Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/November 1876/Editor's Table
|←Correspondence||Popular Science Monthly Volume 10 November 1876 (1876)
PROF. HUXLEY arrived in this country tired out from prolonged overwork, and greatly needing rest. He did not wish to speak in public, but could not escape it. He went to Nashville to visit a sister whom he had not seen in thirty years, and, being strongly urged to make a public address there, he reluctantly consented, and spoke to a large concourse on an excessively hot day. The effort prostrated him, and his voice was so strained that he did not recover his usual vocal power while he remained with us. He had not expected to make a formal public discourse at Baltimore, and therefore had to prepare one while here. His vacation thus turned out to be anything but a season of repose and recuperation, and he gave his lectures in New York under the triple disadvantage of not being up to his usual vigor, of a serious impairment of voice, and of having to prepare them as he went along—for the plan of the discussion was new, and American materials had to be worked up for its purpose. These difficulties became serious in dealing with the crowded audiences which attended his lectures, many of whom heard him but imperfectly.
His lectures were, however, well received by those who heard them, and quite as well received by the press as we had any reason to expect. That objections of all sorts should be raised was inevitable; for the doctrine of Evolution, which he advocated, is too recent, too comprehensive, too scientific, and encounters too many prejudices, to be generally or readily accepted merely because it is proved. Only a very small portion of human opinion is the product of reason. Some thought his treatment of the subject too elementary, and some thought it too restricted and inadequate, hut nobody denied that it was clear, forcible, and logical. We must add that, in most cases, the pulpit has treated Prof. Huxley with courtesy, though it could be wished that the clergy would inform themselves a little more thoroughly upon the subject before answering him with such perfunctory promptness.
In one thing both the professors, auditors, and the public generally, have been seriously disappointed. They have been led to regard Huxley as a man of pugnacious temper, a kind of controversial bully, who is only happy when in a fight. And so they expected to see some brilliant aggressive work, and that he would "polish off" his adversaries in the most approved and exciting style of polemical pugilism. But Prof. Huxley indulged in nothing of the kind, and so it was murmured round that the lectures were disappointing, and not at all up to what was expected from him. That is, the man himself, when observed, and heard, and known, contradicted the preconceived theory of the man. And here is the proper place to say that this current theory of Prof. Huxley's character is quite erroneous. He has been a good deal in controversy, no doubt, and has often hit hard; but it is a total mistake to suppose that he has ever sought or provoked strife because of combative propensities. His dominant tastes and inclinations are all, on the contrary, for quiet scientific inquiry. Controversy has, however, been thrust upon him. Standing prominently as the exponent of a doctrine that has been regarded with horror for the last twenty years by all classes, high as well as low, he has been misrepresented, and badgered, and vilified, with a recklessness that would have aroused vigorous resistance and sharp counterstrokes in any man of spirit.
In his opening lecture Prof. Huxley showed first that Nature, or the universe, has not always been what it is now. To minds that seek for causes it therefore presents the problem, How did it come to be what it is now? The theoretical solution of this problem that has prevailed in the past and is still widely accepted is, that it was called into existence a few thousand years ago in much the condition that we now know it. This is the Mosaic theory, in its old and popular interpretation. But as the Mosaic records have been reinterpreted in recent times, and as the question whether or not the doctrine is taught there is hotly disputed among those who defer to Mosaic authority, Prof. Huxley did not assume to settle the question, and wisely let the Mosaic account alone. Some newspapers were indignant at this, and charged him with cowardice and evasion for not pitching into Moses. But that was not his business, and if he had done so he would have been open to the charge of going out of his way to drag in a foreign question, and make an assault upon the Christian religion—there is no pleasing everybody. But, while keeping clear of the Scriptures, he still had to deal with the doctrine which has been universally believed for centuries to be grounded in Scripture authority, and so he took it as vividly and concretely described by a classic Christian poet more than two centuries ago. He called it the "Miltonic hypothesis," and read a graphic passage from "Paradise Lost" describing the way the animal world came into existence. Herbert Spencer has been soundly belabored by various critics for calling this view the "carpenter theory" of creation, but the great Christian poet certainly lends his authority to this interpretation of the case. He describes the creative work with great literalness as a mechanical operation, in the following lines:
" . . . . In his hand
He took the golden compasses, prepared
This be thy just circumference world.' "
But further comment is unnecessary, as the reader will find the full lecture in our pages.
The series of operations which resulted in the blowing up of the great rocky reef at Hallett's Point on Sunday, September 24th, must be regarded as the most brilliant piece of scientific engineering that has yet been accomplished. General Newton formed his plans, and entered upon the work in July, 1869. For over seven years he has been preparing for a grand experiment to occupy but a few seconds, and so accurately did he calculate, and so complete was his command of the irresistible forces to be called into action, that the experiment proved completely successful, and affords an impressive illustration of the prophetic power that is conferred by a knowledge of the elements and forces of Nature. It was the physicists and chemists who long ago worked quietly and obscurely in their laboratories, with little reference to practical ends, and animated only by the desire to acquaint themselves with the laws of the natural world, that paved the way for the great engineer to do this important service for the interests of New York and the commerce of the world.
The reef at Hallett's Point, which has formed such a dangerous obstruction in the Hell-Gate channel as greatly to hinder navigation through Long Island Sound, was of an irregular crescent shape (as shown in the figure), some
700 feet long, and extending out 300 feet into the channel, with an area of about three acres. The rock is a tough, hornblende gneiss, with veins of pure quartz, and lies in strata of various degrees of inclination. The plan of operations was to build a coffer-dam on the rock near the shore to bar out the water, to sink a shaft to the requisite depth, to honey-comb the whole rocky mass by excavation, and then to blow up the shell by charges of dynamite in the roof and supporting columns, to be fired by the agency of galvanic batteries. The shaft was sunk to a depth of 33 feet below the line of low water, and ten tunnels were then opened to distances varying from 31 to 126 feet. The cubic contents of the rocky mass, above the depth of 26 feet, at mean low water, amounted to 51,000 yards. The tunnels radiating from the shaft varied from 7 to 22 feet in height, and from 9 to 12 feet in width, and, as they advanced, the height rapidly decreased, owing to the downward slope of the surface of the reef. As the main tunnels diverged from each other, subsidiary tunnels were introduced, and a system of transverse galleries was excavated (as shown in the figure), and which left 172 supporting pillars of variable dimensions. The total length of tunnels was 4,857 feet, and the length of galleries 2,568 feet, making the entire length of passage excavated 7,425 feet. The excavations being completed, so that the roof of rock above was reduced to a thickness of from 8 to 16 feet, the preparation for the explosion began by drilling the rock for the charges. The whole number of blast-holes drilled into the roof and piers was 4,427, varying from 7 to 10 feet in depth, and from 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Each one of these holes was charged with three kinds of explosives, all compounds of nitroglycerine, viz., dynamite, rendrock, and vulcan-powder, in separate cartridges or canisters. Fifty thousand pounds of these explosives were buried in the apertures. Ninety-six galvanic batteries, of ten cells each, were employed to ignite the charges. The firing-point was 650 yards from the shaft, and the amount of leading and connecting wire used to bring all the charges into relation with the batteries was 220,000 feet. The charges in the different holes of the same pier were connected so as to explode simultaneously, but a fuse composed of a quick explosive was used to connect the system of charges in each pier with those of the neighboring piers. In this way the electric spark, taking effect in a few centres, the ignition was propagated through the whole system, as the explosion of the connecting fuse would advance more rapidly than the destruction of the rock. The several thousand charges in the mine were connected in 23 groups, each with 160 fuses, and these were acted upon simultaneously by 23 groups of batteries. These were ingeniously connected in a mechanical arrangement so simple and perfect that a child could operate it, and the whole stupendous force that slumbered in the charges was actually released by the touch of a little daughter of General Newton, two years and a half old. The explosion was accompanied by no very stunning effects to eye or ear, and the demonstration was so moderate as to produce great disappointment in the multitudes who assembled to witness it. There was a succession of shocks, lasting a few seconds, with no great noise, a mass of water and débris of the coffer-dam thrown into the air, and the great reef was shattered and demolished. Long experience in blasting, and the close adaptation of explosive material to the work done, had enabled General Newton to graduate the amount of power to be developed to the total result; and so accurate was this adjustment that the explosives spent themselves in breaking up the reef, and no power was left to topple down the houses in the vicinity. Examinations thus far show that the great blast was most effectual, although considerable time and much labor will probably be required to clear away the broken masses of rock, and gain the full benefits aimed at by the enterprise.
That extensive division of the Christian Church which has its headquarters at Rome has claimed and exercised for more than 300 years the right of deciding what books its members shall be allowed to read. This power resides in a body of cardinals, designated by the Pope, who issue an "Index" of books containing a twofold catalogue, one of which is of works absolutely prohibited,, and the other of works that are prohibited only until they are expurgated, or so corrected by their authors as to be acceptable to the Church authorities. The first papal "Index" was published in 1549, by Pope Paul IV. It was made a part of the work of the Inquisition, and this body had charge of it until 1586, when a special commission—"The Congregation of the Index"—was created, and has been maintained to the present time. Among the early works prohibited by this conclave were those of Galileo, Copernicus, and Kepler; and, among those forbidden in more modern times, were Locke's "Essay on the Human Understanding," and Mill's "Political Economy." Dr. Draper's "History of the Conflict between Religion and Science" has now the honor of being added to the list of celebrated books which Catholics cannot read without rebelling against ecclesiastical authority.
This institution of the Catholic Church is itself the most conspicuous example we have of that great "conflict" which Dr. Draper has so vividly delineated in his little volume. Its rise was coincident with the general awakening of thought in modern Europe, which was manifested on the one hand in the Protestant Reformation, and, on the other, in that independent study of Nature by which the sciences have been created. The Church took issue with this spirit of free thought, which it sought to repress by violence wherever and as long as it had the power, and which it still seeks to extinguish by the force of its claim to represent divine authority. It is still as vicegerent of God upon earth that the Pope interposes to stop the circulation of scientific books, and continues his warfare with the tendency to independent inquiry.
We cannot but remark how greatly the papal government mistakes the times, and how utterly it fails to realize the change that has taken place since the sixteenth century. The time has come when books are not to be forbidden but answered, and the policy of interdiction by the Vatican authorities is so futile that it becomes nothing short of a blunder. Dr. Draper's volume has been put under ban because it is pervading all Europe—two editions having been called for even in ultra Catholic Spain. Publicly thus to mark a book for religious outlawry is simply to give to it a prodigious advertisement. Where before it had one reader it will now have ten. Men will get it, determined to find out for themselves in what its offense consists; and women will do as Eve did—taste simply because it is a forbidden thing. The only way to overcome the objectionable tendencies of any work is to point them out; and the only way to deal with its arguments is to refute them. To suppress such books in our time is out of the question; and if, in this special instance, there are among the highly-educated ecclesiastics in Rome none who can do this, the inference is that the book is unanswerable. We have, certainly, no complaint to make of the course adopted by the theological authorities at Rome, and must, at any rate, give them credit for consistency; but they forget that the world has changed a good deal since the Inquisition was established.
It is a great mistake to suppose that bigotry and intolerance are altogether confined to the Vatican; we have excellent illustrations of this temper much nearer home. While the Pope at Rome is commanding the faithful not to admit Dr. Draper's book into their libraries, Bishop Coxe, the little pontiff of Western New York, is warning the good Christians of Buffalo not to let Prof. Huxley come into their houses; while both potentates put their intolerant action on the same ground of divine authorization. One would think that in the nineteenth century, in an enlightened American city, in the year of the nation's centennial, in the midst of a presidential campaign, and at a large convocation of the scientists of this and foreign countries, Buffalo Christians might have been left to their own good sense and good taste to entertain whom they pleased. Moreover, Prof. Huxley was the guest of the American Scientific Association, which was itself the guest of the city, and this should have been sufficient to protect him from insult from such a quarter. It is well that the bishop's type of Christianity does not prevail in Buffalo, as, otherwise, the obnoxious foreigner might have been left in the streets to starve.
Some of the Buffalo papers, holding the bishop's utterance in regard to Huxley to be nothing less than a public affront and a disgrace to the town, made it rather warm for him, and so he has followed up the original mandate by a defense of it in subsequent letters to his organ, "The Orbit." The faithful were admonished to withhold their hospitalities from Prof. Huxley, because he is an atheist. The bishop charges him with "scientific atheism"—whatever that may mean—and refers to his admonition to his flock for "importing atheism into their families under color of science." He also accuses Prof. Huxley of being a "propagator of atheism." Now, though these charges are launched from the Episcopal throne of Western New York, they are nevertheless not true. Bishop Coxe says, "I bear a divine commission." Then he has a divine commission to bear false witness. His accusation is simply a baseless calumny, and in none of his communications does he offer a shadow of proof to substantiate the charge. Prof. Huxley has never avowed himself an atheist, and has never advocated the doctrine, but on the contrary he has distinctly condemned it and declared it to be an absurd doctrine. Bishop Coxe says he is "a propagator of atheism," but where is the proof? There are such people as avowed atheists, and there is a party of them in England that labors to propagate the belief. Bradlaugh is one of their chiefs, who boasted that he is the only man who ever ran for Parliament on the issue of being an atheist. Prof. Huxley has never had anything to do with this party, and is no more in sympathy with it than is Bishop Coxe. If Prof. Huxley has propagated atheism, lie must have done it some time, some-where, and somehow, and there must be evidence of it. Has the bishop any better source of information than other people? If not, then he has lent him-self to a false accusation. He quotes Scripture copiously in defense of his course, and cites from St. John the following passage: "Many deceivers are entering into the world. Look to your-selves . . . receive them not into your house." But, who are the deceivers, if not those who mislead people by un-truthful statements? The utmost defense that Bishop Coxe can make is, that he has heard Prof. Huxley called an atheist, or that he infers from his books that he holds atheistic opinions; but is a man to be stripped of his character, and loaded with opprobrious epithets, and are all good Christians to be invited to slam their doors in his face, because of mere idle rumors and inferential constructions of his writings, both of which are contradicted by his explicit averments? The Bishop of Western New York should migrate to Rome, where he properly belongs, at the earliest opportunity.