Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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In more senses than one Mr. Darwin has drawn heavily upon the scientific tolerance of his age. He has drawn heavily upon time in his development of species, and he has drawn adventurously upon matter in his theory of pangenesis. According to this theory, a germ, already microscopic, is a world of minor germs. Not only is the organism as a whole wrapped up in the germ, but every organ of the organism has there its special seed. This, I say, is an adventurous draft on the power of matter to divide itself and distribute its forces. But, unless we are perfectly sure that he is overstepping the bounds of reason, that he is unwittingly sinning against observed fact or demonstrated law—for a mind like that of Darwin can never sin wittingly against either fact or law—we ought, I think, to be cautious in limiting his intellectual horizon. If there be the least doubt in the matter, it ought to be given in favour of the freedom of such a mind. To it a vast possibility is in itself a dynamic power, though the possibility may never be drawn upon. It gives me pleasure to think that the facts and reasonings of this discourse tend rather towards the justification of Mr. Darwin, than towards his condemnation; for they seem to show the perfect competence of matter and force, as regards divisibility and distribution, to bear the heaviest strain that he has hitherto imposed upon them.

In the case of Mr. Darwin, observation, imagination, and reason combined have run back with wonderful sagacity and success over a certain length of the line of biological succession. Guided by analogy, in his 'Origin of Species' he placed at the root of life a primordial germ, from which he conceived the amazing variety of the organisms now upon earth's surface might be deduced. If this hypothesis were even true, it would not be final. The human mind would infallibly look behind the germ, and however hopeless the attempt, would enquire into the history of its genesis. In this dim twilight of conjecture the searcher welcomes every gleam, and seeks to augment his light by indirect incidences. He studies the methods of nature in the ages and the worlds within his reach, in order to shape the course of speculation in antecedent ages and worlds. And though the certainty possessed by experimental enquiry is here shut out, we are not left entirely without guidance. From the examination of the solar system, Kant and Laplace came to the conclusion that its various bodies once formed parts of the same undislocated mass; that matter in a nebulous form preceded matter in its present form; that as the ages rolled away, heat was wasted, condensation followed, planets were detached; and that finally the chief portion of the hot cloud reached, by self-compression, the magnitude and density of our sun. The earth itself offers evidence of a fiery origin; and in our day the hypothesis of Kant and Laplace receives the independent countenance of spectrum analysis, which proves the same substances to be common to the earth and sun.

Accepting some such view of the construction of our system as probable, a desire immediately arises to connect the present life of our planet with the past. We wish to know something of our remotest ancestry. On its first detachment from the central mass, life, as we understand it, could not have been present on the earth. How, then, did it come there? The thing to be encouraged here is a reverent freedom—a freedom preceded by the hard discipline which checks licentiousness in speculation—while the thing to be repressed, both in science and out of it, is dogmatism. And here I am in the hands of the meeting—willing to end, but ready to go on. I have no right to intrude upon you, unasked, the unformed notions which are floating like clouds, or gathering to more solid consistency, in the modern speculative scientific mind. But if you wish me to speak plainly, honestly, and undisputatiously, I am willing to do so. On the present occasion—

You are ordained to call, and I to come.

Well, your answer is given, and I obey your call.

Two or three years ago, in an ancient London College, I listened to a discussion at the end of a lecture by a very remarkable man. Three or four hundred clergymen were present at the lecture. The orator began with the civilisation of Egypt in the time of 'Joseph; pointing out the very perfect organisation of the kingdom, and the possession of chariots, in one of which Joseph rode, as proving a long antecedent period of civilisation. He then passed on to the mud of the Nile, its rate of augmentation, its present thickness, and the remains of human handiwork found therein: thence to the rocks which bound the Nile valley, and which teem with organic remains. Thus in his own clear way he caused the idea of the world's age to expand itself indefinitely before the minds of his audience, and he contrasted this with the age usually assigned to the world. During his discourse he seemed to be swimming against a stream, he manifestly thought that he was opposing a general conviction. He expected resistance in the subsequent discussion; so did I. But it was all a mistake; there was no adverse current, no opposing conviction, no resistance; merely here and there a half-humorous, but unsuccessful attempt to entangle him in his talk. The meeting agreed with all that had been said regarding the antiquity of the earth and of its life. They had, indeed, known it all long ago, and they rallied the lecturer for coming amongst them with so stale a story. It was quite plain that this large body of clergymen, who were, I should say, to be ranked amongst the finest samples of their class, had entirely given up the ancient landmarks, and transported the conception of life's origin to an indefinitely distant past.

This leads us to the gist of our present enquiry, which is this: Does life belong to what we call matter, or is it an independent principle inserted into matter at some suitable epoch—say when the physical conditions became such as to permit of the development of life? Let us put the question with the reverence due to a faith and culture in which we all were cradled, and which are the undeniable historic antecedents of our present enlightenment. I say, let us put the question reverently, but let us also put it clearly and definitely. There are the strongest grounds for believing that during a certain period of its history the earth was not, nor was it fit to be, the theatre of life. Whether this was ever a nebulous period, or merely a molten period, does not signify much; and if we revert to the nebulous condition, it is because the probabilities are really on its side. Our question is this: Did creative energy pause until the nebulous matter had condensed, until the earth had been detached, until the solar fire had so far withdrawn from the earth's vicinity as to permit a crust to gather round the planet? Did it wait until the air was isolated; until the seas were formed; until evaporation, condensation, and the descent of rain had begun; until the eroding forces of the atmosphere had weathered and decomposed the molten rocks so as to form soils; until the sun's rays had become so tempered by distance, and by waste, as to be chemically fit for the decompositions necessary to vegetable life? Having waited through these aeons until the proper conditions had set in, did it send the flat forth, 'Let there be Life!'? These questions define a hypothesis not without its difficulties, but the dignity of which in relation to the world's knowledge was demonstrated by the nobleness of the men whom it sustained.

Modern scientific thought is called upon to decide between this hypothesis and another; and public thought generally will afterwards be called upon to do the same. But, however the convictions of individuals here and there may be influenced, the process must be slow and secular which commends the hypothesis of Natural Evolution to the public mind. For what are the core and essence of this hypothesis? Strip it naked, and you stand face to face with the notion that not alone the more ignoble forms of animalcular or animal life, not alone the nobler forms of the horse and lion, not alone the exquisite and wonderful mechanism of the human body, but that the human mind itself—emotion, intellect, will, and all their phenomena—were once latent in a fiery cloud. Surely the mere statement of such a notion is more than a refutation. But the hypothesis would probably go even farther than this. Many who hold it would probably assent to the position that, at the present moment, all our philosophy, all our poetry, all our science, and all our art—Plato, Shakspeare, Newton, and Raphael—are potential in the fires of the sun. We long to learn something of our origin. If the Evolution hypothesis be correct, even this unsatisfied yearning must have come to us across the ages which separate the primeval mist from the consciousness of to-day. I do not think that any holder of the Evolution hypothesis would say that I overstate or overstrain it in any way. I merely strip it of all vagueness, and bring before you, unclothed and unvarnished, the notions by which it must stand or fall.

Surely these notions represent an absurdity too monstrous to be entertained by any sane mind. But why are such notions absurd, and why should sanity reject them? The law of Relativity, of which we have previously spoken, may find its application here. These Evolution notions are absurd, monstrous, and fit only for the intellectual gibbet, in relation to the ideas concerning matter which were drilled into us when young. Spirit and matter have ever been presented to us in the rudest contrast, the one as all-noble, the other as all-vile. But is this correct? Upon the answer to this question all depends. Supposing that, instead of having the foregoing antithesis of spirit and matter presented to our youthful minds, we had been taught to regard them as equally worthy, and equally wonderful; to consider them, in fact, as two opposite faces of the self-same mystery. Supposing that in youth we had been impregnated with the notion of the poet Goethe, instead of the notion of the poet Young, and taught to look upon matter, not as 'brute matter,' but as the 'living garment of God;' do you not think that under these altered circumstances the law of Relativity might have had an outcome different from its present one? Is it not probable that our repugnance to the idea of primeval union between spirit and matter might be considerably abated? Without this total revolution of the notions now prevalent, the Evolution hypothesis must stand condemned; but in many profoundly thoughtful minds such a revolution has already taken place. They degrade neither member of the mysterious duality referred to; but they exalt one of them from its abasement, and repeal the divorce hitherto existing between them. In substance, if not in words, their position as regards the relation of spirit and matter is: 'What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.'

You have been thus led to the outer rim of speculative science, for beyond the nebulae scientific thought has never hitherto ventured. I have tried to state that which I considered ought, in fairness, to be outspoken. I neither think this Evolution hypothesis is to be flouted away contemptuously, nor that it ought to be denounced as wicked. It is to be brought before the bar of disciplined reason, and there justified or condemned. Let us hearken to those who wisely support it, and to those who wisely oppose it; and let us tolerate those, whose name is legion, who try foolishly to do either of these things. The only thing out of place in the discussion is dogmatism on either side. Fear not the Evolution hypothesis. Steady yourselves, in its presence, upon that faith in the ultimate triumph of truth which was expressed by old Gamaliel when he said: 'If it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; if it be of man, it will come to nought.' Under the fierce light of scientific enquiry, it is sure to be dissipated if it possess not a core of truth. Trust me, its existence as a hypothesis is quite compatible with the simultaneous existence of all those virtues to which the term 'Christian' has been applied. It does not solve—it does not profess to solve—the ultimate mystery of this universe. It leaves, in fact, that mystery untouched. For, granting the nebula and its potential life, the question, whence they came, would still remain to baffle and bewilder us. At bottom, the hypothesis does nothing more than 'transport the conception of life's origin to an indefinitely distant past.'

Those who hold the doctrine of Evolution are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they only yield to it a provisional assent. They regard the nebular hypothesis as probable, and, in the utter absence of any evidence to prove the act illegal, they extend the method of nature from the present into the past. Here the observed uniformity of nature is their only guide. Within the long range of physical enquiry, they have never discerned in nature the insertion of caprice. Throughout this range, the laws of physical and intellectual continuity have run side by side. Having thus determined the elements of their curve in a world of observation and experiment, they prolong that curve into an antecedent world, and accept as probable the unbroken sequence of development from the nebula to the present time. You never hear the really philosophical defenders of the doctrine of Uniformity speaking of impossibilities in nature. They never say, what they are constantly charged with saying, that it is impossible for the Builder of the universe to alter His work. Their business is not with the possible, but the actual—not with a world which might be, but with a world that is. This they explore with a courage not unmixed with reverence, and according to methods which, like the quality of a tree, are tested by their fruits. They have but one desire—to know the truth. They have but one fear—to believe a lie. And if they know the strength of science, and rely upon it with unswerving trust, they also know the limits beyond which science ceases to be strong. They best know that questions offer themselves to thought, which science, as now prosecuted, has not even the tendency to solve. They have as little fellowship with the atheist who says there is no God, as with the theist who professes to know the mind of God. 'Two things,' said Immanuel Kant, 'fill me with awe: the starry heavens, and the sense of moral responsibility in man.' And in his hours of health and strength and sanity, when the stroke of action has ceased, and the pause of reflection has set in, the scientific investigator finds himself overshadowed by the same awe. Breaking contact with the hampering details of earth, it associates him with a Power which gives fulness and tone to his existence, but which he can neither analyse nor comprehend.


There is one God supreme over all gods, diviner than mortals, Whose form is not like unto man's, and as unlike his nature; But vain mortals imagine that gods like themselves are begotten, With human sensations and voice and corporeal members; So, if oxen or lions had hands and could work in man's fashion, And trace out with chisel or brush their conception of Godhead, Then would horses depict gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, Each kind the divine with its own form and nature endowing.

XENOPHANES Of COLOPHON (six centuries B.C.), Supernatural Religion, vol. 1.



[Footnote: Delivered before the British Association on Wednesday evening, August 19, 1874.]


AN impulse inherent in primeval man turned his thoughts and questionings betimes towards the sources of natural phenomena. The same impulse, inherited and intensified, is the spur of scientific action to-day. Determined by it, by a process of abstraction from experience we form physical theories which lie beyond the pale of experience, but which satisfy the desire of the mind to see every natural occurrence resting upon a cause. In forming their notions of the origin of things, our earliest historic (and doubtless, we might add, our prehistoric) ancestors pursued, as far as their intelligence permitted, the same course. They also fell back upon experience; but with this difference—that the particular experiences which furnished the warp and woof of their theories were drawn, not from the study of nature, but from what lay much closer to them—the observation of men. Their theories accordingly took an anthropomorphic form. To super-sensual beings, which, 'however potent and invisible, were nothing but a species of human creatures, perhaps raised from among mankind, and retaining all human passions and appetites,' were handed over the rule and governance of natural phenomena. [Footnote: Hume, 'Natural History of Religion.]

Tested by observation and reflection, these early notions failed in the long run to satisfy the more penetrating intellects of our race. Far in the depths of history we find men of exceptional power differentiating themselves from the crowd, rejecting these anthropomorphic notions, and seeking to connect natural phenomena with their physical principles. But, long prior to these purer efforts of the understanding, the merchant had been abroad, and rendered the philosopher possible; commerce had been developed, wealth amassed, leisure for travel and speculation secured, while races educated under different conditions, and therefore differently informed and endowed, had been stimulated and sharpened by mutual contact. In those regions where the commercial aristocracy of ancient Greece mingled with their eastern neighbours, the sciences were born, being nurtured and developed by free-thinking and courageous men. The state of things to be displaced may be gathered from a passage of Euripides quoted by Hume. 'There is nothing in the world; no glory, no prosperity. The gods toss all into confusion; mix everything with its reverse, that all of us, from our ignorance and uncertainty, may pay them the more worship and reverence.' Now as science demands the radical extirpation of caprice, and the absolute reliance upon law in nature, there grew, with the growth of scientific notions, a desire and determination to sweep from the field of theory this mob of gods and demons, and to place natural phenomena on a basis more congruent with themselves.

The problem which had been previously approached from above, was now attacked from below; theoretic effort passed from the super- to the sub-sensible. It was felt that to construct the universe in idea, it was necessary to have some notion of its constituent parts—of what Lucretius subsequently called the 'First Beginnings.' Abstracting again from experience, the leaders of scientific speculation reached at length the pregnant doctrine of atoms and molecules, the latest developments of which were set forth with such power and clearness at the last meeting of the British Association. Thought, no doubt, had long hovered about this doctrine before it attained the precision and completeness which it assumed in the mind of Democritus, [Footnote: Born 460 B.C.] a philosopher who may well for a moment arrest our attention. 'Few great men,' says Lange, a non-materialist, in his excellent 'History of Materialism,' to the spirit and to the letter of which I am equally indebted, 'have been so despitefully used by history as Democritus. In the distorted images sent down to us through unscientific traditions, there remains of him almost nothing but the name of "the laughing philosopher," while figures of immeasurably smaller significance spread themselves out at full length before us.' Lange speaks of Bacon's high appreciation of Democritus—for ample illustrations of which I am indebted to my excellent friend Mr. Spedding, the learned editor and biographer of Bacon. It is evident, indeed, that Bacon considered Democritus to be a man of weightier metal than either Plato or Aristotle, though their philosophy 'was noised and celebrated in the schools, amid the din and pomp of professors.' It was not they, but Genseric and Attila and the barbarians, who destroyed the atomic philosophy. 'For, at a time when all human learning had suffered shipwreck, these planks of Aristotelian and Platonic philosophy, as being of a lighter and more inflated substance, were preserved and came down to us, while things more solid sank and almost passed into oblivion.'

The son of a wealthy father, Democritus devoted the whole of his inherited fortune to the culture of his mind. He travelled everywhere; visited Athens when Socrates and Plato were there, but quitted the city without making himself known. Indeed, the dialectic strife in which Socrates so much delighted, had no charm for Democritus, who held that 'the man who readily contradicts, and uses many words, is unfit to learn anything truly right.' He is said to have discovered and educated Protagoras the Sophist, being struck as much by the manner in which he, being a hewer of wood, tied up his faggots, as by the sagacity of his conversation. Democritus returned poor from his travels, was supported by his brother, and at length wrote his great work entitled 'Diakosmos,' which he read publicly before the people of his native town. He was honoured by his countrymen in various ways, and died serenely at a great age.

The principles enunciated by Democritus reveal his uncompromising antagonism to those who deduced the phenomena of nature from the caprices of the gods. They are briefly these:

1. From nothing comes nothing. Nothing that exists can be destroyed. All changes are due to the combination and separation of molecules.

2. Nothing happens by chance; every occurrence has its cause, from which it follows by necessity.

3. The only existing things are the atoms and empty space; all else is mere opinion.

4. The atoms are infinite in number and infinitely various in form; they strike together, and the lateral motions and whirlings which thus arise are the beginnings of worlds.

5. The varieties of all things depend upon the varieties of their atoms, in number, size, and aggregation.

6. The soul consists of fine, smooth, round atoms, like those of fire. These are the most mobile of all: they interpenetrate the whole body, and in their motions the phenomena of life arise.

The first five propositions are a fair general statement of the atomic philosophy, as now held. As regards the sixth, Democritus made his finer atoms do duty for the nervous system, whose functions were then unknown. The atoms of Democritus are individually without sensation; they combine in obedience to mechanical laws; and not only organic forms, but the phenomena of sensation and thought, are the result of their combination.

That great enigma, 'the exquisite adaptation of one part of an organism to another part, and to the conditions of life,' more especially the construction of the human body, Democritus made no attempt to solve. Empedocles, a man of more fiery and poetic nature, introduced the notion of love and hate among the atoms, to account for their combination and separation; and bolder than Democritus, he struck in with the penetrating thought, linked, however, with some wild speculation, that it lay in the very nature of those combinations which were suited to their ends (in other words, in harmony with their environment) to maintain themselves, while unfit combinations, having no proper habitat, must rapidly disappear. Thus, more than 2,000 years ago, the doctrine of the 'survival of the fittest,' which in our day, not on the basis of vague conjecture, but of positive knowledge, has been raised to such extraordinary significance, had received at all events partial enunciation. [Footnote: See 'Lange,' 2nd edit, p. 23.]

Epicurus, [Footnote: Born 342 B.C.] said to be the son of a poor schoolmaster at Samos, is the next dominant figure in the history of the atomic philosophy. He mastered the writings of Democritus, heard lectures in Athens, went back to Samos, and subsequently wandered through various countries. He finally returned to Athens, where he bought a garden, and surrounded himself by pupils, in the midst of whom he lived a pure and serene life, and died a peaceful death. Democritus looked to the soul as the ennobling part of man; even beauty, without understanding, partook of animalism. Epicurus also rated the spirit above the body; the pleasure of the body being that of the moment, while the spirit could draw upon the future and the past. His philosophy was almost identical with that of Democritus; but he never quoted either friend or foe. One main object of Epicurus was to free the world from superstition and the fear of death. Death be treated with indifference. It merely robs us of sensation. As long as we are, death is not; and when death is, we are not. Life has no more evil for him who has made up his mind that it is no evil not to live. He adored the gods, but not in the ordinary fashion. The idea of Divine power, properly purified, he thought an elevating one. Still he taught, 'Not he is godless who rejects the gods of the crowd, but rather he who accepts them.' The gods were to him eternal and immortal beings, whose blessedness excluded every thought of care or occupation of any kind. Nature pursues her course in accordance with everlasting laws, the gods never interfering. They haunt:

The lucid interspace Of world and world Where never creeps a cloud or moves a wind, Nor ever falls the least white star of snow, Nor ever lowest roll of thunder moans, Nor sound of human sorrow mounts to mar Their sacred everlasting calm.

Tennyson's 'Lucretius.'

Lange considers the relation of Epicurus to the gods subjective; the indication, probably, of an ethical requirement of his own nature. We cannot read history with open eyes, or study human nature to its depths, and fail to discern such a requirement. Man never has been, and he never will be, satisfied with the operations and products of the Understanding alone; hence physical science cannot cover all the demands of his nature. But the history of the efforts made to satisfy these demands might be broadly described as a history of errors—the error, in great part, consisting in ascribing fixity to that which is fluent, which varies as we vary, being gross when we are gross, and becoming, as our capacities widen, more abstract and sublime. On one great point the mind of Epicurus was at peace. He neither sought nor expected, here or hereafter, any personal profit from his relation to the gods. And it is assuredly a fact, that loftiness and serenity of thought may be promoted by conceptions which involve no idea of profit of this kind. 'Did I not believe,' said a great man. [Footnote: Carlyle.] to me once, 'that an Intelligence is at the heart of things, my life on earth would be intolerable.' The utterer of these words is not, in my opinion, rendered less but more noble by the fact, that it was the need of ethical harmony here, and not the thought of personal happiness hereafter, that prompted his observation.

There are persons, not belonging to the highest intellectual zone, nor yet to the lowest, to whom perfect clearness of exposition suggests want of depth. They find comfort and edification in an abstract and learned phraseology. To such people Epicurus, who spared no pains to rid his style of every trace of haze and turbidity, appeared, on this very account, superficial. He had, however, a disciple who thought it no unworthy occupation to spend his days and nights in the effort to reach the clearness of his master, and to whom the Greek philosopher is mainly indebted for the extension and perpetuation of his fame. Some two centuries after the death of Epicurus, Lucretius [Footnote: Born 99 B.C.] wrote his great poem, 'On the Nature of Things,' in which he, a Roman, developed with extraordinary ardour the philosophy of his Greek predecessor. He wishes to win over his friend Memnius to the school of Epicurus; and although he has no rewards in a future life to offer, although his object appears to be a purely negative one, he addresses his friend with the heat of an apostle. His object, like that of his great forerunner, is the destruction of superstition; and considering that men in his day trembled before every natural event as a direct monition from the gods, and that everlasting torture was also in prospect, the freedom aimed at by Lucretius might be deemed a positive good. 'This terror,' he says, 'and darkness of mind, must be dispelled, not by the rays of the sun and glittering shafts of day, but by the aspect and the law of nature.' He refutes the notion that anything can come out of nothing, or that what is once begotten can be recalled to nothing. The first beginnings, the atoms, are indestructible, and into them all things can be resolved at last. Bodies are partly atoms; and partly combinations of atoms; but the atoms nothing can quench. They are strong in solid singleness, and, by their denser combination, all things can be closely packed and exhibit enduring strength. He denies that matter is infinitely divisible. We come at length to the atoms, without which, as an imperishable substratum, all order in the generation and development of things would be destroyed.

The mechanical shock of the atoms being, in his view, the all-sufficient cause of things, he combats the notion that the constitution of nature has been in any way determined by intelligent design. The interaction of the atoms throughout infinite time rendered all manner of combinations possible. Of these, the fit ones persisted, while the unfit ones disappeared. Not after sage deliberation did the atoms station themselves in their right places, nor did they bargain what motions they should assume. From all eternity they have been driven together, and, after trying motions and unions of every kind, they fell at length into the arrangements out of which this system of things has been evolved.

'If you will apprehend and keep in mind these things, Nature, free at once, and rid of her haughty lords, is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself, without the meddling of the gods.' [Footnote: Monro's translation. In his criticism of this work ('Contemporary Review' 1867) Dr. Hayman does not appear to be aware of the really sound and subtile observations on which the reasoning of Lucretius, though erroneous, sometimes rests.]

To meet the objection that his atoms cannot be seen, Lucretius describes a violent storm, and shows that the invisible particles of air act in the same way as the visible particles of water. We perceive, moreover, the different smells of things, yet never see them coming to our nostrils. Again, clothes hung up on a shore which waves break upon, become moist, and then get dry if spread out in the sun, though no eye can see either the approach or the escape of the water-particles. A ring, worn long on the finger, becomes thinner; a water-drop hollows out a stone; the ploughshare is rubbed away in the field; the street-pavement is worn by the feet; but the particles that disappear at any moment we cannot see. Nature acts through invisible particles. That Lucretius had a strong scientific imagination the foregoing references prove. A fine illustration of his power in this respect, is his explanation of the apparent rest of bodies whose atoms are in motion. He employs the image of a flock of sheep with skipping lambs, which, seen from a distance, presents simply a white patch upon the green hill, the jumping of the individual lambs being quite invisible.

His vaguely grand conception of the atoms falling eternally through space, suggested the nebular hypothesis to Kant, its first propounder. Far beyond the limits of our visible world are to be found atoms innumerable, which have never been united to form bodies, or which, if once united, have been again dispersed—falling silently through immeasurable intervals of time and space. As everywhere throughout the All the same conditions are repeated, so must the phenomena be repeated also. Above us, below us, beside us, therefore, are worlds without end; and this, when considered, must dissipate every thought of a deflection of the universe by the gods. The worlds come and go, attracting new atoms out of limitless space, or dispersing their own particles. The reputed death of Lucretius, which forms the basis of Mr. Tennyson's noble poem, is in strict accordance with his philosophy, which was severe and pure.


Still earlier than these three philosophers, and during the centuries between the first of them and the last, the human intellect was active in other fields than theirs. Pythagoras had founded a school of mathematics, and made his experiments on the harmonic intervals. The Sophists had run through their career. At Athens had appeared Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who ruined the Sophists, and whose yoke remains to some extent unbroken to the present hour. Within this period also the School of Alexandria was founded, Euclid wrote his 'Elements' and made some advance in optics. Archimedes had propounded the theory of the lever, and the principles of hydrostatics. Astronomy was immensely enriched by the discoveries of Hipparchus, who was followed by the historically more celebrated Ptolemy. Anatomy had been made the basis of scientific medicine; and it is said by Draper that vivisection had begun. [Footnote: 'History of the Intellectual Development of Europe,' p. 295.] In fact, the science of ancient Greece had already cleared the world of the fantastic images of divinities operating capriciously through natural phenomena. It had shaken itself free from that fruitless scrutiny 'by the internal light of the mind alone,' which had vainly sought to transcend experience, and to reach a knowledge of ultimate causes. Instead of accidental observation, it had introduced observation with a purpose; instruments were employed to aid the senses; and scientific method was rendered in a great measure complete by the union of Induction and Experiment.

What, then, stopped its victorious advance? Why was the scientific intellect compelled, like an exhausted soil, to lie fallow for nearly two millenniums, before it could regather the elements necessary to its fertility and strength? Bacon has already let us know one cause; Whewell ascribes this stationary period to four causes—obscurity of thought, servility, intolerance of disposition, enthusiasm of temper; and he gives striking examples of each. [Footnote: 'History of the Inductive Sciences,' vol. i.] But these characteristics must have had their antecedents in the circumstances of the time. Rome, and the other cities of the Empire, had fallen into moral putrefaction. Christianity had appeared, offering the Gospel to the poor, and by moderation, if not asceticism of life, practically protesting against the profligacy of the age. The sufferings of the early Christians, and the extraordinary exaltation of mind which enabled them to triumph over the diabolical tortures to which they were subjected, must have left traces not easily effaced. [Footnote: Described with terrible vividness in Renan's 'Antichrist.'] They scorned the earth, in view of that 'building of God, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.' The Scriptures which ministered to their spiritual needs were also the measure of their Science. When, for example, the celebrated question of Antipodes came to be discussed, the Bible was with many the ultimate court of appeal. Augustine, who flourished A.D. 400, would not deny the rotundity of the earth; but he would deny the possible existence of inhabitants at the other side, 'because no such race is recorded in Scripture among the descendants of Adam.' Archbishop Boniface was shocked at the assumption of a 'world of human beings out of the reach of the means of salvation.' Thus reined in, Science was not likely to make much progress. Later on, the political and theological strife between the Church and civil governments, so powerfully depicted by Draper, must have done much to stifle investigation.

Whewell makes many wise and brave remarks regarding the spirit of the Middle Ages. It was a menial spirit. The seekers after natural knowledge had forsaken the fountain of living waters, the direct appeal to nature by observation and experiment, and given themselves up to the remanipulation of the notions of their predecessors. It was a time when thought had become abject, and when the acceptance of mere authority led, as it always does in science, to intellectual death. Natural events, instead of being traced to physical, were referred to moral, causes; while an exercise of the phantasy, almost as degrading as the spiritualism of the present day, took the place of scientific speculation. Then came the mysticism of the Middle Ages, Magic, Alchemy, the Neoplatonic philosophy, with its visionary though sublime abstractions, which caused men to look with shame upon their own bodies, as hindrances to the absorption of the creature in the blessedness of the Creator. Finally came the scholastic philosophy, a fusion, according to Lange, of the least mature notions of Aristotle with the Christianity of the West. Intellectual immobility was the result. As a traveller without a compass in a fog may wander long, imagining he is making way, and find himself after hours of toil at his starting-point, so the schoolmen, having 'tied and untied the same knots, and formed and dissipated the same clouds,' found themselves at the end of centuries in their old position. [Footnote: Whewell.]

With regard to the influence wielded by Aristotle in the Middle Ages, and which, to a less extent, he still wields, I would ask permission to make one remark.

When the human mind has achieved greatness and given evidence of extraordinary power in one domain, there is a tendency to credit it with similar power in all other domains. Thus theologians have found comfort and assurance in the thought that Newton dealt with the question of revelation—forgetful of the fact that the very devotion of his powers, through all the best years of his life, to a totally different class of ideas, not to speak of any natural disqualification, tended to render him less, instead of more competent to deal with theological and historic questions. Goethe, starting from his established greatness as a poet, and indeed from his positive discoveries in Natural History, produced a profound impression among the painters of Germany, when he published his 'Farbenlehre,' in which he endeavoured to overthrow Newton's theory of colours. This theory he deemed so obviously absurd, that he considered its author a charlatan, and attacked him with a corresponding vehemence of language.

In the domain of Natural History, Goethe had made really considerable discoveries; and we have high authority for assuming that, had he devoted himself wholly to that side of science, he might have reached an eminence comparable with that which he attained as a poet. In sharpness of observation, in the detection of analogies apparently remote, in the classification and organisation of facts according to the analogies discerned, Goethe possessed extraordinary powers. These elements of scientific enquiry fall in with the disciplines of the poet. But, on the other hand, a mind thus richly endowed in the direction of natural history, may be almost shorn of endowment as regards the physical and mechanical sciences. Goethe was in this condition. He could not formulate distinct mechanical conceptions; he could not see the force of mechanical reasoning; and, in regions where such reasoning reigns supreme, he became a mere ignis fatuus to those who followed him.

I have sometimes permitted myself to compare Aristotle with Goethe—to credit the Stagirite with an almost superhuman power of amassing and systematising facts, but to consider him fatally defective on that side of the mind, in respect to which incompleteness has been just ascribed to Goethe. Whewell refers the errors of Aristotle not to a neglect of facts, but to 'a neglect of the idea appropriate to the facts: the idea of Mechanical cause, which is Force, and the substitution of vague or inapplicable notions, involving only relations of space or emotions of wonder.' This is doubtless true; but the word 'neglect' implies mere intellectual misdirection, whereas in Aristotle, as in Goethe, it was not, I believe, misdirection, but sheer natural incapacity which lay at the root of his mistakes. As a physicist, Aristotle displayed what we should consider some of the worst of attributes in a modern physical investigator—indistinctness of ideas, confusion of mind, and a confident use of language which led to the delusive notion that he had really mastered his subject, while he had, as yet, failed to grasp even the elements of it. He put words in the place of things, subject in the place of object. He preached Induction without practising it, inverting the true order of enquiry, by passing from the general to the particular, instead of from the particular to the general. He made of the universe a closed sphere, in the centre of which he fixed the earth, proving from general principles, to his own satisfaction and to that of the world for near 2,000 years, that no other universe was possible. His notions of motion were entirely unphysical. It was natural or unnatural, better or worse, calm or violent—no real mechanical conception regarding it lying at the bottom of his mind.

He affirmed that a vacuum could not exist, and proved that if it did motion in it would be impossible. He determined a priori how many species of animals must exist, and showed on general principles why animals must have such and such parts. When an eminent contemporary philosopher, who is far removed from errors of this kind, remembers these abuses of the a priori method, he will be able to make allowance for the jealousy of physicists as to the acceptance of so-called a priori truths. Aristotle's errors of detail, as shown by Eucken and Lange, were grave and numerous. He affirmed that only in man we had the beating of the heart, that the left side of the body was colder than the right, that men have more teeth than women, and that there is an empty space at the back of every man's head.

There is one essential quality in physical conceptions, which was entirely wanting in those of Aristotle and his followers—a capability of being placed as coherent pictures before the mind. The Germans express the act of picturing by the word vorstellen, and the picture they call a Vorstellung. We have no word in English which comes nearer to our requirements than Imagination; and, taken with its proper limitations, the word answers very well. But it is tainted by its associations, and therefore objectionable to some minds. Compare, with reference to this capacity of mental presentation, the case of the Aristotelian, who refers the ascent of water in a pump to Nature's abhorrence of a vacuum, with that of Pascal when he proposed to solve the question of atmospheric pressure by the ascent of the Puy de Dome. In the one case the terms of the explanation refuse to fall into place as a physical image; in the other the image is distinct, the descent and rise of the barometer being clearly figured beforehand as the balancing of two varying and opposing pressures.


During the drought of the Middle Ages in Christendom, the Arabian intellect, as forcibly shown by Draper, was active. With the intrusion of the Moors into Spain, order, learning, and refinement took the place of their opposites. When smitten with disease, the Christian peasant resorted to a shrine, the Moorish one to an instructed physician. The Arabs encouraged translations from the Greek philosophers, but not from the Greek poets. They turned in disgust 'from the lewdness of our classical mythology, and denounced as an unpardonable blasphemy all connection between the impure Olympian Jove and the Most High God.' Draper traces still farther than Whewell the Arab elements in our scientific terms. He gives examples of what Arabian men of science accomplished, dwelling particularly on Alhazen, who was the first to correct the Platonic notion that rays of light are emitted by the eye. Alhazen discovered atmospheric refraction, and showed that we see the sun and the moon after they have set. He explained the enlargement of the sun and moon, and the shortening of the vertical diameters of both these bodies when near the horizon. He was aware that the atmosphere decreases in density with increase of elevation, and actually fixed its height at 58.5 miles. In the 'Book of the Balance of Wisdom,' he sets forth the connection between the weight of the atmosphere and its increasing density. He shows that a body will weigh differently in a rare and dense atmosphere, and he considers the force with which plunged bodies rise through heavier media. He understood the doctrine of the centre of gravity, and applied it to the investigation of balances and steelyards. He recognised gravity as a. force, though he fell into the error of assuming it to diminish simply as the distance, and of making it purely terrestrial. He knew the relation between the velocities, spaces, and times of falling bodies, and had distinct ideas of capillary attraction. He improved the hydrometer. The determinations of the densities of bodies, as given by Alhazen, approach very closely to our own. 'I join,' says Draper, 'in the pious prayer of Alhazen, that in the day of judgment the All-Merciful will take pity on the soul of Abur-Raihan, because he was the first of the race of men to construct a table of specific gravities.' If all this be historic truth (and I have entire confidence in Dr. Draper), well may he 'deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has, contrived to put out of sight our scientific obligations to the Mahommedans.' [Footnote: Intellectual Development of Europe,' p. 359.]

The strain upon the mind during the stationary period towards ultra-terrestrial things, to the neglect of problems close at hand, was sure to provoke reaction. But the reaction was gradual; for the ground was dangerous, and a power was at hand competent to crush the critic who went too far. To elude this power, and still allow opportunity for the expression of opinion, the doctrine of 'two-fold truth' was invented, according to which an opinion might be held 'theologically,' and the opposite opinion 'philosophically.' [Footnote: 'Lange,' 2nd edit. pp. 181, 182.] Thus, in the thirteenth century, the creation of the world in six days, and the unchangeableness of the individual soul, which had been so distinctly affirmed by St. Thomas Aquinas, were both denied philosophically, but admitted to be true as articles of the Catholic faith. When Protagoras uttered the maxim which brought upon him so much vituperation, that 'opposite assertions are equally true,' he simply meant to affirm men's differences to be so great, that what was subjectively true to the one might be subjectively untrue to the other. The great Sophist never meant to play fast and loose with the truth by saying that one of two opposite assertions, made by the same individual, could possibly escape being a lie. It was not 'sophistry,' but the dread of theologic vengeance, that generated this double dealing with conviction; and it is astonishing to notice what lengths were allowed to men who were adroit in the use of artifices of this kind.

Towards the close of the stationary period a word-weariness, if I may so express it, took more and more possession of men's minds. Christendom had become sick of the School Philosophy and its verbal wastes, which led to no issue, but left the intellect in everlasting haze. Here and there was heard the voice of one impatiently crying in the wilderness, 'Not unto Aristotle, not unto subtle hypothesis, not unto church, Bible, or blind tradition, must we turn for a knowledge of the universe, but to the direct investigation of nature by observation and experiment.' In 1543 the epoch-marking work of Copernicus on the paths of the heavenly bodies appeared. The total crash of Aristotle's closed universe, with the earth at its centre, followed as a consequence, and 'The earth moves!' became a kind of watchword among intellectual freemen. Copernicus was Canon of the church of Frauenburg in the diocese of Ermeland. For three-and-thirty years he had withdrawn himself from the world, and devoted himself to the consolidation of his great scheme of the solar system. He made its blocks eternal; and even to those who feared it, and desired its overthrow, it was so obviously strong, that they refrained for a time from meddling with it. In the last year of the life of Copernicus his book appeared: it is said that the old man received a copy of it a few days before his death, and then departed in peace.

The Italian philosopher, Giordano Bruno, was one of the earliest converts to the new astronomy. Taking Lucretius as his exemplar, he revived the notion of the infinity of worlds; and, combining with it the doctrine of Copernicus, reached the sublime generalisation that the fixed stars are suns, scattered numberless through space, and accompanied by satellites, which bear the same relation to them that our earth does to our sun, or our moon to our earth. This was an expansion of transcendent import; but Bruno came closer than this to our present line of thought. Struck with the problem of the generation and maintenance of organisms, and duly pondering it, he came to the conclusion that Nature, in her productions, does not imitate the technic of man. Her process is one of unravelling and unfolding. The infinity of forms under which matter appears was not imposed upon it by an external artificer; by its own intrinsic force and virtue it brings these forms forth. Matter is not the mere naked, empty capacity which philosophers have pictured her to be, but the universal mother, who brings forth all things as the fruit of her own womb.

This outspoken man was originally a Dominican monk. He was accused of heresy and had to fly, seeking refuge in Geneva, Paris, England, and Germany. In 1592 be fell into the hands of the Inquisition at Venice. He was imprisoned for many years, tried, degraded, excommunicated, and handed over to the Civil power, with the request that he should be treated gently, and 'without the shedding of blood.' This meant that he was to be burnt; and burnt accordingly he was, on February 16, 1600. To escape a similar fate Galileo, thirty-three years afterwards, abjured upon his knees, with his hands upon the holy Gospels, the heliocentric doctrine, which he knew to be true. After Galileo came Kepler, who from his German home defied the ultramontane power. He traced out from pre-existing observations the laws of planetary motion. Materials were thus prepared for Newton, who bound those empirical laws together by the principle of gravitation.


In the seventeenth century Bacon and Descartes, the restorers of philosophy, appeared in succession. Differently educated and endowed, their philosophic tendencies were different. Bacon held fast to Induction, believing firmly in the existence of an external world, and making collected experiences the basis of all knowledge. The mathematical studies of Descartes gave him a bias towards Deduction; and his fundamental principle was much the same as that of Protagoras, who 'made the individual man the measure of all things. I think, therefore I am,' said Descartes. Only his own identity was sure to him; and the full development of this system would have led to an idealism, in which the outer world would have been resolved into a mere phenomenon of consciousness. Gassendi, one of Descartes's contemporaries, of whom we shall hear more presently, quickly pointed out that the fact of personal existence would be proved as well by reference to any other act, as to the act of thinking. I eat, therefore I am, or I love, therefore I am, would be quite as conclusive. Lichtenberg, indeed, showed that the very thing to be proved was inevitably postulated in the first two words, 'I think;' and it is plain that no inference from the postulate could, by any possibility, be stronger than the postulate itself.

But Descartes deviated strangely from the idealism implied in his fundamental principle. He was the first to reduce, in a manner eminently capable of bearing the test of mental presentation, vital phenomena to purely mechanical principles. Through fear or love, Descartes was a good churchman; he accordingly rejected the notion of an atom, because it was absurd to suppose that God, if He so pleased, could not divide an atom; he puts in the place-of the atoms small round particles, and light splinters, out of which he builds the organism. He sketches with marvellous physical insight a machine, with water for its motive power, which shall illustrate vital actions. He has made clear to his mind that such a machine would be competent to carry on the processes of digestion, nutrition, growth, respiration, and the beating of the heart. It would be competent to accept impressions from the external sense, to store them up in imagination and memory, to go through the internal movements of the appetites and passions, and the external movements of the limbs. He deduces these functions of his machine from the mere arrangements of its organs, as the movement of a clock, or other automaton, is deduced from its weights and wheels. As far as these functions are concerned,' he says, 'it is not necessary to conceive any other vegetative or sensitive soul, nor any other principle of motion or of life, than the blood and the spirits agitated by the fire which burns continually in the heart, and which is in nowise different from the fires existing in inanimate bodies.' Had Descartes been acquainted with the steam-engine, he would have taken it, instead of a fall of water, as his motive power. He would have shown the perfect analogy which exists between the oxidation of the food in the body, and that of the coal in the furnace. He would assuredly have anticipated Mayer in calling the blood which the heart diffuses, 'the oil of the lamp of life,' deducing all animal motions from the combustion of this oil, as the motions of a steam-engine are deduced from the combustion of its coal. As the matter stands, however, and considering the circumstances of the time, the boldness, clearness, and precision, with which Descartes grasped the problem of vital dynamics constitute a marvellous illustration of intellectual power. [Footnote: See Huxley's admirable 'Essay on Descartes.' Lay Sermons.]

During the Middle Ages the doctrine of atoms had to all appearance vanished from discussion. It probably held its ground among sober-minded and thoughtful men, though neither the church nor the world was prepared to hear of it with tolerance. Once, in the year 1348, it received distinct expression. But retractation by compulsion immediately followed; and, thus discouraged, it slumbered till the seventeenth century, when it was revived by a contemporary and friend of Hobbes of Malmesbury, the orthodox Catholic provost of Digne, Gassendi. But, before stating his relation to the Epicurean doctrine, it will be well to say a few words on the effect, as regards science, of the general introduction of monotheism among European nations.

'Were men,' says Hume, 'led into the apprehension of invisible intelligent power by contemplation of the works of Nature, they could never possibly entertain any conception but of one single Being, who bestowed existence and order on this vast machine, and adjusted all its parts to one regular system.' Referring to the condition of the heathen, who sees a god behind every natural event, thus peopling the world with thousands of beings whose caprices are incalculable, Lange shows the impossibility of any compromise between such notions and those of science, which proceeds on the assumption of never-changing law and causality. 'But,' he continues, with characteristic penetration, 'when the great thought of one God, acting as a unit upon the universe, has been seized, the connection of things in accordance with the law of cause and effect is not only thinkable, but it is a necessary consequence of the assumption. For when I see ten thousand wheels in motion, and know, or believe, that they are all driven by one motive power, then I know that I have before me a mechanism, the action of every part of which is determined by the plan of the whole. So much being assumed, it follows that I may investigate the structure of that machine, and the various motions of its parts. For the time being, therefore, this conception renders scientific action free.' In other words, were a capricious God at the circumference of every wheel and at the end of every lever, the action of the machine would be incalculable by the methods of science. But the actions of all its parts being rigidly determined by their connections and relations, and these being brought into play by a single motive power, then though this last prime mover may elude me, I am still able to comprehend the machinery which it sets in motion. We have here a conception of the relation of Nature to its Author, which seems perfectly acceptable to some minds, but perfectly intolerable to others. Newton and Boyle lived and worked happily under the influence of this conception; Goethe rejected it with vehemence, and the same repugnance to accepting it is manifest in Carlyle. [Footnote: Boyle's model of the universe was the Strasburg clock with an outside Artificer. Goethe, on the other hand, sang:

'Ihm ziemt's die Welt im Innern zu bewegen, Natur in sich, sich in Natur zu hegen.'

See also Carlyle, 'Past and Present,' chap. v.]

The analytic and synthetic tendencies of the human mind are traceable throughout history, great writers ranging themselves sometimes on the one side, sometimes on the other. Men of warm feelings, and minds open to the elevating impressions produced by nature as a whole, whose satisfaction, therefore, is rather ethical than logical, lean to the synthetic side; while the analytic harmonises best with the more precise and more mechanical bias which seeks the satisfaction of the understanding. Some form of pantheism was usually adopted by the one, while a detached Creator, working more or less after the manner of men, was often assumed by the other. Gassendi, as sketched by Lange, is hardly to be ranked with either. Having formally acknowledged God as the great first cause, he immediately dropped the idea, applied the known laws of mechanics to the atoms, and deduced from them all vital phenomena. He defended Epicurus, and dwelt upon his purity, both of doctrine and of life. True he was a heathen, but so was Aristotle. Epicurus assailed superstition and religion, and rightly, because he did not know the true religion. He thought that the gods neither rewarded nor punished, and he adored them purely in consequence of their completeness: here we see, says Gassendi, the reverence of the child, instead of the fear of the slave. The errors of Epicurus shall be corrected, and the body of his truth retained. Gassendi then proceeds, as any heathen might have done, to build up the world, and all that therein is, of atoms and molecules. God, who created earth and water, plants and animals, produced in the first place a definite number of atoms, which constituted the seed of all things. Then began that series of combinations and decompositions which now goes on, and which will continue in future. The principle of every change resides in matter. In artificial productions the moving principle is different from the material worked upon; but in nature the agent works within, being the most active and mobile part of the material itself. Thus this bold ecclesiastic, without incurring the censure of the church or the world, contrives to outstrip Mr. Darwin. The same cast of mind which caused him to detach the Creator from his universe, led him also to detach the soul from the body, though to the body he ascribes an influence so large as to render the soul almost unnecessary. The aberrations of reason were, in his view, an affair of the material brain. Mental disease is brain disease; but then the immortal reason sits apart, and cannot be touched by the disease. The errors of madness are those of the instrument, not of the performer.

It may be more than a mere result of education, connecting itself, probably, with the deeper mental structure of the two men, that the idea of Gassendi, above enunciated, is substantially the same as that expressed by Professor Clerk Maxwell, at the close of the very able lecture delivered by him at Bradford in 1873. According to both philosophers, the atoms, if I understand aright, are prepared materials, which, formed once for all by the Eternal, produce by their subsequent interaction all the phenomena of the material world. There seems to be this difference, however, between Gassendi and Maxwell. The one postulates, the other infers his first cause. In his 'manufactured articles,' as he calls the atoms, Professor Maxwell finds the basis of an induction, which enables him to scale philosophic heights considered inaccessible by Kant, and to take the logical step from the atoms to their Maker.

Accepting here the leadership of Kant, I doubt the legitimacy of Maxwell's logic; but it is impossible not to feel the ethic glow with which his lecture concludes. There is, moreover, a very noble strain of eloquence in his description of the steadfastness of the atoms: Natural causes, as we know, are at work, which tend to modify, if they do not at length destroy, all the arrangements and dimensions of the earth and the whole solar system. But though in the course of ages catastrophes have occurred and may yet occur in the heavens, though ancient systems may be dissolved and new systems evolved out of their ruins, the molecules out of which these systems are built—the foundation stones of the material universe—remain unbroken and unworn.'

The atomic doctrine, in whole or in part, was entertained by Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Newton, Boyle, and their successors, until the chemical law of multiple proportions enabled Dalton to confer upon it an entirely new significance. In our day there are secessions from the theory, but it still stands firm. Loschmidt, Stoney, and Sir William Thomson have sought to determine the sizes of the atoms, or rather to fix the limits between which their sizes lie; while the discourses of Williamson and Maxwell delivered in Bradford in 1873 illustrate the present hold of the doctrine upon the foremost scientific minds. In fact, it may be doubted whether, wanting this fundamental conception, a theory of the material universe is capable of scientific statement.


Ninety years subsequent to Gassendi the doctrine of bodily instruments, as it may be called, assumed immense importance in the hands of Bishop Butler, who, in his famous 'Analogy of Religion,' developed, from his own point of view, and with consummate sagacity, a similar idea. The Bishop still influences many superior minds; and it will repay us to dwell for a moment on his views. He draws the sharpest distinction between our real selves and our bodily instruments. He does not, as far as I remember, use the word soul, possibly because the term was so hackneyed in his day, as it had been for many generations previously. But he speaks of 'living powers,' 'perceiving or percipient powers,' 'moving agents,' 'ourselves,' in the same sense as we should employ the term soul. He dwells upon the fact that limbs may be removed, and mortal diseases assail the body, the mind, almost up to the moment of death, remaining clear. He refers to sleep and to swoon, where the 'living powers' are suspended but not destroyed. He considers it quite as easy to conceive of existence out of our bodies as in them; that we may animate a succession of bodies, the dissolution of all of them having no more tendency to dissolve our real selves, or 'deprive us of living faculties—the faculties of perception and action—than the dissolution of any foreign matter which we are capable of receiving impressions from, or making use of for the common occasions of life.' This is the key of the Bishop's position: 'our organised bodies are no more a part of ourselves than any other matter around us.' In proof of this he calls attention to the use of glasses, which 'prepare objects' for the 'percipient power' exactly as the eye does. The eye itself is no more percipient than the glass; is quite as much the instrument of the true self, and also as foreign to the true self, as the glass is. 'And if we see with our eyes only in the same manner as we do with glasses, the like may justly be concluded from analogy of all our senses.'

Lucretius, as you are aware, reached a precisely opposite conclusion: and it certainly would be interesting, if not profitable, to us all, to hear what he would or could urge in opposition to the reasoning of the Bishop. As a brief discussion of the point will enable us to see the bearings of an important question, I will here permit a disciple of Lucretius to try the strength of the Bishop's position, and then allow the Bishop to retaliate, with the view of rolling back, if he can, the difficulty upon Lucretius.

The argument might proceed in this fashion:

'Subjected to the test of mental presentation (Vorstellung), your views, most honoured prelate, would offer to many minds a great, if not an insuperable, difficulty. You speak of "living powers," "percipient or perceiving powers," and "ourselves;" but can you form a mental picture of any of these, apart from the organism through which it is supposed to act? Test yourself honestly, and see whether you possess any faculty that would enable you to form such a conception. The true self has a local habitation in each of us; thus localised, must it not possess a form? If so, what form? Have you ever for a moment realised it? When a leg is amputated the body is divided into two parts; is the true self in both of them or in one? Thomas Aquinas might say in both; but not you, for you appeal to the consciousness associated with one of the two parts, to prove that the other is foreign matter. Is consciousness, then, a necessary element of the true self? If so, what do you say to the case of the whole body being deprived of consciousness? If not, then on what grounds do you deny any portion of the true self to the severed limb? It seems very singular that from the beginning to the end of your admirable book (and no one admires its sober strength more than I do), you never once mention the brain or nervous system. You begin at one end of the body, and show that its parts may be removed without prejudice to the perceiving power. What if you begin at the other end, and remove, instead of the leg, the brain? The body, as before, is divided into two parts; but both are now in the same predicament, and neither can be appealed to to prove that the other is foreign matter. Or, instead of going so far as to remove the brain itself, let a certain portion of its bony covering be removed, and let a rhythmic series of pressures and relaxations of pressure be applied to the soft substance. At every pressure "the faculties of perception and of action" vanish; at every relaxation of pressure they are restored. Where, during the intervals of pressure, is the perceiving power? I once had the discharge of a large Leyden battery passed unexpectedly through me: I felt nothing, but was simply blotted out of conscious existence for a sensible interval. Where was my true self during that interval? Men who have recovered from lightning-stroke have been much longer in the same state; and indeed in cases of ordinary concussion of the brain, days may elapse during which no experience is registered in consciousness. Where is the man himself during the period of insensibility? You may say that I beg the question when I assume the man to have been unconscious, that he was really conscious all the time, and has simply forgotten what had occurred to him. In reply to this, I can only say that no one need shrink from the worst tortures that superstition ever invented, if only so felt and so remembered. I do not think your theory of instruments goes at all to the bottom of the matter. A telegraph-operator has his instruments, by means of which he converses with the world; our bodies possess a nervous system, which plays a similar part between the perceiving power and external things. Cut the wires of the operator, break his battery, demagnetise his needle; by this means you certainly sever his connection with the world; but, inasmuch as these are real instruments, their destruction does not touch the man who uses them. The operator survives, and he knows that he survives. What is there, I would ask, in the human system that answers to this conscious survival of the operator when the battery of the brain is so disturbed as to produce insensibility, or when it is destroyed altogether?

'Another consideration, which you may regard as slight, presses upon me with some force. The brain may change from health to disease, and through such a change the most exemplary man may be converted into a debauchee or a murderer. My very noble and approved good master had, as you know, threatenings of lewdness introduced into his brain by his jealous wife's philter; and sooner than permit himself to run even the risk of yielding to these base promptings he slew himself. How could the hand of Lucretius have been thus turned against himself if the real Lucretius remained as before? Can the brain or can it not act in this distempered way without the intervention of the immortal reason? If it can, then it is a prime mover which requires only healthy regulation to render it reasonably self-acting, and there is no apparent need of your immortal reason at all. If it cannot, then the immortal reason, by its mischievous activity in operating upon a broken instrument, must have the credit of committing every imaginable extravagance and crime.

I think, if you will allow me to say so, that the gravest consequences are likely to flow from your estimate of the body. To regard the brain as you would a staff or an eyeglass—to shut your eyes to all its mystery, to the perfect correlation of its condition and our consciousness, to the fact that a slight excess or defect of blood in it produces the very swoon to which you refer, and that in relation to it our meat, and drink, and air, and exercise, have a perfectly transcendental value and significance—to forget all this does, I think, open a way to innumerable errors in our habits of life, and may possibly, in some cases, initiate and foster that very disease, and consequent mental ruin, which a wiser appreciation of this mysterious organ would have avoided.'

I can imagine the Bishop thoughtful after hearing this argument. He was not the man to allow anger to mingle with the consideration of a point of this kind. After due reflection, and having strengthened himself by that honest contemplation of the facts which was habitual with him, and which includes the desire to give even adverse reasonings their due weight, I can suppose the Bishop to proceed thus: 'You will remember that in the "Analogy of Religion," of which you have so kindly spoken, I did not profess to prove anything absolutely, and that I over and over again acknowledged and insisted on the smallness of our knowledge, or rather the depth of our ignorance, as regards the whole system of the universe. My object was to show my deistical friends, who set forth so eloquently the beauty and beneficence of Nature and the Ruler thereof, while they had nothing but scorn for the so-called absurdities of the Christian scheme, that they were in no better condition than we were, and that, for every difficulty found upon our side, quite as great a difficulty was to be found upon theirs. I will now, with your permission, adopt a similar line of argument. You are a Lucretian, and from the combination and separation of insensate atoms deduce all terrestrial things, including organic forms and their phenomena. Let me tell you in the first instance how far I am prepared to go with you. I admit that you can build crystalline forms out of this play of molecular force; that the diamond, amethyst, and snow-star are truly wonderful structures which are thus produced. I will go farther and acknowledge that even a tree or flower might in this way be organised. Nay, if you can show me an animal without sensation, I will concede to you that it also might be put together by the suitable play of molecular force.

'Thus far our way is clear, but now comes my difficulty. Your atoms are individually without sensation, much more are they without intelligence. May I ask you, then, to try your hand upon this problem. Take your dead hydrogen atoms, your dead oxygen atoms, your dead carbon atoms, your dead nitrogen atoms, your dead phosphorus atoms, and all the other atoms, dead as grains of shot, of which the brain is formed. Imagine them separate and sensationless; observe them running together and forming all imaginable combinations. This, as a purely mechanical process, is seeable by the mind. But can you see, or dream, or in any way imagine, how out of that mechanical act, and from these individually dead atoms, sensation, thought, and emotion are to rise? Are you likely to extract Homer out of the rattling of dice, or the Differential Calculus out of the clash of billiard-balls? I am not all bereft of this Vorstellungs-Kraft of which you speak, nor am I, like so many of my brethren, a mere vacuum as regards scientific knowledge. I can follow a particle of musk until it reaches the olfactory nerve; I can follow the waves of sound until their tremors reach the water of the labyrinth, and set the otoliths and Corti's fibres in motion; I can also visualise the waves of aether as they cross the eye and hit the retina. Nay more, I am able to pursue to the central organ the motion thus imparted at the periphery, and to see in idea the very molecules of the brain thrown into tremors. My insight is not baffled by these physical processes. What baffles and bewilders me is the notion that from those physical tremors things so utterly incongruous with them as sensation, thought, and emotion can be derived. You may say, or think, that this issue of consciousness from the clash of atoms is not more incongruous than the flash of light from the union of oxygen and hydrogen. But I beg to say that it is. For such incongruity as the flash possesses is that which I now force upon your attention. The 'flash' is an affair of consciousness, the objective counterpart of which is a vibration. It is a flash only by your interpretation. You are the cause of the apparent incongruity; and you are the thing that puzzles me. I need not remind you that the great Leibnitz felt the difficulty which I feel; and that to get rid of this monstrous deduction of life from death he displaced your atoms by his monads, which were more or less perfect mirrors of the universe, and out of the summation and integration of which he supposed all the phenomena of life—sentient, intellectual, and emotional—to arise.

'Your difficulty, then, as I see you are ready to admit, is quite as great as mine. You cannot satisfy the human understanding in its demand for logical continuity between molecular processes and the phenomena of consciousness. This is a rock on which Materialism must inevitably split whenever it pretends to be a complete philosophy of life. What is the moral, my Lucretian? You and I are not likely to indulge in ill-temper in the discussion of these great topics, where we see so much room for honest differences of opinion. But there are people of less wit or more bigotry (I say it with humility), on both sides, who are ever ready to mingle anger and vituperation with such discussions. There are, for example, writers of note and influence at the present day, who are not ashamed publicly to assume the "deep personal sin" of a great logician to be the cause of his unbelief in a theologic dogma. [Footnote: This is the aspect under which the late Editor of the 'Dublin Review' presented to his readers the memory of John Stuart Mill. I can only say, that I would as soon take my chance in the other world, in the company of the 'unbeliever,' as in that of his Jesuit detractor. In Dr. Ward we have an example of a wholesome and vigorous nature, soured and perverted by a poisonous creed.] 'And there are others who hold that we, who cherish our noble Bible, wrought as it has been into the constitution of our forefathers, and by inheritance into us, must necessarily be hypocritical and insincere. Let us disavow and discountenance such people, cherishing the unswerving faith that what is good and true in both our arguments will be preserved for the benefit of humanity, while all that is bad or false will disappear.'

I hold the Bishop's reasoning to be unanswerable, and his liberality to be worthy of imitation.

It is worth remarking that in one respect the Bishop was a product of his age. Long previous to his day the nature of the soul had been so favourite and general a topic of discussion, that, when the students of the Italian Universities wished to know the leanings of a new Professor, they at once requested him to lecture upon the soul. About the time of Bishop Butler the question was not only agitated but extended. It was seen by the clear-witted men who entered this arena, that many of their best arguments applied equally to brutes and men. The Bishop's arguments were of this character. He saw it, admitted it, took the consequence, and boldly embraced the whole animal world in his scheme of immortality.


Bishop Butler accepted with unwavering trust the chronology of the Old Testament, describing it as confirmed by the natural and civil history of the world, collected from common historians, from the state of the earth, and from the late inventions of arts and sciences.' These words mark progress; and they must seem somewhat hoary to the Bishop's successors of today. It is hardly necessary to inform you that since his time the domain of the naturalist has been immensely extended—the whole science of geology, with its astounding revelations regarding the life of the ancient earth, having been created. The rigidity of old conceptions has been relaxed, the public mind being rendered gradually tolerant of the idea that not for six thousand, nor for sixty thousand, nor for six thousand thousand, but for aeons embracing untold millions of years, this earth has been the theatre of life and death. The riddle of the rocks has been read by the geologist and palaeontologist, from sub-Cambrian depths to the deposits thickening over the sea-bottoms of today. And upon the leaves of that stone book are, as you know, stamped the characters, plainer and surer than those formed by the ink of history, which carry the mind back into abysses of past time, compared with which the periods which satisfied Bishop Butler cease to have a visual angle.

The lode of discovery once struck, those petrified forms in which life was at one time active, increased to multitudes and demanded classification. They were grouped in genera, species, and varieties, according to the degree of similarity subsisting between them. Thus confusion was avoided, each object being found in the pigeon-hole appropriated to it and to its fellows of similar morphological or physiological character. The general fact soon became evident that none but the simplest forms of life lie lowest down; that, as we climb higher among the superimposed strata, more perfect forms appear. The change, however, from form to form was not continuous, but by steps—some small, some great. 'A section,' says Mr. Huxley, 'a hundred feet thick will exhibit at different heights a dozen species of Ammonite, none of which passes beyond the particular zone of limestone, or clay, into the zone below it, or into that above it.' In the presence of such facts it was not possible to avoid the question: Have these forms, showing, though in broken stages, and with many irregularities, this unmistakable general advance, being subjected to no continuous law of growth or variation? Had our education been purely scientific, or had it been sufficiently detached from influences which, however ennobling in another domain, have always proved hindrances and delusions when introduced as factors into the domain of physics, the scientific mind never could have swerved from the search for a law of growth, or allowed itself to accept the anthropomorphism which regarded each successive stratum as a kind of mechanic's bench for the manufacture of new species out of all relation to the old.

Biassed, however, by their previous education, the great majority of naturalists invoked a special creative act to account for the appearance of each new group of organisms. Doubtless numbers of them were clearheaded enough to see that this was no explanation at all—that, in point of fact, it was an attempt, by the introduction of a greater difficulty, to account for a less. But, having nothing to offer in the way of explanation, they for the most part held their peace. Still the thoughts of reflecting men naturally and necessarily simmered round the question. De Maillet, a contemporary of Newton, has been brought into notice by Professor Huxley as one who 'had a notion of the modifiability of living forms.' The late Sir Benjamin Brodie, a man of highly philosophic mind, often drew my attention to the fact that, as early as 1794, Charles Darwin's grandfather was the pioneer of Charles Darwin. [Footnote: Zoonomia,' vol. i. pp.500-510.] In 1801, and in subsequent years, the celebrated Lamarck, who, through the vigorous exposition of his views by the author of the 'Vestiges of Creation,' rendered the public mind perfectly familiar with the idea of evolution, endeavoured to show the development of species out of changes of habit and external condition. In 1813 Dr. Wells, the founder of our present theory of Dew, read before the Royal Society a paper in which, to use the words of Mr. Darwin, 'he distinctly recognises the principle of natural selection; and this is the first recognition that has been indicated.' The thoroughness and skill with which Wells pursued his work, and the obvious independence of his character, rendered him long ago a favourite with me; and it gave me the liveliest pleasure to alight upon this additional testimony to his penetration. Professor Grant, Mr. Patrick Matthew, von Buch, the author of the 'Vestiges,' D'Halloy, and others, by the enunciation of opinions more or less clear and correct, showed that the question had been fermenting long prior to the year 1858, when Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace simultaneously, but independently, placed their closely concurrent views before the Linnean Society. [Footnote: In 1855 Mr. Herbert Spencer ('Principles of Psychology,' 2nd edit. vol. i. p. 465) expressed 'the belief that life under all its forms has arisen by an unbroken evolution, and through the instrumentality of what are called natural causes.' This was my belief also at that time.]

These papers were followed in 1859 by the publication of the first edition of the 'Origin of Species.' All great things come slowly to the birth. Copernicus, as I informed you, pondered his great work for thirty-three years. Newton for nearly twenty years kept the idea of Gravitation before his mind; for twenty years also he dwelt upon his discovery of Fluxions, and doubtless would have continued to make it the object of his private thought, had he not found Leibnitz upon his track. Darwin for two-and-twenty years pondered the problem of the origin of species, and doubtless he would have continued to do so had he not found Wallace upon his track. [Footnote: The behaviour of Mr. Wallace in relation to this subject has been dignified in the highest degree.] A concentrated, but full and powerful, epitome of his labours was the consequence. The book was by no means an easy one; and probably not one in every score of those who then attacked it, had read its pages through, or were competent to grasp their significance if they had. I do not say this merely to discredit them: for there were in those days some really eminent scientific men, entirely raised above the heat of popular prejudice, and willing to accept any conclusion that science had to offer, provided it was duly backed by fact and argument, who entirely mistook Mr. Darwin's views. In fact, the work needed an expounder, and it found one in Mr. Huxley. I know nothing more admirable in the way of scientific exposition than those early articles of his on the origin of species. He swept the curve of discussion through the really significant points of the subject, enriched his exposition with profound original remarks and reflections, often summing up in a single pithy sentence an argument which a less compact mind would have spread over pages. But there is one impression made by the book itself which no exposition of it, however luminous, can convey; and that is the impression of the vast amount of labour, both of observation and of thought, implied in its production. Let us glance at its principles.

It is conceded on all hands that what are called varieties' are continually produced. The rule is probably without exception. No chick, or child, is in all respects and particulars the counterpart of its brother and sister; and in such differences we have 'variety' incipient. No naturalist could tell how far this variation could be carried; but the great mass of them held that never, by any amount of internal or external change, nor by the mixture of both, could the offspring of the same progenitor so far deviate from each other as to constitute different species. The function of the experimental philosopher is to combine the conditions of Nature and to produce her results; and this was the method of Darwin. [Footnote: The first step only towards experimental demonstration has been taken. Experiments now begun might, a couple of centuries hence, furnish data of incalculable value, which ought to be supplied to the science of the future.] He made himself acquainted with what could, without any manner of doubt, be done in the way of producing variation. He associated himself with pigeon-fanciers—bought, begged, kept, and observed every breed that he could obtain. Though derived from a common stock, the diversities of these pigeons were such that 'a score of them might be chosen which, if shown to an ornithologist, and he were told that they were wild birds, would certainly be ranked by him as well-defined species.' The simple principle which guides the pigeon-fancier, as it does the cattle-breeder, is the selection of some variety that strikes his fancy, and the propagation of this variety by inheritance. With his eye still directed to the particular appearance which he wishes to exaggerate, he selects it as it reappears in successive broods, and thus adds increment to increment until an astonishing amount of divergence from the parent type is effected. The breeder in this case does not produce the elements of the variation. He simply observes them, and by selection adds them together until the required result has been obtained. 'No man,' says Mr. Darwin, 'would ever try to make a fantail till he saw a pigeon with a tail developed in some slight degree in an unusual manner, or a pouter until he saw a pigeon with a crop of unusual size.' Thus nature gives the hint, man acts upon it, and by the law of inheritance exaggerates the deviation.

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