Evolution, Old & New - Or, the Theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, - as compared with that of Charles Darwin
by Samuel Butler
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Evolution, Old & New

"The want of a practical acquaintance with Natural History leads the author to take an erroneous view of the bearing of his own theories on those of Mr. Darwin.—Review of 'Life and Habit,' by Mr. A. R. Wallace, in 'Nature,' March 27, 1879.

"Neither lastly would our observer be driven out of his conclusion, or from his confidence in its truth, by being told that he knows nothing at all about the matter. He knows enough for his argument; he knows the utility of the end; he knows the subserviency and adaptation of the means to the end. These points being known, his ignorance concerning other points, his doubts concerning other points, affect not the certainty of his reasoning. The consciousness of knowing little need not beget a distrust of that which he does know."

Paley's 'Natural Theology,' chap. i.

Evolution, Old & New

Or the Theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, as compared with that of Charles Darwin


Samuel Butler

New York E. P. Dutton & Company 681 Fifth Avenue

Made and printed in Great Britain


The demand for a new edition of "Evolution, Old and New," gives me an opportunity of publishing Butler's latest revision of his work. The second edition of "Evolution, Old and New," which was published in 1882 and re-issued with a new title-page in 1890, was merely a re-issue of the first edition with a new preface, an appendix, and an index. At a later date, though I cannot say precisely when, Butler revised the text of the book in view of a future edition. The corrections that he made are mainly verbal and do not, I think, affect the argument to any considerable extent. Butler, however, attached sufficient importance to them to incur the expense of having the stereos of more than fifty pages cancelled and new stereos substituted. I have also added a few entries to the index, which are taken from a copy of the book, now in my possession, in which Butler made a few manuscript notes.


October, 1911.




Since the proof-sheets of the Appendix to this book left my hands, finally corrected, and too late for me to be able to recast the first of the two chapters that compose it, I hear, with the most profound regret, of the death of Mr. Charles Darwin.

It being still possible for me to refer to this event in a preface, I hasten to say how much it grates upon me to appear to renew my attack upon Mr. Darwin under the present circumstances.

I have insisted in each of my three books on Evolution upon the immensity of the service which Mr. Darwin rendered to that transcendently important theory. In "Life and Habit," I said: "To the end of time, if the question be asked, 'Who taught people to believe in Evolution?' the answer must be that it was Mr. Darwin." This is true; and it is hard to see what palm of higher praise can be awarded to any philosopher.

I have always admitted myself to be under the deepest obligations to Mr. Darwin's works; and it was with the greatest reluctance, not to say repugnance, that I became one of his opponents. I have partaken of his hospitality, and have had too much experience of the charming simplicity of his manner not to be among the readiest to at once admire and envy it. It is unfortunately true that I believe Mr. Darwin to have behaved badly to me; this is too notorious to be denied; but at the same time I cannot be blind to the fact that no man can be judge in his own case, and that after all Mr. Darwin may have been right, and I wrong.

At the present moment, let me impress this latter alternative upon my mind as far as possible, and dwell only upon that side of Mr. Darwin's work and character, about which there is no difference of opinion among either his admirers or his opponents.

April 21, 1882.


Contrary to the advice of my friends, who caution me to avoid all appearance of singularity, I venture upon introducing a practice, the expediency of which I will submit to the judgment of the reader. It is one which has been adopted by musicians for more than a century—to the great convenience of all who are fond of music—and I observe that within the last few years two such distinguished painters as Mr. Alma-Tadema and Mr. Hubert Herkomer have taken to it. It is a matter for regret that the practice should not have been general at an earlier date, not only among painters and musicians, but also among the people who write books. It consists in signifying the number of a piece of music, picture, or book by the abbreviation "Op." and the number whatever it may happen to be.

No work can be judged intelligently unless not only the author's relations to his surroundings, but also the relation in which the work stands to the life and other works of the author, is understood and borne in mind; nor do I know any way of conveying this information at a glance, comparable to that which I now borrow from musicians. When we see the number against a work of Beethoven, we need ask no further to be informed concerning the general character of the music. The same holds good more or less with all composers. Handel's works were not numbered—not at least his operas and oratorios. Had they been so, the significance of the numbers on Susanna and Theodora would have been at once apparent, connected as they would have been with the number on Jephthah, Handel's next and last work, in which he emphatically repudiates the influence which, perhaps in a time of self-distrust, he had allowed contemporary German music to exert over him. Many painters have dated their works, but still more have neglected doing so, and some of these have been not a little misconceived in consequence. As for authors, it is unnecessary to go farther back than Lord Beaconsfield, Thackeray, Dickens, and Scott, to feel how much obliged we should have been to any custom that should have compelled them to number their works in the order in which they were written. When we think of Shakespeare, any doubt which might remain as to the advantage of the proposed innovation is felt to disappear.

My friends, to whom I urged all the above, and more, met me by saying that the practice was doubtless a very good one in the abstract, but that no one was particularly likely to want to know in what order my books had been written. To which I answered that even a bad book which introduced so good a custom would not be without value, though the value might lie in the custom, and not in the book itself; whereon, seeing that I was obstinate, they left me, and interpreting their doing so into at any rate a modified approbation of my design, I have carried it into practice.

The edition of the 'Philosophie Zoologique' referred to in the following volume, is that edited by M. Chas. Martins, Paris, Librairie F. Savy, 24, Rue de Hautefeuille, 1873.

The edition of the 'Origin of Species' is that of 1876, unless another edition be especially named.

The italics throughout the book are generally mine, except in the quotations from Miss Seward, where they are all her own.

I am anxious also to take the present opportunity of acknowledging the obligations I am under to my friend Mr. H. F. Jones, and to other friends (who will not allow me to mention their names, lest more errors should be discovered than they or I yet know of), for the invaluable assistance they have given me while this work was going through the press. If I am able to let it go before the public with any comfort or peace of mind, I owe it entirely to the carefulness of their supervision.

I am also greatly indebted to Mr. Garnett, of the British Museum, for having called my attention to many works and passages of which otherwise I should have known nothing.

March 31, 1879.



Statement of the Question—Current Opinion adverse to Teleology 1


The Teleology of Paley and the Theologians 12


Impotence of Paley's Conclusion—The Teleology of the Evolutionist 24


Failure of the First Evolutionists to see their Position as Teleological 34


The Teleological Evolution of Organism—The Philosophy of the Unconscious 43


Scheme of the Remainder of the Work—Historical Sketch of the Theory of Evolution 60


Pre-Buffonian Evolution, and some German Writers 68


Buffon—Memoir 74


Buffon's Method—The Ironical Character of his Work 78


Supposed Fluctuations of Opinion—Causes or Means of the Transformation of Species 97


Buffon—Puller Quotations 107


Sketch of Dr. Erasmus Darwin's Life 173


Philosophy of Dr. Erasmus Darwin 195


Fuller Quotations from the 'Zoonomia' 214


Memoir of Lamarck 235


General Misconception concerning Lamarck—His Philosophical Position 244


Summary of the 'Philosophie Zoologique' 261


Mr. Patrick Matthew, MM. Etienne and Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire, and Mr. Herbert Spencer 315


Main Points of Agreement and of Difference between the Old and New Theories of Evolution 335


Natural Selection considered as a Means of Modification—The Confusion which this Expression occasions 345


Mr. Darwin's Defence of the Expression, Natural Selection—Professor Mivart and Natural Selection 362


The Case of the Madeira Beetles as illustrating the Difference between the Evolution of Lamarck and of Mr. Charles Darwin—Conclusion 373






Of all the questions now engaging the attention of those whose destiny has commanded them to take more or less exercise of mind, I know of none more interesting than that which deals with what is called teleology—that is to say, with design or purpose, as evidenced by the different parts of animals and plants.

The question may be briefly stated thus:—

Can we or can we not see signs in the structure of animals and plants, of something which carries with it the idea of contrivance so strongly that it is impossible for us to think of the structure, without at the same time thinking of contrivance, or design, in connection with it?

It is my object in the present work to answer this question in the affirmative, and to lead my reader to agree with me, perhaps mainly, by following the history of that opinion which is now supposed to be fatal to a purposive view of animal and vegetable organs. I refer to the theory of evolution or descent with modification.

Let me state the question more at large.

When we see organs, or living tools—for there is no well-developed organ of any living being which is not used by its possessor as an instrument or tool for the effecting of some purpose which he considers or has considered for his advantage—when we see living tools which are as admirably fitted for the work required of them, as is the carpenter's plane for planing, or the blacksmith's hammer and anvil for the hammering of iron, or the tailor's needle for sewing, what conclusion shall we adopt concerning them?

Shall we hold that they must have been designed or contrived, not perhaps by mental processes indistinguishable from those by which the carpenter's saw or the watch has been designed, but still by processes so closely resembling these that no word can be found to express the facts of the case so nearly as the word "design"? That is to say, shall we imagine that they were arrived at by a living mind as the result of scheming and contriving, and thinking (not without occasional mistakes) which of the courses open to it seemed best fitted for the occasion, or are we to regard the apparent connection between such an organ, we will say, as the eye, and the sight which is affected by it, as in no way due to the design or plan of a living intelligent being, but as caused simply by the accumulation, one upon another, of an almost infinite series of small pieces of good fortune?

In other words, shall we see something for which, as Professor Mivart has well said, "to us the word 'mind' is the least inadequate and misleading symbol," as having given to the eagle an eyesight which can pierce the sun, but which, in the night is powerless; while to the owl it has given eyes which shun even the full moon, but find a soft brilliancy in darkness? Or shall we deny that there has been any purpose or design in the fashioning of these different kinds of eyes, and see nothing to make us believe that any living being made the eagle's eye out of something which was not an eye nor anything like one, or that this living being implanted this particular eye of all others in the eagle's head, as being most in accordance with the habits of the creature, and as therefore most likely to enable it to live contentedly and leave plenitude of offspring? And shall we then go on to maintain that the eagle's eye was formed little by little by a series of accidental variations, each one of which was thrown for, as it were, with dice?

We shall most of us feel that there must have been a little cheating somewhere with these accidental variations before the eagle could have become so great a winner.

I believe I have now stated the question at issue so plainly that there can be no mistake about its nature, I will therefore proceed to show as briefly as possible what have been the positions taken in regard to it by our forefathers, by the leaders of opinion now living, and what I believe will be the next conclusion that will be adopted for any length of time by any considerable number of people.

In the times of the ancients the preponderance of opinion was in favour of teleology, though impugners were not wanting. Aristotle[1] leant towards a denial of purpose, while Plato[2] was a firm believer in design. From the days of Plato to our own times, there have been but few objectors to the teleological or purposive view of nature. If an animal had an eye, that eye was regarded as something which had been designed in order to enable its owner to see after such fashion as should be most to its advantage.

This, however, is now no longer the prevailing opinion either in this country or in Germany.

Professor Haeckel holds a high place among the leaders of German philosophy at the present day. He declares a belief in evolution and in purposiveness to be incompatible, and denies purpose in language which holds out little prospect of a compromise.

"As soon, in fact," he writes, "as we acknowledge the exclusive activity of the physico-chemical causes in living (organic) bodies as well as in so-called inanimate (inorganic) nature,"—and this is what Professor Haeckel holds we are bound to do if we accept the theory of descent with modification—"we concede exclusive dominion to that view of the universe, which we may designate as mechanical, and which is opposed to the teleological conception. If we compare all the ideas of the universe prevalent among different nations at different times, we can divide them all into two sharply contrasted groups—a causal or mechanical, and a teleological or vitalistic. The latter has prevailed generally in biology until now, and accordingly the animal and vegetable kingdoms have been considered as the products of a creative power, acting for a definite purpose. In the contemplation of every organism, the unavoidable conviction seemed to press itself upon us, that such a wonderful machine, so complicated an apparatus for motion as exists in the organism, could only be produced by a power analogous to, but infinitely more powerful than the power of man in the construction of his machines."[3]

A little lower down he continues:—

"I maintain with regard to" this "much talked of 'purpose in nature' that it has no existence but for those persons who observe phenomena in plants and animals in the most superficial manner. Without going more deeply into the matter, we can see at once that the rudimentary organs are a formidable obstacle to this theory. And, indeed, anyone who makes a really close study of the organization and mode of life of the various animals and plants, ... must necessarily come to the conclusion, that this 'purposiveness' no more exists than the much talked of 'beneficence' of the Creator."[4]

Professor Haeckel justly sees no alternative between, upon the one hand, the creation of independent species by a Personal God—by a "Creator," in fact, who "becomes an organism, who designs a plan, reflects upon and varies this plan, and finally forms creatures according to it, as a human architect would construct his building,"[5]—and the denial of all plan or purpose whatever. There can be no question but that he is right here. To talk of a "designer" who has no tangible existence, no organism with which to think, no bodily mechanism with which to carry his purposes into effect; whose design is not design inasmuch as it has to contend with no impediments from ignorance or impotence, and who thus contrives but by a sort of make-believe in which there is no contrivance; who has a familiar name, but nothing beyond a name which any human sense has ever been able to perceive—this is an abuse of words—an attempt to palm off a shadow upon our understandings as though it were a substance. It is plain therefore that there must either be a designer who "becomes an organism, designs a plan, &c.," or that there can be no designer at all and hence no design.

We have seen which of these alternatives Professor Haeckel has adopted. He holds that those who accept evolution are bound to reject all "purposiveness." And here, as I have intimated, I differ from him, for reasons which will appear presently. I believe in an organic and tangible designer of every complex structure, for so long a time past, as that reasonable people will be incurious about all that occurred at any earlier time.

Professor Clifford, again, is a fair representative of opinions which are finding favour with the majority of our own thinkers. He writes:—

"There are here some words, however, which require careful definition. And first the word purpose. A thing serves a purpose when it is adapted for some end; thus a corkscrew is adapted to the end of extracting corks from bottles, and our lungs are adapted to the end of respiration. We may say that the extraction of corks is the purpose of the corkscrew, and that respiration is the purpose of the lungs, but here we shall have used the word in two different senses. A man made the corkscrew with a purpose in his mind, and he knew and intended that it should be used for pulling out corks. But nobody made our lungs with a purpose in his mind and intended that they should be used for breathing. The respiratory apparatus was adapted to its purpose by natural selection, namely, by the gradual preservation of better and better adaptations, and by the killing-off of the worse and imperfect adaptations."[6]

No denial of anything like design could be more explicit. For Professor Clifford is well aware that the very essence of the "Natural Selection" theory, is that the variations shall have been mainly accidental and without design of any sort, but that the adaptations of structure to need shall have come about by the accumulation, through natural selection, of any variation that happened to be favourable.

It will be my business on a later page not only to show that the lungs are as purposive as the corkscrew, but furthermore that if drawing corks had been a matter of as much importance to us as breathing is, the list of our organs would have been found to comprise one corkscrew at the least, and possibly two, twenty, or ten thousand; even as we see that the trowel without which the beaver cannot plaster its habitation in such fashion as alone satisfies it, is incorporate into the beaver's own body by way of a tail, the like of which is to be found in no other animal.

To take a name which carries with it a far greater authority, that of Mr. Charles Darwin. He writes:—

"It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye with a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to declare that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man?"[7]

Here purposiveness is not indeed denied point-blank, but the intention of the author is unmistakable, it is to refer the wonderful result to the gradual accumulation of small accidental improvements which were not due as a rule, if at all, to anything "analogous" to design.

"Variation," he says, "will cause the slight alterations;" that is to say, the slight successive variations whose accumulation results in such a marvellous structure as the eye, are caused by—variation; or in other words, they are indefinite, due to nothing that we can lay our hands upon, and therefore certainly not due to design. "Generation," continues Mr. Darwin, "will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go on for millions of years, and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might be thus formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?"[8]

The reader will observe that the only skill—and this involves design—supposed by Mr. Darwin to be exercised in the foregoing process, is the "unerring skill" of natural selection. Natural selection, however, is, as he himself tells us, a synonym for the survival of the fittest, which last he declares to be the "more accurate" expression, and to be "sometimes" equally convenient.[9] It is clear then that he only speaks metaphorically when he here assigns "unerring skill" to the fact that the fittest individuals commonly live longest and transmit most offspring, and that he sees no evidence of design in the numerous slight successive "alterations"—or variations—which are "caused by variation."

It were easy to multiply quotations which should prove that the denial of "purposiveness" is commonly conceived to be the inevitable accompaniment of a belief in evolution. I will, however, content myself with but one more—from Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire.

"Whoever," says this author, "holds the doctrine of final causes, will, if he is consistent, hold also that of the immutability of species; and again, the opponent of the one doctrine will oppose the other also."[10]

Nothing can be plainer; I believe, however, that even without quotation the reader would have recognized the accuracy of my contention that a belief in the purposiveness or design of animal and vegetable organs is commonly held to be incompatible with the belief that they have all been evolved from one, or at any rate, from not many original, and low, forms of life. Generally, however, as this incompatibility is accepted, it is not unchallenged. From time to time a voice is uplifted in protest, whose tones cannot be disregarded.

"I have always felt," says Sir William Thomson, in his address to the British Association, 1871, "that this hypothesis" (natural selection) "does not contain the true theory of evolution, if indeed evolution there has been, in biology. Sir John Herschel, in expressing a favourable judgment on the hypothesis of zoological evolution (with however some reservation in respect to the origin of man), objected to the doctrine of natural selection on the ground that it was too like the Laputan method of making books, and that it did not sufficiently take into account a continually guiding and controlling intelligence. This seems to me a most valuable and instructive criticism. I feel profoundly convinced that the argument of design has been greatly too much lost sight of in recent zoological speculations. Reaction against the frivolities of teleology such as are to be found in the notes of the learned commentators on Paley's 'Natural Theology,' has, I believe, had a temporary effect in turning attention from the solid and irrefragable argument so well put forward in that excellent old book. But overpoweringly strong proofs of intelligent and benevolent design lie all around us,"[11] &c. Sir William Thomson goes on to infer that all living beings depend on an ever-acting Creator and Ruler—meaning, I am afraid, a Creator who is not an organism. Here I cannot follow him, but while gladly accepting his testimony to the omnipresence of intelligent design in almost every structure, whether of animal or plant, I shall content myself with observing the manner in which plants and animals act and with the consequences that are legitimately deducible from their action.


[1] See note to Mr. Darwin, Historical Sketch, &c., 'Origin of Species, p. xiii. ed. 1876, and Arist. 'Physicae Auscultationes,' lib. ii. cap. viii. s. 2.

[2] See Phaedo and Timaeus.

[3] 'History of Creation,' vol. i. p. 18 (H. S. King and Co., 1876).

[4] Ibid. p. 19.

[5] 'History of Creation,' vol. i. p. 73 (H. S. King and Co., 1876).

[6] 'Fortnightly Review,' new series, vol. xviii. p. 795.

[7] 'Origin of Species,' p. 146, ed. 1876.

[8] 'Origin of Species,' p. 146, ed. 1876.

[9] Page 49.

[10] 'Vie et Doctrine scientifique d'Etienne Geoffroy St. Hilaire,' by Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire. Paris, 1847, p. 344.

[11] Address to the British Association, 1871.



Let us turn for a while to Paley, to whom Sir W. Thomson has referred us. His work should be so well known that an apology is almost due for quoting it, yet I think it likely that at least nine out of ten of my readers will (like myself till reminded of it by Sir W. Thomson's address) have forgotten its existence.

"In crossing a heath," says Paley, "suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever; nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given—that for anything I knew the watch might have been always there. Yet, why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissible in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day: that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none that would have answered the use which is now served by it. To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts, and of their offices all tending to one result: we see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavours to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain (artificially wrought for the sake of flexure) communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels the teeth of which catch in, and apply to each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer; and at the same time by the size and shape of those wheels so regulating the motion as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed on no other part of the work, but in the room of which if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not have been observed without opening the case. This mechanism being observed, ... the inference, we think, is inevitable that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction and designed its use."[12]

. . . . . .

"That an animal is a machine, is a proposition neither correctly true nor wholly false.... I contend that there is a mechanism in animals; that this mechanism is as properly such, as it is in machines made by art; that this mechanism is intelligible and certain; that it is not the less so because it often begins and terminates with something which is not mechanical; that wherever it is intelligible and certain, it demonstrates intention and contrivance, as well in the works of nature as in those of art; and that it is the best demonstration which either can afford."[13]

There is only one legitimate inference deducible from these premises if they are admitted as sound, namely, that there must have existed "at some time, and in some place, an artificer" who formed the animal mechanism after much the same mental processes of observation, endeavour, successful contrivance, and after a not wholly unlike succession of bodily actions, as those with which a watchmaker has made a watch. Otherwise the conclusion is impotent, and the whole argument becomes a mere juggle of words.

"Now, supposing or admitting," continues Paley, "that we know nothing of the proper internal constitution of a gland, or of the mode of its acting upon the blood; then our situation is precisely like that of an unmechanical looker-on who stands by a stocking loom, a corn mill, a carding machine, or a threshing machine, at work, the fabric and mechanism of which, as well as all that passes within, is hidden from his sight by the outside case; or if seen, would be too complicated for his uninformed, uninstructed understanding to comprehend. And what is that situation? This spectator, ignorant as he is, sees at one end a material enter the machine, as unground grain the mill, raw cotton the carding machine, sheaves of unthreshed corn the threshing machine, and when he casts his eye to the other end of the apparatus, he sees the material issuing from it in a new state and what is more, a state manifestly adapted for its future uses: the grain in meal fit for the making of bread, the wool in rovings fit for the spinning into threads, the sheaf in corn fit for the mill. Is it necessary that this man, in order to be convinced that design, that intention, that contrivance has been employed about the machine, should be allowed to pull it to pieces, should be enabled to examine the parts separately, explore their action upon one another, or their operation, whether simultaneous or successive, upon the material which is presented to them? He may long to do this to satisfy his curiosity; he may desire to do it to improve his theoretic knowledge; ... but for the purpose of ascertaining the existence of counsel and design in the formation of the machine, he wants no such intromission or privity. The effect upon the material, the change produced in it, the utility of the change for future applications, abundantly testify, be the concealed part of the machine, or of its construction, what it will, the hand and agency of a contriver."[14]

This is admirably put, but it will apply to the mechanism of animal and vegetable bodies only, if it is used to show that they too must have had a contriver who has a hand, or something tantamount to one; who does act; who, being a contriver, has what all other contrivers must have, if they are to be called contrivers—a body which can suffer more or less pain or chagrin if the contrivance is unsuccessful. If this is what Paley means, his argument is indeed irrefragable; but if he does not intend this, his words are frivolous, as so clear and acute a reasoner must have perfectly well known.

Whether Paley's argument will prove a source of lasting strength to himself or no, is a point which my readers will decide presently; but I am very clear about its usefulness to my own position. I know few writers whom I would willingly quote more largely, or from whom I find it harder to leave off quoting when I have once begun. A few more passages, however, must suffice.

"I challenge any man to produce in the joints and pivots of the most complicated or the most flexible machine that ever was contrived, a construction more artificial" (here we have it again), "or more evidently artificial than the human neck. Two things were to be done. The head was to have the power of bending forward and backward as in the act of nodding, stooping, looking upwards or downwards; and at the same time of turning itself round upon the body to a certain extent, the quadrant, we will say, or rather perhaps a hundred and twenty degrees of a circle. For these two purposes two distinct contrivances are employed. First the head rests immediately upon the uppermost part of the vertebra, and is united to it by a hinge-joint; upon this joint the head plays freely backward and forward as far either way as is necessary or as the ligaments allow, which was the first thing required.

"But then the rotatory motion is thus unprovided for; therefore, secondly, to make the head capable of this a further mechanism is introduced, not between the head and the uppermost bone of the neck, where the hinge is, but between that bone and the next underneath it. It is a mechanism resembling a tenon and mortise. This second or uppermost bone but one has what the anatomists call a process, viz. a projection somewhat similar in size and shape to a tooth, which tooth, entering a corresponding hollow socket in the bone above it, forms a pivot or axle, upon which that upper bone, together with the head which it supports, turns freely in a circle, and as far in the circle as the attached muscles permit the head to turn. Thus are both motions perfect without interfering with each other. When we nod the head we use the hinge-joint, which lies between the head and the first bone of the neck. When we turn the head round, we use the tenon and mortise, which runs between the first bone of the neck and the second. We see the same contrivance and the same principle employed in the frame or mounting of a telescope. It is occasionally requisite that the object end of the instrument be moved up and down as well as horizontally or equatorially. For the vertical motion there is a hinge upon which the telescope plays, for the horizontal or equatorial motion, an axis upon which the telescope and the hinge turn round together. And this is exactly the mechanism which is applied to the action of the head, nor will anyone here doubt of the existence of counsel and design, except it be by that debility of mind which can trust to its own reasonings in nothing."[15]

. . . . . .

"The patella, or knee-pan, is a curious little bone; in its form and office unlike any other bone in the body. It is circular, the size of a crown-piece, pretty thick, a little convex on both sides, and covered with a smooth cartilage. It lies upon the front of the knee, and the powerful tendons by which the leg is brought forward pass through it (or rather make it a part of their continuation) from their origin in the thigh to their insertion in the tibia. It protects both the tendon and the joint from any injury which either might suffer by the rubbing of one against the other, or by the pressure of unequal surfaces. It also gives to the tendons a very considerable mechanical advantage by altering the line of their direction, and by advancing it farther out of the centre of motion; and this upon the principles of the resolution of force, upon which all machinery is founded. These are its uses. But what is most observable in it is that it appears to be supplemental, as it were, to the frame; added, as it should almost seem, afterwards; not quite necessary, but very convenient. It is separate from the other bones; that is, it is not connected with any other bones by the common mode of union. It is soft, or hardly formed in infancy; and is produced by an ossification, of the inception or progress of which no account can be given from the structure or exercise of the part."[16]

It is positively painful to me to pass over Paley's description of the joints, but I must content myself with a single passage from this admirable chapter.

"The joints, or rather the ends of the bones which form them, display also in their configuration another use. The nerves, blood-vessels, and tendons which are necessary to the life, or for the motion of the limbs, must, it is evident in their way from the trunk of the body to the place of their destination, travel over the moveable joints; and it is no less evident that in this part of their course they will have from sudden motions, and from abrupt changes of curvature, to encounter the danger of compression, attrition, or laceration. To guard fibres so tender against consequences so injurious, their path is in those parts protected with peculiar care; and that by a provision in the figure of the bones themselves. The nerves which supply the fore arm, especially the inferior cubital nerves, are at the elbow conducted by a kind of covered way, between the condyle, or rather under the inner extuberances, of the bone which composes the upper part of the arm. At the knee the extremity of the thigh-bone is divided by a sinus or cliff into two heads or protuberances; and these heads on the back part stand out beyond the cylinder of the bone. Through the hollow which lies between the hind parts of these two heads, that is to say, under the ham, between the ham strings, and within the concave recess of the bone formed by the extuberances on either side; in a word, along a defile between rocks pass the great vessels and nerves which go to the leg. Who led these vessels by a road so defended and secured? In the joint at the shoulder, in the edge of the cup which receives the head of the bone, is a notch which is covered at the top with a ligament. Through this hole thus guarded the blood-vessels steal to their destination in the arm instead of mounting over the edge of the concavity."[17]

. . . . . .

"What contrivance can be more mechanical than the following, viz.: a slit in one tendon to let another tendon pass through it? This structure is found in the tendons which move the toes and fingers. The long tendon, as it is called in the foot, which bends the first joint of the toe, passes through the short tendon which bends the second joint; which course allows to the sinews more liberty and a more commodious action than it would otherwise have been capable of exerting. There is nothing, I believe, in a silk or cotton mill, in the belts or straps or ropes by which the motion is communicated from one part of the machine to another that is more artificial, or more evidently so, than this perforation.

"The next circumstance which I shall mention under this head of muscular arrangement, is so decidedly a mark of intention, that it always appeared to me to supersede in some measure the necessity of seeking for any other observation upon the subject; and that circumstance is the tendons which pass from the leg to the foot being bound down by a ligament at the ankle, the foot is placed at a considerable angle with the leg. It is manifest, therefore, that flexible strings passing along the interior of the angle, if left to themselves, would, when stretched, start from it. The obvious" (and it must not be forgotten that the preventive was obvious) "preventive is to tie them down. And this is done in fact. Across the instep, or rather just above it, the anatomist finds a strong ligament, under which the tendons pass to the foot. The effect of the ligament as a bandage can be made evident to the senses, for if it be cut the tendons start up. The simplicity, yet the clearness of this contrivance, its exact resemblance to established resources of art, place it amongst the most indubitable manifestations of design with which we are acquainted."

Then follows a passage which is interesting, as being the earliest attempt I know of to bring forward an argument against evolution, which was, even in Paley's day, called "Darwinism," after Dr. Erasmus Darwin its propounder.[18] The argument, I mean, which is drawn from the difficulty of accounting for the incipiency of complex structures. This has been used with greater force by the Rev. J. J. Murphy, Professor Mivart, and others, against that (as I believe) erroneous view of evolution which is now generally received as Darwinism.

"There is also a further use," says Paley, "to be made of this present example, and that is as it precisely contradicts the opinion, that the parts of animals may have been all formed by what is called appetency, i. e. endeavour, perpetuated and imperceptibly working its effect through an incalculable series of generations. We have here no endeavour, but the reverse of it; a constant resistency and reluctance. The endeavour is all the other way. The pressure of the ligament constrains the tendons; the tendons react upon the pressure of the ligament. It is impossible that the ligament should ever have been generated by the exercise of the tendons, or in the course of that exercise, forasmuch as the force of the tendon perpendicularly resists the fibre which confines it, and is constantly endeavouring not to form but to rupture and displace the threads of which the ligament is composed."[19]

This must suffice.

"True theories," says M. Flourens, inspired by a passage from Fontenelle, which he proceeds to quote, "true theories make themselves," they are not made, but are born and grow; they cannot be stopped from insisting upon their vitality by anything short of intellectual violence, nor will a little violence only suffice to kill them. "True theories," he continues, "are but the spontaneous mental coming together of facts, which have combined with one another by virtue only of their own natural affinity."[20]

When a number of isolated facts, says Fontenelle, take form, group themselves together coherently, and present the mind so vividly with an idea of their interdependence and mutual bearing upon each other, that no matter how violently we tear them asunder they insist on coming together again; then, and not till then, have we a theory.

Now I submit that there is hardly one of my readers who can be considered as free from bias or prejudice, who will not feel that the idea of design—or perception by an intelligent living being, of ends to be obtained and of the means of obtaining them—and the idea of the tendons of the foot and of the ligament which binds them down, come together so forcibly, that no matter how strongly Professors Haeckel and Clifford and Mr. Darwin may try to separate them, they are no sooner pulled asunder than they straightway fly together again of themselves.

I shall argue, therefore, no further upon this head, but shall assume it as settled, and shall proceed at once to the consideration that next suggests itself.


[12] 'Natural Theology,' ch. i. Sec. 1.

[13] Ch. vii.

[14] Ch. vii.

[15] 'Natural Theology.' ch. viii.

[16] 'Natural Theology,' ch. viii.

[17] 'Natural Theology,' ch. viii.

[18] "What!" says Coleridge, in a note on Stillingfleet, to which Mr. Garnett, of the British Museum, has kindly called my attention, "Did Sir Walter Raleigh believe that a male and female ounce (and if so why not two tigers and lions, &c.?) would have produced in course of generations a cat, or a cat a lion? This is Darwinising with a vengeance."—See 'Athenaeum,' March 27, 1875, p. 423.

[19] 'Natural Theology,' ch. ix.

[20] "La vraie theorie n'est que l'enchainement naturel des faits, qui des qu'ils sont assez nombreux, se touchent, et se lient, les uns aux autres par leur seule vertu propre."—Flourens, 'Buffon, Hist. de ses Travaux.' Paris, 1844, p. 82.



Though the ideas of design, and of the foot, have come together in our minds with sufficient spontaneity, we yet feel that there is a difference—and a wide difference if we could only lay our hands upon it—between the design and manufacture of the ligament and tendons of the foot on the one hand, and on the other the design, manufacture, and combination of artificial strings, pieces of wood, and bandages, whereby a model of the foot might be constructed.

If we conceive of ourselves as looking simultaneously upon a real foot, and upon an admirably constructed artificial one, placed by the side of it, the idea of design, and design by an intelligent living being with a body and soul (without which, as has been already insisted on, the use of the word design is delusive), will present itself strongly to our minds in connection both with the true foot, and with the model; but we find another idea asserting itself with even greater strength, namely, that the design of the true foot is far more intricate, and yet is carried into execution in far more masterly manner than that of the model. We not only feel that there is a wider difference between the ability, time, and care which have been lavished on the real foot and upon the model, than there is between the skill and the time taken to produce Westminster Abbey, and that bestowed upon a gingerbread cake stuck with sugar plums so as to represent it, but also that these two objects must have been manufactured on different principles. We do not for a moment doubt that the real foot was designed, but we are so astonished at the dexterity of the designer that we are at a loss for some time to think who could have designed it, where he can live, in what manner he studied, for how long, and by what processes he carried out his design, when matured, into actual practice. Until recently it was thought that there was no answer to many of these questions, more especially to those which bear upon the mode of manufacture. For the last hundred years, however, the importance of a study has been recognized which does actually reveal to us in no small degree the processes by which the human foot is manufactured, so that in the endeavour to lay our hands upon the points of difference between the kind of design with which the foot itself is designed, and the design of the model, we turn naturally to the guidance of those who have made this study their specialty; and a very wide difference does this study, embryology, at once reveal to us.

Writing of the successive changes through which each embryo is forced to pass, the late Mr. G. H. Lewes says that "none of these phases have any adaptation to the future state of the animal, but are in positive contradiction to it or are simply purposeless; whereas all show stamped on them the unmistakable characters of ancestral adaptation, and the progressions of organic evolution. What does the fact imply? There is not a single known example of a complex organism which is not developed out of simpler forms. Before it can attain the complex structure which distinguishes it, there must be an evolution of forms similar to those which distinguish the structure of organisms lower in the series. On the hypothesis of a plan which prearranged the organic world, nothing could be more unworthy of a supreme intelligence than this inability to construct an organism at once, without making several previous tentative efforts, undoing to-day what was so carefully done yesterday, and repeating for centuries the same tentatives in the same succession. Do not let us blink this consideration. There is a traditional phrase much in vogue among the anthropomorphists, which arose naturally enough from a tendency to take human methods as an explanation of the Divine—a phrase which becomes a sort of argument—'The Great Architect.' But if we are to admit the human point of view, a glance at the facts of embryology must produce very uncomfortable reflections. For what should we say to an architect who was unable, or being able was obstinately unwilling, to erect a palace except by first using his materials in the shape of a hut, then pulling them down and rebuilding them as a cottage, then adding story to story and room to room, not with any reference to the ultimate purposes of the palace, but wholly with reference to the way in which houses were constructed in ancient times? What should we say to the architect who could not form a museum out of bricks and mortar, but was forced to begin as if going to construct a mansion, and after proceeding some way in this direction, altered his plan into a palace, and that again into a museum? Yet this is the sort of succession on which organisms are constructed. The fact has long been familiar; how has it been reconciled with infinite wisdom? Let the following passage answer for a thousand:—'The embryo is nothing like the miniature of the adult. For a long while the body in its entirety and in its details, presents the strangest of spectacles. Day by day and hour by hour, the aspect of the scene changes, and this instability is exhibited by the most essential parts no less than by the accessory parts. One would say that nature feels her way, and only reaches the goal after many times missing the path' (on dirait que la nature tatonne et ne conduit son oeuvre a bon fin, qu'apres s'etre souvent trompee)."[21]

The above passage does not, I think, affect the evidence for design which we adduced in the preceding chapter. However strange the process of manufacture may appear, when the work comes to be turned out the design is too manifest to be doubted.

If the reader were to come upon some lawyer's deed which dealt with matters of such unspeakable intricacy, that it baffled his imagination to conceive how it could ever have been drafted, and if in spite of this he were to find the intricacy of the provisions to be made, exceeded only by the ease and simplicity with which the deed providing for them was found to work in practice; and after this, if he were to discover that the deed, by whomsoever drawn, had nevertheless been drafted upon principles which at first seemed very foreign to any according to which he was in the habit of drafting deeds himself, as for example, that the draftsman had begun to draft a will as a marriage settlement, and so forth—yet an observer would not, I take it, do either of two things. He would not in the face of the result deny the design, making himself judge rather of the method of procedure than of the achievement. Nor yet after insisting in the manner of Paley, on the wonderful proofs of intention and on the exquisite provisions which were to be found in every syllable—thus leading us up to the highest pitch of expectation—would he present us with such an impotent conclusion as that the designer, though a living person and a true designer, was yet immaterial and intangible, a something, in fact, which proves to be a nothing: an omniscient and omnipotent vacuum.

Our observer would feel he need not have been at such pains to establish his design if this was to be the upshot of his reasoning. He would therefore admit the design, and by consequence the designer, but would probably ask a little time for reflection before he ventured to say who, or what, or where the designer was. Then gaining some insight into the manner in which the deed had been drawn, he would conclude that the draftsman was a specialist who had had long practice in this particular kind of work, but who now worked almost as it might be said automatically and without consciousness, and found it difficult to depart from a habitual method of procedure.

We turn, then, on Paley, and say to him: "We have admitted your design and your designer. Where is he? Show him to us. If you cannot show him to us as flesh and blood, show him as flesh and sap; show him as a living cell; show him as protoplasm. Lower than this we should not fairly go; it is not in the bond or nexus of our ideas that something utterly inanimate and inorganic should scheme, design, contrive, and elaborate structures which can make mistakes: it may elaborate low unerring things, like crystals, but it cannot elaborate those which have the power to err. Nevertheless, we will commit such abuse with our understandings as to waive this point, and we will ask you to show him to us as air which, if it cannot be seen, yet can be felt, weighed, handled, transferred from place to place, be judged by its effects, and so forth; or if this may not be, give us half a grain of hydrogen, diffused through all space and invested with some of the minor attributes of matter; or if you cannot do this, give us an imponderable like electricity, or even the higher mathematics, but give us something or throw off the mask and tell us fairly out that it is your paid profession to hoodwink us on this matter if you can, and that you are but doing your best to earn an honest living."

We may fancy Paley as turning the tables upon us and as saying: "But you too have admitted a designer—you too then must mean a designer with a body and soul, who must be somewhere to be found in space, and who must live in time. Where is this your designer? Can you show him more than I can? Can you lay your finger on him and demonstrate him so that a child shall see him and know him, and find what was heretofore an isolated idea concerning him, combine itself instantaneously with the idea of the designer, we will say, of the human foot, so that no power on earth shall henceforth tear those two ideas asunder? Surely if you cannot do this, you too are trifling with words, and abusing your own mind and that of your reader. Where, then, is your designer of man? Who made him? And where, again, is your designer of beasts and birds, of fishes, and of plants?"

Our answer is simple enough; it is that we can and do point to a living tangible person with flesh, blood, eyes, nose, ears, organs, senses, dimensions, who did of his own cunning after infinite proof of every kind of hazard and experiment scheme out, and fashion each organ of the human body. This is the person whom we claim as the designer and artificer of that body, and he is the one of all others the best fitted for the task by his antecedents, and his practical knowledge of the requirements of the case—for he is man himself.

Not man, the individual of any given generation, but man in the entirety of his existence from the dawn of life onwards to the present moment. In like manner we say that the designer of all organisms is so incorporate with the organisms themselves—so lives, moves, and has its being in those organisms, and is so one with them—they in it, and it in them—that it is more consistent with reason and the common use of words to see the designer of each living form in the living form itself, than to look for its designer in some other place or person.

Thus we have a third alternative presented to us.

Mr. Charles Darwin and his followers deny design, as having any appreciable share in the formation of organism at all.

Paley and the theologians insist on design, but upon a designer outside the universe and the organism.

The third opinion is that suggested in the first instance, and carried out to a very high degree of development by Buffon. It was improved, and, indeed, made almost perfect by Dr. Erasmus Darwin, but too much neglected by him after he had put it forward. It was borrowed, as I think we may say with some confidence, from Dr. Darwin by Lamarck, and was followed up by him ardently thenceforth, during the remainder of his life, though somewhat less perfectly comprehended by him than it had been by Dr. Darwin. It is that the design which has designed organisms, has resided within, and been embodied in, the organisms themselves.

With but a very little change in the present signification of words, the question resolves itself into this.

Shall we see God henceforth as embodied in all living forms; as dwelling in them; as being that power in them whereby they have learnt to fashion themselves, each one according to its ideas of its own convenience, and to make itself not only a microcosm, or little world, but a little unwritten history of the universe from its own point of view into the bargain? From everlasting, in time past, only in so far as life has lasted; invisible, only in so far as the ultimate connection between the will to do and the thing which does is invisible; imperishable, only in so far as life as a whole is imperishable; omniscient and omnipotent, within the limits only of a very long and large experience, but ignorant and impotent in respect of all else—limited in all the above respects, yet even so incalculably vaster than anything that we can conceive?

Or shall we see God as we were taught to say we saw him when we were children—as an artificial and violent attempt to combine ideas which fly asunder and asunder, no matter how often we try to force them into combination?

"The true mainspring of our existence," says Buffon, "lies not in those muscles, veins, arteries, and nerves, which have been described with so much minuteness, it is to be found in the more hidden forces which are not bounden by the gross mechanical laws which we would fain set over them. Instead of trying to know these forces by their effects, we have endeavoured to uproot even their very idea, so as to banish them utterly from philosophy. But they return to us and with renewed vigour; they return to us in gravitation, in chemical affinity, in the phenomena of electricity, &c. Their existence rests upon the clearest evidence; the omnipresence of their action is indisputable, but that action is hidden away from our eyes, and is a matter of inference only; we cannot actually see them, therefore we find difficulty in admitting that they exist; we wish to judge of everything by its exterior; we imagine that the exterior is the whole, and deeming that it is not permitted us to go beyond it, we neglect all that may enable us to do so."[22]

Or may we not say that the unseen parts of God are those deep buried histories, the antiquity and the repeatedness of which go as far beyond that of any habit handed down to us from our earliest protoplasmic ancestor, as the distance of the remotest star in space transcends our distance from the sun?

By vivisection and painful introspection we can rediscover many a long buried history—rekindling that sense of novelty in respect of its action, whereby we can alone become aware of it. But there are other remoter histories, and more repeated thoughts and actions, before which we feel so powerless to reawaken fresh interest concerning them, that we give up the attempt in despair, and bow our heads, overpowered by the sense of their immensity. Thus our inability to comprehend God is coextensive with our difficulty in going back upon the past—and our sense of him is a dim perception of our own vast and now inconceivably remote history.


[21] Quatrefages, 'Metamorphoses de l'Homme et des Animaux,' 1862, p. 42; G. H. Lewes, 'Physical Basis of Mind,' 1877, p. 83.

[22] Tom. ii. p. 486, 1794.



It follows necessarily from the doctrine of Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, if not from that of Buffon himself, that the greater number of organs are as purposive to the evolutionist as to the theologian, and far more intelligibly so. Circumstances, however, prevented these writers from acknowledging this fact to the world, and perhaps even to themselves. Their crux was, as it still is to so many evolutionists, the presence of rudimentary organs, and the processes of embryological development. They would not admit that rudimentary and therefore useless organs were designed by a Creator to take their place once and for ever as part of a scheme whose main idea was, that every animal structure was to serve some useful end in connection with its possessor.

This was the doctrine of final causes as then commonly held; in the face of rudimentary organs it was absurd. Buffon was above all things else a plain matter of fact thinker, who refused to go far beyond the obvious. Like all other profound writers, he was, if I may say so, profoundly superficial. He felt that the aim of research does not consist in the knowing this or that, but in the easing of the desire to know or understand more completely—in the peace of mind which passeth all understanding. His was the perfection of a healthy mental organism by which over effort is felt instinctively to be as vicious and contemptible as indolence. He knew this too well to know the grounds of his knowledge, but we smaller people who know it less completely, can see that such felicitous instinctive tempering together of the two great contradictory principles, love of effort and love of ease, has underlain every step of all healthy growth through all conceivable time. Nothing is worth looking at which is seen either too obviously or with too much difficulty. Nothing is worth doing or well done which is not done fairly easily, and some little deficiency of effort is more pardonable than any very perceptible excess; for virtue has ever erred rather on the side of self-indulgence than of asceticism, and well-being has ever advanced through the pleasures rather than through austerity.

According to Buffon, then—as also according to Dr. Darwin, who was just such another practical and genial thinker, and who was distinctly a pupil of Buffon, though a most intelligent and original one—if an organ after a reasonable amount of inspection appeared to be useless, it was to be called useless without more ado, and theories were to be ordered out of court if they were troublesome. In like manner, if animals bred freely inter se before our eyes, as for example the horse and ass, the fact was to be noted, but no animals were to be classed as capable of interbreeding until they had asserted their right to such classification by breeding with tolerable certainty. If, again, an animal looked as if it felt, that is to say, if it moved about pretty quickly or made a noise, it must be held to feel; if it did neither of these things, it did not look as if it felt and therefore it must be said not to feel. De non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est lex was one of the chief axioms of their philosophy; no writers have had a greater horror of mystery or of ideas that have not become so mastered as to be, or to have been, superficial. Lamarck was one of those men of whom I believe it has been said that they have brain upon the brain. He had his theory that an animal could not feel unless it had a nervous system, and at least a spinal marrow—and that it could not think at all without a brain—all his facts, therefore, have to be made to square with this. With Buffon and Dr. Darwin we feel safe that however wrong they may sometimes be, their conclusions have always been arrived at on that fairly superficial view of things in which, as I have elsewhere said, our nature alone permits us to be comforted.

To these writers, then, the doctrine of final causes for rudimentary organs was a piece of mystification and an absurdity; no less fatal to any such doctrine were the processes of embryological development. It was plain that the commonly received teleology must be given up; but the idea of design or purpose was so associated in their minds with theological design that they avoided it altogether. They seem to have forgotten that an internal teleology is as much teleology as an external one; hence, unfortunately, though their whole theory of development is intensely purposive, it is the fact rather than the name of teleology which has hitherto been insisted upon, even by the greatest writers on evolution—the name having been denied even by those who were most insisting on the thing itself.

It is easy to understand the difficulty felt by the fathers of evolution when we remember how much had to be seen before the facts could lie well before them. It was necessary to attain, firstly, to a perception of the unity of person between parents and offspring in successive generations; secondly, it must be seen that an organism's memory goes back for generations beyond its birth, to the first beginnings in fact, of which we know anything whatever; thirdly, the latency of that memory, as of memory generally till the associated ideas are reproduced, must be brought to bear upon the facts of heredity; and lastly, the unconsciousness with which habitual actions come to be performed, must be assigned as the explanation of the unconsciousness with which we grow and discharge most of our natural functions.

Buffon was too busy with the fact that animals descended with modification at all, to go beyond the development and illustration of this great truth. I doubt whether he ever saw more than the first, and that dimly, of the four considerations above stated.

Dr. Darwin was the first to point out the first two considerations with some clearness, but he can hardly be said to have understood their full importance: the two latter ideas do not appear to have occurred to him.

Lamarck had little if any perception of any one of the four. When, however, they are firmly seized and brought into their due bearings one upon another, the facts of heredity become as simple as those of a man making a tobacco pipe, and rudimentary organs are seen to be essentially of the same character as the little rudimentary protuberance at the bottom of the pipe to which I referred in 'Erewhon.'[23]

These organs are now no longer useful, but they once were so, and were therefore once purposive, though not so now. They are the expressions of a bygone usefulness; sayings, as it were, about which there was at one time infinite wrangling, as to what both the meaning and the expression should best be, so that they then had living significance in the mouths of those who used them, though they have become such mere shibboleths and cant formulae to ourselves that we think no more of their meaning than we do of Julius Caesar in the month of July. They continue to be reproduced through the force of habit, and through indisposition to get out of any familiar groove of action until it becomes too unpleasant for us to remain in it any longer. It has long been felt that embryology and rudimentary structures indicated community of descent. Dr. Darwin and Lamarck insisted on this, as have all subsequent writers on evolution; but the explanation of why and how the structures come to be repeated—namely, that they are simply examples of the force of habit—can only be perceived intelligently by those who admit so much unity between parents and offspring that the self-development of the latter can be properly called habitual (as being a repetition of an act by one and the same individual), and can only be fully sympathized with by those who recognize that if habit be admitted as the key to the fact at all, the unconscious manner in which the habit comes to be repeated is only of a piece with all our other observations concerning habit. For the fuller development of the foregoing, I must refer the reader to my work 'Life and Habit.'

The purposiveness, which even Dr. Darwin, and Lamarck still less, seem never to have quite recognized in spite of their having insisted so much on what amounts to the same thing, now comes into full view. It is seen that the organs external to the body, and those internal to it are, the second as much as the first, things which we have made for our own convenience, and with a prevision that we shall have need of them; the main difference between the manufacture of these two classes of organs being, that we have made the one kind so often that we can no longer follow the processes whereby we make them, while the others are new things which we must make introspectively or not at all, and which are not yet so incorporate with our vitality as that we should think they grow instead of being manufactured. The manufacture of the tool, and the manufacture of the living organ prove therefore to be but two species of the same genus, which, though widely differentiated, have descended as it were from one common filament of desire and inventive faculty. The greater or less complexity of the organs goes for very little. It is only a question of the amount of intelligence and voluntary self-adaptation which we must admit, and this must be settled rather by an appeal to what we find in organism, and observe concerning it, than by what we may have imagined a priori.

Given a small speck of jelly with some kind of circumstance-suiting power, some power of slightly varying its actions in accordance with slightly varying circumstances and desires—given such a jelly-speck with a power of assimilating other matter, and thus, of reproducing itself, given also that it should be possessed of a memory, and we can show how the whole animal world can have descended it may be from an amoeba without interference from without, and how every organ in every creature is designed at first roughly and tentatively but finally fashioned with the most consummate perfection, by the creature which has had need of that organ, which best knew what it wanted, and was never satisfied till it had got that which was the best suited to its varying circumstances in their entirety. We can even show how, if it becomes worth the Ethiopian's while to try and change his skin, or the leopard's to change his spots, they can assuredly change them within a not unreasonable time and adapt their covering to their own will and convenience, and to that of none other; thus what is commonly conceived of as direct creation by God is moved back to a time and space inconceivable in their remoteness, while the aim and design so obvious in nature are shown to be still at work around us, growing ever busier and busier, and advancing from day to day both in knowledge and power.

It was reserved for Mr. Darwin and for those who have too rashly followed him to deny purpose as having had any share in the development of animal and vegetable organs; to see no evidence of design in those wonderful provisions which have been the marvel and delight of observers in all ages. The one who has drawn our attention more than perhaps any other living writer to those very marvels of coadaptation, is the foremost to maintain that they are the result not of desire and design, either within the creature or without it, but of blind chance, working no whither, and due but to the accumulation of innumerable lucky accidents.

"There are men," writes Professor Tyndall in the 'Nineteenth Century,' for last November, "and by no means the minority, who, however wealthy in regard to facts, can never rise into the region of principles; and they are sometimes intolerant of those that can. They are formed to plod meritoriously on in the lower levels of thought; unpossessed of the pinions necessary to reach the heights, they cannot realize the mental act—the act of inspiration it might well be called—by which a man of genius, after long pondering and proving, reaches a theoretic conception which unravels and illuminates the tangle of centuries of observation and experiment. There are minds, it may be said in passing, who, at the present moment, stand in this relation to Mr. Darwin."

The more rhapsodical parts of the above must go for what they are worth, but I should be sorry to think that what remains conveyed a censure which might fall justly on myself. As I read the earlier part of the passage I confess that I imagined the conclusion was going to be very different from what it proved to be. Fresh from the study of the older men and also of Mr. Darwin himself, I failed to see that Mr. Darwin had "unravelled and illuminated" a tangled skein, but believed him, on the contrary, to have tangled and obscured what his predecessors had made in great part, if not wholly, plain. With the older writers, I had felt as though in the hands of men who wished to understand themselves and to make their reader understand them with the smallest possible exertion. The older men, if not in full daylight, at any rate saw in what quarter of the sky the dawn was breaking, and were looking steadily towards it. It is not they who have put their hands over their own eyes and ours, and who are crying out that there is no light, but chance and blindness everywhere.


[23] Page 210, first edition.



I have stated the foregoing in what I take to be an extreme logical development, in order that the reader may more easily perceive the consequences of those premises which I am endeavouring to re-establish. But it must not be supposed that an animal or plant has ever conceived the idea of some organ widely different from any it was yet possessed of, and has set itself to design it in detail and grow towards it.

The small jelly-speck, which we call the amoeba, has no organs save what it can extemporize as occasion arises. If it wants to get at anything, it thrusts out part of its jelly, which thus serves it as an arm or hand: when the arm has served its purpose, it is absorbed into the rest of the jelly, and has now to do the duty of a stomach by helping to wrap up what it has just purveyed. The small round jelly-speck spreads itself out and envelops its food, so that the whole creature is now a stomach, and nothing but a stomach. Having digested its food, it again becomes a jelly-speck, and is again ready to turn part of itself into hand or foot as its next convenience may dictate. It is not to be believed that such a creature as this, which is probably just sensitive to light and nothing more, should be able to form a conception of an eye and set itself to work to grow one, any more than it is believable that he who first observed the magnifying power of a dew drop, or even he who first constructed a rude lens, should have had any idea in his mind of Lord Rosse's telescope with all its parts and appliances. Nothing could be well conceived more foreign to experience and common sense. Animals and plants have travelled to their present forms as man has travelled to any one of his own most complicated inventions. Slowly, step by step, through many blunders and mischances which have worked together for good to those that have persevered in elasticity. They have travelled as man has travelled, with but little perception of a want till there was also some perception of a power, and with but little perception of a power till there was a dim sense of want; want stimulating power, and power stimulating want; and both so based upon each other that no one can say which is the true foundation, but rather that they must be both baseless and, as it were, meteoric in mid air. They have seen very little ahead of a present power or need, and have been then most moral, when most inclined to pierce a little into futurity, but also when most obstinately declining to pierce too far, and busy mainly with the present. They have been so far blindfolded that they could see but for a few steps in front of them, yet so far free to see that those steps were taken with aim and definitely, and not in the dark.

"Plus il a su," says Buffon, speaking of man, "plus il a pu, mais aussi moins il a fait, moins il a su." This holds good wherever life holds good. Wherever there is life there is a moral government of rewards and punishments understood by the amoeba neither better nor worse than by man. The history of organic development is the history of a moral struggle.

We know nothing as yet about the origin of a creature able to feel want and power, nor yet what want and power spring from. It does not seem worth while to go into these questions until an understanding has been come to as to whether the interaction of want and power in some low form or forms of life which could assimilate matter, reproduce themselves, vary their actions, and be capable of remembering, will or will not suffice to explain the development of the varied organs and desires which we see in the higher vertebrates and man. When this question has been settled, then it will be time to push our inquiries farther back.

But given such a low form of life as here postulated, and there is no force in Paley's pretended objection to the Darwinism of his time.

"Give our philosopher," he says, "appetencies; give him a portion of living irritable matter (a nerve or the clipping of a nerve) to work upon; give also to his incipient or progressive forms the power of propagating their like in every stage of their alteration; and if he is to be believed, he could replenish the world with all the vegetable and animal productions which we now see in it."[24]

After meeting this theory with answers which need not detain us, he continues:—

"The senses of animals appear to me quite incapable of receiving the explanation of their origin which this theory affords. Including under the word 'sense' the organ and the perception, we have no account of either. How will our philosopher get at vision or make an eye? Or, suppose the eye formed, would the perception follow? The same of the other senses. And this objection holds its force, ascribe what you will to the hand of time, to the power of habit, to changes too slow to be observed by man, or brought within any comparison which he is able to make of past things with the present. Concede what you please to these arbitrary and unattested superstitions, how will they help you? Here is no inception. No laws, no course, no powers of nature which prevail at present, nor any analogous to these would give commencement to a new sense; and it is in vain to inquire how that might proceed which would never begin."

In answer to this, let us suppose that some inhabitants of another world were to see a modern philosopher so using a microscope that they should believe it to be a part of the philosopher's own person, which he could cut off from and join again to himself at pleasure, and suppose there were a controversy as to how this microscope had originated, and that one party maintained the man had made it little by little because he wanted it, while the other declared this to be absurd and impossible; I ask, would this latter party be justified in arguing that microscopes could never have been perfected by degrees through the preservation of and accumulation of small successive improvements, inasmuch as men could not have begun to want to use microscopes until they had had a microscope which should show them that such an instrument would be useful to them, and that hence there is nothing to account for the beginning of microscopes, which might indeed make some progress when once originated, but which could never originate?

It might be pointed out to such a reasoner, firstly, that as regards any acquired power the various stages in the acquisition of which he might be supposed able to remember, he would find that, logic notwithstanding, the wish did originate the power, and yet was originated by it, both coming up gradually out of something which was not recognisable as either power or wish, and advancing through vain beating of the air, to a vague effort, and from this to definite effort with failure, and from this to definite effort with success, and from this to success with little consciousness of effort, and from this to success with such complete absence of effort that he now acts unconsciously and without power of introspection, and that, do what he will, he can rarely or never draw a sharp dividing line whereat anything shall be said to begin, though none less certain that there has been a continuity in discontinuity, and a discontinuity in continuity between it and certain other past things; moreover, that his opponents postulated so much beginning of the microscope as that there should be a dew drop, even as our evolutionists start with a sense of touch, of which sense all the others are modifications, so that not one of them but is resolvable into touch by more or less easy stages; and secondly, that the question is one of fact and of the more evident deductions therefrom, and should not be carried back to those remote beginnings where the nature of the facts is so purely a matter of conjecture and inference.

No plant or animal, then, according to our view, would be able to conceive more than a very slight improvement on its organization at a given time, so clearly as to make the efforts towards it that would result in growth of the required modification; nor would these efforts be made with any far-sighted perception of what next and next and after, but only of what next; while many of the happiest thoughts would come like all other happy thoughts—thoughtlessly; by a chain of reasoning too swift and subtle for conscious analysis by the individual, as will be more fully insisted on hereafter. Some of these modifications would be noticeable, but the majority would involve no more noticeable difference than can be detected between the length of the shortest day, and that of the shortest but one.

Thus a bird whose toes were not webbed, but who had under force of circumstances little by little in the course of many generations learned to swim, either from having lived near a lake, and having learnt the art owing to its fishing habits, or from wading about in shallow pools by the sea-side at low water, and finding itself sometimes a little out of its depth and just managing to scramble over the intermediate yard or so between it and safety—such a bird did not probably conceive the idea of swimming on the water and set itself to learn to do so, and then conceive the idea of webbed feet and set itself to get webbed feet. The bird found itself in some small difficulty, out of which it either saw, or at any rate found that it could extricate itself by striking out vigorously with its feet and extending its toes as far as ever it could; it thus began to learn the art of swimming and conceived the idea of swimming synchronously, or nearly so; or perhaps wishing to get over a yard or two of deep water, and trying to do so without being at the trouble of rising to fly, it would splash and struggle its way over the water, and thus practically swim, though without much perception of what it had been doing. Finding that no harm had come to it, the bird would do the same again, and again; it would thus presently lose fear, and would be able to act more calmly; then it would begin to find out that it could swim a little, and if its food lay much in the water so that it would be of great advantage to it to be able to alight and rest without being forced to return to land, it would begin to make a practice of swimming. It would now discover that it could swim the more easily according as its feet presented a more extended surface to the water; it would therefore keep its toes extended whenever it swam, and as far as in it lay, would make the most of whatever skin was already at the base of its toes. After very many generations it would become web-footed, if doing as above described should have been found continuously convenient, so that the bird should have continuously used the skin about its toes as much as possible in this direction.

For there is a margin in every organic structure (and perhaps more than we imagine in things inorganic also), which will admit of references, as it were, side notes, and glosses upon the original text. It is on this margin that we may err or wander—the greatness of a mistake depending rather upon the extent of the departure from the original text, than on the direction that the departure takes. A little error on the bad side is more pardonable, and less likely to hurt the organism than a too great departure upon the right one. This is a fundamental proposition in any true system of ethics, the question what is too much or too sudden being decided by much the same higgling as settles the price of butter in a country market, and being as invisible as the link which connects the last moment of desire with the first of power and performance, and with the material result achieved.

It is on this margin that the fulcrum is to be found, whereby we obtain the little purchase over our structure, that enables us to achieve great results if we use it steadily, with judgment, and with neither too little effort nor too much. It is by employing this that those who have a fancy to move their ears or toes without moving other organs learn to do so. There is a man at the Agricultural Hall now playing the violin with his toes, and playing it, as I am told, sufficiently well. The eye of the sailor, the wrist of the conjuror, the toe of the professional medium, are all found capable of development to an astonishing degree, even in a single lifetime; but in every case success has been attained by the simple process of making the best of whatever power a man has had at any given time, and by being on the look out to take advantage of accident, and even of misfortune. If a man would learn to paint, he must not theorize concerning art, nor think much what he would do beforehand, but he must do something—it does not matter what, except that it should be whatever at the moment will come handiest and easiest to him; and he must do that something as well as he can. This will presently open the door for something else, and a way will show itself which no conceivable amount of searching would have discovered, but which yet could never have been discovered by sitting still and taking no pains at all. "Dans l'animal," says Buffon, "il y a moins de jugement que de sentiment."[25]

It may appear as though this were blowing hot and cold with the same breath, inasmuch as I am insisting that important modifications of structure have been always purposive; and at the same time am denying that the creature modified has had any purpose in the greater part of all those actions which have at length modified both structure and instinct. Thus I say that a bird learns to swim without having any purpose of learning to swim before it set itself to make those movements which have resulted in its being able to do so. At the same time I maintain that it has only learned to swim by trying to swim, and this involves the very purpose which I have just denied. The reconciliation of these two apparently irreconcilable contentions must be found in the consideration that the bird was not the less trying to swim, merely because it did not know the name we have chosen to give to the art which it was trying to master, nor yet how great were the resources of that art. A person, who knew all about swimming, if from some bank he could watch our supposed bird's first attempt to scramble over a short space of deep water, would at once declare that the bird was trying to swim—if not actually swimming. Provided then that there is a very little perception of, and prescience concerning, the means whereby the next desired end may be attained, it matters not how little in advance that end may be of present desires or faculties; it is still reached through purpose, and must be called purposive. Again, no matter how many of these small steps be taken, nor how absolute was the want of purpose or prescience concerning any but the one being actually taken at any given moment, this does not bar the result from having been arrived at through design and purpose. If each one of the small steps is purposive the result is purposive, though there was never purpose extended over more than one, two, or perhaps at most three, steps at a time.

Returning to the art of painting for an example, are we to say that the proficiency which such a student as was supposed above will certainly attain, is not due to design, merely because it was not until he had already become three parts excellent that he knew the full purport of all that he had been doing? When he began he had but vague notions of what he would do. He had a wish to learn to represent nature, but the line into which he has settled down has probably proved very different from that which he proposed to himself originally. Because he has taken advantage of his accidents, is it, therefore, one whit the less true that his success is the result of his desires and his design? The 'Times' pointed out not long ago that the theory which now associates meteors and comets in the most unmistakable manner, was suggested by one accident, and confirmed by another. But the writer added well that "such accidents happen only to the zealous student of nature's secrets." In the same way the bird that is taking to the habit of swimming, and of making the most of whatever skin it already has between its toes, will have doubtless to thank accidents for no small part of its progress; but they will be such accidents as could never have happened to, or been taken advantage of by any creature which was not zealously trying to make the most of itself—and between such accidents as this, and design, the line is hard to draw; for if we go deep enough we shall find that most of our design resolves itself into as it were a shaking of the bag to see what will come out that will suit our purpose, and yet at the same time that most of our shaking of the bag resolves itself into a design that the bag shall contain only such and such things, or thereabouts.

Again, the fact that animals are no longer conscious of design and purpose in much that they do, but act unreflectingly, and as we sometimes say concerning ourselves "automatically" or "mechanically"—that they have no idea whatever of the steps whereby they have travelled to their present state, and show no sign of doubt about what must have been at one time the subject of all manner of doubts, difficulties, and discussions—that whatever sign of reflection they now exhibit is to be found only in case of some novel feature or difficulty presenting itself; these facts do not bar that the results achieved should be attributed to an inception in reason, design, and purpose, no matter how rapidly and as we call it instinctively, the creatures may now act.

For if we look closely at such an invention as the steam engine in its latest and most complicated developments, about which there can be no dispute but that they are achievements of reason, purpose, and design, we shall find them present us with examples of all those features the presence of which in the handiwork of animals is too often held to bar reason and purpose from having had any share therein.

Assuredly such men as the Marquis of Worcester and Captain Savery had very imperfect ideas as to the upshot of their own action. The simplest steam engine now in use in England is probably a marvel of ingenuity as compared with the highest development which appeared possible to these two great men, while our newest and most highly complicated engines would seem to them more like living beings than machines. Many, again, of the steps leading to the present development have been due to action which had but little heed of the steam engine, being the inventions of attendants whose desire was to save themselves the trouble of turning this or that cock, and who were indifferent to any other end than their own immediate convenience. No step in fact along the whole route was ever taken with much perception of what would be the next step after the one being taken at any given moment.

Nor do we find that an engine made after any old and well-known pattern is now made with much more consciousness of design than we can suppose a bird's nest to be built with. The greater number of the parts of any such engine, are made by the gross as it were like screws and nuts, which are turned out by machinery and in respect of which the labour of design is now no more felt than is the design of him who first invented the wheel. It is only when circumstances require any modification in the article to be manufactured that thought and design will come into play again; but I take it few will deny that if circumstances compel a bird either to give up a nest three-parts built altogether, or to make some trifling deviation from its ordinary practice, it will in nine cases out of ten make such deviation as shall show that it had thought the matter over, and had on the whole concluded to take such and such a course, that is to say, that it had reasoned and had acted with such purpose as its reason had dictated.

And I imagine that this is the utmost that anyone can claim even for man's own boasted powers. Set the man who has been accustomed to make engines of one type, to make engines of another type without any intermediate course of training or instruction, and he will make no better figure with his engines than a thrush would do if commanded by her mate to make a nest like a blackbird. It is vain then to contend that the ease and certainty with which an action is performed, even though it may have now become matter of such fixed habit that it cannot be suddenly and seriously modified without rendering the whole performance abortive, is any argument against that action having been an achievement of design and reason in respect of each one of the steps that have led to it; and if in respect of each one of the steps then as regards the entire action; for we see our own most reasoned actions become no less easy, unerring, automatic, and unconscious, than the actions which we call instinctive when they have been repeated a sufficient number of times.

This has been often pointed out, but I insisted upon it and developed it in 'Life and Habit,' more I believe than has been done hitherto, at the same time making it the key to many phenomena of growth and heredity which without such key seem explained by words rather than by any corresponding peace of mind in our ideas concerning them. Seeing that I dwelt much on the importance of bearing in mind the vanishing tendency of consciousness, volition, and memory upon their becoming intense, a tendency which no one after five minutes' reflection will venture to deny, some reviewers have imagined that I am advocating the same views as have been put forward by Von Hartmann under the title of 'the Philosophy of the Unconscious.' Unless, however, I am much mistaken, their opinion is without foundation. For so far as I can gather, Von Hartmann personifies the unconscious and makes it act and think—in fact deifies it—whereas I only infer a certain history for certain of our growths and actions in consequence of observing that often repeated actions come in time to be performed unconsciously. I cannot think I have done more than note a fact which all must acknowledge, and drawn from it an inference which may or may not be true, but which is at any rate perfectly intelligible, whereas if Von Hartmann's meaning is anything like what Mr. Sully says it is,[26] I can only say that it has not been given to me to form any definite conception whatever as to what that meaning may be. I am encouraged moreover to hope that I am not in the same condemnation with Von Hartmann—if, indeed, Von Hartmann is to be condemned, about which I know nothing—by the following extract from a German Review of 'Life and Habit.'

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