Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/September 1882/Littre, Dumas, Pasteur, and Taine

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 21 September 1882  (1882) 
Littre, Dumas, Pasteur, and Taine


THE names which we have placed at the head of this article are those of four of the most illustrious representatives of the intellect of France in the present age. M. Littré, whose recent death the Academy and the world of letters have to deplore, takes rank among the greatest masters of language; M. Dumas still pursues his valuable researches in chemical science, and he combines with them an eloquence and elegance in literary composition not unworthy of his scientific renown; M. Pasteur has carried to their farthest limit the investigations of physiology, and has rendered incalculable services to mankind by tracing to their sources the germs of life, and of the diseases which affect life; M. Taine must be placed among the best French writers left to us since the extinction of the great historians, critics, and orators of the last generation. By a fortunate accident three of these eminent persons were called upon to take part on two memorable occasions beneath the dome devoted to the public sittings of the French Institute. That building, dedicated to letters, to science, to art, and to criticism, may be regarded as the last refuge and asylum of the genius and culture of France. It has resounded for two centuries to the voices of the great leaders of thought and eloquence of former generations; it still collects within its walls whatever is best and noblest in French society. This institution alone survives the great cataclysm which has swept away thrones, and churches, and orders, and constitutional government. The National Institute, and especially the oldest branch of it, the French Academy, still pursues its calm and dignified course, unshaken by despotism, by sedition, by popular tumults, by the violence of war, or by the scourge of revolution. Even during the siege of Paris we believe that its sittings were scarcely interrupted. Beneath the customary forms of academic compliments, which are in themselves idle ceremonies, it is not difficult to trace in its proceedings the language of earnest thought and warm feeling; and we shall have occasion to show that the great conflict of the age between faith and science, between the intellect and the senses, between spiritualism and materialism, between mind and matter, between the finite and the infinite, was the real subject of the discourses delivered on the occasions to which we now particularly refer.

But there was in this encounter a peculiar contrast. M. Littré, to whose memory the speech of M. Pasteur was devoted, was himself a Comtist; his philosophy was entirely negative; he denied everything which could not be brought within the evidence of the senses. These agnostic opinions were strenuously assailed by the eminent man of science whose duty it was to relate the touching history of his life. M. Taine, who had been elected to the Academy two years before in the place of M. de Loménie, disclaimed all adherence to Comtism, and spoke with very little respect of its founder, but his language was not less skeptical; it was a distant echo of the philosophy of the eighteenth century, which destroyed all beliefs and planted nothing in their place; it was an avowal of the supremacy of matter over mind, which is characteristic of ail his own writings. To him M. Dumas replied with great force and point. The great chemist told him that all the researches of the present generation into the secrets of the material creation indicated the existence of powers infinitely beyond it, and that the utmost advance in scientific knowledge only brought us to the verge of an incalculable horizon. The discourse in answer to M. Pasteur was delivered by M. Renan, but it proved to be a feeble and disjointed effort of French incredulity, without its wit. So that the cause of skepticism and negation was on these occasions upheld by the men of letters, inquirers into the origin of language and the phenomena of history, while the cause of belief in an infinite and supernatural power was defended by the men of science, whose lives have been devoted to the study of the natural world and to demonstration by the experience of the senses. The contrast was striking, and we think our readers may follow it with interest.

But, before we proceed to that part of our subject, we must pause to pay a tribute of respect, unhappily too long delayed, to the memory of the most remarkable of these eminent persons. There are other experimentalists, there are many historians, but M. Littré stands alone as the greatest of lexicographers, and the literary work accomplished by his almost unassisted labor was literally stupendous. We can use n$ other term. The character of the great "Dictionary of the French Language," to which he devoted thirty years of unremitting toil, is best described by its elaborate title-page. The mere material bulk of the work, which was published in four thick quarto volumes, is astonishing. The manuscript (without the supplement) covered 415,636 pages. The proof-sheets were 2,242. If the "Dictionary" had been set up in a single column of type, it would have extended over 37,325 metres, or about twenty-seven miles. The work was first projected in 1841, when M. Littré had already passed the fortieth year of his life; it was not till 1846 that the contract was signed with M. Hachette, whose liberal support was indispensable to the author. From that time forth the collection of authorities and materials, and the art of classification, which was the result of numerous experiments (some of them being abortive), occupied about thirteen years. Several persons were employed to read and extract, with a precise reference, passages from the whole body of the French classical writers from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century; to which M. Littré added, from his accurate knowledge of the old French chronicles and poets, a multitude of curious archaic examples from the thirteenth century downward. The arrangement of this enormous mass of materials seems to have been entirely done, by M. Littré himself. The work of printing began in September, 1859, and was completed in July, 1872. Every proof passed under the eyes of four careful correctors, besides the printer's reader, and the final revision of the author. It took about two months to carry a sheet through the press. In the course of this vast operation 292 quarto pages of three columns each were added to the proofs. Twice the composition and execution of the work were interrupted by a revolution and a war; but, by assiduous efforts, M. Littré always kept ahead of his compositors and correctors. We must leave him to relate in his own words how this was effected. The volume entitled "Glanures" contains a paper, written in the last hours of his life, entitled "Comment j'ai fait mon Dictionnaire," which tells the wonderful story of his literary existence: "My rule of life included the twenty-four hours of the day and night, so as to bestow the least possible amount of time on the current calls of existence. I contrived, by sacrificing every superfluous indulgence, to have the luxury of a dwelling in the country and another in town. My country abode was at Ménil-le-Roi, near Paris, a small old cottage with near an acre of productive garden, which dapibus mensas onerabat inemptis, as it did to the old man in the Georgics. There I was master of my time. I rose at eight; very late, you will say, for so busy a man. Wait an instant. While they put my bedroom in order, which was also my study, I went downstairs with some work in hand. It was thus, for example, that I composed the preface of the 'Dictionary.' I had learnd from Chancellor d'Aguesseau the value of unoccupied minutes. At nine I set to work to correct proofs until the hour of our mid-day meal. At one I resumed work, and wrote my papers for the 'Journal des Savants,' to which I was from 1855 a regular contributor. From three to six I went on with the 'Dictionary.' At six punctually we dined, which took about an hour. They say it is unwholesome to work directly after dinner, but I have never found it so. It is so much time won from the exigencies of the body. Starting again at seven in the evening, I stuck to the 'Dictionary.' My first stage took me to midnight, when my wife and daughter (who were my assistants) retired. I then worked on till three in the morning, by which time my daily task was usually completed. If it was not, I worked on later, and more than once, in the long days of summer, I have put out my lamp and continued to work by the light of the coming dawn. However, at three in the morning I generally laid down my pen, and put my papers in order for the following day—that day which had already begun. Habit and regularity had extinguished all excitement in my work. I fell asleep as easily as a man of leisure does; and woke at eight, as men of leisure do. But these vigils were not without their charm. A nightingale had built her nest in a little row of limes that crosses the garden, and she filled the silence of the night and of the country with her limpid and tuneful notes. O Virgil! how could you, who wrote the Georgics, describe as a mournful dirge, miserabile carmen, those glorious strains?"

We have never heard of another example of severe labor of the brain carried on systematically for seventeen or eighteen hours a day for so many years. But M. Littré, who was himself a great medical authority, is of opinion that it did him no harm. He was past forty when he began this work; he was fifty-nine when he began to print the Dictionary; he was seventy-two when he completed it; and he lived to be near eighty. To these details we will only add that he abstained from every kind of luxury and indulgence, except a holiday of one month in the year, spent on the coast of Brittany. He lived on the smallest pittance on which life could be supported. Hachette allowed him a hundred pounds a year, but half of this sum went to his wife and daughter. He had previously saved forty thousand francs, but that was lost in the Revolution of 1848. The publisher's advances to the author amounted to no more than forty thousand francs, a sum which was eventually repaid out of the profits of the sale. But until the completion of the work the sale was small, and these thirty years of unexampled labor were at the time wholly unproductive. Happily, M. Littré's life was sufficiently prolonged for him to witness the triumphant success of his great undertaking. It brought affluence to his declining years; it placed him on the seats of the French Academy; it has given him fame far beyond his modest aspirations and his simple tastes. We have been informed that fifty thousand copies of the Dictionary have been sold; if this is the fact, it is without a parallel for a publication of this price and magnitude.

It is impossible for us within our present limits, and with the task we have now before us, to attempt a critical examination of this great work. Suffice it to say that the conception was as original as the execution is marvelous. The French language has been spoken and written for seven hundred years; like all languages, it has undergone vast transformations in that period; like all living languages, it is still undergoing a process of perpetual evolution. The Dictionary of the Academy is the standard of the accepted and existing language of France; it excludes archaisms, it condemns neologisms, it gives no references or derivations. M. Littré's design is far broader and more vast; it is based on the historical growth of the language, and it includes the history of every word in the language from its first occurrence, its etymology, and its various meanings, down to its modern use. The period of what is termed contemporary or classical French dates from Malherbe, a little more than two hundred years back; but, with few exceptions of recent date, every word has a tradition of centuries behind it. Thus, each article in M. Littré's Dictionary includes, first, the word; then its pronunciation; then the conjugation of the verbs, if irregular; then the definition of the various meanings of each word, illustrated by quotations from the best authors of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, all textually referred to so 'that they can be found; and these meanings are scientifically arranged, always proceeding from the more simple and concrete to the more abstract and metaphorical. This classification of meanings is the most remarkable feature in the work, because it is executed with an extraordinary amount of philosophical discrimination. Take, for example, the word Nature: M. Littré dissects and unravels it into twenty-eight shades of meaning, and each of these is verified by appropriate quotations and authorities. Such an article takes the reader into the depths of philosophical speculation; in tracing the history of a word he follows the history of thought. The verb passer runs to no less than sixty-six meanings, many of them amusing, proverbial, anecdotical. The word faire in French represents the two English verbs to make and to do. It consequently covers an immense field of action. M. Littré defines it as the word "qui dénote toute espèce d'opération qui donne être ou forme." He traces it through eighty-two shades of meaning, and the article he devotes to it is an essay of no less than eight quarto pages. Hence this Dictionary becomes attractive and even fascinating. Like Forcellini's Lexicon, which it most resembles, there is scarcely a passage or marked expression in the French classics which is not cited in it; but Forcellini and Ducange were dealing with dead or expiring languages; M. Littré had to force his way through the Babel of modern literature and society.

We now pass from the book to the man, whose life is scarcely less remarkable than the work to which he devoted it, and here we shall avail ourselves of the guidance of M. Pasteur in his discourse. Emile Littré was born in Pans, February 1, 1801. His father was an artilleryman of the first Republic, who had adopted with passion, both in politics and religion, the stern theories of the Revolution of 1791, and defended them in the patriotic army. He transmitted these opinions to his son, who inherited the same austerity of principles, tempered, however, by great natural benevolence. His mother was a woman of the same energetic stamp, though uneducated. Sainte-Beuve described her as "a Roman matron." The lad was educated at the Lycée Louisle-Grand, his father having a small appointment in the office of inland revenue in Paris. The elder Littré learned Greek, and even began Sanskrit, to assist in the education of his son. On leaving college the young man acted for a time as secretary to M. Daru; but he desired to follow the medical profession, and had all but completed his hospital training, when his father died, leaving him too poor to take his degree and to enter upon practice. Accordingly, he never did practice medicine, except gratuitously among the poor of his village. Yet such was the medical reputation he acquired by his subsequent writings, that, as we have been informed, he was ultimately elected a member of the Medical Council of Paris. At this early stage of his life, in 1831, he was compelled to fall back on the humble occupation of a teacher of foreign languages and mathematics, and a translator of articles for the "National" newspaper, which made him acquainted with Armand Carrel. Meanwhile his mind, conscious of its strength, yet modest to excess, formed vast and varied projects, which he hesitated to execute. Such was the mastery he had already acquired over the sources of the French language, that he amused himself by translating a book of the "Iliad" into French verse of the thirteenth century. He also translated the elder Pliny, and in 1831 plunged into a greater work, a translation and edition of the writings of Hippocrates, for winch his medical studies had prepared him. Indeed, he continued to write on medical subjects, in which he always took the strongest interest. "Though I have studied medicine," he said, "without having made any practical use of it, I would not exchange for anything else this fraction of knowledge which I have acquired by persistent labor."

The use he did make of it was to watch over the health of his village, for to a rigorous austerity of life he united the utmost tenderness of heart, and, although he wandered far from all theological belief, his life was one constant example of self-denial, of consideration for others, and of what might be called the religion of duty. No monk ever lived on simpler fare or in a humbler abode. That cottage still remains in the state in which he left it, and over the table, as a visible symbol of reverence and toleration, hangs a picture of our Saviour. We have already related in his own language the extraordinary labor in which his days and nights were spent over the Dictionary. Yet his door was never closed against the visit of a friend; he continued to take part in the transactions of the branch of the Institute to which he belonged; and, yielding to the earnest solicitation of the widow of Auguste Comte, he consented to write, in addition to his other work, a biography of that personage.

Born and educated upon the devastated soil of the French Revolution, Littré had entered upon-life without religious opinions; indeed, like the elder Mill, his father had deliberately withheld them from him. But at the age of forty he read the "System of Positive Philosophy" by Auguste Comte, and he thus described the impression he received from it: "This book subjugated me. A conflict arose in my mind between my old and my new opinions; the latter triumphed. I became a disciple of the Positive Philosophy, and I have remained so. For the last twenty years I have been an adept of this philosophy. The confidence I feel in it has never been shaken. Employed on very different subjects—history, language, physiology, medicine, erudition—I have constantly used it as a sort of tool which traces for me the features, the origin, and the conclusion of each question. It suffices for everything; it never deceives me; it always enlightens me." This is the' best testimony ever borne to the value of M. Comte's philosophy; and it is borne by an eminent man, and that man a Frenchman. M. Comte has had but little honor in his own country; he was detested, despised, and to some extent persecuted in France while he was alive; and, with the exception of M. Littré, we have never heard that he has obtained any eminent disciple among his own countrymen.

From England, on the contrary, he received solid proofs of sympathy and interest^ for he lived on an English annuity; and since his death his works have been carefully translated, and his opinions adopted by some of the young and active minds of the present times. The French even deny him the merit of originality, and repudiate his system, probably because they know more of the man than we do. But we shall leave M. Pasteur to discuss it: "The fundamental principle of Auguste Comte is to set aside all metaphysical inquiry into first and final causes, to reduce all ideas and all theories to fact, and to restrict the character of certainty to experimental demonstration. His system includes a classification of the sciences, and a pretended law of history expressed by the assertion that the conceptions of the human mind pass successively through three states—the theological, the metaphysical, and the scientific or positive.

"M. Littré was full of praises of this system and of its author. In his eyes Auguste Comte was a man destined to hold a great place in posterity, and the positive philosophy was one of those products of a century or more which change the level of human thought. If he had been asked what he esteemed most in the laborious efforts of his life, Littré would doubtless have replied that it was his sincere and persevering apostolate of positivism. It is not uncommon to find the most learned of men deluded as to their own chief merits. I confess, therefore, that I have formed an estimate of the work of Auguste Comte differing widely from that of M. Littré. The causes of this divergence are the result of the very nature of the inquiries which occupied his life and of those which have exclusively occupied mine.

"The labors of M. Littré were directed to researches in history, language, and scientific and literary erudition. The subject of these studies lies entirely in facts belonging to the past, to which nothing can be added, from which nothing can be subtracted. The method of observation to be followed in them can seldom lead to strict demonstrations. Scientific experiment, on the contrary, admits no others.

"The experimentalist in the conquest of nature is continually opposed to facts not yet manifest, and which exist in the potential rudiments of natural laws. The unknown, within the limits of the possible, and not of the past, is his domain; and to explore it he employs that marvelous experimental method, of which it may be said with truth, not that it suffices for all things, but that it rarely deceives those who use it aright. The mistake of Auguste Comte and M. Littré was to confound this method with the simple method of observation. Unused to experimental philosophy, they use the word 'experience' in its ordinary signification, which is by no means its meaning in scientific language. The daily tasks of the man of science lead him to seek the idea of progress in an idea of invention. I find no invention in positivism. The mere gradation of the human intellect and the classification of the sciences have no claim to the title."

M. Littré found a certain repose of mind in the absolute denial by the positivists of all metaphysical truth. He was, in fact, what is now called an agnostic. Without denying the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, he dismissed them from his thoughts, as subjects incapable of scientific demonstration. To this M. Pasteur replies:

"As for myself, holding that the words 'progress' and 'invention' are synonymous, I ask by what new philosophical or scientific discovery the soul of man can be torn from these lofty themes. They seem to me to be eternal, because the mystery that infolds the universe, from which they emanate, is itself eternal. . . .

"Positivism errs in more points than in its mistaken method. The thread of its argument, though apparently close enough, has in it a vast fault, which the sagacity of M. Littré might have detected. He frequently remarks, in speaking of positivism from the practical point of view, 'I call positivism all that is done by society to promote social organization on a scientific basis, which is the positive conception of the world.' I accept this definition if it be rigorously applied; but the great and manifest fault of the system is that it omits from the positive conception of the world the most important of positive ideas—that of the infinite.

"Beyond this starry firmament what is there? More skies and stars. And beyond these? The human mind, impelled by an irresistible power, will never cease to ask itself, what lies beyond? Time and space arrest it not. At the farthest point attained is a finite boundary, enlarged from what preceded it; no sooner is it reached than the implacable question returns, returns for ever in the curiosity of man. It is vain to speak of space, of time, of size unlimited. Those words pass the human understanding. But he who proclaims the existence of the infinite—and no man can escape from it—comprehends in that assertion more of the supernatural than there is in all the miracles of all religions; for the conception of the infinite has the twofold characters that it is irresistible and incomprehensible. We prostrate ourselves before the thought, which masters all the faculties of the understanding, and threatens the springs of intellectual life, like the sublime madness of Pascal. Yet this positive and primordial conception is gratuitously set aside by positivism, with all its consequences on the life of human society.

"The conception of the infinite in creation is everywhere irresistibly manifest. It places the supernatural in every human heart. The idea of God is a form of the idea of the infinite. As long as the mystery of the infinite weighs upon the mind of man, temples will be raised to it, be the object of adoration Brahma, Allah, Jehovah, or Jesus. Metaphysics are but the study of this commanding notion of the infinite. The same ideal conception is the faculty which, in presence of beauty, suggests the perfection of beauty. Science and the true passion for discovery are the effects of that intense desire to know, which is inspired by the mystery of the universe. And what is the true source of human dignity, of liberty, of modern democracy, but the conception of an infinite power, before which all men are equal? 'There must be,' says M. Littré, 'some spiritual bond of humanity, without which society would lapse into isolated families or hordes, and be no real society at all.' This spiritual bond, which he placed in a sort of subordinate religion of humanity, can only consist in the lofty conception of the infinite, because the spiritual bond must be one with the mystery of the world."

The genius of M. Littré was essentially analytical. In that spirit he delighted to trace the uses of words and language to their roots and filaments; and he performed that task with consummate ability. But we discover in his writings no power of constructive reasoning. On the contrary, he was apt to mistake mere reveries and phantasms for the laws that govern society and the human mind. Thus in 1850 he announced "that peace for the next five-and-twenty years was foreseen by sociology, and, indeed, that peace was to last throughout the present period of transition, at the end of which a republican confederation would unite the west of Europe and put an end to armed conflicts." In 1878 he was obliged to confess that all bis forecasts were mere delusions. In the interval four wars had broken out, and the great monarchies of Germany and Italy had consolidated their power at the expense of France. We have a profound respect for M. Littré as a philologist, but he certainly was not a politician nor a philosopher. That new-fangled term "sociology" covers a multitude of false speculations and puerile blunders.

M. Taine is not a disciple of Auguste Comte, and he professes no great respect for that positive philosopher. He is rather a follower of Condillac and the skeptics of the last century; and, as we have had occasion to point out in reviewing his works, he attributes, like the late Mr. Buckle, a sovereign power to matter over mind, and to external circumstances over the formation of individual and national character. We have not forgotten his caricature of English literature, which he ascribes to the carnivorous tastes of the Anglo-Saxon. He judges of the genius of a nation by its diet and its climate. On the occasion of his own reception at the Academy, in January, 1880, M. Taine delivered an éloge of his predecessor, M. de Loménie, which is really a masterpiece, unexceptionable in taste and style. No one has drawn a more faithful and graceful picture of the French society of the last generation, such as gathered round Madame Récamier at the Abbaye-aux-Bois. But these things have passed away. M. Dumas, the eminent chemist, in his reply to the new academician, touched on the vagaries of a more recent period, and did not leave M. Taine's materialist philosophy unnoticed.

He told him that "the fanatics of the naturalist school, upsetting language and placing the physical above the moral side of things, contend that, to judge of a man's work, you must trace his innermost life, ascertain whether he was born on a calcareous or a granite soil, learn whether his ancestors and himself have drunk wine, cider, or beer, or eaten meat, fish, or vegetables—nay, you must penetrate the meanest details of his existence, and descend from the heights of criticism and from a scientific system to the gratification of a paltry curiosity."

This sarcasm was not ill-directed to its mark, but M. Dumas went on: "The physician and the naturalist may teach what is physical in man, that his nerves are sometimes instruments of pain, and that his body is but dust. That is their business. But philosophy and eloquence should cast their mantle of purple and gold over the baser aspects of life. It is their business to strengthen the heart of man and raise his soul to immortality. That is what you tell us has been done by Mr. Tennyson, the greatest poet of his time, if not of his country, whom some of his admirers place above Byron and not far below Shakespeare."

And the old man eloquent went on: "The philosophy of nature played a considerable part in the events of the last century. The schools of Greece thought they had penetrated to the elements of all things; the Roman poets, in turn, regarded themselves as the interpreters of creation; Diderot and his rivals boasted that they possessed the universe. But the discoveries of science in our own age prove that none but the ignorant can suppose that the whole book of wisdom has been revealed to us. The source of life and its essence are unknown to us. We have not seized that mysterious link which connects the body with the mind, and constitutes the unity of individual man. We have no right to treat man as an abstract being, to disdain his history, or to attribute to science an influence over the direction of the moral axis of the world, which its progress does not justify. We have, it is true, conquered the earth, measured the track of the planets, calculated the mechanism of the heavens, analyzed the stars, resolved the nebula?, and followed the eccentric course of comets; but beyond those stars, whose light is centuries in reaching us, there are other orbs whose rays are lost in space; and farther, farther still, beyond all limits and all computation, are suns which we shall not behold, and innumerable worlds hidden from our eyes. After two thousand years of effort, if we reach the utmost extremity of the universe, which is but a point in the immensity of space, we are arrested on the threshold of the Infinite, of which we know nothing. 'The nature of man, his present and future existence, are mysteries impenetrable to the greatest genius, as well as to the rest of mankind,' said D'Alembert, at the height of his fame. 'What we know is but little,' said Laplace on his death-bed. Those were the last words of the illustrious rival of Newton. Let them also be mine."

The lofty idealism of these speakers repudiated alike the Comtism of M. Littré, the materialism of M. Taine, and the destructive criticism of M. Renan. It is no less opposed to that miscalled philosophy of the senses which has found of late years so many able advocates among the men of science and the younger thinkers of England. The perceptions of the senses are undoubtedly the only guides we possess to a knowledge of the material world, and the inferences drawn from them by the faculties of the understanding are the legitimate conquests of physical science. But they entirely fail to explain the higher functions of the intellect, which are the domain of metaphysics; still less do we derive from the senses the moral laws of justice, of truth, of charity, of conscience; and least of all that conception of the supernatural and the infinite which it is the glory of man to trace in nature and in the emotions of the soul. Man alone, said Goethe, is a religious animal, and those who would degrade his nature to that of the brutes, begin by extinguishing in him the sense of religion.

These are, in other words, the sentiments expressed by M. Dumas and M. Pasteur. And who are they who hold this language? The one is a chemist, conversant with all the known properties of natural bodies and the marvelous combinations of the atomic theory which reduces them all to a few primitive elements. The other is a physiologist who has refuted the theory of spontaneous generation, and established on a solid basis that life alone can impart life. They have both traveled as far on the road of natural science as it will take them; they have even enlarged the bounds of physical knowledge. But, arrived at that term of man's labor, they acknowledge that an infinite horizon of thought, of action, of forces, and of power lies beyond the scope of sensuous observation. He studies Nature with a careless eye and a benighted mind who does not perceive that the supernatural lies in it and above it. For when all is said that science can teach, and all is done that skill can achieve to cultivate the earth and bring forth its fruits, one gift remains without which everything else were vain—that gift which the Supreme Creator has reserved absolutely to himself—that gift which man and every living creature can take away, but can never restore—that gift without which this earth would be no more than the cinder of a planet—the mystery and the miracle of Life. Life is everywhere; without life nothing would exist at all: matter would be the caput mortuum of the universe. With the diffusion of life creation begins; and of that act all but a supernatural power is incapable. The seed of cummin you commit to the earth includes it; the single grain of wheat shoots up, not only to reproduce itself, but to multiply its ears a hundred-fold and in successive generations, millions upon millions of times, and to nourish a world; the acorn carries in its little cup a thousand years of vitality; the midge and the butterfly that sport for a day upon the rushes and the blossoms enjoy it; the laborious earth-worm that builds up the fertile soil of our fields and gardens has it; it ascends through all the scale of existence until it arrives at Man, a being capable of conceiving Infinite Power and hopes of an everlasting future. Yet who shall say what Life is? What is the value of a system of philosophy which denies or discards the only rational solution of the very first problem and condition of our own existence?—Edinburgh Review.

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