inch was 2.71cm (as opposed to 2.54cm for an English inch). This would make him 5'6.1" English measure. You are correct that the average Frenchman of Napoleons time was only 163cm (5'4") and weighed about 50kg. However, Napoleon would probably have been shorter than most of the people he associated with, assuming the much better nourished French Upper and professional/merchant classes were similar in stature to their English equivalents (174cm/5'8.5"). Also, the height requirement for his Imperial Guard was 177cm (5'9.7"), so his bodyguards would have towered over him.

Ron Guhname said...

"Yes indeed, Melville. Much better than Twain, in my opinion. I should check what Charles Murray's book says."

Speaking of Human Accomplishment, it indicates (if my memory serves me) that Whitman and Poe are our most influential. (We should claim Eliot too).

Anonymous said...

give Emerson another shot. Try "Circles"

Ron Guhname said...

"Estimates of Darwin's IQ always seem to land in the 130s. Intelligent, yes, but probably not at the same intellectual level as many of the other influential Western thinkers."

It made me laugh when I read in Beyond Good and Evil that some discoveries like natural selection require a mediocre mind.

Ildefonso said...

If you want to see hereditary genius at work, take a look at the Pineira Echenique family, Chileans who originally hail from Asturias (Spain).

Jose was one of the famous Chicago boys (M. Friedman) who implemented numerous successful economic reforms and the world-famous Chilean pensions system.

His brother Sebastián Pineira is just about to become the President of Chile - but he also excelled in Academia and as a business man (his fortune of $1000mill makes him the 700th richest man in the world).

Brother Pablo was a member of the Board of the Chilean Central Bank.

Their father was ambassador to the United Nations.

Their uncle was the President of Chile´s Council of Bishops.

You can check their wikipedia pages, they are also available in English.

And please, don´t tell me its nurture alone ;-)

Gc said...

""While not generally "swarthy", Finns are sallow compared to the ruddy-complected Northwestern Europeans Franklin identified with."

How common are Prince Harry lookalikes in terms of skin complexion in Britain in comparison to Finland? I am a Finn and among my classmates in senior high school there were two pure redheads and many blonds with reddish skin complexions.""

If those forest finns were people from the savolax (savonia), they may have been darker than the average finns from the western Finland.

Melykin said...

The Bernoulli's are an example of a family of high achievers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernoulli_family

Dutch Boy said...

Historian Jacques Barzun believes Darwinism brought on World War I: "Since in every European country between 1870 and 1914 there was a war party demanding armaments, an individualist party demanding ruthless competition, an imperialist party demanding a free hand over backward peoples, a socialist party demanding the conquest of power and a racialist party demanding internal purges against aliens -- all of them, when appeals to greed and glory failed, invoked Spencer and Darwin, which was to say science incarnate."

Anonymous said...

Large genetic influence upon human personality formation has been questioned "plausibly" among common folk since (a) moving to town removed them from direct rural experience with animal breeding ; (b) The Pill reduced family size to "our two" and obliterated the often dramatic biological bifurcations evident in faithfully sired children within homes having 08 to 10 siblings. Societies that become consensually delusional are first of all drawn into an unnatural bubble world.