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Are We A Dying Race?
Taking this fact into consideration, the number of persons upwards of 100 years of age alive in Prussia in 1864 must have been more than six hundred. Such a dropping off in longevity within less than a quarter of a century is certainly a most appalling and significant circumstance. This fact is one which sanitarians who write respecting the possible improvement of the human race under the influence of improved sanitation, would do well to consider. Public sanitation, quarantine laws, and general hygienic regulations serve a most useful purpose in the prevention of epidemic and endemic diseases; but the result of this protection is the keeping alive of a great number of poorly organized, constitutionally weak, hereditarily feeble individuals who would otherwise die, and so the death-rate is diminished and the average length of life is increased; but the race is not thereby benefited, but is, instead, weakened, for these defective individuals are kept alive only to intermarry with the well, and by the inexorable law of heredity their weaknesses and deficiencies are transmitted, and thus the actual constitutional vigor of the race is diminished. It thus appears that our modern boasted sanitation is not an altogether unmixed good; it is, indeed, a source of racial deterioration, since it negatives the operation of the natural law of selection. Nevertheless the writer is heartily in favor of public as well as private sanitation and would not for a moment suggest less attention to public hygiene, but more earnest attention to the hygiene of the individual, physically, mentally, and morally.
"And there were giants in those days." That the human race is degenerating in stature as well as in longevity may be clearly inferred from analogy, since the study of the fossil remains of both animals and plants shows that the earth was once peopled by gigantic beasts, -- mammals, birds, and reptiles, -- compared with which the animals living at the present time are mere pigmies. The mammoth redwoods of California are almost the only living representatives of the magnificent monarchs which once sheltered mammoths, mastodons, megatheriums, and their prodigious neighbors, but which are now buried in the measureless coal-fields of this and other countries.
The same causes which have been in operation to diminish the size of other animals have likewise affected man; in fact, the dwarfing influences to which the latter has been exposed are tenfold more numerous and potent than those which have operated upon the lower animals. Putting aside the fabulous accounts of giants twenty or thirty feet high, which are doubtless based upon the bones of extinct animals, we find authentic records of measurements of many men more than eight feet in height who lived during the two or three centuries prior to the present. In 1555 three brothers, surnamed Og, Gog, and Magog, who were each over eight feet in height, guarded the Tower of London. The Duke of Hanover had in his court in the seventeenth century, a yeoman who measured eight feet six inches in height. The famous commentator, Dr. Adam Clarke, measured a man who was eight feet six inches tall. O'Brien, the Irish giant, whose skeleton stands in the museum in the Royal College of Surgery in London, measured eight feet four inches in height. It is not probable that there could be collected at the present time from the whole world such a company of men as Frederick the Great's regiment, one of whom, the Scotch giant, measured eight feet three inches. Men who are at the present time exhibited as giants, although said to measure eight feet, are rarely found to be more than seven and a half feet, and very frequently less. Great statures are not usually found at the present time to coexist with great longevity, but rather the reverse. The vigor of the race seems to have deteriorated to such a degree as to render impossible the co-existence of these two marked evidences of extraordinary vitality.
We are developing various defective varieties of the human race; by keeping our blind and deaf and dumb in asylums by themselves they are led to intermarry, and so their defects are propagated by heredity. The great number of men, women, and children confined in counting-rooms, stores, factories, and at various sedentary employments, is developing a deformed creature which might be termed "the sedentary man," who is known by his round shoulders, his flat, hollow, feeble chest, his weak heart, his sunken stomach, his lax and puny muscles, his sallow, sunken, and lusterless eye. This class is already many hundred thousand strong, and is growing daily, through the mad rush of young men and women from the country into the cities and towns, attracted by the unhealthful amusements and so-called advantages of city life. The consumptive variety of the genus homo is so rapidly increasing in numbers that at the present time one seventh of all who die, die of that one dread disease, "the great white plague," -- consumption. More numerous still is an enormous class of individuals who may properly be denominated "the disinherited."