Author : Henry Maudsley (1835 - 1918)

Title : Body and Will (1883)

Keywords: body and will, degeneration, female education, pessimism, progress, ‘survival of the fittest’

Pages : Introduction | page 1 | page 2 | page 3


In this extract, from his Body and Will (London: Kegan Paul-Trench), Maudsley naturalises the discourses of degeneracy. Survival of the fittest, he argues, does not necessarily mean survival of the highest or most noble characteristics, but simply those best suited for success in any particular environment. The easy slippage of language between particular types of animals to ‘the lapse of heroic feeling in commercial states’ and ‘the demoralisation of popular preachers’ (p. 238) to grand metaphors of entire religions, nations, and constitutions is symptomatic of degenerationists’ willingness to prophesise momentous change from the merest of directly-connected evidence. Although Maudsley pessimistically claims that even progressive, complex evolution will inevitably result in self-destruction, his unwritten challenge is for societal reform. As he asserts, the degenerate rogue only succeeds and prospers where rogues can survive.

Back to Degeneration Documents | Introduction | page 1 | page 2 | page 3