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"For four weeks I had been suffering with neuralgia of a very severe type, and attended with considerable febrile movement. I tried the various compounds and other preparations, lauded as 'just as good,' but with no real advantage, and with no little heart disturbance.
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MEDICINE AND SURGERY
C. S. BRIGGS, A. M., M. D., EDITOR.
ARE VIRTUES, VICES AND HABITS HEREDITARY?
BY T. J. HAPPEL, M.D., TRENTON, TENN., Ex-President Tennessee State Medical Society, ex-President West Tennessee Medical and Surgical Association, and ex-President Gibson County Medical Society.
The subject assigned me by your Secretary opens up the whole, broad field of heredity.
In general terms, it is my intention to discuss this question without giving attention to any of the minute details, whether with regard to the anatomical structure of the nervous system or any other pathological question connected with it. Of my own knowledge, I could not trace changes in any of the organs in "degenerates," so called; hence, to write upon that branch of the subject would require a book article, which on occasions of this kind does not suit my taste, nor would it be profitable to us
to discuss. I propose taking up and presenting matters of the every-day life of the physician.
The question of the transmission of physical peculiarities from parent to child needs no time devoted to it. All of us have seen children whom we could recognize from their family likeness. Frequently the son would be mistaken for the father, or the daughter for the mother, but for that difference in appearance due to the disparity in their ages. Breeders of fine stock all have the form and make-up of the sires and dams constantly before them in estimating the value of the expected offspring.
In my own experience, I have lately been in professional relationship to a family in which every child, immediately upon its coming into the world, is examined as to the existence of harelip. Through generations this peculiarity has been handed down. In other families we have found six-fingered children; in others a certain "mother's mark," or mole, as a family characteristic. In other families we find a marked tendency to strabismus, and in others to some form of talipes. Thus, I might continue to enumerate physical peculiarities handed down from one generation to another.
That some exciting cause may produce a mark or departure from the normal in the physical condition of the offspring needs no argument. It has been the experience of physicians in this meeting to have had to answer as soon as the child has been separated from its mother and brought into view, and at other times as soon as it has been expelled from the uterus, as to the condition of the child, "whether marked or not." And when the reason for the question is asked, they have been told that the mother was frightened by a snake, frog, or some other object. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children even of the third and fourth generations. Other matters might be cited along this line, but suffice it to say that some men's sins do go before them unto judgment, and others follow after them.
I do not desire to be misunderstood as taking the position that a disease is, as a rule, handed down through heredity to the children of the first generation. We have only to look around
us to disprove this position.
A father and mother lived to be more than fourscore years of age, enjoying a reasonable degree of health and strength, but of
their children two sons and one daughter died of tuberculosis, and the end is not yet.
The transmission of syphilis by heredity is not questioned in this age, but a syphilitic father may beget children who, so far as we can judge, show no trace of the disease; but the offspring of those children may, and frequently do, give evidence of some dyscrasia, whether syphilitic or tubercular. A generation, in which the rule had been perfect health, passed away before the vice of the parent was exhibited.
When we contend that virtues and vices are transmitted by heredity, we do not take the position that, as in the transmission of physical marks, like produces like, but that there is begotten in the offspring of the degenerate a certain peculiarity of nervous development that may at any moment show some abnormal state. An epileptic may not always beget an epileptic child, but in some cases other brain infirmities may be shown. An imbecile may result from the marriage of epileptics. An idiotic child was the result of the marriage of two beings of a very low order of intellect, whom I knew.
A child begotten by a father whilst in a drunken debauch may-nay, frequently-proves to be a degenerate. A friend reports to me the case of two beautiful daughters begotten by a father who was never free from alcoholic, influence both of whom are epileptics. So far as the family history is known, there had never been a case of epilepsy in either maternal or paternal branch. Children born of such parentage may become addicted to the use of alcohol, or may become morphine habitues or maniacs.
The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion reports that in a village of one of the New England States, as a result of intermarriages-many of the population being epileptics and imbeciles-almost the whole population showed abnormalities of various kinds to such an extent that not one in the community was fit for military service.
In my own experience as a practitioner of medicine for twenty years, I have known five members of one family to die of cancer; two of the breast, one of the brain, one of the liver, one of a colloid springing from the neck of the bladder. In this family the dyscrasia can be traced back through generations, so that
every member of it now living looks with horror upon any sore or localized pain wherever found, expecting a development of the dreaded scourge.
In our every-day life we can see the drunkard's children following closely in the footsteps of the father, unless the mother had sufficient individuality to impress the children with some of her own better qualities. My experience, however, is that the sons are more apt to be impressed by the father's vices, and the daughters by the mother's; but this is not laid down as a rule.
In an article presented by me some years ago to the Tennessee State Medical Society upon the question of morphinism I gave the history of one mother, a morphine habitue, who gave birth to four children, three of whom died within one week with every evidence of cyanosis, due to non-closure of the foramen ovale (caused by the use of morphine on the part of the mother), and showing nervous symptoms that could be allayed only by the use of opiates. The fourth child born to this mother lived about six months, demanding during the first few weeks of its existence large doses of paregoric to quiet it and give it sleep. It was at all times a poorly nourished child, showing dyscrasias of various kinds during its short life.
Another mother was reported as having given birth to three children under similar circumstances, two of whom died exactly in the same condition as did the first ones mentioned in the preceding case; whilst the third child now lives, a delicate, puny, nervous child.
Another mother gave birth to two children, one being stillborn; the other living, aged now three years. This child required large doses of opiates to carry it through its first month.
Another mother using morphine freely aborted twice in the early months of pregnancy. She has now one grown son, who has for a long time been addicted to the use of morphine. To a father who used morphine in enormous doses a son was born who, at the age of seven years, is just able to talk intelligibly. To a father who was addicted to the use of both morphine and whisky two sons and two daughters were born. Both of the sons became sots and morphine eaters, and in early manhood one died, and the other is a mental and physical wreck. The girls, so far as I know, show no dyscrasias of any kind. The mother had never used drugs of any kind.