Life and Habit
by Samuel Butler
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Shall we say, then, that a baby of a day old sucks (which involves the whole principle of the pump, and hence a profound practical knowledge of the laws of pneumatics and hydrostatics), digests, oxygenises its blood (millions of years before Sir Humphry Davy discovered oxygen), sees and hears—all most difficult and complicated operations, involving a knowledge of the facts concerning optics and acoustics, compared with which the discoveries of Newton sink into utter insignificance? Shall we say that a baby can do all these things at once, doing them so well and so regularly, without being even able to direct its attention to them, and without mistake, and at the same time not know how to do them, and never have done them before?

Such an assertion would be a contradiction to the whole experience of mankind. Surely the onus probandi must rest with him who makes it.

A man may make a lucky hit now and again by what is called a fluke, but even this must be only a little in advance of his other performances of the same kind. He may multiply seven by eight by a fluke after a little study of the multiplication table, but he will not be able to extract the cube root of 4913 by a fluke, without long training in arithmetic, any more than an agricultural labourer would be able to operate successfully for cataract. If, then, a grown man cannot perform so simple an operation as that we will say, for cataract, unless he have been long trained in other similar operations, and until he has done what comes to the same thing many times over, with what show of reason can we maintain that one who is so far less capable than a grown man, can perform such vastly more difficult operations, without knowing how to do them, and without ever having done them before? There is no sign of "fluke" about the circulation of a baby's blood. There may perhaps be some little hesitation about its earliest breathing, but this, as a general rule, soon passes over, both breathing and circulation, within an hour after birth, being as regular and easy as at any time during life. Is it reasonable, then, to say that the baby does these things without knowing how to do them, and without ever having done them before, and continues to do them by a series of lifelong flukes?

It would be well if those who feel inclined to hazard such an assertion would find some other instances of intricate processes gone through by people who know nothing about them, and never had any practice therein. What IS to know how to do a thing? Surely to do it. What is proof that we know how to do a thing? Surely the fact that we can do it. A man shows that he knows how to throw the boomerang by throwing the boomerang. No amount of talking or writing can get over this; ipso facto, that a baby breathes and makes its blood circulate, it knows how to do so and the fact that it does not know its own knowledge is only proof of the perfection of that knowledge, and of the vast number of past occasions on which it must have been exercised already. As we have said already, it is less obvious when the baby could have gained its experience, so as to be able so readily to remember exactly what to do; but it is more easy to suppose that the necessary occasions cannot have been wanting, than that the power which we observe should have been obtained without practice and memory.

If we saw any self-consciousness on the baby's part about its breathing or circulation, we might suspect that it had had less experience, or profited less by its experience, than its neighbours— exactly in the same manner as we suspect a deficiency of any quality which we see a man inclined to parade. We all become introspective when we find that we do not know our business, and whenever we are introspective we may generally suspect that we are on the verge of unproficiency. Unfortunately, in the case of sickly children, we observe that they sometimes do become conscious of their breathing and circulation, just as in later life we become conscious that we have a liver or a digestion. In that case there is always something wrong. The baby that becomes aware of its breathing does not know how to breathe, and will suffer for his ignorance and incapacity, exactly in the same way as he will suffer in later life for ignorance and incapacity in any other respect in which his peers are commonly knowing and capable. In the case of inability to breath, the punishment is corporal, breathing being a matter of fashion, so old and long settled that nature can admit of no departure from the established custom, and the procedure in case of failure is as much formulated as the fashion itself in the case of the circulation, the whole performance has become one so utterly of rote, that the mere discovery that we could do it at all was considered one of the highest flights of human genius.

It has been said a day will come when the Polar ice shall have accumulated, till it forms vast continents many thousands of feet above the level of the sea, all of solid ice. The weight of this mass will, it is believed, cause the world to topple over on its axis, so that the earth will be upset as an ant-heap overturned by a ploughshare. In that day time icebergs will come crunching against our proudest cities, razing them from off the face of the earth as though they were made of rotten blotting-paper. There is no respect now of Handel nor of Shakespeare; the works of Rembrandt and Bellini fossilise at the bottom of the sea. Grace, beauty, and wit, all that is precious in music, literature, and art—all gone. In the morning there was Europe. In the evening there are no more populous cities nor busy hum of men, but a sea of jagged ice, a lurid sunset, and the doom of many ages. Then shall a scared remnant escape in places, and settle upon the changed continent when the waters have subsided—a simple people, busy hunting shellfish on the drying ocean beds, and with little time for introspection yet they can read and write and sum, for by that time these accomplishments will have become universal, and will be acquired as easily as we now learn to talk; but they do so as a matter of course, and without self-consciousness. Also they make the simpler kinds of machinery too easily to be able to follow their own operations—the manner of their own apprenticeship being to them as a buried city. May we not imagine that, after the lapse of another ten thousand years or so, some one of them may again become cursed with lust of introspection, and a second Harvey may astonish the world by discovering that it can read and write, and that steam-engines do not grow, but are made? It may be safely prophesied that he will die a martyr, and be honoured in the fourth generation.


But if we once admit the principle that consciousness and volition have a tendency to vanish as soon as practice has rendered any habit exceedingly familiar, so that the mere presence of an elaborate but unconscious performance shall carry with it a presumption of infinite practice, we shall find it impossible to draw the line at those actions which we see acquired after birth, no matter at how early a period. The whole history and development of the embryo in all its stages forces itself on our consideration. Birth has been made too much of. It is a salient feature in the history of the individual, but not more salient than a hundred others, and far less so than the commencement of his existence as a single cell uniting in itself elements derived from both parents, or perhaps than any point in his whole existence as an embryo. For many years after we are born we are still very incomplete. We cease to oxygenise our blood vicariously as soon as we are born, but we still derive our sustenance from our mothers. Birth is but the beginning of doubt, the first hankering after scepticism, the dreaming of a dawn of trouble, the end of certainty and of settled convictions. Not but what before birth there have been unsettled convictions (more's the pity) with not a few, and after birth we have still so made up our minds upon many points as to have no further need of reflection concerning them; nevertheless, in the main, birth is the end of that time when we really knew our business, and the beginning of the days wherein we know not what we would do, or do. It is therefore the beginning of consciousness, and infancy is as the dosing of one who turns in his bed on waking, and takes another short sleep before he rises. When we were yet unborn, our thoughts kept the roadway decently enough; then were we blessed; we thought as every man thinks, and held the same opinions as our fathers and mothers had done upon nearly every subject. Life was not an art—and a very difficult art—much too difficult to be acquired in a lifetime; it was a science of which we were consummate masters.

In this sense, then, birth may indeed be looked upon as the most salient feature in a man's life; but this is not at all the sense in which it is commonly so regarded. It is commonly considered as the point at which we begin to live. More truly it is the point at which we leave off knowing how to live.

A chicken, for example, is never so full of consciousness, activity, reasoning faculty, and volition, as when it is an embryo in the eggshell, making bones, and flesh, and feathers, and eyes, and claws, with nothing but a little warmth and white of egg to make them from. This is indeed to make bricks with but a small modicum of straw. There is no man in the whole world who knows consciously and articulately as much as a half-hatched hen's egg knows unconsciously. Surely the egg in its own way must know quite as much as the chicken does. We say of the chicken that it knows how to run about as soon as it is hatched. So it does; but had it no knowledge before it was hatched? What made it lay the foundations of those limbs which should enable it to run about? What made it grow a horny tip to its bill before it was hatched, so that it might peck all round the larger end of the eggshell and make a hole for itself to get out at? Having once got outside the eggshell, the chicken throws away this horny tip; but is it reasonable to suppose that it would have grown it at all unless it had known that it would want something with which to break the eggshell? And again, is it in the least agreeable to our experience that such elaborate machinery should be made without endeavour, failure, perseverance, intelligent contrivance, experience, and practice?

In the presence of such considerations, it seems impossible to refrain from thinking that there must be a closer continuity of identity, life, and memory, between successive generations than we generally imagine. To shear the thread of life, and hence of memory, between one generation and its successor, is so to speak, a brutal measure, an act of intellectual butchery, and like all such strong high-handed measures, a sign of weakness in him who is capable of it till all other remedies have been exhausted. It is mere horse science, akin to the theories of the convulsionists in the geological kingdom, and of the believers in the supernatural origin of the species of plants and animals. Yet it is to be feared that we have not a few among us who would feel shocked rather at the attempt towards a milder treatment of the facts before them, than at a continuance of the present crass tyranny with which we try to crush them inside our preconceived opinions. It is quite common to hear men of education maintain that not even when it was on the point of being hatched, had the chicken sense enough to know that it wanted to get outside the eggshell. It did indeed peck all round the end of the shell, which, if it wanted to get out, would certainly be the easiest way of effecting its purpose; but it did not, they say, peck because it was aware of this, but "promiscuously." Curious, such a uniformity of promiscuous action among so many eggs for so many generations. If we see a man knock a hole in a wall on finding that he cannot get out of a place by any other means, and if we see him knock this hole in a very workmanlike way, with an implement with which he has been at great pains to make for a long the past, but which he throws away as soon as he has no longer use for it, thus showing that he had made it expressly for the purpose of escape, do we say that this person made the implement and broke the wall of his prison promiscuously? No jury would acquit a burglar on these grounds. Then why, without much more evidence to the contrary than we have, or can hope to have, should we not suppose that with chickens, as with men, signs of contrivance are indeed signs of contrivance, however quick, subtle, and untraceable, the contrivance may be? Again, I have heard people argue that though the chicken, when nearly hatched, had such a glimmering of sense that it pecked the shell because it wanted to get out, yet that it is not conceivable that, so long before it was hatched, it should have had the sense to grow the horny tip to its bill for use when wanted. This, at any rate, they say, it must have grown, as the persons previously referred to would maintain, promiscuously.

Now no one indeed supposes that the chicken does what it does, with the same self-consciousness with which a tailor makes a suit of clothes. Not any one who has thought upon the subject is likely to do it so great an injustice. The probability is that it knows what it is about to an extent greater than any tailor ever did or will, for, to say the least of it, many thousands of years to come. It works with such absolute certainty and so vast an experience, that it is utterly incapable of following the operations of its own mind—as accountants have been known to add up long columns of pounds, shillings, and pence, running the three fingers of one hand, a finger for each column, up the page, and putting the result down correctly at the bottom, apparently without an effort. In the case of the accountant, we say that the processes which his mind goes through are so rapid and subtle as to elude his own power of observation as well as ours. We do not deny that his mind goes though processes of some kind; we very readily admit that it must do so, and say that these processes are so rapid and subtle, owing, as a general rule, to long experience in addition. Why then should we find it so difficult to conceive that this principle, which we observe to play so large a part in mental physiology, wherever we can observe mental physiology at all, may have a share also in the performance of intricate operations otherwise inexplicable, though the creature performing them is not man, or man only in embryo?

Again, after the chicken is hatched, it grows more feathers and bones and blood, but we still say that it knows nothing about all this. What then do we say it DOES know? One is almost ashamed to confess that we only credit it with knowing what it appears to know by processes which we find it exceedingly easy to follow, or perhaps rather, which we find it absolutely impossible to avoid following, as recognising too great a family likeness between them, and those which are most easily followed in our own minds, to be able to sit down in comfort under a denial of the resemblance. Thus, for example, if we see a chicken running away from a fox, we do admit that the chicken knows the fox would kill it if it caught it.

On the other hand, if we allow that the half-hatched chicken grew the horny tip to be ready for use, with an intensity of unconscious contrivance which can be only attributed to experience, we are driven to admit that from the first moment the men began to sit upon it—and earlier too than this—the egg was always full of consciousness and volition, and that during its embryological condition the unhatched chicken is doing exactly what it continues doing from the moment it is hatched till it dies; that is to say, attempting to better itself, doing (as Aristotle says all creatures do all things upon all occasions) what it considers most for its advantage under the existing circumstances. What it may think most advantageous will depend, while it is in the eggshell, upon exactly the same causes as will influence its opinions in later life—to wit, upon its habits, its past circumstances and ways of thinking; for there is nothing, as Shakespeare tells us, good or ill, but thinking makes it so.

The egg thinks feathers much more to its advantage than hair or fur, and much more easily made. If it could speak, it would probably tell us that we could make them ourselves very easily after a few lessons, if we took the trouble to try, but that hair was another matter, which it really could not see how any protoplasm could be got to make. Indeed, during the more intense and active part of our existence, in the earliest stages, that is to say, of our embryological life, we could probably have turned our protoplasm into feathers instead of hair if we had cared about doing so. If the chicken can make feathers, there seems no sufficient reason for thinking that we cannot do so, beyond the fact that we prefer hair, and have preferred it for so many ages that we have lost the art along with the desire of making feathers, if indeed any of our ancestors ever possessed it. The stuff with which we make hair is practically the same as that with which chickens make feathers. It is nothing but protoplasm, and protoplasm is like certain prophecies, out of which anything can be made by the creature which wants to make it. Everything depends upon whether a creature knows its own mind sufficiently well, and has enough faith in its own powers of achievement. When these two requisites are wanting, the strongest giant cannot lift a two-ounce weight; when they are given, a bullock can take an eyelash out of its eye with its hind-foot, or a minute jelly speck can build itself a house out of various materials which it will select according to its purpose with the nicest care, though it have neither brain to think with, nor eyes to see with, nor hands nor feet to work with, nor is it anything but a minute speck of jelly—faith and protoplasm only.

That this is indeed so, the following passage from Dr. Carpenter's "Mental Physiology" may serve to show:-

"The simplest type of an animal consists of a minute mass of 'protoplasm,' or living jelly, which is not yet DIFFERENTIATED into 'organs;' every part having the same endowments, and taking an equal share in every action which the creature performs. One of these 'jelly specks,' the amoeba, moves itself about by changing the form of its body, extemporising a foot (or pseudopodium), first in one direction, and then in another; and then, when it has met with a nutritive particle, extemporises a stomach for its reception, by wrapping its soft body around it. Another, instead of going about in search of food, remains in one place, but projects its protoplasmic substance into long pseudopodia, which entrap and draw in very minute particles, or absorb nutrient material from the liquid through which they extend themselves, and are continually becoming fused (as it were) into the central body, which is itself continually giving off new pseudopodia. Now we can scarcely conceive that a creature of such simplicity should possess any distinct CONSCIOUSNESS of its needs" (why not?), "or that its actions should be directed by any INTENTION of its own; and yet the writer has lately found results of the most singular elaborateness to be wrought out by the instrumentality of these minute jelly specks, which build up tests or casings of the most regular geometrical symmetry of form, and of the most artificial construction."

On this Dr. Carpenter remarks:- "Suppose a human mason to be put down by the side of a pile of stones of various shapes and sizes, and to be told to build a dome of these, smooth on both surfaces, without using more than the least possible quantity of a very tenacious, but very costly, cement, in holding the stones together. If he accomplished this well, he would receive credit for great intelligence and skill. Yet this is exactly what these little 'jelly specks' do on a most minute scale; the 'tests' they construct, when highly magnified, bearing comparison with the most skilful masonry of man. From THE SAME SANDY BOTTOM one species picks up the COARSER quartz grains, cements them together with PHOSPHATE OF IRON secreted from its own substance" (should not this rather be, "which it has contrived in some way or other to manufacture"?) and thus constructs a flask-shaped 'test,' having a short neck and a large single orifice. Another picks up the FINEST grains, and puts them together, with the same cement, into perfectly spherical 'tests' of the most extraordinary finish, perforated with numerous small pores disposed at pretty regular intervals. Another selects the MINUTEST sand grains and the terminal portions of sponge spicules, and works them up together—apparently with no cement at all, by the mere laying of the spicules—into perfect white spheres, like homoeopathic globules, each having a single-fissured orifice. And another, which makes a straight, many-chambered 'test,' that resembles in form the chambered shell of an orthoceratite—the conical mouth of each chamber projecting into the cavity of the next—while forming the walls of its chambers of ordinary sand grains rather loosely held together, shapes the conical mouth of the successive chambers by firmly cementing together grains of ferruginous quartz, which it must have picked out from the general mass."

"To give these actions," continues Dr. Carpenter, "the vague designation of 'instinctive' does not in the least help us to account for them, since what we want is to discover the MECHANISM by which they are worked out; and it is most difficult to conceive how so artificial a selection can be made by a creature so simple" (Mental Physiology, 4th ed. pp. 41-43)

This is what protoplasm can do when it has the talisman of faith—of faith which worketh all wonders, either in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. Truly if a man have faith, even as a grain of mustard seed, though he may not be able to remove mountains, he will at any rate be able to do what is no less difficult—make a mustard plant.

Yet this is but a barren kind of comfort, for we have not, and in the nature of things cannot have, sufficient faith in the unfamiliar, inasmuch as the very essence of faith involves the notion of familiarity, which can grow but slowly, from experience to confidence, and can make no sudden leap at any time. Such faith cannot be founded upon reason,—that is to say, upon a recognised perception on the part of the person holding it that he is holding it, and of the reasons for his doing so—or it will shift as other reasons come to disturb it. A house built upon reason is a house built upon the sand. It must be built upon the current cant and practice of one's peers, for this is the rock which, though not immovable, is still most hard to move.

But however this may be, we observe broadly that the intensity of the will to make this or that, and of the confidence that one can make it, depends upon the length of time during which the maker's forefathers have wanted the same thing before it; the older the custom the more inveterate the habit, and, with the exception, perhaps, that the reproductive system is generally the crowning act of development—an exception which I will hereafter explain—the earlier its manifestation, until, for some reason or another, we relinquish it and take to another, which we must, as a general rule, again adhere to for a vast number of generations, before it will permanently supplant the older habit. In our own case, the habit of breathing like a fish through gills may serve as an example. We have now left off this habit, yet we did it formerly for so many generations that we still do it a little; it still crosses our embryological existence like a faint memory or dream, for not easily is an inveterate habit broken. On the other hand—again speaking broadly—the more recent the habit the later the fashion of its organ, as with the teeth, speech, and the higher intellectual powers, which are too new for development before we are actually born.

But to return for a short time to Dr. Carpenter. Dr. Carpenter evidently feels, what must indeed be felt by every candid mind, that there is no sufficient reason for supposing that these little specks of jelly, without brain or eyes, or stomach, or hands, or feet, but the very lowest known form of animal life, are not imbued with a consciousness of their needs, and the reasoning faculties which shall enable them to gratify those needs in a manner, all things considered, equalling the highest flights of the ingenuity of the highest animal—man. This is no exaggeration. It is true, that in an earlier part of the passage, Dr. Carpenter has said that we can scarcely conceive so simple a creature to "possess any distinct CONSCIOUSNESS of its needs, or that its actions should be directed by any intention of its own;" but, on the other hand, a little lower down he says, that if a workman did what comes to the same thing as what the amoeba does, he "would receive credit for great intelligence and skill." Now if an amoeba can do that, for which a workman would receive credit as for a highly skilful and intelligent performance, the amoeba should receive no less credit than the workman; he should also be no less credited with skill and intelligence, which words unquestionably involve a distinct consciousness of needs and an action directed by an intention of its own. So that Dr. Carpenter seems rather to blow hot and cold with one breath. Nevertheless there can be no doubt to which side the minds of the great majority of mankind will incline upon the evidence before them; they will say that the creature is highly reasonable and intelligent, though they would readily admit that long practice and familiarity may have exhausted its powers of attention to all the stages of its own performance, just as a practised workman in building a wall certainly does not consciously follow all the processes which he goes through.

As an example, however, of the extreme dislike which philosophers of a certain school have for making the admissions which seem somewhat grudgingly conceded by Dr. Carpenter, we may take the paragraph which immediately follows the ones which we have just quoted. Dr. Carpenter there writes:-

"The writer has often amused himself and others, when by the seaside, with getting a terebella (a marine worm that cases its body in a sandy tube) out of its house, and then, putting it into a saucer of water with a supply of sand and comminuted shell, watching its appropriation of these materials in constructing a new tube. The extended tentacles soon spread themselves over the bottom of the saucer and lay hold of whatever comes in their way, 'all being fish that comes to their net,' and in half an hour or thereabouts the new house is finished, though on a very rude and artificial type. Now here the organisation is far higher; the instrumentality obviously serves the needs of the animal and suffices for them; and we characterise the action, on account of its uniformity and apparent UNintelligence, as instinctive."

No comment will, one would think, be necessary to make the reader feel that the difference between the terebella and the amoeba is one of degree rather than kind, and that if the action of the second is as conscious and reasonable as that, we will say, of a bird making her nest, the action of the first should be so also. It is only a question of being a little less skilful, or more so, but skill and intelligence would seem present in both cases. Moreover, it is more clever of the terebella to have made itself the limbs with which it can work, than of the amoeba to be able to work without the limbs; and perhaps it is more sensible also to want a less elaborate dwelling, provided it is sufficient for practical purposes. But whether the terebella be less intelligent than the amoeba or not, it does quite enough to establish its claim to intelligence of a higher order; and one does not see ground for the satisfaction which Dr. Carpenter appears to find at having, as it were, taken the taste of the amoeba's performance out of our mouth, by setting us about the less elaborate performance of the terebella, which he thinks we can call unintelligent and instinctive.

I may be mistaken in the impression I have derived from the paragraphs I have quoted. I commonly say they give me the impression that I have tried to convey to the reader, i.e., that the writer's assent to anything like intelligence, or consciousness of needs, an animal low down in the scale of life, is grudging, and that he is more comfortable when he has got hold of onto to which he can point and say that mere, at any rate, is an unintelligent and merely instinctive creature. I have only called attention to the passage as an example of the intellectual bias of a large number of exceedingly able and thoughtful persons, among whom, so far as I am able to form an opinion at all, few have greater claims to our respectful attention than Dr. Carpenter himself.

For the embryo of a chicken, then, we damn exactly the same kind of reasoning power and contrivance which we damn for the amoeba, or for our own intelligent performances in later life. We do not claim for it much, if any, perception of its own forethought, for we know very well that it is among the most prominent features of intellectual activity that, after a number of repetitions, it ceases to be perceived, and that it does not, in ordinary cases, cease to be perceived till after a very great number of repetitions. The fact that the embryo chicken makes itself always as nearly as may be in the same way, would lead us to suppose that it would be unconscious of much of its own action, PROVIDED IT WERE ALWAYS THE SAME CHICKEN WHICH MADE ITSELF OVER AND OVER AGAIN. So far we can see, it always IS unconscious of the greater part of its own wonderful performance. Surely then we have a presumption that IT IS THE SAME CHICKEN WHICH MAKES ITSELF OVER AND OVER AGAIN; for such unconsciousness is not won, so far as our experience goes, by any other means than by frequent repetition of the same act on the part of one and the same individual. How this can be we shall perceive in subsequent chapters. In the meantime, we may say that all knowledge and volition would seem to be merely parts of the knowledge and volition of the primordial cell (whatever this may be), which slumbers but never dies—which has grown, and multiplied, and differentiated itself into the compound life of the womb, and which never becomes conscious of knowing what it has once learnt effectually, till it is for some reason on the point of, or in danger of, forgetting it.

The action, therefore, of an embryo making its way up in the world from a simple cell to a baby, developing for itself eyes, ears, hands, and feet while yet unborn, proves to be exactly of one and the same kind as that of a man of fifty who goes into the City and tells his broker to buy him so many Great Northern A shares—that is to say, an effort of the will exercised in due course on a balance of considerations as to the immediate expediency, and guided by past experience; while children who do not reach birth are but prenatal spendthrifts, ne'er-do-weels, inconsiderate innovators, the unfortunate in business, either through their own fault or that of others, or through inevitable mischances, beings who are culled out before birth instead of after; so that even the lowest idiot, the most contemptible in health or beauty, may yet reflect with pride that they were BORN. Certainly we observe that those who have had good fortune (mother and sole cause of virtue, and sole virtue in itself), and have profited by their experience, and known their business best before birth, so that they made themselves both to be and to look well, do commonly on an average prove to know it best in after-life: they grow their clothes best who have grown their limbs best. It is rare that those who have not remembered how to finish their own bodies fairly well should finish anything well in later life. But how small is the addition to their unconscious attainments which even the Titans of human intellect have consciously accomplished, in comparison with the problems solved by the meanest baby living, nay, even by one whose birth is untimely! In other words, how vast is that back knowledge over which we have gone fast asleep, through the prosiness of perpetual repetition; and how little in comparison, is that whose novelty keeps it still within the scope of our conscious perception! What is the discovery of the laws of gravitation as compared with the knowledge which sleeps in every hen's egg upon a kitchen shelf?

It is all a matter of habit and fashion. Thus we see kings and councillors of the earth admired for facing death before what they are pleased to call dishonour. If, on being required to go without anything they have been accustomed to, or to change their habits, or do what is unusual in the case of other kings under like circumstances, then, if they but fold their cloak decently around them, and die upon the spot of shame at having had it even required of them to do thus or thus, then are they kings indeed, of old race, that know their business from generation to generation. Or if, we will say, a prince, on having his dinner brought to him ill-cooked, were to feel the indignity so keenly as that he should turn his face to the wall, and breathe out his wounded soul in one sigh, do we not admire him as a "REAL prince," who knows the business of princes so well that he can conceive of nothing foreign to it in connection with himself, the bare effort to realise a state of things other than what princes have been accustomed to being immediately fatal to him? Yet is there no less than this in the demise of every half-hatched hen's egg, shaken rudely by a schoolboy, or neglected by a truant mother; for surely the prince would not die if he knew how to do otherwise, and the hen's egg only dies of being required to do something to which it is not accustomed.

But the further consideration of this and other like reflections would too long detain us. Suffice it that we have established the position that all living creatures which show any signs of intelligence, must certainly each one have already gone through the embryonic stages an infinite number of times, or they could no more have achieved the intricate process of self-development unconsciously, than they could play the piano unconsciously without any previous knowledge of the instrument. It remains, therefore, to show the when and where of their having done so, and this leads us naturally to the subject of the following chapter—Personal Identity.


"Strange difficulties have been raised by some," says Bishop Butler, "concerning personal identity, or the sameness of living agents as implied in the notion of our existing now and hereafter, or indeed in any two consecutive moments." But in truth it is not easy to see the strangeness of the difficulty, if the words either "personal" or "identity" are used in any strictness.

Personality is one of those ideas with which we are so familiar that we have lost sight of the foundations upon which it rests. We regard our personality as a simple definite whole; as a plain, palpable, individual thing, which can be seen going about the streets or sitting indoors at home, which lasts us our lifetime, and about the confines of which no doubt can exist in the minds of reasonable people. But in truth this "we," which looks so simple and definite, is a nebulous and indefinable aggregation of many component parts which war not a little among themselves, our perception of our existence at all being perhaps due to this very clash of warfare, as our sense of sound and light is due to the jarring of vibrations. Moreover, as the component parts of our identity change from moment to moment, our personality becomes a thing dependent upon the present, which has no logical existence, but lives only upon the sufferance of times past and future, slipping out of our hands into the domain of one or other of these two claimants the moment we try to apprehend it. And not only is our personality as fleeting as the present moment, but the parts which compose it blend some of them so imperceptibly into, and are so inextricably linked on to, outside things which clearly form no part of our personality, that when we try to bring ourselves to book, and determine wherein we consist, or to draw a line as to where we begin or end, we find ourselves completely baffled. There is nothing but fusion and confusion.

Putting theology on one side, and dealing only with the common daily experience of mankind, our body is certainly part of our personality. With the destruction of our bodies, our personality, as far as we can follow it, comes to a full stop; and with every modification of them it is correspondingly modified. But what are the limits of our bodies? They are composed of parts, some of them so unessential as to be hardly included in personality at all, and to be separable from ourselves without perceptible effect, as the hair, nails, and daily waste of tissue. Again, other parts are very important, as our hands, feet, arms, legs, &c., but still are no essential parts of our "self" or "soul," which continues to exist in spite of their amputation. Other parts, as the brain, heart, and blood, are so essential that they cannot be dispensed with, yet it is impossible to say that personality consists in any one of them.

Each one of these component members of our personality is continually dying and being born again, supported in this process by the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe; which three things link us on, and fetter us down, to the organic and inorganic world about us. For our meat and drink, though no part of our personality before we eat and drink, cannot, after we have done so, be separated entirely from us without the destruction of our personality altogether, so far as we can follow it; and who shall say at what precise moment our food has or has not become part of ourselves? A famished man eats food; after a short time his whole personality is so palpably affected that we know the food to have entered into him and taken, as it were, possession of him; but who can say at what precise moment it did so? Thus we find that we are rooted into outside things and melt away into them, nor can any man say he consists absolutely in this or that, nor define himself so certainly as to include neither more nor less than himself; many undoubted parts of his personality being more separable from it, and changing it less when so separated, both to his own senses and those of other people, than other parts which are strictly speaking no parts at all.

A man's clothes, for example, as they lie on a chair at night are no part of him, but when he wears them they would appear to be so, as being a kind of food which warms him and hatches him, and the loss of which may kill him of cold. If this be denied, and a man's clothes be considered as no part of his self, nevertheless they, with his money, and it may perhaps be added his religious opinions, stamp a man's individuality as strongly as any natural feature could stamp it. Change in style of dress, gain or loss of money, make a man feel and appear more changed than having his chin shaved or his nails cut. In fact, as soon as we leave common parlance on one side, and try for a scientific definition of personality, we find that there is none possible, any more than there can be a demonstration of the fact that we exist at all—a demonstration for which, as for that of a personal God, many have hunted but none have found. The only solid foundation is, as in the case of the earth's crust, pretty near the surface of things; the deeper we try to go, the damper and darker and altogether more uncongenial we find it. There is no knowing into what quagmire of superstition we may not find ourselves drawn, if we once cut ourselves adrift from those superficial aspects of things, in which alone our nature permits us to be comforted.

Common parlance, however, settles the difficulty readily enough (as indeed it settles most others if they show signs of awkwardness) by the simple process of ignoring it: we decline, and very properly, to go into the question of where personality begins and ends, but assume it to be known by every one, and throw the onus of not knowing it upon the over-curious, who had better think as their neighbours do, right or wrong, or there is no knowing into what villainy they may not presently fall.

Assuming, then, that every one knows what is meant by the word "person" (and such superstitious bases as this are the foundations upon which all action, whether of man, beast, or plant, is constructed and rendered possible; for even the corn in the fields grows upon a superstitious basis as to its own existence, and only turns the earth and moisture into wheat through the conceit of its own ability to do so, without which faith it were powerless; and the lichen only grows upon the granite rock by first saying to itself, "I think I can do it;" so that it would not be able to grow unless it thought it could grow, and would not think it could grow unless it found itself able to grow, and thus spends its life arguing in a most vicious circle, basing its action upon a hypothesis, which hypothesis is in turn based upon its action)—assuming that we know what is meant by the word "person," we say that we are one and the same from the moment of our birth to the moment of our death, so that whatever is done by or happens to any one between birth and death, is said to happen to or be done by one individual. This in practice is found to be sufficient for the law courts and the purposes of daily life, which, being full of hurry and the pressure of business, can only tolerate compromise, or conventional rendering of intricate phenomena. When facts of extreme complexity have to be daily and hourly dealt with by people whose time is money, they must be simplified, and treated much as a painter treats them, drawing them in squarely, seizing the more important features, and neglecting all that does not assert itself as too essential to be passed over—hence the slang and cant words of every profession, and indeed all language; for language at best is but a kind of "patter," the only way, it is true, in many cases, of expressing our ideas to one another, but still a very bad way, and not for one moment comparable to the unspoken speech which we may sometimes have recourse to. The metaphors and facons de parler to which even in the plainest speech we are perpetually recurring (as, for example, in this last two lines, "plain," "perpetually," and "recurring," are all words based on metaphor, and hence more or less liable to mislead) often deceive us, as though there were nothing more than what we see and say, and as though words, instead of being, as they are, the creatures of our convenience, had some claim to be the actual ideas themselves concerning which we are conversing.

This is so well expressed in a letter I have recently received from a friend, now in New Zealand, and certainly not intended by him for publication, that I shall venture to quote the passage, but should say that I do so without his knowledge or permission which I should not be able to receive before this book must be completed.

"Words, words, words," he writes, "are the stumbling-blocks in the way of truth. Until you think of things as they are, and not of the words that misrepresent them, you cannot think rightly. Words produce the appearance of hard and fast lines where there are none. Words divide; thus we call this a man, that an ape, that a monkey, while they are all only differentiations of the same thing. To think of a thing they must be got rid of: they are the clothes that thoughts wear—only the clothes. I say this over and over again, for there is nothing of more importance. Other men's words will stop you at the beginning of an investigation. A man may play with words all his life, arranging them and rearranging them like dominoes. If I could THINK to you without words you would understand me better."

If such remarks as the above hold good at all, they do so with the words "personal identity." The least reflection will show that personal identity in any sort of strictness is an impossibility. The expression is one of the many ways in which we are obliged to scamp our thoughts through pressure of other business which pays us better. For surely all reasonable people will feel that an infant an hour before birth, when in the eye of the law he has no existence, and could not be called a peer for another sixty minutes, though his father were a peer, and already dead,—surely such an embryo is more personally identical with the baby into which he develops within an hour's time than the born baby is so with itself (if the expression may be pardoned), one, twenty, or it may be eighty years after birth. There is more sameness of matter; there are fewer differences of any kind perceptible by a third person; there is more sense of continuity on the part of the person himself; and far more of all that goes to make up our sense of sameness of personality between an embryo an hour before birth and the child on being born, than there is between the child just born and the man of twenty. Yet there is no hesitation about admitting sameness of personality between these two last.

On the other hand, if that hazy contradiction in terms, "personal identity," be once allowed to retreat behind the threshold of the womb, it has eluded us once for all. What is true of one hour before birth is true of two, and so on till we get back to the impregnate ovum, which may fairly claim to have been personally identical with the man of eighty into which it ultimately developed, in spite of the fact that there is no particle of same matter nor sense of continuity between them, nor recognised community of instinct, nor indeed of anything which goes to the making up of that which we call identity.

There is far more of all these things common to the impregnate ovum and the ovum immediately before impregnation, or again between the impregnate ovum, and both the ovum before impregnation and the spermatozoon which impregnated it. Nor, if we admit personal identity between the ovum and the octogenarian, is there any sufficient reason why we should not admit it between the impregnate ovum and the two factors of which it is composed, which two factors are but offshoots from two distinct personalities, of which they are as much part as the apple is of the apple-tree; so that an impregnate ovum cannot without a violation of first principles be debarred from claiming personal identity with both its parents, and hence, by an easy chain of reasoning, WITH EACH OF THE IMPREGNATE OVA FROM WHICH ITS PARENTS WERE DEVELOPED.

So that each ovum when impregnate should be considered not as descended from its ancestors, but as being a continuation of the personality of every ovum in the chain of its ancestry, which every ovum IT ACTUALLY IS quite as truly as the octogenarian IS the same identity with the ovum from which he has been developed.

This process cannot stop short of the primordial cell, which again will probably turn out to be but a brief resting-place. We therefore prove each one of us to BE ACTUALLY the primordial cell which never died nor dies, but has differentiated itself into the life of the world, all living beings whatever, being one with it, and members one of another.

To look at the matter for a moment in another light, it will be admitted that if the primordial cell had been killed before leaving issue, all its possible descendants would have been killed at one and the same time. It is hard to see how this single fact does not establish at the point, as it were, of a logical bayonet, an identity, between any creature and all others that are descended from it.

In Bishop Butler's first dissertation on personality, we find expressed very much the same opinions as would follow from the above considerations, though they are mentioned by the Bishop only to be condemned, namely, "that personality is not a permanent but a transient thing; that it lives and dies, begins and ends continually; that no man can any more remain one and the same person two moments together, than two successive moments can be one and the same moment;" in which case, he continues, our present self would not be "in reality the same with the self of yesterday, but another like self or person coming up in its room and mistaken for it, to which another self will succeed to-morrow." This view the Bishop proceeds to reduce to absurdity by saying, "It must be a fallacy upon ourselves to charge our present selves with anything we did, or to imagine our present selves interested in anything which befell us yesterday; or that our present self will be interested in what will befall us to-morrow. This, I say, must follow, for if the self or person of to-day and that of to-morrow are not the same, but only like persons, the person of to-day is really no more interested in what will befall the person of to-morrow than in what will befall any other person. It may be thought, perhaps, that this is not a just representation of the opinion we are speaking of, because those who maintain it allow that a person is the same as far back as his remembrance reaches. And indeed they do use the words IDENTITY and SAME PERSON. Nor will language permit these words to be laid aside, since, if they were, there must be I know not what ridiculous periphrasis substituted in the room of them. But they cannot consistently with themselves mean that the person is really the same. For it is self-evident that the personality cannot be really the same, if, as they expressly assert, that in which it consists is not the same. And as consistently with themselves they cannot, so I think it appears they do not mean that the person is really the same, but only that he is so in a fictitious sense; in such a sense only as they assert—for this they do assert—that any number of persons whatever may be the same person. The bare unfolding of this notion, and laying it thus naked and open, seems the best confutation of it."

This fencing, for it does not deserve the name of serious disputation, is rendered possible by the laxness with which the words "identical" and "identity" are commonly used. Bishop Butler would not seriously deny that personality undergoes great changes between infancy and old age, and hence that it must undergo some change from moment to moment. So universally is this recognised, that it is common to hear it said of such and such a man that he is not at all the person he was, or of such and such another that he is twice the man he used to be—expressions than which none nearer the truth can well be found. On the other hand, those whom Bishop Butler is intending to confute would be the first to admit that, though there are many changes between infancy and old age, yet they come about in any one individual under such circumstances as we are all agreed in considering as the factors of personal identity rather than as hindrances thereto—that is to say, there has been no death on the part of the individual between any two phases of his existence, and any one phase has had a permanent though perhaps imperceptible effect upon all succeeding ones. So that no one ever seriously argued in the manner supposed by Bishop Butler, unless with modifications and saving clauses, to which it does not suit his purpose to call attention.

Identical strictly means "one and the same;" and if it were tied down to its strictest usage, it would indeed follow very logically, as we have said already, that no such thing as personal identity is possible, but that the case actually is as Bishop Butler has supposed his opponents without qualification to maintain it. In common use, however, the word "identical" is taken to mean anything so like another that no vital or essential differences can be perceived between them; as in the case of two specimens of the same kind of plant, when we say they are identical in spite of considerable individual differences. So with two impressions of a print from the same plate; so with the plate itself, which is somewhat modified with every impression taken from it. In like manner "identity" is not held to its strict meaning—absolute sameness—but is predicated rightly of a past and present which are now very widely asunder, provided they have been continuously connected by links so small as not to give too sudden a sense of change at any one point; as, for instance, in the case of the Thames at Oxford and Windsor or again at Greenwich, we say the same river flows by all three places, by which we mean that much of the water at Greenwich has come down from Oxford and Windsor in a continuous stream. How sudden a change at any one point, or how great a difference between the two extremes is sufficient to bar identity, is one of the most uncertain things imaginable, and seems to be decided on different grounds in different cases, sometimes very intelligibly, and again at others arbitrarily and capriciously.

Personal identity is barred at one end, in the common opinion, by birth, and at the other by death. Before birth, a child cannot complain either by himself or another, in such way as to set the law in motion; after death he is in like manner powerless to make himself felt by society, except in so far as he can do so by acts done before the breath has left his body. At any point between birth and death he is liable, either by himself or another, to affect his fellow- creatures; hence, no two other epochs can be found of equal convenience for social purposes, and therefore they have been seized by society as settling the whole question of when personal identity begins and ends—society being rightly concerned with its own practical convenience, rather than with the abstract truth concerning its individual members. No one who is capable of reflection will deny that the limitation of personality is certainly arbitrary to a degree as regards birth, nor yet that it is very possibly arbitrary as regards death; and as for intermediate points, no doubt it would be more strictly accurate to say, "you are the now phase of the person I met last night," or "you are the being which has been evolved from the being I met last night," than "you are the person I met last night." But life is too short for the pen-phrases which would crowd upon us from every quarter, if we did not set our face against all that is under the surface of things, unless, that is to say, the going beneath the surface is, for some special chance of profit, excusable or capable of extenuation.


How arbitrary current notions concerning identity really are, may perhaps be perceived by reflecting upon some of the many different phases of reproduction.

Direct reproduction in which a creation reproduces another, the facsimile, or nearly so, of itself may perhaps occur among the lowest forms of animal life; but it is certainly not the rule among beings of a higher order.

A hen lays an egg, which egg becomes a chicken, which chicken, in the course of time, becomes a hen.

A moth lays an egg, which egg becomes a caterpillar, which caterpillar, after going through several stages, becomes a chrysalis, which chrysalis becomes a moth.

A medusa begets a ciliated larva, the larva begets a polyp, the polyp begets a strobila, and the strobila begets a medusa again; the cycle of reproduction being completed in the fourth generation.

A frog lays an egg, which egg becomes a tadpole; the tadpole, after more or fewer intermediate stages, becomes a frog.

The mammals lay eggs, which they hatch inside their own bodies, instead of outside them; but the difference is one of degree and not of kind. In all these cases how difficult is it to say where identity begins or ends, or again where death begins or ends, or where reproduction begins or ends.

How small and unimportant is the difference between the changes which a caterpillar undergoes before becoming a moth, and those of a strobila before becoming a medusa. Yet in the one case we say the caterpillar does not die, but is changed (though, if the various changes in its existence be produced metagenetically, as is the case with many insects, it would appear to make a clean sweep of every organ of its existence, and start de novo, growing a head where its feet were, and so on—at least twice between its lives as caterpillar and butterfly); in this case, however, we say the caterpillar does not die, but is changed; being, nevertheless, one personality with the moth, into which it is developed. But in the case of the strobila we say that it is not changed, but dies, and is no part of the personality of the medusa.

We say the egg becomes the caterpillar, not by the death of the egg and birth of the caterpillar, but by the ordinary process of nutrition and waste—waste and repair—waste and repair continually. In like manner we say the caterpillar becomes the chrysalis, and the chrysalis the moth, not through the death of either one or the other, but by the development of the same creature, and the ordinary processes of waste and repair. But the medusa after three or four cycles becomes the medusa again, not, we say, by these same processes of nutrition and waste, but by a series of generations, each one involving an actual birth and an actual death. Why this difference? Surely only because the changes in the offspring of the medusa are marked by the leaving a little more husk behind them, and that husk less shrivelled, than is left on the occasion of each change between the caterpillar and the butterfly. A little more residuum, which residuum, it may be, can move about; and though shrivelling from hour to hour, may yet leave a little more offspring before it is reduced to powder; or again, perhaps, because in the one case, though the actors are changed, they are changed behind the scenes, and come on in parts and dresses, more nearly resembling those of the original actors, than in the other.

When the caterpillar emerges from the egg, almost all that was inside the egg has become caterpillar; the shell is nearly empty, and cannot move; therefore we do not count it, and call the caterpillar a continuation of the egg's existence, and personally identical with the egg. So with the chrysalis and the moth; but after the moth has laid her eggs she can still move her wings about, and she looks nearly as large as she did before she laid them; besides, she may yet lay a few more, therefore we do not consider the moth's life as continued in the life of her eggs, but rather in their husk, which we still call the moth, and which we say dies in a day or two, and there is an end of it. Moreover, if we hold the moth's life to be continued in that of her eggs, we shall be forced to admit her to be personally identical with each single egg, and, hence, each egg to be identical with every other egg, as far as the past, and community of memories, are concerned; and it is not easy at first to break the spell which words have cast around us, and to feel that one person may become many persons, and that many different persons may be practically one and the same person, as far as their past experience is concerned; and again, that two or more persons may unite and become one person, with the memories and experiences of both, though this has been actually the case with every one of us.

Our present way of looking at these matters is perfectly right and reasonable, so long as we bear in mind that it is a facon de parler, a sort of hieroglyphic which shall stand for the course of nature, but nothing more. Repair (as is now universally admitted by physiologists) is only a phase of reproduction, or rather reproduction and repair are only phases of the same power; and again, death and the ordinary daily waste of tissue, are phases of the same thing. As for identity it is determined in any true sense of the word, not by death alone, but by a combination of death and failure of issue, whether of mind or body.

To repeat. Wherever there is a separate centre of thought and action, we see that it is connected with its successive stages of being, by a series of infinitely small changes from moment to moment, with, perhaps, at times more startling and rapid changes, but, nevertheless, with no such sudden, complete, and unrepaired break up of the preceding condition, as we shall agree in calling death. The branching out from it at different times of new centres of thought and action, has commonly as little appreciable effect upon the parent-stock as the fall of an apple full of ripe seeds has upon an apple-tree; and though the life of the parent, from the date of the branching off of such personalities, is more truly continued in these than in the residuum of its own life, we should find ourselves involved in a good deal of trouble if we were commonly to take this view of the matter. The residuum has generally the upper hand. He has more money, and can eat up his new life more easily than his new life, him. A moral residuum will therefore prefer to see the remainder of his life in his own person, than in that of his descendants, and will act accordingly. Hence we, in common with most other living beings, ignore the offspring as forming part of the personality of the parent, except in so far as that we make the father liable for its support and for its extravagances (than which no greater proof need be wished that the law is at heart a philosopher, and perceives the completeness of the personal identity between father and son) for twenty-one years from birth. In other respects we are accustomed, probably rather from considerations of practical convenience than as the result of pure reason, to ignore the identity between parent and offspring as completely as we ignore personality before birth. With these exceptions, however, the common opinion concerning personal identity is reasonable enough, and is found to consist neither in consciousness of such identity, nor yet in the power of recollecting its various phases (for it is plain that identity survives the distinction or suspension of both these), but in the fact that the various stages appear to the majority of people to have been in some way or other linked together.

For a very little reflection will show that identity, as commonly predicated of living agents, does not consist in identity of matter, of which there is no same particle in the infant, we will say, and the octogenarian into whom he has developed. Nor, again, does it depend upon sameness of form or fashion; for personality is felt to survive frequent and radical modification of structure, as in the case of caterpillars and other insects. Mr. Darwin, quoting from Professor Owen, tells us (Plants and Animals under Domestication, vol. ii. p. 362, ed. 1875), that in the case of what is called metagenetic development, "the new parts are not moulded upon the inner surfaces of the old ones. The plastic force has changed its mode of operation. THE OUTER CASE, AND ALL THAT GAVE FORM AND CHARACTER TO THE PRECEDENT INDIVIDUAL, PERISH, AND ARE CAST OFF; THEY ARE NOT CHANGED into the corresponding parts of the same individual. These are due to a new and distinct developmental process." Assuredly, there is more birth and death in the world than is dreamt of by the greater part of us; but it is so masked, and on the whole, so little to our purpose, that we fail to see it. Yet radical and sweeping as the changes of organism above described must be, we do not feel them to be more a bar to personal identity than the considerable changes which take place in the structure of our own bodies between youth and old age.

Perhaps the most striking illustration of this is to be found in the case of some Echinoderms, concerning which Mr. Darwin tells us, that "the animal in the second stage of development is formed almost like a bud within the animal of the first stage, the latter being then cast off like an old vestment, yet sometimes maintaining for a short period an independent vitality" ("Plants and Animals under Domestication," vol. ii. p. 362, ed. 1875).

Nor yet does personality depend upon any consciousness or sense of such personality on the part of the creature itself—it is not likely that the moth remembers having been a caterpillar, more than we ourselves remember having been children of a day old. It depends simply upon the fact that the various phases of existence have been linked together, by links which we agree in considering sufficient to cause identity, and that they have flowed the one out of the other in what we see as a continuous, though it may be at times, a troubled stream. This is the very essence of personality, but it involves the probable unity of all animal and vegetable life, as being, in reality, nothing but one single creature, of which the component members are but, as it were, blood corpuscles or individual cells; life being a sort of leaven, which, if once introduced into the world, will leaven it altogether; or of fire, which will consume all it can burn; or of air or water, which will turn most things into themselves. Indeed, no difficulty would probably be felt about admitting the continued existence of personal identity between parents and their offspring through all time (there being no SUDDEN break at any time between the existence of any maternal parent and that of its offspring), were it not that after a certain time the changes in outward appearance between descendants and ancestors become very great, the two seeming to stand so far apart, that it seems absurd in any way to say that they are one and the same being; much in the same way as after a time—though exactly when no one can say—the Thames becomes the sea. Moreover, the separation of the identity is practically of far greater importance to it than its continuance. We want to be ourselves; we do not want any one else to claim part and parcel of our identity. This community of identities is not found to answer in everyday life. When then our love of independence is backed up by the fact that continuity of life between parents and offspring is a matter which depends on things which are a good deal hidden, and that thus birth gives us an opportunity of pretending that there has been a sudden leap into a separate life; when also we have regard to the utter ignorance of embryology, which prevailed till quite recently, it is not surprising that our ordinary language should be found to have regard to what is important and obvious, rather than to what is not quite obvious, and is quite unimportant.

Personality is the creature of time and space, changing, as time changes, imperceptibly; we are therefore driven to deal with it as with all continuous and blending things; as with time, for example, itself, which we divide into days, and seasons, and times, and years, into divisions that are often arbitrary, but coincide, on the whole, as nearly as we can make them do so, with the more marked changes which we can observe. We lay hold, in fact, of anything we can catch; the most important feature in any existence as regards ourselves being that which we can best lay hold of rather than that which is most essential to the existence itself. We can lay hold of the continued personality of the egg and the moth into which the egg develops, but it is less easy to catch sight of the continued personality between the moth and the eggs which she lays; yet the one continuation of personality is just as true and free from quibble as the other. A moth becomes each egg that she lays, and that she does so, she will in good time show by doing, now that she has got a fresh start, as near as may be what she did when first she was an egg, and then a moth, before; and this I take it, so far as I can gather from looking at life and things generally, she would not be able to do if she had not travelled the same road often enough already, to be able to know it in her sleep and blindfold, that is to say, to remember it without any conscious act of memory.

So also a grain of wheat is linked with an ear, containing, we will say, a dozen grains, by a series of changes so subtle that we cannot say at what moment the original grain became the blade, nor when each ear of the head became possessed of an individual centre of action. To say that each grain of the head is personally identical with the original grain would perhaps be an abuse of terms; but it can be no abuse to say that each grain is a continuation of the personality of the original grain, and if so, of every grain in the chain of its own ancestry; and that, as being such a continuation, it must be stored with the memories and experiences of its past existences, to be recollected under the circumstances most favourable to recollection, i.e., when under similar conditions to those when the impression was last made and last remembered. Truly, then, in each case the new egg and the new grain IS the egg, and the grain from which its parent sprang, as completely as the full-grown ox is the calf from which it has grown.

Again, in the case of some weeping trees, whose boughs spring up into fresh trees when they have reached the ground, who shall say at what time they cease to be members of the parent tree? In the case of cuttings from plants it is easy to elude the difficulty by making a parade of the sharp and sudden act of separation from the parent stock, but this is only a piece of mental sleight of hand; the cutting remains as much part of its parent plant as though it had never been severed from it; it goes on profiting by the experience which it had before it was cut off, as much as though it had never been cut off at all. This will be more readily seen in the case of worms which have been cut in half. Let a worm be cut in half, and the two halves will become fresh worms; which of them is the original worm? Surely both. Perhaps no simpler case than this could readily be found of the manner in which personality eludes us, the moment we try to investigate its real nature. There are few ideas which on first consideration appear so simple, and none which becomes more utterly incapable of limitation or definition as soon as it is examined closely.

Finally, Mr. Darwin ("Plants and Animals under Domestication," vol. ii. p. 38, ed. 1875), writes -

"Even with plants multiplied by bulbs, layers, &c., which may IN ONE SENSE be said to form part of the same individual," &c., &c.; and again, p. 58, "The same rule holds good with plants when propagated by bulbs, offsets, &c., which IN ONE SENSE still form parts of the same individual," &c. In each of these passages it is plain that the difficulty of separating the personality of the offspring from that of the parent plant is present to his mind. Yet, p. 351 of the same volume as above, he tells us that asexual generation "is effected in many ways—by the formation of buds of various kinds, and by fissiparous generation, that is, by spontaneous or artificial division." The multiplication of plants by bulbs and layers clearly comes under this head, nor will any essential difference be felt between one kind of asexual generation and another; if, then, the offspring formed by bulbs and layers is in one sense part of the original plant, so also, it would appear, is all offspring developed by asexual generation in its manifold phrases.

If we now turn to p. 357, we find the conclusion arrived at, as it would appear, on the most satisfactory evidence, that "sexual and asexual reproduction are not seen to differ essentially; and . . . . that asexual reproduction, the power of regrowth, and development are all parts of one and the same great law." Does it not then follow, quite reasonably and necessarily, that all offspring, however generated, is IN ONE SENSE part of the individuality of its parent or parents. The question, therefore, turns upon "in what sense" this may be said to be the case? To which I would venture to reply, "In the same sense as the parent plant (which is but the representative of the outside matter which it has assimilated during growth, and of its own powers of development) is the same individual that it was when it was itself an offset, or a cow the same individual that it was when it was a calf—but no otherwise."

Not much difficulty will be felt about supposing the offset of a plant, to be imbued with the memory of the past history of the plant of which it is an offset. It is part of the plant itself; and will know whatever the plant knows. Why, then, should there be more difficulty in supposing the offspring of the highest mammals, to remember in a profound but unselfconscious way, the anterior history of the creatures of which they too have been part and parcel?

Personal identity, then, is much like species itself. It is now, thanks to Mr. Darwin, generally held that species blend or have blended into one another; so that any possibility of arrangement and apparent subdivision into definite groups, is due to the suppression by death both of individuals and whole genera, which, had they been now existing, would have linked all living beings by a series of gradations so subtle that little classification could have been attempted. How it is that the one great personality of life as a whole, should have split itself up into so many centres of thought and action, each one of which is wholly, or at any rate nearly, unconscious of its connection with the other members, instead of having grown up into a huge polyp, or as it were coral reef or compound animal over the whole world, which should be conscious but of its own one single existence; how it is that the daily waste of this creature should be carried on by the conscious death of its individual members, instead of by the unconscious waste of tissue which goes on in the bodies of each individual (if indeed the tissue which we waste daily in our own bodies is so unconscious of its birth and death as we suppose); how, again, that the daily repair of this huge creature life should have become decentralised, and be carried on by conscious reproduction on the part of its component items, instead of by the unconscious nutrition of the whole from a single centre, as the nutrition of our own bodies would appear (though perhaps falsely) to be carried on; these are matters upon which I dare not speculate here, but on which some reflections may follow in subsequent chapters.


We have seen that we can apprehend neither the beginning nor the end of our personality, which comes up out of infinity as an island out of the sea, so gently, that none can say when it is first visible on our mental horizon, and fades away in the case of those who leave offspring, so imperceptibly that none can say when it is out of sight. But, like the island, whether we can see it or no, it is always there. Not only are we infinite as regards time, but we are so also as regards extension, being so linked on to the external world that we cannot say where we either begin or end. If those who so frequently declare that man is a finite creature would point out his boundaries, it might lead to a better understanding.

Nevertheless, we are in the habit of considering that our personality, or soul, no matter where it begins or ends, and no matter what it comprises, is nevertheless a single thing, uncompounded of other souls. Yet there is nothing more certain than that this is not at all the case, but that every individual person is a compound creature, being made up of an infinite number of distinct centres of sensation and will, each one of which is personal, and has a soul and individual existence, a reproductive system, intelligence, and memory of its own, with probably its hopes and fears, its times of scarcity and repletion, and a strong conviction that it is itself the centre of the universe.

True, no one is aware of more than one individuality in his own person at one time. We are, indeed, often greatly influenced by other people, so much so, that we act on many occasions in accordance with their will rather than our own, making our actions answer to their sensations, and register the conclusions of their cerebral action and not our own; for the time being, we become so completely part of them, that we are ready to do things most distasteful and dangerous to us, if they think it for their advantage that we should do so. Thus we sometimes see people become mere processes of their wives or nearest relations. Yet there is a something which blinds us, so that we cannot see how completely we are possessed by the souls which influence us upon these occasions. We still think we are ourselves, and ourselves only, and are as certain as we can be of any fact, that we are single sentient beings, uncompounded of other sentient beings, and that our action is determined by the sole operation of a single will.

But in reality, over and above this possession of our souls by others of our own species, the will of the lower animals often enters into our bodies and possesses them, making us do as they will, and not as we will; as, for example, when people try to drive pigs, or are run away with by a restive horse, or are attacked by a savage animal which masters them. It is absurd to say that a person is a single "ego" when he is in the clutches of a lion. Even when we are alone, and uninfluenced by other people except in so far as we remember their wishes, we yet generally conform to the usages which the current feeling of our peers has taught us to respect; their will having so mastered our original nature, that, do what we may, we can never again separate ourselves and dwell in the isolation of our own single personality. And even though we succeeded in this, and made a clean sweep of every mental influence which had ever been brought to bear upon us, and though at the same time we were alone in some desert where there was neither beast nor bird to attract our attention or in any way influence our action, yet we could not escape the parasites which abound within us; whose action, as every medical man well knows, is often such as to drive men to the commission of grave crimes, or to throw them into convulsions, make lunatics of them, kill them—when but for the existence and course of conduct pursued by these parasites they would have done no wrong to any man.

These parasites—are they part of us or no? Some are plainly not so in any strict sense of the word, yet their action may, in cases which it is unnecessary to detail, affect us so powerfully that we are irresistibly impelled to act in such or such a manner; and yet we are as wholly unconscious of any impulse outside of our own "ego" as though they were part of ourselves; others again are essential to our very existence, as the corpuscles of the blood, which the best authorities concur in supposing to be composed of an infinite number of living souls, on whose welfare the healthy condition of our blood, and hence of our whole bodies, depends. We breathe that they may breathe, not that we may do so; we only care about oxygen in so far as the infinitely small beings which course up and down in our veins care about it: the whole arrangement and mechanism of our lungs may be our doing, but is for their convenience, and they only serve us because it suits their purpose to do so, as long as we serve them. Who shall draw the line between the parasites which are part of us, and the parasites which are not part of us? Or again, between the influence of those parasites which are within us, but are yet not US, and the external influence of other sentient beings and our fellow- men? There is no line possible. Everything melts away into everything else; there are no hard edges; it is only from a little distance that we see the effect as of individual features and existences. When we go close up, there is nothing but a blur and confused mass of apparently meaningless touches, as in a picture by Turner.

The following passage from Mr. Darwin's provisional theory of Pangenesis, will sufficiently show that the above is no strange and paradoxical view put forward wantonly, but that it follows as a matter of course from the conclusions arrived at by those who are acknowledged leaders in the scientific world. Mr. Darwin writes thus:-

"THE FUNCTIONAL INDEPENDENCE OF THE ELEMENTS OR UNITS OF THE BODY.— Physiologists agree that the whole organism consists of a multitude of elemental parts, which are to a great extent independent of one another. Each organ, says Claude Bernard, has its proper life, its autonomy; it can develop and reproduce itself independently of the adjoining tissues. A great German authority, Virchow, asserts still more emphatically that each system consists of 'an enormous mass of minute centres of action. . . . Every element has its own special action, and even though it derive its stimulus to activity from other parts, yet alone effects the actual performance of duties. . . . Every single epithelial and muscular fibre-cell leads a sort of parasitical existence in relation to the rest of the body. . . . Every single bone corpuscle really possesses conditions of nutrition peculiar to itself.' Each element, as Sir J. Paget remarks, lives its appointed time, and then dies, and is replaced after being cast off and absorbed. I presume that no physiologist doubts that, for instance, each bone corpuscle of the finger differs from the corresponding corpuscle of the corresponding joint of the toe," &c., &c. ("Plants and Animals under Domestication," vol ii. pp. 364, 365, ed. 1875).

In a work on heredity by M. Ribot, I find him saying, "Some recent authors attribute a memory" (and if so, surely every attribute of complete individuality) "to every organic element of the body;" among them Dr. Maudsley, who is quoted by M. Ribot, as saying, "The permanent effects of a particular virus, such as that of the variola, in the constitution, shows that the organic element remembers for the remainder of its life certain modifications it has received. The manner in which a cicatrix in a child's finger grows with the growth of the body, proves, as has been shown by Paget, that the organic element of the part does not forget the impression it has received. What has been said about the different nervous centres of the body demonstrates the existence of a memory in the nerve cells diffused through the heart and intestines; in those of the spinal cord, in the cells of the motor ganglia, and in the cells of the cortical substance of the cerebal hemispheres."

Now, if words have any meaning at all, it must follow from the passages quoted above, that each cell in the human body is a person with an intelligent soul, of a low class, perhaps, but still differing from our own more complex soul in degree, and not in kind; and, like ourselves, being born, living, and dying. So that each single creature, whether man or beast, proves to be as a ray of white light, which, though single, is compounded of the red, blue, and yellow rays. It would appear, then, as though "we," "our souls," or "selves," or "personalities," or by whatever name we may prefer to be called, are but the CONSENSUS and full flowing stream of countless sensations and impulses on the part of our tributary souls or "selves," who probably know no more that we exist, and that they exist as part of us, than a microscopic water-flea knows the results of spectrum analysis, or than an agricultural labourer knows the working of the British constitution: and of whom we know no more, until some misconduct on our part, or some confusion of ideas on theirs, has driven them into insurrection, than we do of the habits and feelings of some class widely separated from our own.

These component souls are of many and very different natures, living in territories which are to them vast continents, and rivers, and seas, but which are yet only the bodies of our other component souls; coral reefs and sponge-beds within us; the animal itself being a kind of mean proportional between its house and its soul, and none being able to say where house ends and animal begins, more than they can say where animal ends and soul begins. For our bones within us are but inside walls and buttresses, that is to say, houses constructed of lime and stone, as it were, by coral insects; and our houses without us are but outside bones, a kind of exterior skeleton or shell, so that we perish of cold if permanently and suddenly deprived of the coverings which warm us and cherish us, as the wing of a hen cherishes her chickens. If we consider the shells of many living creatures, we shall find it hard to say whether they are rather houses, or part of the animal itself, being, as they are, inseparable from the animal, without the destruction of its personality.

Is it possible, then, to avoid imagining that if we have within us so many tributary souls, so utterly different from the soul which they unite to form, that they neither can perceive us, nor we them, though it is in us that they live and move and have their being, and though we are what we are, solely as the result of their co-operation—is it possible to avoid imagining that we may be ourselves atoms, undesignedly combining to form some vaster being, though we are utterly incapable of perceiving that any such being exists, or of realising the scheme or scope of our own combination? And this, too, not a spiritual being, which, without matter, or what we think matter of some sort, is as complete nonsense to us as though men bade us love and lean upon an intelligent vacuum, but a being with what is virtually flesh and blood and bones; with organs, senses, dimensions, in some way analogous to our own, into some other part of which being, at the time of our great change we must infallibly re-enter, starting clean anew, with bygones bygones, and no more ache for ever from either age or antecedents. Truly, sufficient for the life is the evil thereof. Any speculations of ours concerning the nature of such a being, must be as futile and little valuable as those of a blood corpuscle might be expected to be concerning the nature of man; but if I were myself a blood corpuscle, I should be amused at making the discovery that I was not only enjoying life in my own sphere, but was bona fide part of an animal which would not die with myself, and in which I might thus think of myself as continuing to live to all eternity, or to what, as far as my power of thought would carry me, must seem practically eternal. But, after all, the amusement would be of a rather dreary nature.

On the other hand, if I were the being of whom such an introspective blood corpuscle was a component item, I should conceive he served me better by attending to my blood and making himself a successful corpuscle, than by speculating about my nature. He would serve me best by serving himself best, without being over curious. I should expect that my blood might suffer if his brain were to become too active. If, therefore, I could discover the vein in which he was, I should let him out to begin life anew in some other and, qua me, more profitable capacity.

With the units of our bodies it is as with the stars of heaven: there is neither speech nor language, but their voices are heard among them. Our will is the fiat of their collective wisdom, as sanctioned in their parliament, the brain; it is they who make us do whatever we do—it is they who should be rewarded if they have done well, or hanged if they have committed murder. When the balance of power is well preserved among them, when they respect each other's rights and work harmoniously together, then we thrive and are well; if we are ill, it is because they are quarrelling with themselves, or are gone on strike for this or that addition to their environment, and our doctor must pacify or chastise them as best he may. They are we and we are they; and when we die it is but a redistribution of the balance of power among them or a change of dynasty, the result, it may be, of heroic struggle, with more epics and love romances than we could read from now to the Millennium, if they were so written down that we could comprehend them.

It is plain, then, that the more we examine the question of personality the more it baffles us, the only safeguard against utter confusion and idleness of thought being to fall back upon the superficial and common sense view, and refuse to tolerate discussions which seem to hold out little prospect of commercial value, and which would compel us, if logically followed, to be at the inconvenience of altering our opinions upon matters which we have come to consider as settled.

And we observe that this is what is practically done by some of our ablest philosophers, who seem unwilling, if one may say so without presumption, to accept the conclusions to which their own experiments and observations would seem to point.

Dr. Carpenter, for example, quotes the well-known experiments upon headless frogs. If we cut off a frog's head and pinch any part of its skin, the animal at once begins to move away with the same regularity as though the brain had not been removed. Flourens took guinea-pigs, deprived them of the cerebral lobes, and then irritated their skin; the animals immediately walked, leaped, and trotted about, but when the irritation was discontinued they ceased to move. Headless birds, under excitation, can still perform with their wings the rhythmic movements of flying. But here are some facts more curious still, and more difficult of explanation. If we take a frog or a strong and healthy triton, and subject it to various experiments; if we touch, pinch, or burn it with acetic acid, and if then, after decapitating the animal, we subject it to the same experiments, it will be seen that the reactions are exactly the same; it will strive to be free of the pain, and to shake off the acetic acid that is burning it; it will bring its foot up to the part of its body that is irritated, and this movement of the member will follow the irritation wherever it may be produced.

The above is mainly taken from M. Ribot's work on heredity rather than Dr. Carpenter's, because M. Ribot tells us that the head of the frog was actually cut off, a fact which does not appear so plainly in Dr. Carpenter's allusion to the same experiments. But Dr. Carpenter tells us that AFTER THE BRAIN OF A FROG HAS BEEN REMOVED—which would seem to be much the same thing as though its head were cut off—"if acetic acid be applied over the upper and under part of the thigh, the foot of the same side will wipe it away; BUT IF THAT FOOT BE CUT OFF, AFTER SOME INEFFECTUAL EFFORTS AND A SHORT PERIOD OF INACTION," during which it is hard not to surmise that the headless body is considering what it had better do under the circumstances, "THE SAME MOVEMENT WILL BE MADE BY THE FOOT OF THE OPPOSITE SIDE," which, to ordinary people, would convey the impression that the headless body was capable of feeling the impressions it had received, and of reasoning upon them by a psychological act; and this of course involves the possession of a soul of some sort.

Here is a frog whose right thigh you burn with acetic acid. Very naturally it tries to get at the place with its right foot to remove the acid. You then cut off the frog's head, and put more acetic acid on the some place: the headless frog, or rather the body of the late frog, does just what the frog did before its head was cut off—it tries to get at the place with its right foot. You now cut off its right foot: the headless body deliberates, and after a while tries to do with its left foot what it can no longer do with its right. Plain matter-of-fact people will draw their own inference. They will not be seduced from the superficial view of the matter. They will say that the headless body can still, to some extent, feel, think, and act, and if so, that it must have a living soul.

Dr. Carpenter writes as follows:- "Now the performance of these, as well as of many other movements, that show a most remarkable adaptation to a purpose, might be supposed to indicate that sensations are called up by the IMPRESSIONS, and that the animal can not only FEEL, but can voluntarily direct its movements so as to get rid of the irritation which annoys it. But such an inference would be inconsistent with other facts. In the first place, the motions performed under such circumstances are never spontaneous, but are always excited by a stimulus of some kind."

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