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Thursday 13 October 2022

Too short-sighted to breed from (not actually Julian Huxley)

I have been very struck, in reading the reviews of Alison Bashford's new and highly praised study of the Huxleys, that they all mention that Julian Huxley was solicited to become the father of another man's child by artificial insemination. At which I went, 'hang on, wasn't it Huxley who said he had reservations about that because of his degree of myopia?'

I've now managed to dig up the reference and it wasn't Huxley, and it wasn't in response to an actual solicitation to donate eugenically desirable sperm, it was a hypothetical response in the course of a discussion in the mid-1940s debates on the topic, by another distinguished member of the Eugenics Society:

I do not regard myself as a proper person to act as a donor because I have five degrees of myopia in both eyes as well as certain other minor disabilities. (SA/EUG/D/6 'Artificial Insemination')

(Although I think the individual in the question did have offspring of his marriage...)

People are regularly horrified by Marie Stopes dissing on her prospective daughter-in-law, a university graduate and the daughter of a distinguished scientist, on the grounds that she wore spectacles and would give Stopes grandchildren who also wore this disfiguring assistive technology. It is fairly obvious that Marie would have found some objection to whoever her son brought home with a view to marriage, given her particularly egregious manifestation of Mother-in-Law syndrome. But she was by no means unique in this stigmatisation of (by this time) fairly common visual defects requiring the habitual use of spectacles.

In a symposium on birth control held by the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, published in the Medical Critic and Guide in 1922, the Communist doctor Eden Paul expressed very adverse views on

the survival of persons with grave eye defects, short-sight, astigmatism, etc., who would, but for spectacles and the absence of a fierce struggle for existence on the biologic plane, be eliminated before they could perpetuate their defective type.

I am not sure this belief - as opposed to the general perception of spectacles as disfiguring (Dorothy Parker on 'Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses') and characters in movies removing them to be revealed as sexy stunners - has yet been thoroughly explored.

(This theme was brought to my mind by a query about familial myopia issues during an eye-test this morning.)