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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

From physical deformity or defect


is no brother of theirs," said Zulve, the mistress of the house. "You would hardly find in any family like ours a child with so irritable a temper or a disposition so selfish, and nowhere a creature so hardly treated by Nature in body as well as mind."

"Indeed," I said, hardly understanding her answer.

"No," said my host. "It is the rule to deprive of life, promptly and painlessly, children to whom, from physical deformity or defect, life is thought unlikely to be pleasant, and whose descendants might be a burden to the public and a cause of physical deterioration to the race. It is, however, one of the exceptional tenets to which I have been obliged to allude, that man should not seek to be wiser than Nature; and that life should neither be cut short, except as a punishment for great crimes, nor prolonged artificially contrary to the manifest intention, or, as our philosophers would say, the common course of Nature. Those who think with me, therefore, always endeavour, when we hear in time of their approaching fate, to preserve children so doomed. Precautions against undue haste or readiness to destroy lives that might, after all, grow up to health and vigour are provided by law. No single physician or physiologist can sign a death-warrant; and I, though no longer a physician by craft, am among the arbiters, one or more of whom must be called in to approve or suspend the decision. On these occasions I have

rescued from extinction several children of whose unfitness to live, according to the standard of the State Nurseries, there was no question, and placed them in families, mostly childless, that were willing to receive them. Of this one it was our turn to take charge; and certainly his chance is better for being brought up among other children, and under the influence of their gentler dispositions and less exacting temperaments."

"And is such ill-temper and selfishness," I asked, "generally found among the deformed?"

"I don't think," replied Esmo, "that this child is much worse than most of my neighbours' children, except that physical discomfort makes him fretful. What you call selfishness in him is only the natural inheritance derived from an ancestry who for some hundred generations have certainly never cared for anything or any one but themselves. I thought I had explained to you by what train of circumstances and of reasoning family affection, such as it is reputed to have been thousands of years ago, has become extinct in this planet; and, family affection extinguished, all weaker sentiments of regard for others were very quickly withered up."

"You told me something of the kind," I said; "but the idea of a life so utterly swallowed up in self that no one even thinks it necessary to affect regard for and interest in others, was to me so unintelligible and inconceivable that I did not realise the full meaning of your account. Nor even now do I understand how a society formed of such members can be held together. On Earth we should expect them either to tear one another to pieces, or to relapse into isolation and barbarism lower than that of the lowest tribe which preserves social instincts and social organisation. A society composed of men resembling that child, but with the intelligence, force, and consistent purpose of manhood, would, I should have thought, be little better than a congregation of beasts of prey."

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