Entry updated 20 December 2021. Tagged: Author.
(1822-1911) UK geneticist, eugenicist and author, grandson of Erasmus Darwin, and a speculative thinker from his early years: The Telotype; a Printing Electric Telegraph (1849 chap [dated 1850]) describes the use of typewriters (not yet invented) to convey messages electrically over long distances. He is of course most important in sf terms for coining the word Eugenics, which he defined as "the science of improving stock" in his Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (1883). He was the central shaper of the early "science" of eugenics, his attempts at this time to gain photographic evidence to justify antisemitic arguments about the degeneracy of Jews, with their "cold, scanning gaze", ineradicably associating the first iterations of the theory with twentieth century racism, with relatively benign effects in the case of Sir Julian Huxley, or more inexcusably as intellectual justification for the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, whose initial primary function was to segregate the feeble-minded and the "degenerate" (which included homosexuals and was applied with obscene relish to Jews) from wholesome Aryan stock. Despite some statistical sophistication, which evolved slowly, Galton's focus on heredity (as opposed to environment) in the shaping of the adult human was essentially observational: certain behavioural traits, non-coincidentally similar to culture-derived patterns common to northern Europe, were deemed signs of biological fitness, as were facial characteristics. Galton was an early advocate of the use of composite photographs to generate images of the "typical" criminal, an unuseful procedure (see Scientific Errors) that all the same inspired studies like Havelock Ellis's The Criminal (1890). Galton's advocacy of the use of fingerprints, in Finger Prints (1892), was more successful.
It is clear that the cultural biases exposed and encouraged by methods of this sort afflicted eugenics from the first (see Apes as Human; Decadence; Devolution; Imperialism; Intelligence; Race in SF). Certain exculpations of Galton's arguments and actions – greater care for public hygiene, and a potentially explosive presumption that women (see Feminism; Sex; Women in SF) should participate in the choice of sound breeding partners – were not sufficient to rescue his "science", or its handmaiden biometrics, from most of those who advocated it.
Galton published widely on various issues, an example being a very lightly fictionalized speculation on interstellar Communication (see SETI), "Intelligible Signals between Neighbouring Stars" (1 November 1896 Fortnightly Review), where he suggest an essentially Mathematical model as most likely to be successful. His only fictions proper seem to consist of two fragmentary texts composed late in his life, each of them savagely bowdlerized by members of his family after his death, apparently on the grounds that coercive racism was tolerable but that Sex – which might be deemed central to how eugenics necessarily worked – was unmentionable. These texts – "Kantsaywhere" and "The Donoghues of Dunno Weir" (both 2001 Utopian Studies, Vol 12, #2) – were edited by Lyman Tower Sargent, with extensive commentary. The Near Future Utopia they depict can be described as coercive, with breeding restricted via competitive examination to those capable of improving the stock. No descriptions of the intensive medical fitness tests mandated for undressed women survive. Galton was knighted in 1909. [JC]
Sir Francis Galton
born Birmingham, England: 16 February 1822
died Haslemere, Surrey: 17 January 1911
- "Kantsaywhere" (2001 Utopian Studies, Vol 12,#2) [pages 191-209: mag/]
- "The Donoghues of Dunno Weir" (2001 Utopian Studies, Vol 12, #2) [pages 210-233: mag/]
nonfiction (highly selected)
- The Telotype; a Printing Electric Telegraph (Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: John Weale, 1849) [nonfiction: chap: dated 1850 but 1849: pb/]
- Hereditary Genius: An Enquiry into its Laws and Consequences (London: Macmillan and Company, 1869) [nonfiction: hb/nonpictorial]
- Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (London: Macmillan and Company, 1883) [nonfiction: hb/nonpictorial]
- Natural Inheritance (London: Macmillan and Company, 1883) [nonfiction: hb/nonpictorial]
- Finger Prints (London: Macmillan and Company, 1892) [nonfiction: hb/nonpictorial]
about the author
- Daniel Pick. Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2000) [nonfiction: hb/various photographs]
- André Pichot. La Société pure: de Darwin à Hitler (Paris: Flammarion, 2000) [nonfiction: binding unknown/]
- André Pichot. The Pure Society from Darwin to Hitler (London: Verso, 2009) [nonfiction: trans by David Fernbach of the above: for Galton see index: hb/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
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