Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/February 1881/Literary Notices
|←Editor's Table||Popular Science Monthly Volume 18 February 1881 (1881)
This book is a surprise, and as gratifying as it is unexpected. Its title is anything but inviting. Of all branches of literature sermons are generally and justly pronounced the dullest, and of the class of sermons, everybody would expect to find the Scotch the driest. This is what sharpened surprise and produced actual astonishment when we looked into this unpromising volume. We have been accustomed to regard Scotch Presbyterianism as the narrowest and most intolerant and intractable form of Calvinistic orthodoxy, which would be the very last to yield to the liberalizing tendencies of the time, but we have been much mistaken. The mechanical law that action and reaction are equal and opposite seems to hold rigorously in the theological sphere, so that the counter-impulse now displayed in the Scottish Church is, perhaps, more vigorous comprehensive, and fruitful than is to be found in any other religious body.
This volume, dedicated to Dean Stanley, consists of twenty-three sermons, preached by various men, located in various places, and all clergymen of the Church of Scotland. Its editorship is anonymous, but its editor declares that it "has originated in the wish to gather together a few specimens of a style of teaching which increasingly prevails among the clergy of the Scottish Church. It docs not claim to represent either the full extent of that teaching or the range of subjects on which, in their public ministrations, its authors are in the habit of discoursing. It may, however, serve to indicate a growing tendency and to show the direction in which thought is moving. It is the work of those whose hope for the future lies not in alterations of ecclesiastical organization, but in a profounder apprehension of the essential ideas of Christianity; and especially in the growth within the Church of such a method of presenting them as shall show that they are equally adapted to the needs of humanity and in harmony with the results of critical and scientific research."
There is, of course, considerable inequality in these productions, coming as they do from such diverse sources, but they are all of a superior character, and there are a unity and a harmony in the views advanced which show that the liberalizing movement in the Scottish Church is broad, consistent, well defined, and well matured. The writers treat their respective topics independently, but with a remarkable concurrence of opinion, which shows that the more expanded views are the result less of any effort at agreement than of an unconscious growth of rational conviction.
But these sermons are not less remarkable for their free and catholic spirit and advanced principles than for the intellectual power which various of them evince in dealing with the present phases of religious thought. They are not the mere impatient protests of men chafing under the influence of an outworn system, but they are philosophical in temper, constructive and conservative in tendency, and evince a masterly grasp of the questions that are now tasking the best minds of the age. There is no timidity, no panic about imperiled faiths, and the old errors are repudiated with decision, but without harshness or bitterness. It is ably shown how religion is the gainer by being freed from the false beliefs that have been so long associated with it, and so widely mistaken for it.
These sermons are, moreover, remarkably free from that jealous antagonism to Science which in these days characterizes so much of our mediocre literature of theology. Science is neither fiercely denounced as leading to materialism, nor coldly complimented and left to go her ways. Her results are cordially accepted as a great revelation of truth, and of truth which is also of the highest religious importance. Instead of shrinking with horror at the scientific doctrine of development as something which threatens to sweep away all religion, these clear-sighted men recognize that this doctrine is at the basis of religion itself. They understand that all stereotyped faiths and fixed creeds are doomed to be left behind, while the spirit that animated them must assume new forms under a widened and advancing religious experience. It is certainly a most remarkable result that out of the Scottish Church, in 1880, should come this weighty proclamation to the religious world, that the great law of continuity and evolution, as unfolded and established by modern science, is to become a foundation and bulwark of religious faith in the future. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
We should be glad to reprint half these sermons in the "Monthly," but, as this is impossible, we give a few passages illustrative of the standpoint of the book. The Very Rev. John Caird, Principal of the University of Glasgow, has the first discourse, on "Corporate Immortality," which is an able plea for interest in "The things of this life" as opposed to the overshadowing claims of another world. He says:
The Rev. Dr. Ferguson, of Strathblane, has a powerful discourse on "Law and Miracle," in which he says:
In enumerating the various causes which have produced a new "climate of opinion" in relation to miracles, Dr. Ferguson says:
The Rev. Professor Knight, of St. Andrews, has a sermon of great interest and moment on "The Continuity and Development of Religion," in which he says:
This volume consists of a series of brief personal sketches of several of the leading thinkers of modern times, together with critical disquisitions on their labors, influence, and character. The thinkers selected for study are all of the aggressive or revolutionary type, and they were chosen furthermore because of the more or less intimate bearing of their advanced ideas on the subject of social science. Three Englishmen, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and Herbert Spencer; two Frenchmen, August Comte and Charles Fourier; a Swede, Emanuel Swedenborg; a German, Ernst Haeckel; and an American, Thomas Paine—are the characters selected for examination.
The author has a brief preface explaining the origin of his book, and offering some preliminary suggestions regarding its method and purpose. The essays were written for the "Chicago Times," and at the suggestion of its editor they were first published in that newspaper. The intelligent interest elicited by them has induced the author to bring them out in this more permanent form. It was an excellent idea, and does credit to the editorial sagacity and liberality of Mr. Storey. People are undoubtedly more and more confining themselves to the reading furnished by newspapers, and we see no reason why, under the pretext that their business is the promulgation of news, the daily press should confine itself exclusively to the scattering of information on ephemeral and frivolous subjects.
Colonel Robert J. Ingersoll contributes a spicy introduction to the volume, briefly presenting his views of the various characters it deals with, and pointedly reillustrating his well-known anti-theological position. In this, however, he is in entire harmony with the spirit of the volume, which is characterized throughout by hostility to everything theological, and abounds in unsparing invectives against the Church, the priesthood, and the Christian gospel. The work is written in a free, vivacious, and somewhat dashing style, and is eminently readable. The mode of treating the subjects is independent, sensational, and bold. Much of its exposition is instructive, evincing good preparation; and much of it will be unsatisfactory to those who prize deliberate and unprejudiced work. As a piece of manufacture, the volume itself is no credit to Chicago.
The essay that has most interested us is on the American subject, Thomas Paine, whom the author regards as the "representative critic, destroyer, and revolutionist of his period. . . . He was gifted, as no man ever was before or since, with the fatal and unhappy faculty of suppressing the good and exaggerating the ill in the men upon whose conduct he was called to comment, and in the institutions he aimed to overturn." Dr. Denslow makes out a specious case for Paine as the author of the "Letters of Junius"; but Mr. Ingersoll interposes to protect the great freethinker against this scandalous imputation, and protests that Paine "was neither a coward, a calumniator, nor a sneak," and he gives a few reasons that are weighty against the hypothesis that Paine was the author of these celebrated letters.
Dr. Denslow maintains, with more show of reason, that he wrote the "Declaration of Independence," and Mr. Ingersoll is inclined to think that this claim is well founded. Decisive reasons are given why Jefferson could not have been its author, and there is much forcible evidence that Paine was the only man who could have done it. The following passages will afford a good illustration of our author's manner of dealing with his topics, and also sum up his estimate of Mr. Paine:
This work, copyrighted in 1880, has but just appeared, but since its publication its versatile author has passed away. Mr. Sargent was born in 1812, studied in Harvard College, and early became an editor in Boston. He pursued this vocation awhile in New York, and then again resumed it in Boston. He edited various popular "Speakers" "Readers," and rhetorical books for the schools, and wrote many plays both comical and tragical. He also wrote "Life of Henry Clay," a volume of poems, an abolition book, and "Arctic Adventures." That he should have dipped into spiritualism was but natural with his love of diversified literary occupation; and so, a dozen years ago, he printed "Planchette, or the Despair of Science," and closed his career with the production of the volume now before us.
As was to be expected, the work is one of considerable literary merit, well digested, attractively written, and made lively by a pervading spirit of criticism. If we may be allowed the paradoxical suggestion, Mr. Sargent goes the "whole hog" in spiritualism. He believes it all, sticks at nothing, and slashes right and left at everybody who objects to it. He claims to be on the winning side, and says that in the last forty years spiritualism has gained twenty million adherents. One would think that with this he might "rest and be thankful," but it does not satisfy him. It seems that, among these twenty million believers, the scientific men generally are not to be found, and it is this fact which caused Mr. Sargent to write his book. He thinks the twenty million people of all sorts, who need not be further characterized, are right, and that the scientific men—the sole class whose business it is to search out the truths of nature—are wrong; and it is his object to show that spiritualism has just as much a valid scientific foundation as any of the recognized and established branches of science. We shall not undertake to answer his arguments, if such they may be called, but will only observe, as we have repeatedly done before in this connection, that the most fundamental of all distinctions is confused throughout the work. The supernatural, or that which by its very term is above and beyond nature, is mixed up and confounded with nature itself, and spiritualism is declared to be "a purely natural fact." Yet, if this doctrine had twenty times twenty million adherents, science could not accept it, because it takes for its object of investigation the natural as opposed to the supernatural. In so far as alleged "spiritualism" involves human phenomena, it is of course within the purview of science, and scientific men will be certain to take these phenomena up in their own way and in their own time. But they must be allowed to mark out their own work, and the problem as presented by the twenty million does not come in a shape suitable to be dealt with by rigorous scientific methods. The men of science begin by doubting, and cultivating this state of mind as a virtue; they continue to doubt until evidence extorts acquiescence, while assent even then goes no further than to things regarded as actually proved; the "twenty million," on the contrary, begin by believing, hold this state of mind to be a virtue, and go on believing without much perplexing themselves over questions of evidence. To them the phrase "the scientific basis of the super-scientific" would involve no contradiction.
We are glad to announce the appearance of a cheap popular edition of this suggestive book, by which it will be made accessible to many who could not have secured it in its previous form. We are happy to note, further, that it has proved a very considerable success. Four editions have been called for in this country; the Germans are printing a translation in parts; it is discussed in French and Italian periodicals; and an English edition is in preparation. The work is everywhere looked upon as an important contribution to political economy, and as an eloquent and vigorous discussion of imminent social problems. It is a wholesome sign of the growing liberality of the times that a work should be so cordially received and highly appreciated, while at the same time there is general and decisive dissent from its main conclusions. It is read and enjoyed for its humane spirit and the novelty and independence of its views; but we do not observe that Mr. George makes disciples who endorse his leading and distinctive doctrines. It is, however, admitted that he has contributed to the elucidation of political economy by his adverse criticism of prevailing opinions on that subject; and it is certainly no small merit to have done something for the advancement of this inquiry, and the clearing up of important economical questions.
It was not the author's object in this volume to write a history of medicine, but simply to sketch the rise and fall of the different schools, sects, or systems of medicine, from the earliest historical period down to some of the more prominent heresies of the present day. The author writes with brevity, and does not enter into the consideration of the contemporaneous systems of philosophy or theology with which medicine in former times has been strangely and inconsistently commingled. All topics are also avoided which are merely of interest to the medical antiquarian. The author says in his preface: "My second object is to furnish the regular profession with some much-needed information in regard to homœopathy. Few busy practitioners have the time or inclination to investigate the claims of this school, and, although they are brought in contact with it daily, know little or nothing of its real principles. I have presented the principles of this school fairly, quoting the exact words of its founders at the expense of some repetition, in order that I might not be accused of misrepresentation. The discussion of these principles has been conducted from a scientific standpoint, and without ridicule, thus showing of what homœopathy consisted originally; and by quotations from the current literature of the school, with discussions thereon, showing what it is now. It is confidently believed that the condensed information contained in this little book will not be altogether without interest to the profession."
Not only will the admirers of Matthew Arnold be gratified by this varied collection of his best utterances, but many, who are not familiar with or do not possess his works, will be glad of a representative volume like this, in which they can get some acquaintance with the thought of the eminent modern apostle of the gospel of "sweetness and light." The selections are systematic, being arranged under the heads of—I. Literature; II. Politics and Society; and III. Philosophy and Religion; and they have been collected with good judgment, and will prove very suggestive and gratifying to all cultivated readers.
We call renewed attention to this admirable periodical, the only one in English thoroughly devoted to original physiological research. The progress in the arts of physiological experimentation and the untiring assiduity of the laborers in this field are fruitful of important results which are both of general interest as extensions of scientific knowledge and of special moment to all the well-qualified members of the medical profession. The publication deserves to be liberally sustained.
This is not a text-book on æsthetics, but an attempt to deal with the underlying philosophy of the subject. Physical science, metaphysics, and theology profess to be no more dealt with than is necessary for the author's logical purpose. His chief claims are on the psychologic and the ethic side, and there he thinks he has made additions to the treatment of the subject. He does not attempt to deal formally with art or art criticism, but holds that his views may be carried out in application to the several departments of architecture, sculpture, painting, music, literature, oratory, poetry, and histrionics. The author modestly says in his preface: "While my treatise is intended, primarily, as a contribution to the philosophy of the science, I have endeavored to cast it in such form and style as to interest all intelligent readers, who, if they are patient over some parts of the work, may find it, elsewhere, and on the whole, compensatory."
This school-book has several things to commend it: it is neatly printed, it is elegantly illustrated, it carries an eminent name on its title-page as author, and is, consequently, we have no doubt, trustworthy in its statements; if, therefore, the publishers can not make a good thing out of it, it will be their fault. The drawback of the book is, that its author seems to know only physiology, while some knowledge of the growing mind is necessary to make a good book of science for educational purposes. It is a question-and-answer book "of the old type," to be learned by memory by young people. As this class embraces pupils of all grades, the book is suited to no special grade, and will be equally used to begin with, to continue with, and to finish with. This will be again favorable to its sale, but unfits it for intelligent educational use.
On the title-page of this book is printed the following, which are probably fundamental propositions maintained in the volume: "Spherical Bacteria, or Micrococci of Diphtheria, shown to be only Molecular Granules of Fibrin. Rod-like Bacteria, Bacterian termo, shown to be Molecular Granules of Fibrin, united into Fibrils, or fine thread-like prolongations."
The book is one that it belongs to the medical profession to judge of.
Cases treated by the Lister Method. Reported to the Portland Clinical Society by Frederick H. Gerrish, M.D. Portland, 1880. Pp. 15.
The Anarchist. Socialistic-Revolutionary Review. Edited andby Dr. Nathan Ganz. Boston, January, 1881. Monthly. Pp. 24. 60 cents a year.
Vennor's Almanac and Weather Record for 1880-'81. New York: American News Company. Pp. 84. 25 cents.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Vol. I. Nos. 11, 12, March, and No. 13, April. 1880. New York: Published for the Academy.
The Constitution of the Tartrates of Antimony. By Professor F. W. Clarke and Helena Stallo. Reprint from "American Chemical Journal." Pp. 13.
Reports of the Iowa Weather Service for the Twelve Months of 1878. and January, February, March, and April, 1879. By Dr. Gustavus Hinrichs. Des Moines, 1880.
Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by George Grove, D. C. L. Part XII, Palestrina to Plain Song. London and New York: Macmillan & Co. 1880. Issued in quarterly parts, at $1.
Report on the Culture of the Sugar-Beet and the Manufacture of Sugar therefrom in France and the United States. By William McMurtrie, Ph. D. Washington: Government Printing-Office. 1880. With Maps. Pp. 294.
A Treatise on the Injurious and Beneficial Insects found on the Orange-Trees of Florida. By William H. Ashmead. Jacksonville, Fla. 1880. Illustrated. Pp. 78.
The Food of Fishes. By S. A. Forbes. Reprint from Bulletin No. 3. Illustrated. State Laboratory of Natural History. Pp. 60.
On the Present Condition of Musical Pitch in Boston and Vicinity. By Charles R. Cross and William T. Miller. Reprint from the "American Journal of Otology," October, 1880. Pp. 16.
The Coming Revelation: Its Principles. St. Louis, 1878. Pp. 40. The Abdominal Method of Singing and Breathing as a Cause of Female Weakness. By Clifton E. Wins, M.D. Boston. Pp. 8.
Abridgment of the Nautical Almanac for 1881. By Riggs & Brother, Philadelphia. Pp. 150. 25 cents.
The Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota. Eighth Annual Report, for 1879. By N. H. Winchell. Illustrated. St. Paul, 1880. Pp. 183.
Drainage for Health, or Easy Lessons in Sanitary Science. By Joseph Wilson, M.D. Philadelphia: Presley Blakiston. 1881. Pp. 68. $1.
Report of the United States Fish Commissioner for 1878. Washington: Government Printing-Office. 1880. Pp. 988.
Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages. With Words. Phrases, and Sentences to be collected. By J. W. Powell. Washington: Government Printing-Office. With Maps. 1880. Pp. 328.
James Smithson and his Bequest. By William J. Rhees. Washington: Published by the Smithsonian Institution. Illustrated. 1880. Pp. 159.
Sketches and Reminiscences of the Radical Club of Chestnut Street, Boston. Edited by Mrs. John T. Sargent. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. 1880. Pp. 418. $2.
The Logic of Christian Evidences. By G. Frederick Wright. Andover: Warren F. Draper. 1880. Pp. 312. $1.50.
Extracts from Chordal's Letter. American Machinists' Publishing Company. New York, 1880. Pp. 320. $1.50.
Elementary Projection Drawing. By S. Edward Warren, C.E. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Twenty-four Plates. 1880. Pp. 162. $1.50.
A Text-Book of Elementary Mechanics. By Edward S. Dana. New York: John Wiley & Sons. 1881. Pp. 291. $1.50.
The Young Folks' Cyclopædia of Persons and Places. Illustrated. By John D, Champlin, Jr. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1881. Pp. 936. $3.50.