Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Mivart, St. George Jackson

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MIVART, ST. GEORGE JACKSON (1827–1900), biologist, third son of James Edward Mivart (d. 1856), hotel proprietor, of Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, London, was born on 30 Nov. 1827. He received his early education at the grammar school, Clapham, under Charles Pritchard [q. v.], and at Harrow. He subsequently studied at King's College, London, with the view of graduating at Oxford, but, having joined in 1844 the Roman catholic church, he proceeded to St. Mary's College, Oscott. His change of faith is said to have been prompted by a taste for Gothic architecture, and finally determined by a study of Milner's 'End of Religious Controversy.' Admitted on 15 Jan. 1846 student at Lincoln's Inn, he was there called to the bar on 30 Jan. 1851, but preferred a scientific to a forensic career. He was member from 1849 of the Royal Institution, and fellow from 1858 of the Zoological Society, to whose 'Proceedings' he was for more than thirty years a frequent contributor. In 1862 he was appointed lecturer on comparative anatomy in St. Mary's Hospital, London, and elected (20 March) fellow of the Linnean Society, of which he was secretary from 1874 to 1880, and was elected vice-president in 1892. In 1869 he was elected F.R.S. in recognition of the unusual merits of his memoir ' On the Appendicular Skeleton of the Primates,' communicated through Professor Huxley in 1867 ('Phil. Trans.' clvii. 299-430). Among others of his earlier scientific papers may be mentioned 'Notes on the Osteology of the Insectivora' ('Journal of Anatomy and Physiology,' Cambridge and London, 1867-8, i. 280-312, ii. 117-54 ; translated in 'Annales des Sciences Naturelles,' Sieme serie, 'Zoologie,'tom.viii. 221-84, ix. 311-72); ' Appendicular Skeleton of Simia' ('Trans. Zool. Soc.' vol. vi., 1866) ; 'Notes on the Myology of Iguana Tuberculata' ('Proc. Zool. Soc.' 1867, pp. 766-97) ; 'Notes on the Myology of Menobranchus Lateralis' (ib. 1869, pp. 450-66) ; 'On some Points in the Anatomy of Echidna Hystrix ' ('Trans. Linn. Soc.' vol. xxv. pt. iii. [1866], pp. 379-403) ; and ' On the Vertebrate Skeleton' (ib. vol. xxvii. pt. iii. [1871], pp. 369-92). Though greatly stimulated by Darwin, Mivart never became a Darwinian; and in 1871 freely criticised the great naturalist's hypothesis both in the 'Quarterly Review' (vol. cxxxi. p. 47) and in a substantive essay 'On the Genesis of Species' (London, 8vo) ; an assertion of the right of private judgment which led to an estrangement from both Darwin and Huxley. Three subsequent works : 1. 'Lessons in Elementary Anatomy,' London, 1873, 8vo. 2. 'Man and Apes,' London, 1873, 8vo. 3. 'The Common Frog,' London, 1874, 8vo, established his reputation as a specialist. He was already known as an attractive lecturer at the Zoological Gardens and the London Institution, and in 1874 he was appointed professor of biology at the short-lived Roman catholic University College, Kensington. During the decade 1870-80 he enriched the 'Transactions' of the Zoological Society (vols. viii. and x.) with several important papers, viz. : 1. 'On the Axial Skeleton of the Ostrich ; ' 2. 'On the Axial Skeleton of the Struthionidse ; ' 3. 'On the Axial Skeleton of the Pelecanidae;' 4. 'Notes on the Fins of Elasmobranchs ; with Considerations on the Nature and Homologues of Vertebrate Limbs.' To the 'Encyclopædia Britannica' (9th edit.) he contributed the articles 'Ape' (reproduced in substance in Flower and Lydekker's 'Introduction to the Study of Mammals,' 1891), ' Reptiles ' (anatomy), and ' Skeleton.' In 1879 he was president of the biological section of the British Association at Sheffield, and delivered an address on Buffbn, which was included in his 'Essays and Criticisms,' London, 1892, ii. 193. In 1881 appeared his elaborate monograph, ' The Cat : an Introduction to the Study of Back-boned Animals, especially Mammals' (London, 8vo), which for fulness and accuracy of detail and lucidity of exposition is worthy to rank with Huxley's 'Crayfish.' Subsequent studies in the anatomy of the Æluroid, Arctoid, and Cynoid carnivora appeared in the 'Proceedings' of the Zoological Society 1882, 1885, and 1890. His researches on the last group bore fruit in 'Dogs, Jackals, Wolves, and Foxes ; a monograph of the Canidæ,' London, 1890, 4to. Other papers in the 'Proceedings ' of the same society (1895) laid the basis of his 'Monograph of the Lories, or Brush-tongued Parrots composing the Family Loridse,' London, 1896, 4to. Mivart received in 1876 the degree of Ph.D. from the pope, and in 1884 that of M.D. from the university of Louvain, in which he was professor of 'the philosophy of natural history' from 1890 to 1893.

Despite his rejection of Darwinism, Mivart always professed himself an evolutionist. As such, however, he can be ranked with no school. He never wavered in maintaining an essential disparity between organic and inorganic matter, and between human reason and the highest faculties of the brutes. Natural selection he relegated to an extremely subordinate place, and attributed the formation of specific characters to a principle of individuation, which he postulated as the essence of life (see Essays and Criticisms, ii. 377-9, and The Origin of Human Reason, London, 1889, pp. 298-303). Evolution thus understood he attempted by a theory of derivative creation to reconcile with the catholic faith, between which and modern thought he aspired to play the part of interpreter (see his paper, 'One Point in Controversy with the Agnostics,' in Essays on Religion and Literature, ed. Manning, 3rd ser. London, 1874, 8vo). In November 1874 he joined the Metaphysical Society, in which, as in the wider arena of the monthly reviews, he opposed a neo-scholastic realism to the prevalent agnosticism. In 1876 he collected his philosophical articles under the title ‘Lessons from Nature as manifested in Mind and Matter,’ London, 8vo. ‘Nature and Thought,’ an attempt to refute Berkeley in Berkeley's own method of dialogue, appeared in 1882 and other works (all London, 8vo) in the following order: ‘A Philosophical Catechism’ (1884), ‘On Truth: a Systematic Inquiry’ (1889), ‘The Helpful Science’ (1895), and ‘The Groundwork of Science: a Study of Epistemology’ (1898). In these treatises he laboured to re-establish philosophy upon a pre-Cartesian basis, with only such modifications of form as were imperatively demanded by the problems of the age. But this attempt to refurbish the scholastic armoury of his church was combined with a theological liberalism which eventually brought him into collision with her. His neo-catholicism was adumbrated in ‘Contemporary Evolution,’ London, 1876 (a reprint of articles in the ‘Contemporary Review’), and more explicitly formulated in a series of papers in the ‘Nineteenth Century,’ viz.: 1. ‘Modern Catholics and Scientific Freedom’ (July 1885); 2. ‘The Catholic Church and Biblical Criticism’ (July 1887); 3. ‘Catholicity and Reason’ (December 1887); 4. ‘Sins of Belief and Disbelief’ (October 1888); 5. ‘Happiness in Hell’ (December 1892), which, with two explanatory papers (February and April 1893), was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 21 July 1893; and 6. ‘The Continuity of Catholicism’ (January 1900). The last article, with another entitled ‘Some Recent Apologists,’ which appeared contemporaneously in the ‘Fortnightly Review,’ brought his orthodoxy formally into question and led to his excommunication by Cardinal Vaughan (18 Jan.). An article, ‘Scripture and Roman Catholicism,’ which appeared in the ‘Nineteenth Century’ in the following March, completed his repudiation of ecclesiastical authority. He died of diabetes at his residence, 77 Inverness Terrace, London, W., on 1 April following. He was married. His son, Dr. F. St. George Mivart, is a medical inspector of the local government board.

It is to be regretted that Mivart did not confine himself strictly to scientific work, in which his real strength lay. In mastery of anatomical detail he had few rivals, and perhaps no superior, among his contemporaries; but his eminence in this department was not gained without a degree of preoccupation which left him scanty leisure for the study of the delicate and controversial questions on which he attempted to arbitrate.

Besides the works mentioned above, Mivart was the author of: 1. ‘Introduction Générale à l'Etude de la Nature. Cours professé à l'Université de Louvain,’ Louvain, Paris, 1891. 2. ‘Birds: the Elements of Ornithology,’ London, 1892, 8vo. 3. ‘Types of Animal Life,’ London, 1893, 8vo. 4. ‘An Introduction to the Elements of Science,’ London, 1894, 8vo. 5. ‘Castle and Manor: a Tale of our Time,’ London, 1900, 8vo. For his uncollected papers not specified above see the Zoological Society's ‘Transactions’ and ‘Proceedings’ from 1864 (with which compare ‘Zoological Record’ and ‘Zoologist,’ 3rd ser. viii. 281); ‘Transactions of the Linnean Society,’ 2nd ser. (Zool.), i. 513: ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society,’ 1888, No. 263; ‘Popular Science Review,’ viii. 111, ix. 366, xiv. 372, xv. 225; ‘Contemporary Review,’ April 1875, May, July, September, October 1879, January, February, April 1880, May 1887; ‘Fortnightly Review,’ January, April 1886, September 1895, May 1896; ‘Nineteenth Century,’ August, December 1893, August 1895, January, December 1897, August 1899; ‘Dublin Review,’ October 1876, October 1891.

[Royal Society Year Book, 1901, pp. 227–233; Lincoln's Inn Adm. Reg.; Gent. Mag. 1856, i. 213; Law List, 1852; Owen's Life of Professor Owen; Darwin's Life of Darwin; Huxley's Life of Huxley; Hutton's ‘The Metaphysical Society’ in Nineteenth Century, August 1885; Mivart's ‘Reminiscences of Professor Huxley’ in Nineteenth Century, December 1897; Minerva Jahrbuch, 1891; Men and Women of the Time, 1895; Times, 12, 13, 15, 22, 27, 29 Jan., 2, 3, 4 April 1900; Tablet, 7 April 1900; Nature, 12 April 1900.]

J. M. R.