Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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[Footnote: Presidential Address, delivered before the Birmingham and Midland Institute, October 1877; with additions.]

A MAGNET attracts iron; but when we analyse the effect we learn that the metal is not only attracted but repelled, the final approach to the magnet being due to the difference of two unequal and opposing forces. Social progress is for the most part typified by this duplex or polar action. As a general rule, every advance is balanced by a partial retreat, every amelioration is associated more or less with deterioration. No great mechanical improvement, for example, is introduced for the benefit of society at large that does not bear hardly upon individuals. Science, like other things, is subject to the operation of this polar law, what is good for it under one aspect being bad for it under another.

Science demands above all things personal concentration. Its home is the study of the mathematician, the quiet laboratory of the experimenter, and the cabinet of the meditative observer of nature. Different atmospheres are required by the man of science, as such, and the man of action. Thus the facilities of social and international intercourse, the railway, the telegraph, and the post-office, which are such undoubted boons to the man of action, react to some extent injuriously on the man of science. Their tendency is to break up that concentrativeness which, as I have said, is an absolute necessity to the scientific investigator.

The men who have most profoundly influenced the world from the scientific side have habitually sought isolation. Faraday, at a certain period of his career, formally renounced dining out. Darwin lives apart from the bustle of the world in his quiet home in Kent. Mayer and Joule dealt in unobtrusive retirement with the weightiest scientific questions. There is, however, one motive power in the world which no man, be he a scientific student or otherwise, can afford to treat with indifference; and that is, the cultivation of right relations with his fellow-men—the performance of his duty, not as an isolated individual, but as a member of society. It is duty in this aspect, overcoming alike the sense of possible danger and the desire for repose, that has placed me in your presence here to-night.

To look at his picture as a whole, a painter requires distance; and to judge of the total scientific achievement of any age, the standpoint of a succeeding age is desirable. We may, however, transport ourselves in idea into the future, and thus survey with more or less completeness the science of our time. We sometimes hear it decried, and contrasted to its disadvantage with the science of other times. I do not think that this will be the verdict of posterity. I think, on the contrary, that posterity will acknowledge that in the history of science no higher samples of intellectual conquest are recorded than those which this age has made its own. One of the most salient of these I propose, with your permission, to make the subject of our consideration during the coming hour.

It is now generally admitted that the man of to-day is the child and product of incalculable antecedent time. His physical and intellectual textures have been woven for him during his passage through phases of history and forms of existence which lead the mind back to an abysmal past. One of the qualities which he has derived from that past is the yearning to let in the light of principles on the otherwise bewildering flux of phenomena. He has been described by the German Lichtenberg as 'das rastlose Ursachenthier'—the restless cause-seeking animal—in whom facts excite a kind of hunger to know the sources from which they spring. Never, I venture to say, in the history of the world has this longing been more liberally responded to, both among men of science and the general public, than during the last thirty or forty years. I say 'the general public,' because it is a feature of our time that the man of science no longer limits his labours to the society of his colleagues and his peers, but shares, as far as it is possible to share, with the world at large the fruits of enquiry.

The celebrated Robert Boyle regarded the universe as a machine; Mr. Carlyle prefers regarding it as a tree. He loves the image of the umbrageous Igdrasil better than that of the Strasburg clock. A machine may be defined as an organism with life and direction outside; a tree may be defined as an organism with life and direction within. In the light of these definitions, I close with the conception of Carlyle. The order and energy of the universe I hold to be inherent, and not imposed from without, the expression of fixed law and not of arbitrary will, exercised by what Carlyle would call an Almighty Clockmaker. But the two conceptions are not so much opposed to each other after all. In one fundamental particular they at all events agree. They equally imply the interdependence and harmonious interaction of parts, and the subordination of the individual powers of the universal organism to the working of the whole.

Never were the harmony and interdependence just referred to so clearly recognised as now. Our insight regarding them is not that vague and general insight to which our fathers had attained, and which, in early times, was more frequently affirmed by the synthetic poet than by the scientific man. The interdependence of our day has become quantitative—expressible by numbers—leading, it must be added, directly into that inexorable reign of law which so many gentle people regard with dread. In the domain now under review men of science had first to work their way from darkness into twilight, and from twilight into day. There is no solution of continuity in science. It is not given to any man, however endowed, to rise spontaneously into intellectual splendour without the parentage of antecedent thought. Great discoveries grow. Here, as in other cases, we have first the seed, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear, the last member of the series implying the first. Thus, as regards the discovery of gravitation with which the name of Newton is identified, notions more or less clear concerning it had entered many minds before Newton's transcendent mathematical genius raised it to the level of a demonstration. The whole of his deductions, moreover, rested upon the inductions of Kepler. Newton shot beyond his predecessors; but his thoughts were rooted in their thoughts, and a just distribution of merit would assign to them a fair portion of the honour of discovery.

Scientific theories sometimes float like rumours in the air before they receive complete expression. The doom of a doctrine is often practically sealed, and the truth of one is often practically accepted, long prior to the demonstration of either the error or the truth.

Perpetual motion was discarded before it was proved to be opposed to natural law; and, as regards the connection and interaction of natural forces, intimations of modern discoveries are strewn through the writings of Leibnitz, Boyle, Hooke, Locke and others.

Confining ourselves to recent times, Dr. Ingleby has pointed out to me some singularly sagacious remarks bearing upon this question, which were published by: an anonymous writer in 1820. Roget's penetration was conspicuous in 1829. Mohr had grasped in 1837 some deep-lying truth. The writings of Faraday furnish frequent illustrations of his profound belief in he unity of nature. 'I have long,' he writes in 1845, 'held an opinion almost amounting to conviction, in common, I believe, with other lovers of natural knowledge, that the various forms under which the forces of matter are made manifest have one common origin, or, in other words, are so directly related and mutually dependent, that they are convertible, as it were, one into another, and possess equivalence of power in their action.' His own researches on magneto-electricity, on electro-chemistry, and on the 'magnetisation of light led him directly to this belief. At an early date Mr. Justice Grove made his mark upon this question. Colding, though starting from a metaphysical basis, grasped eventually the relation between heat and mechanical work, and sought to determine it experimentally. And here let me say, that to him who has only the truth at heart, and who in his dealings with scientific history keeps his soul unwarped by envy, hatred, or malice, personal or national, every fresh accession to historic knowledge must be welcome. For every new-comer of proved merit, more especially if that merit should have been previously overlooked, he makes ready room in his recognition or his reverence. But no retrospect of scientific literature has as yet brought to light a claim which can sensibly affect the positions accorded to two great Path-hewers, as the Germans call them, whose names in relation to this subject are linked in indissoluble association. These names are Julius Robert Mayer and James Prescott Joule.

In his essay on 'Circles' Mr. Emerson, if I remember rightly, pictured intellectual progress as rhythmic. At a given moment knowledge is surrounded by a barrier which marks its limit. It gradually gathers clearness and strength until by-and-by some thinker of exceptional power bursts the barrier and wins a wider circle, within which thought once more entrenches itself. But the internal force again accumulates, the new barrier is in its turn broken, and the mind finds itself surrounded by a still wider horizon. Thus, according to Emerson, knowledge spreads by intermittent victories instead of progressing at a uniform rate.

When Dr. Joule first proved that a weight of one pound, falling through a height of seven hundred and seventy-two feet, generated an amount of heat competent to warm a pound of water one degree Fahrenheit, and that in lifting the weight so much heat exactly disappeared, he broke an Emersonian 'circle,' releasing by the act an amount of scientific energy which rapidly overran a vast domain, and embodied itself in the great doctrine known as the 'Conservation of Energy.' This doctrine recognises in the material universe a constant sum of power made up of items among which the most Protean fluctuations are incessantly going on. It is as if the body of Nature were alive, the thrill and interchange of its energies resembling those of an organism. The parts of the 'stupendous whole' shift and change, augment and diminish, appear and disappear, while the total of which they are the parts remains quantitatively immutable. Immutable, because when change occurs it is always polar—plus accompanies minus, gain accompanies loss, no item varying in the slightest degree without an absolutely equal change of some other item in the opposite direction.


The sun warms the tropical ocean, converting a portion of its liquid into vapour, which rises in the air and is recondensed on mountain heights, returning in rivers to the ocean from which it came. Up to the point where condensation begins, an amount of heat exactly equivalent to the molecular work of vaporisation and the mechanical work of lifting the vapour to the mountain-tops has disappeared from the universe. What is the gain corresponding to this loss? It will seem when mentioned to be expressed in a foreign currency. The loss is a loss of heat; the gain is a gain of distance, both as regards masses and molecules. Water which was formerly at the sea-level has been lifted to a position from which it can fall; molecules which have been locked together as a liquid are now separate as vapour which can recondense. After condensation gravity comes into effectual play, pulling the showers down upon the hills, and the rivers thus created through their gorges to the sea. Every raindrop which smites the mountain produces its definite amount of heat; every river in its course develops heat by the clash of its cataracts and the friction of its bed. In the act of condensation, moreover, the molecular work of vaporisation is accurately reversed. 'Compare, then, the primitive loss of solar warmth with the heat generated by the condensation of the vapour, and by the subsequent fall of the water from cloud to sea. They are mathematically equal to each other. No particle of vapour was formed and lifted without being paid for in the currency of solar heat; no particle returns as water to the sea without the exact quantitative restitution of that heat. There is nothing gratuitous in physical nature, no expenditure without equivalent gain, no gain without equivalent expenditure. With inexorable constancy the one accompanies the other, leaving no nook or crevice between them for spontaneity to mingle with the pure and necessary play of natural force. Has this uniformity of nature ever been broken? The reply is:

'Not to the knowledge of science.'

What has been here stated regarding heat and gravity applies to the whole of inorganic nature. Let us take an illustration from chemistry. The metal zinc may be burnt in oxygen, a perfectly definite amount of heat being produced by the combustion of a given weight of the metal. But zinc may also be burnt in a liquid which contains a supply of oxygen—in water, for example. It does not in this case produce flame or fire, but it does produce heat which is capable of accurate measurement. But the heat of zinc burnt in water falls short of that produced in pure oxygen, the reason being that to obtain its oxygen from the water the zinc must first dislodge the hydrogen. It is in the performance of this molecular work that the missing heat is absorbed. Mix the liberated hydrogen with oxygen and cause them to recombine; the heat developed is mathematically equal to the missing heat. Thus in pulling the oxygen and hydrogen asunder an amount of heat is consumed which is accurately restored by their reunion.

This leads up to a few remarks upon the Voltaic battery. It is not my design to dwell upon the technical features of this wonderful instrument, but simply, by means of it, to show what varying shapes a given amount of energy can assume while maintaining unvarying quantitative stability. When that form of power which we call an electric current passes through Grove's battery, zinc is consumed in acidulated water; and in the battery we are able so to arrange matters that when no current passes no zinc shall be consumed. Now the current, whatever it may be, possesses the power of generating heat outside the battery. We can fuse with it iridium, the most refractory of metals, or we can produce with it the dazzling electric light, and that at any terrestrial distance from the battery itself.

We will now, however, content ourselves with causing the current to raise a given length of platinum wire, first to a blood-heat, then to redness, and finally to a white heat. The heat under these circumstances generated in the battery by the combustion of a fixed quantity of zinc is no longer constant, but it varies inversely as the heat generated outside. If the outside heat be nil, the inside heat is a maximum; if the external wire be raised to a blood-heat, the internal heat falls slightly short of the maximum. If the wire be rendered red-hot, the quantity of missing heat within the battery is greater, and if the external wire be rendered white-hot, the defect is greater still. Add together the internal and external heat produced by the combustion of a given weight of zinc, and you have an absolutely constant total. The heat generated without is so much lost within, the heat generated within is so much lost without, the polar changes already adverted to coming here conspicuously into play. Thus in a variety of ways we can distribute the items of a never-varying sum, but even the subtle agency of the electric current places no creative power in our hands.

Instead of generating external heat, we may cause the current to effect chemical decomposition at a distance from the battery. Let it, for example, decompose water into oxygen and hydrogen. The heat generated in the battery under these circumstances by the combustion of a given weight of zinc falls short of what is produced when there is no decomposition. How far short? The question admits of a perfectly exact answer. When the oxygen and hydrogen recombine, the heat absorbed in the decomposition is accurately restored, and it is exactly equal in amount to that missing in the battery. We may, if we like, bottle up the gases, carry in this form the heat of the battery to the polar regions, and liberate it there. The battery, in fact is a hearth on which fuel is consumed; but the heat of the combustion, instead of being confined in the usual manner to the hearth itself, may be first liberated at the other side of the world.

And here we are able to solve an enigma which long perplexed scientific men, and which could not be solved until the bearing of the mechanical theory of heat upon the phenomena of the Voltaic battery was understood. The puzzle was, that a single cell could not decompose water. The reason is now plain enough. The solution of an equivalent of zinc in a single cell develops not much more than half the amount of heat required to decompose an equivalent of water, and the single cell cannot cede an amount of force which it does not possess. But by forming a battery of two cells instead of one, we develop an amount of heat slightly in excess of that needed for the decomposition of the water. The two-celled battery is therefore rich enough to pay for that decomposition, and to maintain the excess referred to within its own cells.

Similar reflections apply to the thermo-electric pile, an instrument usually composed of small bars of bismuth and antimony soldered alternately together. The electric current is here evoked by warming the soldered junctions of one face of the pile. Like the Voltaic current, the thermo-electric current can heat wires, produce decomposition, magnetise iron, and deflect a magnetic needle at any distance from its origin. You will be disposed, and rightly disposed, to refer those distant manifestations of power to the heat communicated to the face of the pile, but the case is worthy of closer examination. In 1826 Thomas Seebeck discovered thermo-electricity, and six years subsequently Peltier made an observation which comes with singular felicity to our aid in determining the material used up in the formation of the thermo-electric current. He found that when a weak extraneous current was sent from antimony to bismuth the junction of the two metals was always heated, but that when the direction was from bismuth to antimony the junction was chilled. Now the current in the thermo-pile itself is always from bismuth to antimony, across the heated junction—a direction in which it cannot possibly establish itself without consuming the heat imparted to the junction. This heat is the nutriment of the current. Thus the heat generated by the thermo-current in a distant wire is simply that originally imparted to the pile, which has been first transmuted into electricity, and then retransmuted into its first form at a distance from its origin. As water in a state of vapour passes from a boiler to a distant condenser, and there assumes its primitive form without gain or loss, so the heat communicated to the thermo-pile distils into the subtler electric current, which is, as it were, recondensed into heat in the distant platinum wire.

In my youth I thought an electro-magnetic engine which was shown to me a veritable perpetual motion—a machine, that is to say, which performed work without the expenditure of power. Let us consider the action of such a machine. Suppose it to be employed to pump water from a lower to a higher level. On examining the battery which works the engine we find that the zinc consumed does not yield its full amount of heat. The quantity of heat thus missing within is the exact thermal equivalent of the mechanical work performed without. Let the water fall again to the lower level; it is warmed by the fall. Add the heat thus produced to that generated by the friction, mechanical and magnetical, of the engine; we thus obtain the precise amount of heat missing in the battery. All the effects obtained from the machine are thus strictly paid for; this 'payment for results' being, I would repeat, the inexorable method of nature.

No engine, however subtly devised, can evade this law of equivalence, or perform on its own account the smallest modicum of work. The machine distributes, but it cannot create. Is the animal body, then, to be classed among machines? When I lift a weight, or throw a stone, or climb a mountain, or wrestle with my comrade, am I not conscious of actually creating and expending force? Let us look at the antecedents of this force. We derive the muscle and fat of our bodies from what we eat. Animal heat you know to be due to the slow combustion of this fuel. My arm is now inactive, and the ordinary slow combustion of my blood and tissue is going on. For every grain of fuel thus burnt a perfectly definite amount of heat has been produced. I now contract my biceps muscle without causing it to perform external work. The combustion is quickened, and the heat is increased; this additional heat being liberated in the muscle itself. I lay hold of a 56 lb. weight, and by the contraction of my biceps lift it through the vertical space of a foot. The blood and tissue consumed during this contraction have not developed in the muscle their due amount of heat. A quantity of heat is at this moment missing in my muscle which would raise the temperature of an ounce of water somewhat more than one degree Fahrenheit. I liberate the weight: it falls to the earth, and by its collision generates the precise amount of heat missing in the muscle. My muscular heat is thus transferred from its local hearth to external space. The fuel is consumed in my body, but the heat of combustion is produced outside my body. The case is substantially the same as that of the Voltaic battery when it performs external work, or produces external heat. All this points to the conclusion that the force we employ in muscular exertion is the force of burning fuel and not of creative will. In the light of these facts the body is seen to be as incapable of generating energy without expenditure, as the solids and liquids of the Voltaic battery. The body, in other words, falls into the catagory of machines.

We can do with the body all that we have already done with the battery—heat platinum wires, decompose water, magnetise iron, and deflect a magnetic needle. The combustion of muscle may be made to produce all these effects, as the combustion of zinc may be caused to produce them. By turning the handle of a magneto-electric machine a coil of wire may be caused to rotate between the poles of a magnet. As long as the two ends of the coil are unconnected we have simply to overcome the ordinary inertia and friction of the machine in turning the handle. But the moment the two ends of the coil are united by a thin platinum wire a sudden addition of labour is thrown upon the turning arm. When the necessary labour is expended, its equivalent immediately appears. The platinum wire glows. You can readily maintain it at a white heat, or even fuse it. This is a very remarkable result. From the muscles of the arm, with a temperature of 100 degrees, we extract the temperature of molten platinum, which is nearly four thousand degrees. The miracle here is the reverse of that of the burning bush mentioned in Exodus. There the bush burned, but was not consumed—here the body is consumed, but does not burn. The similarity of the action with that of the Voltaic battery when it heats an external wire is too obvious to need pointing out. When the machine is used to decompose water, the heat of the muscle, like that of the battery, is consumed in molecular work, being fully restored when the gases recombine. As before, also, the transmuted heat of the muscles may be bottled up, carried to the polar regions, and there restored to its pristine form.


The matter of the human body is the same as that of the world around us; and here we find the forces of the human body identical with those of inorganic nature. Just as little as the Voltaic battery is the animal body a creator of force. It is an apparatus exquisite and effectual beyond all others in transforming and distributing the energy with which it is supplied, but it possesses no creative power. Compared with the notions previously entertained regarding the play of 'Vital force' this is a great result. The problem of vital dynamics has been described by a competent authority as 'the grandest of all.' I subscribe to this opinion, and honour correspondingly the man who first successfully grappled with the problem. He was no pope, in the sense of being infallible, but he was a man of genius whose work will be held in honour as long as science endures I have already named him in connection with our illustrious countryman Dr. Joule. Other eminent men took up this subject subsequently and independently, but all that has been done hitherto enhances instead of diminishing the merits of Dr. Mayer.

Consider the vigour of his reasoning. 'Beyond the power of generating internal heat, the animal organism can generate heat external to itself. A blacksmith by hammering can warm a nail, and a savage by friction can heat wood to its point of ignition. Unless, then, we abandon the physiological axiom that the animal body cannot create heat out of nothing, we are driven to the conclusion that it is the total heat, within and without, that ought to be regarded as the real calorific effect of the oxidation within the body.' Mayer, however, not only states the principle, but illustrates numerically the transfer of muscular heat to external space. A bowler who imparts a velocity of 30 feet to an 8-lb. ball consumes in the act 0.1 of a grain of carbon. The heat of the muscle is here distributed over the track of the ball, being developed there by mechanical friction. A man weighing 150 lbs. consumes in lifting his own body to a height of 8 feet the heat of a grain of carbon. Jumping from this height the heat is restored. The consumption of 2 oz. 4 drs. 20 grs. of carbon would place the same man on the summit of a mountain 10,000 feet high. In descending the mountain an amount of heat equal to that produced by the combustion of the foregoing amount of carbon is restored. The muscles of a labourer whose weight is 150 lbs. weigh 64 lbs. When dried they are reduced to 15 lbs. Were the oxidation corresponding to a day-labourer's ordinary work exerted on the muscles alone, they would be wholly consumed in 80 days. Were the oxidation necessary to sustain the heart's action concentrated on the heart itself, it would be consumed in 8 days. And if we confine our attention to the two ventricles, their action would consume the associated muscular tissue in 31 days. With a fulness and precision of which this is but a sample did Mayer, between 1842 and, 1845, deal with the great question of vital dynamics.

In direct opposition, moreover, to the foremost scientific authorities of that day, with Liebig at their head, this solitary Heilbronn worker was led by his calculations to maintain that the muscles, in the main, played the part of machinery, converting the fat, which had been previously considered a mere heat-producer, into the motive power of the organism. Mayer's prevision has been justified by events, for the scientific world is now upon his side.

We place, then, food in our stomachs as so much combustible matter. It is first dissolved by purely chemical processes, and the nutritive fluid is poured into the blood. Here it comes into contact with atmospheric oxygen admitted by the lungs. It unites with the oxygen as wood or coal might unite with it in a furnace. The matter-products of the union, if I may use the term, are the same in both cases, viz. carbonic acid and water. The force-products are also the same—heat within the body, or heat and work outside the body. Thus far every action of the organism belongs to the domain either of physics or of chemistry. But you saw me contract the muscle of my arm. What enabled me to do, so? Was it or was it not the direct action of my will? The answer is, the action of the will is mediate, not direct. Over and above the muscles the human organism is provided with long whitish filaments of medullary matter, which issue from the spinal column, being connected by it on the one side with the brain, and on the other side losing themselves in the muscles. Those filaments or cords are the nerves, which you know are divided into two kinds, sensor and motor, or, if you like the terms better, afferent and efferent nerves. The former carry impressions from the external world to the brain; the latter convey the behests of the brain to the muscles. Here, as elsewhere, we find ourselves aided by the sagacity of Mayer, who was the first clearly to formulate the part played by the nerves in the organism. Mayer saw that neither nerves nor brain, nor both together, possessed the energy necessary to animal motion; but he also saw that the nerve could lift a latch and open a door, by which floods of energy are let loose. 'As an engineer,' he says with admirable lucidity, 'by the motion of his finger in opening a valve or loosening a detent can liberate an amount of mechanical energy almost infinite compared with its exciting cause; so the nerves, acting on the muscles, can unlock an amount of power out of all proportion to the work done by the nerves themselves.' The nerves, according to Mayer, pull the trigger, but the gunpowder which they ignite is stored in the muscles. This is the view now universally entertained.

The quickness of thought has passed into a proverb, and the notion that any measurable time elapsed between the infliction of a wound and the feeling of the injury would have been rejected as preposterous thirty years ago. Nervous impressions, notwithstanding the results of Haller, were thought to be transmitted, if not instantaneously, at all events with the rapidity of electricity. Hence, when Helmholtz, in 1851, affirmed, as the result of experiment, nervous transmission to be a comparatively sluggish process, very few believed him. His experiments may now be made in the lecture-room.

Sound in air moves at the rate of 1,100 feet a second; sound in water moves at the rate of 5,000 feet a second; light in aether moves at the rate of 186,000 miles a second, and electricity in free wires moves probably at the same rate. But the nerves transmit their messages at the rate of only 70 feet a second, a progress which in these quick times might well be regarded as inordinately slow.

Your townsman, Mr. Gore, has produced by electrolysis a kind of antimony which exhibits an action strikingly analogous to that of nervous propagation. A rod of this antimony is in such a molecular condition that when you scratch or heat one end of the rod, the disturbance propagates itself before your eyes to the other end, the onward march of the disturbance being announced by the development of heat and fumes along the line of propagation. In some such way the molecules of the nerves are successively overthrown; and if Mr. Gore could only devise some means of winding up his exhausted antimony, as the nutritive blood winds up exhausted nerves, the comparison would be complete. The subject may be summed up, as Du Bois-Reymond has summed it up, by reference to the case of a whale struck by a harpoon in the tail. If the animal were 70 feet long, a second would elapse before the disturbance could reach the brain. But the impression after its arrival has to diffuse itself and throw the brain into the molecular condition necessary to consciousness. Then, and not till then, the command to the tail to defend itself is shot through the motor nerves. Another second must elapse before the command can reach the tail, so that more than two seconds transpire between the infliction of the wound and the muscular response of the part wounded. The interval required for the kindling of consciousness would probably more than suffice for the destruction of the brain by lightning, or even by a rifle-bullet. Before the organ can arrange itself it may, therefore, be destroyed, and in such a case we may safely conclude that death is painless.


The experiences of common life supply us with copious instances of the liberation of vast stores of muscular power by an infinitesimal 'priming' of the muscles by the nerves. We all know the effect produced on a 'nervous' organisation by a slight sound which causes affright. An aerial wave, the energy of which would not reach a minute fraction of that necessary to raise the thousandth of a grain through the thousandth of an inch, can throw the whole human frame into a powerful mechanical spasm, followed by violent respiration and palpitation. The eye of course, may be appealed to as well as the ear. Of this the lamented Lange gives the following vivid illustration:

A merchant sits complacently in his easy chair, not knowing whether smoking, sleeping, newspaper reading, or the digestion of food occupies the largest portion of his personality. A servant enters the room with a telegram bearing the words, 'Antwerp, &c... Jonas and Co. have failed.' 'Tell James to harness the horses!' The servant flies. Upstairs the merchant, wide awake; makes a dozen paces through the room, descends to the counting-house, dictates letters, and forwards despatches. He jumps into his carriage, the horses snort, and their driver is immediately at the Bank, on the Bourse, and among his commercial friends. Before an hour has elapsed he is again at home, where he throws himself once more into his easy chair with a deep-drawn sigh, 'Thank God I am protected against the worst, and now for further reflection.'

This complex mass of action, emotional, intellectual, and mechanical, is evoked by the impact upon the retina of the infinitesimal waves of light coming from a few pencil marks on a bit of paper. We have, as Lange says, terror, hope, sensation, calculation, possible ruin, and victory compressed into a moment. What caused the merchant to spring out of his chair? The contraction of his muscles. What made his muscles contract? An impulse of the nerves, which lifted the proper latch, and liberated the muscular power. Whence this impulse? From the centre of the nervous system. But how did it originate there? This is the critical question, to which some will reply that it had its origin in the human soul.

The aim and effort of science is to explain the unknown in terms of the known. Explanation, therefore, is conditioned by knowledge. You have probably heard the story of the German peasant, who, in early railway days, was taken to see the performance of a locomotive. He had never known carriages to be moved except by animal power. Every explanation outside of this conception lay beyond his experience, and could not be invoked. After long reflection therefore, and seeing no possible escape from the conclusion, he exclaimed confidently to his companion, 'Es muessen doch Pferde darin sein '—There must be horses inside. Amusing as this locomotive theory may seem, it illustrates a deep-lying truth.

With reference to our present question, some may be disposed to press upon me such considerations as these: Your motor nerves are so many speaking-tubes, through which messages are sent from the man to the world; and your sensor nerves are so many conduits through which the whispers of the world are sent back to the man. But you have not told us where is the man. Who or what is it that sends and receives those messages through the bodily organism? Do not the phenomena point to the existence of a self within the self, which acts through the body as through a skilfully constructed instrument? You picture the muscles as hearkening to the commands sent through the motor nerves, and you picture the sensor nerves as the vehicles of incoming intelligence; are you not bound to supplement this mechanism by the assumption of an entity which uses it? In other words, are you not forced by Tour own exposition into the hypothesis of a free human soul?

This is fair reasoning now, and at a certain stage of the world's knowledge, it might well have been deemed conclusive. Adequate reflection, however, shows that instead of introducing light into our minds, this hypothesis considered scientifically increases our darkness. You do not in this case explain the unknown in terms of the known, which, as stated above, is the method of science, but you explain the unknown in terms of the more unknown. Try to mentally visualise this soul as an entity distinct from the body, and the difficulty immediately appears. From the side of science all that we are warranted in stating is that the terror, hope, sensation, and calculation of Lange's merchant, are psychical phenomena produced by, or associated with, the molecular processes set up by waves of light in a previously prepared brain.

When facts present themselves let us dare to face them, but let the man of science equally dare to confess ignorance where it prevails. What then is the causal connection, if any, between the objective and subjective—between molecular motions and states of consciousness? My answer is: I do not see the connection, nor have I as yet met anybody who does.

It is no explanation to say that the objective and subjective effects are two sides of one and the same phenomenon. Why should the phenomenon have two sides? This is the very core of the difficulty. There are plenty of molecular motions which do not exhibit this two-sidedness. Does water think or feel when it runs into frost-ferns upon a window-pane? If not, why should the molecular motion of the brain be yoked to this mysterious companion—consciousness? We can form a coherent picture of the physical processes—the stirring of the brain, the thrilling of the nerves, the discharging of the muscles, and all the subsequent mechanical motions of the organism. But we can present to our minds no picture of the process whereby consciousness emerges, either as a necessary link or as an accidental by-product of this series of actions. Yet it certainly does emerge—the prick of a pin suffices to prove that molecular motion can produce consciousness. The reverse process of the production of motion by consciousness is equally unpresentable to the mind. We are here, in fact, upon the boundary line of the intellect, where the ordinary canons of science fail to extricate us from our difficulties. If we are true to these canons, we must deny to subjective phenomena all influence on physical processes. Observation proves that they interact, but in passing from one to the other, we meet a blank which mechanical deduction is unable to fill. Frankly stated, we have here to deal with facts almost as difficult to seize mentally as the idea of a soul. And if you are content to make your 'soul' a poetic rendering of a phenomenon which refuses the yoke of ordinary physical laws, I, for one, would not object to this exercise of ideality. Amid all our speculative uncertainty, however, there is one practical point as clear as the day; namely, that the brightness and the usefulness of life, as well as its darkness and disaster, depend to a great extent upon our own use or abuse of this miraculous organ.

Accustomed as I am to harsh language, I am quite prepared to hear my 'poetic rendering' branded as a 'falsehood' and a 'fib.' The vituperation is unmerited, for poetry or ideality, and untruth are assuredly very different things. The one may vivify, while the other, kills. When St. John extends the notion of a soul to 'souls washed in the blood of Christ' does he 'fib'? Indeed, if the appeal to ideality is censurable, Christ himself ought not to have escaped censure. Nor did he escape it. 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' expressed the sceptical flouting of unpoetic natures. Such are still amongst us. Cardinal Manning would doubtless tell any Protestant who rejects the doctrine of transubstantiation that he 'fibs' away the plain words of his Saviour when he reduces 'the Body of the Lord' in the sacrament to a mere figure of speech.

Though misuse may render it grotesque or insincere, the idealisation of ancient conceptions, when done consciously and above board, has, in my opinion, an important future. We are not radically different from our historic ancestors, and any feeling which affected them profoundly, requires only appropriate clothing to affect us. The world will not lightly relinquish its heritage of poetic feeling, and metaphysic will be welcomed when it abandons its pretensions to scientific discovery and consents to be ranked as a kind of poetry. 'A good symbol,' says Emerson, 'is a missionary to persuade thousands. The Vedas, the Edda, the Koran, are each remembered by its happiest figure. There is no more welcome gift to men than a new symbol. They assimilate themselves to it, deal with it in all ways, and it will last a hundred years. Then comes a new genius and brings another.' Our ideas of God and the soul are obviously subject to this symbolic mutation. They are not now what they were a century ago. They will not be a century hence what they are now. Such ideas constitute a kind of central energy in the human mind, capable, like the energy of the physical universe, of assuming various shapes and undergoing various transformations. They baffle and elude the theological mechanic who would carve them to dogmatic forms. They offer themselves freely to the poet who understands his vocation, and whose function is, or ought to be, to find 'local habitation' for thoughts woven into our subjective life, but which refuse to be mechanically defined.


We now stand face to face with the final problem. It is this: Are the brain, and the moral and intellectual processes known to be associated with the brain—and, as far as our experience goes, indissolubly associated—subject to the laws which we find paramount in physical nature? Is the will of man, in other words, free, or are it and nature equally 'bound fast in fate'? From this latter conclusion, after he had established it to the entire satisfaction of his understanding, the great German thinker Fichte recoiled. You will find the record of this struggle between head and heart in his book, entitled 'Die Bestimmung des Menschen'—The Vocation of Man. [Footnote: Translated by Dr. William Smith of Edinburgh; Truebner, 1873.] Fichte was determined at all hazards to maintain his freedom, but the price he paid for it indicates the difficulty of the task. To escape from the iron necessity seen everywhere reigning in physical nature, he turned defiantly round upon nature and law, and affirmed both of them to be the products of his own mind. He was not going to be the slave of a thing which he had himself created. There is a good deal to be said in favour of this view, but few of us probably would be able to bring into play the solvent transcendentalism whereby Fichte melted his chains.

Why do some regard this notion of necessity with terror, while others do not fear it at all? Has not Carlyle somewhere said that a belief in destiny is the bias of all earnest minds? 'It is not Nature,' says Fichte, 'it is Freedom itself, by which the greatest and most terrible disorders incident to our race are produced. Man is the cruellest enemy of man.' But the question of moral responsibility here emerges, and it is the possible loosening of this responsibility that so many of us dread. The notion of necessity certainly failed to frighten Bishop Butler. He thought it untrue even absurd—but he did not fear its practical consequences. He showed, on the contrary, in the 'Analogy,' that as far as human conduct is concerned, the two theories of free-will and necessity would come to the same in the end.

What is meant by free-will? Does it imply the power of producing events without antecedents?—of starting, as it were, upon a creative tour of occurrences without any impulse from within or from without? Let us consider the point. If there be absolutely or relatively no reason why a tree should fall, it will not fall; and if there be absolutely or relatively no reason why a man should act, he will not act. It is true that the united voice of this assembly could not persuade me that I have not, at this moment, the power to lift my arm if I wished to do so. Within this range the conscious freedom of my will cannot be questioned. But what about the origin of the 'wish'? Are we, or are we not, complete masters of the circumstances which create our wishes, motives, and tendencies to action? Adequate reflection will, I think, prove that we are not. What, for example, have I had to do with the generation and development of that which some will consider my total being, and others a most potent factor of my total being—the living, speaking organism which now addresses you? As stated at the beginning of this discourse, my physical and intellectual textures were woven for me, not by me. Processes in the conduct or regulation of which I had no share have made me what I am. Here, surely, if anywhere, we are as clay in the hands of the potter. It is the greatest of delusions to suppose that we come into this world as sheets of white paper on which the age can write anything it likes, making us good or bad, noble or mean, as the age pleases. The age can stunt, promote, or pervert pre-existent capacities, but it cannot create them. The worthy Robert Owen, who saw in external circumstances the great moulders of human character, was obliged to supplement his doctrine by making the man himself one of the circumstances. It is as fatal as it is cowardly to blink facts because they are not to our taste. How many disorders, ghostly and bodily, are transmitted to us by inheritance? In our courts of law, whenever it is a question whether a crime has been committed under the influence of insanity, the best guidance the judge and jury can have is derived from the parental antecedents of the accused. If among these insanity be exhibited in any marked degree, the presumption in the prisoner's favour is enormously enhanced, because the experience of life has taught both judge and jury that insanity is frequently transmitted from parent to child.

I met, some years ago, in a railway carriage the governor of one of our largest prisons. He was evidently an observant and reflective man, possessed of wide experience gathered in various parts of the world, and a thorough student of the duties of his vocation. He told me that the prisoners in his charge might be divided into three distinct classes. The first class consisted of persons who ought never to have been in prison. External accident, and not internal taint, had brought them within the grasp of the law, and what had happened to them might happen to most of us. They were essentially men of sound moral stamina, though wearing the prison garb. Then came the largest class, formed of individuals possessing no strong bias, moral or immoral, plastic to the touch of circumstances, which could mould them into either good or evil members of society. Thirdly came a class—happily not a large one—whom no kindness could conciliate and no discipline tame. They were sent into this world labelled 'incorrigible', wickedness being stamped, as it were, upon their organisations. It was an unpleasant truth, but as a truth it ought to be faced. For such criminals the prison over which he ruled was certainly not the proper place. If confined at all, their prison should be on a desert island where the deadly contagium of their example could not taint the moral air. But the sea itself he was disposed to regard as a cheap and appropriate substitute for the island. It seemed to him evident that the State would benefit if prisoners of the first class were liberated; prisoners of the second class educated; and prisoners of the third class put compendiously under water.

It is not, however, from the observation of individuals that the argument against 'free-will,' as commonly understood, derives its principal force. It is, as already hinted, indefinitely strengthened when extended to the race. Most of you have been forced to listen to the outcries and denunciations which rang discordant through the land for some years after the publication of Mr. Darwin's 'Origin of Species.' Well, the world—even the clerical world—for the most part settled down in the belief that Mr. Darwin's book simply reflects the truth of nature: that we who are now 'foremost in the files of time' have come to the front through almost endless stages of promotion from lower to higher forms of life.

If to any one of us were given the privilege of looking back through the aeons across which life has crept towards its present outcome, his vision, according to Darwin, would ultimately reach a point when the progenitors of this assembly could not be called human. From that humble society, through the interaction of its members and the storing up of their best qualities, a better one emerged; from this again a better still; until at length, by the integration of infinitesimals through ages of amelioration, we came to be what we are to-day. We of this generation had no conscious share in the production of this grand and beneficent result. Any and every generation which preceded us had just as little share. The favoured organisms whose garnered excellence constitutes our present store owed their advantages, first, to what we in our ignorance are obliged to call accidental variation;' and, secondly, to a law of heredity in the passing of which our suffrages were not collected. With characteristic felicity and precision Mr. Matthew Arnold lifts this question into the free air of poetry, but not out of the atmosphere of truth, when he ascribes the process of amelioration to 'a power not ourselves which makes for righteousness.' If, then, our organisms, with all their tendencies and capacities, are given to us without our being consulted; and if, while capable of acting within certain limits in accordance with our wishes, we are not masters of the circumstances in which motives and wishes originate; if, finally, our motives and wishes determine our actions—in what sense can these actions be said to be the result of free-will?


Here, again, we are confronted with the question of moral responsibility, which, as it has been much talked of lately, it is desirable to meet. With the view of removing the fear of our falling back into the condition of 'the ape and tiger,' so sedulously excited by certain writers, I propose to grapple with this question in its rudest form, and in the most uncompromising way. 'If,' says the robber, the ravisher, or the murderer, 'I act because I must act, what right have you to hold me responsible for my deeds?' The reply is, 'The right of society to protect itself against aggressive and injurious forces, whether they be bond or free, forces of nature or forces of man.' 'Then,' retorts the criminal, 'you punish me for what I cannot help.' 'Let it be granted,' says society, 'but had you known that the treadmill or the gallows was certainly in store for you, you might have "helped." Let us reason the matter fully and frankly out. We may entertain no malice or hatred against you; it is enough that with a view to our own safety and purification we are determined that you and such as you shall not enjoy liberty of evil action in our midst. You, who have behaved as a wild beast, we claim the right to cage or kill as we should a wild beast. The public safety is a matter of more importance than the very limited chance of your moral renovation, while the knowledge that you have been hanged by the neck may furnish to others about to do as you have done the precise motive which will hold them back. If your act be such as to invoke a minor penalty, then not only others, but yourself, may profit by the punishment which we inflict. On the homely principle that "a burnt child dreads the fire," it will make you think twice before venturing on a repetition of your crime. Observe, finally, the consistency of our conduct. You offend, you say, because you cannot help offending, to the public detriment. We punish, is our reply, because we cannot help punishing, for the public good. Practically, then, as Bishop Butler predicted, we act as the world acted when it supposed the evil deeds of its criminals to be the products of free-will.' [Footnote: An eminent Church dignitary describes all this, not unkindly, as 'truculent logic.' I think it worthy of his Grace's graver consideration.]

'What,' I have heard it argued, 'is the use of preaching about duty, if a man's predetermined position in the moral world renders him incapable of profiting by advice?' Who knows that he is incapable? The preacher's last word is a factor in the man's conduct, and it may be a most important factor, unlocking moral energies which might otherwise remain imprisoned and unused. If the preacher thoroughly feel that words of enlightenment, courage, and admonition enter into the list of forces employed by Nature herself for man's amelioration, since she gifted man with speech, he will suffer no paralysis to fall upon his tongue. Dung the fig-tree hopefully, and not until its barrenness has been demonstrated beyond a doubt let the sentence go forth, 'Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?'

I remember when a youth in the town of Halifax, some two-and-thirty years ago, attending a lecture given by a young man to a small but select audience. The aspect of the lecturer was earnest and practical, and his voice soon rivetted attention. He spoke of duty, defining it as a debt owed, and there was a kindling vigour in his words which must have strengthened the sense of duty in the minds of those who heard him. No speculations regarding the freedom of the will could alter the fact that the words of that young man did me good. His name was George Dawson. He also spoke, if you will allow me to allude to it, of a social subject much discussed at the time—the Chartist subject of 'levelling.' Suppose, he says, two men to be equal at night, and that one rises at six, while the other sleeps till nine next morning, what becomes of your levelling? And in so speaking be made himself the mouthpiece of Nature, which, as we have seen, secures advance, not by the reduction of all to a common level, but by the encouragement and conservation of what is best.

It may be urged that, in dealing as above with my hypothetical criminal, I am assuming a state of things brought about by the influence of religions which include the dogmas of theology and the belief in freewill—a state, namely, in which a moral majority control and keep in awe an immoral minority. The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Withdraw, then, our theologic sanctions, including the belief in free-will, and the condition of the race will be typified by the samples of individual wickedness which have been above adduced. We shall all, that is, become robbers, and ravishers, and murderers. From much that has been written of late it would seem that this astounding inference finds house-room in many minds. Possibly, the people who hold such views might be able to illustrate them by individual instances.

The fear of hell's a hangman's whip, To keep the wretch in order.

Remove the fear, and the wretch, following his natural instinct, may become disorderly; but I refuse to accept him as a sample of humanity. 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die' is by no means the ethical consequence of a rejection of dogma. To many of you the name of George Jacob Holyoake is doubtless familiar, and you are probably aware that at no man in England has the term 'atheist' been more frequently pelted. There are, moreover, really few who have more completely liberated themselves from theologic notions. Among working-class politicians Mr. Holyoake is a leader. Does he exhort his followers to 'Eat and drink, for to-morrow we die'? Not so. In the August number of the 'Nineteenth Century' you will find these words from his pen: 'The gospel of dirt is bad enough, but the gospel of mere material comfort is much worse.' He contemptuously calls the Comtist championship of the working man, 'the championship of the trencher.' He would place 'the leanest liberty which brought with it the dignity and power of self-help' higher than 'any prospect of a full plate without it.' Such is the moral doctrine taught by this 'atheistic' leader; and no Christian, I apprehend, need be ashamed of it.

Most heartily do I recognise and admire the spiritual radiance, if I may use the term, shed by religion on the minds and lives of many personally known to me. At the same time I cannot but observe how signally, as regards the production of anything beautiful, religion fails in other cases. Its professor and defender is sometimes at bottom a brawler and a clown. These differences depend upon primary distinctions of character which religion does not remove. It may comfort some to know that there are amongst us many whom the gladiators of the pulpit would call 'atheists' and 'materialists,' whose lives, nevertheless, as tested by any accessible standard of morality, would contrast more than favourably with the lives of those who seek to stamp them with this offensive brand. When I say 'offensive,' I refer simply to the intention of those who use such terms, and not because atheism or materialism, when compared with many of the notions ventilated in the columns of religious newspapers, has any particular offensiveness for me. If I wished to find men who are scrupulous in their adherence to engagements, whose words are their bond, and to whom moral shiftiness of any kind is subjectively unknown; if I wanted a loving father, a faithful husband, an honourable neighbour, and a just citizen—I should seek him, and find him among the band of 'atheists' to which I refer. I have known some of the most pronounced among them not only in life but in death seen them approaching with open eyes the inexorable goal, with no dread of a 'hangman's whip,' with no hope of a heavenly crown, and still as mindful of their duties, and as faithful in the discharge of them, as if their eternal future depended upon their latest deeds.

In letters addressed to myself, and in utterances addressed to the public, Faraday is often referred to as a sample of the association of religious faith with moral elevation. I was locally intimate with him for fourteen or fifteen years of my life, and had thus occasion to observe how nearly his character approached what might, without extravagance, be called perfection. He was strong but gentle, impetuous but self-restrained; a sweet and lofty courtesy marked his dealings with men and women; and though he sprang from the body of the people, a nature so fine might well have been distilled from the flower of antecedent chivalry. Not only in its broader sense was the Christian religion necessary to Faraday's spiritual peace, but in what many would call the narrow sense held by those described by Faraday himself as 'a very small and despised sect of Christians, known, if known at all, as Sandemanians,' it constituted the light and comfort of his days.

Were our experience confined to such cases, it would furnish an irresistible argument in favour of the association of dogmatic religion with moral purity and grace. But, as already intimated, our experience is not thus confined. In further illustration of this point, we may compare with Faraday a philosopher of equal magnitude, whose character, including gentleness and strength, candour and simplicity, intellectual power and moral elevation, singularly resembles that of the great Sandemanian, but who has neither shared the theologic views nor the religious emotions which formed so dominant a factor in Faraday's life. I allude to Mr. Charles Darwin, the Abraham of scientific men—a searcher as obedient to the command of truth as was the patriarch to the command of God. I cannot therefore, as so many desire, look upon Faraday's religious belief as the exclusive source of qualities shared so conspicuously by one uninfluenced by that belief. To a deeper virtue belonging to human nature in its purer forms I am disposed to refer the excellence of both.

Superstition may be defined as constructive religion which has grown incongruous with intelligence. We may admit, with Fichte, 'that superstition has unquestionably constrained its subjects to abandon many pernicious practices and to adopt many useful ones;' the real loss accompanying its decay at the present day has been thus clearly stated by the same philosopher: 'In so far as these lamentations do not proceed from the priests themselves—whose grief at the loss of their dominion over the human mind we can well understand—but from the politicians, the whole matter resolves itself into this, that government has thereby become more difficult and expensive. The judge was spared the exercise of his own sagacity and penetration when, by threats of relentless damnation, he could compel the accused to make confession. The evil spirit formerly performed without reward services for which in later times judges and policemen have to be paid.'

No man ever felt the need of a high and ennobling religion more thoroughly than this powerful and fervid teacher, who, by the way, did not escape the brand of 'atheist.' But Fichte asserted emphatically the power and sufficiency of morality in its own sphere. 'Let us consider,' he says, 'the highest which man can possess in the absence of religion—I mean pure morality. The moral man obeys the law of duty in his breast absolutely, because it is a law unto him; and he does whatever reveals itself to him as his duty simply because it is duty. Let not the impudent assertion be repeated that such an obedience, without regard for consequences, and without desire for consequences, is in itself impossible and opposed to human nature.' So much for Fichte. Faraday was equally distinct. 'I have no intention,' he says, 'of substituting anything for religion, but I wish to take that part of human nature which is independent of it. Morality, philosophy, commerce, the various institutions and habits of society, are independent of religion and may exist without it.' These were the words of his youth, but they expressed his latest convictions. I would add, that the muse of Tennyson never reached a higher strain than when it embodied the sentiment of duty in AEnone:

And, because right is right, to follow right Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence.

Not in the way assumed by our dogmatic teachers has the morality of human nature been built up. The power which has moulded us thus far has worked with stern tools upon a very rigid stuff. What it has done cannot be so readily undone; and it has endowed us with moral constitutions which take pleasure in the noble, the beautiful, and the true, just as surely as it has endowed us with sentient organisms, which find aloes bitter and sugar sweet. That power did not work with delusions, nor will it stay its hand when such are removed. Facts, rather than dogmas, have been its ministers—hunger and thirst, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, fervour, sympathy, aspiration, shame, pride, love, hate, terror, awe—such were the forces whose interaction and adjustment throughout an immeasurable past wove the triplex web of man's physical, intellectual, and moral nature, and such are the forces that will be effectual to the end.

You may retort that even on my own showing 'the power which makes for righteousness' has dealt in delusions; for it cannot be denied that the beliefs of religion, including the dogmas of theology and the freedom of the will, have had some effect in moulding the moral world. Granted; but I do not think that this goes to the root of the matter. Are you quite sure that those beliefs and dogmas are primary, and not derived?—that they are not the products, instead of being the creators, of man's moral nature? I think it is in one of the Latter-Day Pamphlets that Carlyle corrects a reasoner, who deduced the nobility of man from a belief in heaven, by telling him that he puts the cart before the horse, the real truth being that the belief in heaven is derived from the nobility of man. The bird's instinct to weave its nest is referred to by Emerson as typical of the force which built cathedrals, temples, and pyramids:

Knowest thou what wove yon woodbird's nest Of leaves and feathers from her breast, Or how the fish outbuilt its shell, Painting with morn each annual cell? Such and so grew these holy piles While love and terror laid the tiles; Earth proudly wears the Parthenon As the best gem upon her zone; And Morning opes with haste her lids To gaze upon the Pyramids; O'er England's abbeys bends the sky As on its friends with kindred eye; For out of Thought's interior sphere These wonders rose to upper air, And nature gladly gave them place, Adopted them into her race, And granted them an equal date With Andes and with Ararat.

Surely, many utterances which have been accepted as descriptions ought to be interpreted as aspirations, or, as having their roots in aspiration instead of in objective knowledge. Does the song of the herald angels, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men,' express the exaltation and the yearning of a human soul? or does it describe an optical and acoustical fact—a visible host and an audible song? If the former, the exaltation and the yearning are man's imperishable possession—a ferment long confined to individuals, but which may by-and-by become the leaven of the race. If the latter, then belief in the entire transaction is wrecked by non-fulfilment. Look to the East at the present moment as a comment on the promise of peace' on earth and goodwill toward men. That promise is a dream ruined by the experience of eighteen centuries, and in that ruin is involved the claim of the 'heavenly host' to prophetic vision. But though the mechanical theory proves untenable, the immortal song and the feelings it expresses are still ours, to be incorporated, let us hope, in purer and less shadowy forms in the poetry, philosophy, and practice of the future.

Thus, following the lead of physical science, we are brought without solution of continuity into the presence of problems which, as usually classified, lie entirely outside the domain of physics. To these problems thoughtful and penetrative minds are now applying those methods of research which in physical science have proved their truth by their fruits. There is on all hands a growing repugnance to invoke the supernatural in accounting for the phenomena of human life; and the thoughtful minds just referred to, finding no trace of evidence in favour of any other origin, are driven to seek in the interaction of social forces the genesis and development of man's moral nature. If they succeed in their search—and I think they are sure to succeed—social duty will be raised to a higher level of significance and the deepening sense of social duty will, it is to be hoped, lessen, if not obliterate, the strifes and heartburnings which now beset and disfigure our social life. Towards this great end it behoves us one and all to work; and devoutly wishing its consummation, I have the honour, ladies and gentlemen, to bid you a friendly farewell.



THIS world of ours has, on the whole, been an inclement region for the growth of natural truth; but it may be that the plant is all the hardier for the bendings and buffetings it has undergone. The torturing of a shrub, within certain limits, strengthens it Through the struggles and passions of the brute, man reaches his estate; through savagery and barbarism his civilisation; and through illusion and persecution his knowledge of nature, including that of his own frame. The bias towards natural truth must have been strong to have withstood and overcome the opposing forces. Feeling appeared in the world before Knowledge; and thoughts, conceptions, and creeds, founded on emotion, had, before the dawn of science, taken root in man. Such thoughts, conceptions, and creeds must have met a deep and general want; otherwise their growth could not have been so luxuriant, nor their abiding power so strong. This general need—this hunger for the ideal and wonderful—led eventually to the differentiation of a caste, whose vocation it was to cultivate the mystery of life and its surroundings, and to give shape, name, and habitation to the emotions which that mystery aroused. Even the savage lived, not by bread alone, but in a mental world peopled with forms answering to his capacities and needs. As time advanced—in other words, as the savage opened out into civilised man—these forms were purified and ennobled until they finally emerged in the mythology and art of Greece:

Where still the magic robe of Poesy Wound itself lovingly around the Truth.


Da der Dichtung zauberische Huelle Sich noch lieblich um die Wahrheit wand.'—Schiller.]

As poets, the priesthood would have been justified, their deities, celestial and otherwise, with all their retinue and appliances, being more or less legitimate symbols and personifications of the aspects of nature and the phases of the human soul. The priests, however, or those among them who were mechanics, and not poets, claimed objective validity for their conceptions, and tried to base upon external evidence that which sprang from the innermost need and nature of man. It is against this objective rendering of the emotions—this thrusting into the region of fact and positive knowledge of conceptions essentially ideal and poetic—that science, consciously or unconsciously, wages war. Religious feeling is as much a verity as any other part of human consciousness; and against it, on its subjective side, the waves of science beat in vain. But when, manipulated by the constructive imagination, mixed with imperfect or inaccurate historic data, and moulded by misapplied logic, this feeling makes claims which traverse our knowledge of nature, science, as in duty bound, stands as a hostile power in its path. It is against the mythologic scenery, if I may use the term, rather than against the life and substance of religion, that Science enters her protest. Sooner or later among thinking people, that scenery will be taken for what it is worth—as an effort on the part of man to bring the mystery of life and nature within the range of his capacities; as a temporary and essentially fluxional rendering in terms of knowledge of that which transcends all knowledge, and admits only of ideal approach.

The signs of the times, I think, point in this direction. It is, for example, the obvious aim of Mr. Matthew Arnold to protect, amid the wreck of dogma, the poetic basis of religion. And it is to be remembered that under the circumstances poetry may be the purest accessible truth. In other influential quarters a similar spirit is at work. In a remarkable article published by Professor Knight of St. Andrews in the September number of the 'Nineteenth Century,' amid other free utterances, we have this one: 'If matter is not eternal, its first emergence into being is a miracle beside which all others dwindle into absolute insignificance. But, as has often been pointed out, the process is unthinkable; the sudden apocalypse of a material world out of blank nonentity cannot be imagined; [Footnote: Professor Knight will have to reckon with the English Marriage Service, one of whose Collects begins thus: 'O God, who by thy mighty power halt made all things of nothing.] its emergence into order out of chaos when "without form and void" of life, is merely a poetic rendering of the doctrine of its slow evolution.' These are all bold words to be spoken before the moral philosophy class of a Scotch university, while those I have underlined show a remarkable freedom of dealing with the sacred text. They repeat in terser language what I ventured to utter four years ago regarding the Book of Genesis. 'Profoundly interesting and indeed pathetic to me are those attempts of the opening mind of man to appease its hunger for a Cause. But the Book of Genesis has no voice in scientific questions. It is a poem, not a scientific treatise. In the former aspect it is for ever beautiful; in the latter it has been, and it will continue to be, purely obstructive and hurtful.' My agreement with Professor Knight extends still further. 'Does the vital,' he asks, 'proceed by a still remoter development from the non-vital? Or was it created by a fiat of volition? Or'—and here he emphasises his question—'has it always existed in some form or other as an eternal constituent of the universe? I do not see,' he replies, 'how we can escape from the last alternative.' With the whole force of my conviction I say, Nor do I, though our modes of regarding the 'eternal constituent' may not be the same.

When matter was defined by Descartes, he deliberately excluded the idea of force or motion from its attributes and from his definition. Extension only was taken into account. And, inasmuch as the impotence of matter to generate motion was assumed, its observed motions were referred to an external cause. God, resident outside of matter, gave the impulse. In this connection the argument in Young's 'Night Thoughts' will occur to most readers:

Who Motion foreign to the smallest grain Shot through vast masses of enormous weight? Who bid brute Matter's restive lump assume Such various forms, and gave it wings to fly?

Against this notion of Descartes the great deist John Toland, whose ashes lie unmarked in Putney Churchyard, strenuously contended. He affirmed motion to be an inherent attribute of matter—that no portion of matter was at rest, and that even the most quiescent solids were animated by a motion of their ultimate particles. The success of his contention, according to the learned and laborious Dr. Berthold, [Footnote: 'John Toland und der Monismus der Gegenwart,' Heidelberg, Carl Winter.] entitles Toland to be regarded as the founder of that monistic doctrine which is now so rapidly spreading.

It seems to me that the idea of vitality entertained in our day by Professor Knight, closely resembles the idea of motion entertained by his opponents in Toland's day. Motion was then virtually asserted to be a thing sui generis, distinct from matter, and incapable of being generated out of matter. Hence the obvious inference when matter was observed to move. It was the vehicle of an energy not its own—the repository of forces impressed on it from without—the purely passive recipient of the shock of the Divine. The logical form continues, but the subject-matter is changed. 'The evolution of nature,' says Professor Knight, 'may be a fact; a daily and hourly apocalypse. But we have no evidence of the non-vital passing into the vital. Spontaneous generation is, as yet, an imaginative guess, unverified by scientific tests. And matter is not itself alive. Vitality, whether seen in a single cell of protoplasm or in the human brain, is a thing sui generis, distinct from matter, and incapable of being generated out of matter.' It may be, however, that, in process of time, vitality will follow the example of motion, and, after the necessary antecedent wrangling, take its place among the attributes of that 'universal mother' who has been so often misdefined.

That 'matter is not itself alive' Professor Knight seems to regard as an axiomatic truth. Let us place in contrast with this the notion entertained by the philosopher Ueberweg, one of the subtlest heads that Germany has produced. 'What occurs in the brain' says Ueberweg 'would, in my opinion, not be possible, if the process which here appears in its greatest concentration did not obtain generally, only in a vastly diminished degree. Take a pair of mice and a cask of flour. By copious nourishment the animals increase and multiply, and in the same proportion sensations and feelings augment. The quantity of these latter possessed by the first pair, is not simply diffused among their descendants, for in that case the last must feel more feebly than the first. The sensations and feelings must necessarily be referred back to the flour, where they exist, weak and pale it is true, and not concentrated as they are in the brain.' [Footnote: Letter to Lange: 'Geschichte des Materialismus,' zweite Aufl, vol. ii. p. 521.] We may not be able to taste or smell alcohol in a tub of fermented cherries, but by distillation we obtain from them concentrated Kirschwasser. Hence Ueberweg's comparison of the brain to a still, which concentrates the sensation and feeling, pre-existing, but diluted in the food.

'Definitions,' says Mr. Holyoake, [Footnote: 'Nineteenth Century,' September 1878.] 'grow as the horizon of experience expands. They are not inventions, but descriptions of the state of a question. No man sees all through a discovery at once.' Thus Descartes's notion of matter, and his explanation of motion, would be put aside as trivial by a physiologist or a crystallographer of the present day. They are not descriptions of the state of the question. And yet a desire sometimes shows itself in distinguished quarters to bind us own to conceptions which passed muster in the infancy of knowledge, but which are wholly incompatible with our present enlightenment. Mr. Martineau, I think, errs when he seeks to hold me to views enunciated by 'Democritus and the mathematicians.' That definitions should change as knowledge advances is in accordance both with sound sense and scientific practice. When, for example, the undulatory theory was started, it was not imagined that the vibrations of light could be transverse to the direction of propagation. The example of sound was at hand, which was a case of longitudinal vibration. Now the substitution of transverse for longitudinal vibrations in the case of light involved a radical change of conception as to the mechanical properties of the luminiferous medium. But though this change went so far as to fill space with a substance, possessing the properties of a solid, rather than those of a gas, the change was accepted, because the newly discovered facts imperatively demanded it. Following Mr. Martineau's example, the opponent of the undulatory theory might effectually twit the holder of it on his change of front. 'This aether of yours,' he might say, 'alters its style with every change of service. Starting as a beggar, with scarce a rag of 'property' to cover its bones, it turns up as a prince when large undertakings are wanted. You had some show of reason when, with the case of sound before you, you assumed your aether to be a gas in the last extremity of attenuation. But now that new service is rendered necessary by new facts, you drop the beggar's rags, and accomplish an undertaking, great and princely enough in all conscience; for it implies that not only planets of enormous weight, but comets with hardly any weight at all, fly through your hypothetical solid without perceptible loss of motion.' This would sound very cogent, but it would be very vain. Equally vain, in my opinion, is Mr. Martineau's contention that we are not justified in modifying, in accordance with advancing knowledge, our notions of matter.

Before parting from Professor Knight, let me commend his courage as well as his insight. We have heard much of late of the peril to morality involved in the decay of religious belief. What Mr. Knight says under this head is worthy of all respect and attention. 'I admit,' he writes, 'that were it proved that the moral faculty was derived as well as developed, its present decisions would not be invalidated. The child of experience has a father whose teachings are grave, peremptory, and august; and an earthborn rule may be as stringent as any derived from a celestial source. It does not even follow that a belief in the material origin of spiritual existence, accompanied by a corresponding decay of belief in immortality, must necessarily lead to a relaxation of the moral fibre of the race. [Footnote: Is this really certain? Instead of standing in the relation of cause and effect, may not the 'decay' and 'relaxation' be merely coexistent, both, perhaps, flowing from common historic antecedents?] It is certain that it has often done so. But it is equally certain that there have been individuals, and great historical communities, in which the absence of the latter belief has neither weakened moral earnestness, nor prevented devotional fervour.' I have elsewhere stated that some of the best men of my acquaintance—men lofty in thought and beneficent in act—belong to a class who assiduously let the belief referred to alone. They derive from it neither stimulus nor inspiration, while—I say it with regret—were I in quest of persons who, in regard to the finer endowments of human character, are to be ranked with the unendowed, I should find some characteristic samples among the noisier defenders of the orthodox belief. These, however, are but 'hand-specimens' on both sides; the wider data referred to by Professor Knight constitute, therefore, a welcome corroboration of my experience. Again, my excellent critic, Professor Blackie, describes Buddha as being 'a great deal more than a prophet; a rare, exceptional, and altogether transcendental incarnation of moral perfection.' [Footnote: 'Natural History of Atheism,' p. 136.] And yet, 'what Buddha preached was a gospel of pure human ethics, divorced not only from Brahma and the Brahminic Trinity, but even from the existence of God.' [Footnote: Natural History of Atheism,' p. 125.] These civilised and gallant voices from the North contrast pleasantly with the barbarous whoops which sometimes come to us along the same meridian.


Looking backwards from my present standpoint over the earnest past, a boyhood fond of play and physical action, but averse to schoolwork, lies before me. The aversion did not arise from intellectual apathy or want of appetite for knowledge, but simply from the fact that my earliest teachers lacked the power of imparting vitality to what they taught. Athwart all play and amusement, however, a thread of seriousness ran through my character; and many a sleepless night of my childhood has been passed, fretted by the question 'Who made God?' I was well versed in Scripture; for I loved the Bible, and was prompted by that love to commit large portions of it to memory. Later on I became adroit in turning my Scriptural knowledge against the Church of Rome, but the characteristic doctrines of that Church marked only for a time the limits of enquiry. The eternal Sonship of Christ, for example, as enunciated in the Athanasian Creed, perplexed me. The resurrection of the body was also a thorn in my mind, and here I remember that a passage in Blair's 'Grave' gave me momentary rest.

Sure the same power That rear'd the piece at first and took it down Can reassemble the loose, scatter'd parts And put them as they were.

The conclusion seemed for the moment entirely fair, but with further thought, my difficulties came back to me. I had seen cows and sheep browsing upon churchyard grass, which sprang from the decaying mould of dead men. The flesh of these animals was undoubtedly a modification of human flesh, and the persons who fed upon them were as undoubtedly, in part, a more remote modification of the same substance. I figured the self-same molecules as belonging first to one body and afterwards to a different one, and I asked myself how two bodies so related could possibly arrange their claims at the day of resurrection. The scattered parts of each were to be reassembled and set as they were. But if handed over to the one, how could they possibly enter into the composition of the other? Omnipotence itself, I concluded, could not reconcile the contradiction. Thus the plank which Blair's mechanical theory of the resurrection brought momentarily into sight, disappeared, and I was again cast abroad on the waste ocean of speculation.

At the same time I could by no means get rid of the idea that the aspects of nature and the consciousness of man implied the operation of a power altogether beyond my grasp—an energy the thought of which raised the temperature of the mind, though it refused to accept shape, personal or otherwise, from the intellect. Perhaps the able critics of the 'Saturday Review' are justified in speaking as they sometimes do of Mr. Carlyle. They owe him nothing, and have a right to announce the fact in their own way. I, however, owe him a great deal, and am also in honour bound to acknowledge the debt. Few, perhaps, who are privileged to come into contact with that illustrious man have shown him a sturdier front than I have, or in discussing modern science have more frequently withstood him. But I could see that his contention at bottom always was that the human soul has claims and yearnings which physical science cannot satisfy. England to come will assuredly thank him for his affirmation of the ethical and ideal side of human nature. Be this as it may, at the period now reached in my story the feeling referred to was indefinitely strengthened, my whole life being at the same time rendered more earnest, resolute, and laborious by the writings of Carlyle. Others also ministered to this result. Emerson kindled me, while Fichte powerfully stirred my moral pulse. [Footnote: The reader will find in the Seventeenth Lecture of Fichte's course on the 'Characteristics of the Present Age' a sample of the vital power of this philosopher.] In this relation I cared little for political theories or philosophic systems, but a great deal for the propagated life and strength of pure and powerful minds. In my later school-days, under a clever teacher, some knowledge of mathematics and physics had been picked up: my stock of both was, however, scanty, and I resolved to augment it. But it was really with the view of learning whether mathematics and physics could help me in other spheres, rather than with the desire of acquiring distinction in either science, that I ventured, in 1848, to break the continuity of my life, and devote the meagre funds then at my disposal to the study of science in Germany.

But science soon fascinated me on its own account. To carry it duly and honestly out, moral qualities were incessantly invoked. There was no room allowed for insincerity—no room even for carelessness. The edifice of science had been raised by men who had unswervingly followed the truth as it is in nature; and in doing so had often sacrificed interests which are usually potent in this world. Among these rationalistic men of Germany I found conscientiousness in work as much insisted on as it could be among theologians. And why, since they had not the rewards or penalties of the theologian to offer to their disciples? Because they assumed, and were justified in assuming, that those whom they addressed had that within them which would respond to their appeal. If Germany should ever change for something less noble the simple earnestness and fidelity to duty, which in those days characterised her teachers, and through them her sons generally, it will not be because of rationalism. Such a decadent Germany might coexist with the most rampant rationalism without their standing to each other in the relation of cause and effect.

My first really laborious investigation, conducted jointly with my friend Professor Knoblauch, landed me in a region which harmonised with my speculative tastes. It was essentially an enquiry in molecular physics, having reference to the curious, and then perplexing, phenomena exhibited by crystals when freely suspended in the magnetic field. I here lived amid the most complex operations of magnetism in its twofold aspect of an attractive and a repellent force. Iron was attracted by a magnet, bismuth was repelled, and the crystals operated on ranged themselves under these two heads. Faraday and Pluecker had worked assiduously at the subject, and had invoked the aid of new forces to account for the phenomena. It was soon, however, found that the displacement in a crystal of an atom of the iron class by an atom of the bismuth class, involving no change of crystalline form, produced a complete reversal of the phenomena. The lines through the crystal which were in the one case drawn towards the poles of the magnet, were driven, in the other case, from these poles. By such instances and the reasoning which they suggested, magne-crystallic action was proved to be due, not to the operation of new forces, but to the modification of the old ones by molecular arrangement. Whether diamagnetism, like magnetism, was a polar force, was in those days a subject of the most lively contention. It was finally proved to be so; and the most complicated cases of magne-crystallic action were immediately shown to be simple mechanical consequences of the principle of diamagnetic polarity. These early researches, which occupied in all five years of my life, and throughout which the molecular architecture of crystals was an incessant subject of mental contemplation, gave a tinge and bias to my subsequent scientific thought, and their influence is easily traced in my subsequent enquiries. For example, during nine years of labour on the subject of radiation, heat and light were handled throughout by me, not as ends, but as instruments by the aid of which the mind might perchance lay hold upon the ultimate particles of matter.

Scientific progress depends mainly upon two factors which incessantly interact—the strengthening of the mind by exercise, and the illumination of phenomena by knowledge. There seems no limit to the insight regarding physical processes which this interaction carries in its train. Through such insight we are enabled to enter and explore that subsensible world into which all natural phenomena strike their roots, and from which they derive nutrition. By it we are enabled to place before the mind's eye atoms and atomic motions which lie far beyond the range of the senses, and to apply to them reasoning as stringent as that applied by the mechanician to the motions and collisions of sensible masses. But once committed to such conceptions, there is a risk of being irresistibly led beyond the bounds of inorganic nature. Even in those early stages of scientific growth, I found myself more and more compelled to regard not only crystals, but organic structures, the body of man inclusive, as cases of molecular architecture, infinitely more complex, it is true, than those of inorganic nature, but reducible, in the long run, to the same mechanical laws. In ancient journals I find recorded ponderings and speculations relating to these subjects, and attempts made, by reference to magnetic and crystalline phenomena, to present some satisfactory image to the mind of the way in which plants and animals are built up. Perhaps I may be excused for noting a sample of these early speculations, already possibly known to a few of my readers, but which here finds a more suitable place than that which it formerly occupied.


Sitting, in the summer of 1855, with my friend Dr. Rebus under the shadow of a massive elm on the bank of a river in Normandy, the current of our thoughts and conversation was substantially this: We regarded the tree above us. In opposition to gravity its molecules had ascended, diverged into branches, and budded into innumerable leaves. What caused them to do so—a power external to themselves, or an inherent force? Science rejects the outside builder; let us, therefore, consider from the other point of view the experience of the present year. A low temperature had kept back for weeks the life of the vegetable world. But at length the sun gained power—or, rather, the cloud-screen which our atmosphere had drawn between him and us was removed—and life immediately kindled under his warmth. But what is life, and how can solar light and heat thus affect it? Near our elm was a silver birch, with its leaves rapidly quivering in the morning air. We had here motion, but not the motion of life. Each leaf moved as a mass under the influence of an outside force, while the motion of life was inherent and molecular. How are we to figure this molecular motion—the forces which it implies, and the results which flow from them? Suppose the leaves to be shaken from the tree and enabled to attract and repel each other. To fix the ideas, suppose the point of each leaf to repel all the other points and to attract the roots, and the root of each leaf to repel all other roots, but to attract the points. The leaves would then resemble an assemblage of little magnets abandoned freely to the interaction of their own forces. In obedience to these they would arrange themselves, and finally assume positions of rest, forming a coherent mass. Let us suppose the breeze, which now causes them to quiver, to disturb the assumed equilibrium. As often as disturbed there would be a constant effort on the part of the leaves to re-establish it; and in making this effort the mass of leaves would pass through different shapes and forms. If other leaves, moreover, were at hand endowed with similar forces, the attraction would extend to them—a growth of the mass of leaves being the consequence.

We have strong reason for assuming that the ultimate particles of matter—the atoms and molecules of which it is made up—are endowed with forces coarsely typified by those here ascribed to the leaves. The phenomena of crystallisation load, of necessity, to this conception of molecular polarity. Under the operation of such forces the molecules of a seed, like our fallen leaves in the first instance, take up positions from which they would never move if undisturbed by an external impulse. But solar light and heat, which come to us as waves through space, are the great agents of molecular disturbance. On the inert molecules of seed and soil these waves impinge, disturbing the atomic equilibrium, which there is an immediate effort to restore. The effort, incessantly defeated—for the waves continue to pour in—is incessantly renewed; in the molecular struggle matter is gathered from the soil and from the atmosphere, and built, in obedience to the forces which guide the molecules, into the special form of the tree. In a general way, therefore, the life of the tree might be defined as an unceasing effort to restore a disturbed equilibrium. In the building of crystals Nature makes her first structural effort; we have here the earliest groping of the so-called 'vital force,' and the manifestations of this force in plants and animals, though, as already stated, indefinitely more complex, are to be regarded of the same mechanical quality as those concerned in the building of the crystal.

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