Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/January 1877/Editor's Table

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


REFERENCE has been repeatedly made in our pages to an English Parliamentary Commission, appointed to inquire into the practice of vivisection, or experiments upon living animals, made for scientific purposes by the physiologists of that country. The inquiry was the consequence of a prolonged and intense public agitation, in which the sympathies of the people were excited, and their indignation aroused, by frightful stories of cruelty deliberately and wantonly perpetrated upon innocent animals under the pretext of advancing scientific knowledge. The movement was systematically and skillfully engineered by those who make philanthropy a business. Money was plentifully contributed by the rich to carry it on, and with plenty of money there is never any difficulty in engaging the press in a good work. Appealing to the sensibilities by exaggerated accounts of the way poor animals were tortured, the subject naturally took a deep hold of the sympathies of women, and its measures were promoted and sustained by many ladies of wealth and high social position, and were understood to be warmly encouraged by the queen herself. But the humane feelings of both sexes were profoundly stirred by the tales of atrocity that were circulated, so that the scientific physiologists of the country began to be looked upon as fiends, reveling in the infliction of agony upon helpless animals. The stories, of course, were unscrupulous exaggerations, or arrant lies, but the public is a great believer and fond of pungent sensations, while fervid philanthropy is not apt to trouble itself much about cool matters of evidence. The Parliamentary Commission, constituted of both the enemies and the friends of vivisection, at length took the matter up, and, as is customary with English commissions, it made a thorough investigation. Witnesses on both sides gave voluminous testimony on all aspects of the subject, and after patient and impartial consideration the body made a report which was designed to be preliminary to legislation upon the question. As regards the merits of the controversy, it was agreed that vivisection, or operations upon living animals, is a necessary and a proper thing, and, as practised by scientific men, has been of great use to the world. The commission, moreover, entirely acquitted the physiologists of the charge of cruelty. It commended the humanity of the medical profession in England, and testified that medical students were extremely sensitive in regard to the infliction of pain on animals.

One would think that with this decisive expression on the general subject, and with this complete vindication of the aspersed parties, the agitators would have been rebuked, and the case at once dismissed. But the anti-vivisection movement was quite too formidable to allow of this. That hysterical rampage of British philanthropy was strong enough to coerce the Government against its own protestations, and to extort from it a law that was alike an insult to science and a disgrace to the country. The physiologists were expressly acquitted of all improper practices when left free as they had always been to pursue inquiries in their own way, and they were then handed over to the future control of the police. They were vindicated from all imputation of cruelty, and then subjected to the operation of a statute against cruelty to animals. Though their experiments had for their object the ultimate mitigation of pain to the higher creatures most susceptible of pain—though their investigations were of so beneficent an influence that, as Prof. Tyndall justly says, "no greater calamity could befall the human race than the stoppage of experiments in this direction"—yet the physiologists were classed by law with those cold-blooded brutes who cruelly overdrive, abuse, and torture domestic animals. Though the necessity, and form, and extent of his experiments on animals were, in the nature of the case, matters of which the operator alone could judge, as their essential object is the elucidation of undetermined problems, yet it was legislated that he should not pursue his work except by a license from a political office-holder, and the making of any experiment calculated to give pain to an animal was declared an offense punishable in the first instance by fine, and in the second by fine and imprisonment, unless certain conditions were complied with to the satisfaction of the said political functionary who was put in control of the whole business. In short, legislative wisdom, stimulated by philanthropic zeal, outlawed vivisection as a crime, and then provided for its perpetration by leave of the Secretary of State.

Let us now see how much there was of real philanthropy or of hearty sympathy for the sufferings of the lower animals at the bottom of this movement. Had it been sincere, or based upon principle, it would have undoubtedly aimed to be effectual, and to have inflicted the penalties for cruelty alike upon all delinquents. But the law was so framed as to bear hard only upon the poor, and to give a virtual license to the rich, who could easily pay the fines prescribed for inflicting whatever cruelties they chose. Again, the law passed was intended, by the terms of its title, to prevent "cruelty to animals;" but a clause was quietly introduced at the end limiting it to the protection of domestic animals only—a clause which stultified the enactment, and showed the emptiness of its purpose by exposing immensely the greater portion of the inferior animate creation to all the wantonness of torture; and not only that, but to tortures that were sure to be inflicted, and were provided for by the limitations of the statute. Of the sufferings to which certain of the lower animals are subjected by the favorite English pastime of hunting them with hounds, which is freely permitted by law, we do not speak, but will only refer to some facts regarding the universal English sport of "shooting." It is well known that the British Parliament generally adjourns about the time that the partridges and grouse cease to be protected by the game-laws of the country; and no one who knows anything of the strength of British instincts for destructive field sports will consider the connection, in this case, as altogether fortuitous. Lords, Commoners, and everybody that can afford it, then seize their guns, and betake themselves to the fields and mountains wherever there is anything to be killed. It is the fashionable and the national thing. Those who own grounds range over them with their guests in quest of beasts and birds, and others hire the privilege of doing it for longer or shorter times. The whole matter is legally regulated. Licenses are issued to keep guns, and licenses to kill game. A few of all the multitudes who enter upon the sport are good shots, and kill a large portion of the creatures fired at. But the most of them are bad shots, and wound many more than they kill. When hit, if not captured, they escape with their bodies penetrated with leaden pellets—some of them to die; some to suffer miserably; and others to recover after experiencing various degrees of pain. A writer in Nature has gone into the statistics of shooting, with a view to estimate the probable numbers of creatures that thus suffer by wounding. He adopts as his basis the number of those who take out licenses, the duration of the season, and the days given to sport, and, by reckoning the number wounded per day that are not killed, he arrives at a proximate conclusion regarding the aggregate of animals that yearly suffer from this cause. The number of licenses issued is taken from government reports, which indicate, for example, that in the year 1873-'74 there were 132,036 holders of gun-licenses, and 65,846 holders of licenses to kill game. Assuming that each sportsman wounds three head of game per day, which are not taken, he finds that the total number of animals upon which pain is thus inflicted amounts to many millions annually. We cannot go into the details of his calculation, which is carefully and fairly made out, but will quote the concluding passage of his article:

"If we may trust our figures, here are the plain facts that acute pain of uncertain duration was, in the year ending March 31, 1874, inflicted upon over twenty-two million animals, and in the following year upon over twenty-three million and a half, in the British Islands. We are not aware that we possess any bias that would make us exaggerate our estimates to produce these results. Our only object is to attempt as near an approximation to the truth as we can. The figures stand for themselves, and if any one thinks he can furnish fairer averages let him give his data for them. We are, as it is, willing to guard against any unconscious exaggeration, and to knock off more than ten per cent, of our grand totals, so as to say roundly that only twenty millions have suffered in each year. But we would invite our readers to reflect on the proportion which even that number bears to the number of animals which during the same time have been subjected to experiment by the physiologists of this country. The latter have been by many excellent persons held up to obloquy as monsters of cruelty. If this has been done justly, what must they think of those who use the gun?"

From the point of view here presented, the state of the case has been pithily summed up by Mr. Lowe, in a recent able article in the Contemporary Review:

"According to present British law, as revised under the spur of the latest philanthropy, it appears that, while the man of
science must not inflict the least pain on any animal for the most beneficent object, any one else may inflict the most exquisite tortures on any non-domestic animal—that is, on ninety-nine hundredths of the brute creation—without any punishment at all. If he can show that the torture was inflicted from cruelty, from gluttony, for money, for amusement—for any motive, in fact, except a desire to do good by extending knowledge—he enjoys the most perfect impunity; but woe to him if in his infliction of pain there is any alloy of science!"

An attempt was made to protect animals from pain against the sportsman as well as the man of science, by putting both upon the same footing as regards penalties, but it failed. Mr. Lowe says:

"A motion to extend the law which forbade the cruelly abusing or torturing any domestic animal, to animals non-domestic, and to increase the penalty to a level with the penalty imposed for performing a painful experiment, was lost by a large majority, the Government voting against it. . . . The efforts, therefore, of the two Houses of Parliament to introduce humanity into our laws, as regards animals, stands thus:
"1. Absolute liberty to torture all non-domestic animals except by way of scientific experiment.
"2. Practical liberty for any one who can afford to pay five pounds to torture domestic animals except by way of scientific experiment.
"3. No punishment for painful experiment except by leave of the Secretary of State."

Now, politicians are not partial to science, but the British Government would never have committed itself to such ridiculous legislation except for the pressure of a fanatical agitation which grew out of no real sympathy with the sufferings of the lower animals. Had it been so, the crusade would have been directed against sportsmen for their extensive and selfish infliction of cruelty, rather than against the physiologists for the small amount of pain which they caused, and that, too, in the unselfish and beneficent pursuit of knowledge which is designed to mitigate human suffering and save human life. The agitation was incited by fictitious horrors, and was worked up and sustained in a business way by practised manipulators of popular passion and prejudice. It was directed against a certain class of scientific men, and had its chief root in those narrow prejudices against science which the press and the pulpit have recently done so much to nourish and sustain. There has been an especial dread of biological science, because it meddles with the mysteries of life, and aims to explain things which ignorance and superstition would rather not have explained. Experiments upon animals are looked upon with abhorrence, not solely because of the creatures' suffering, but also because the knowledge thus deduced and applied to man is held to be derogatory and degrading to his nobler nature. The anti-vivisection movement, in short, was very much a result of that feeling of jealousy and hostility toward science which is by no means confined to the ignorant classes, and which it was not difficult to inflame into the fanatical intensity of an aggressive and intolerant popular movement.



The hundredth anniversary of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" has been the occasion in England of a pretty careful review of the science which he founded—its methods, its province, its achievements, and its prospect of future usefulness—with the result, not of reaching definite conclusions, but of revealing very wide differences of opinion as to what political economy really is. The general tone of the discussion is decidedly doleful; dissatisfaction with the present and doubt as to the future being the only points upon which there is unanimity. Politicians and newspapers alike declare that the centennial marks the decline and not the consummation of the "dismal science;" that the points of the present controversies are not of the same importance as those of earlier days; that there remains not much to be done in the way of direct legislation; in short, that its great work is done.

In a sense this may be said to be true. The repeal of usury and corn laws, and the establishment of free trade, was a great work; and in many minds this practical application of principles stood for the science. Being accomplished, it forms so essential a part of the commercial policy of the country, and has become so rooted in the minds of the present generation, that the value of the benefits derived is not duly appreciated, nor the importance of extending this work to other countries sufficiently recognized.

Economical reform in England has reached that critical period, which comes in the history of all reforms, when effort has been crowned with success. Its old rallying-cries have lost their potency because the ideas which they represented have become universally-accepted axioms; the evils which it labored to correct no longer exist; its champions find their old weapons useless, and no new ones are, as yet, fitted to their hands.

Naturally, this chaotic condition has begotten dissension and revolt, even among those who are by no means willing to admit that the functions of the science have become unimportant; the ranks of the faithful have fallen into disorder; rival sects have arisen, and the validity of time-honored tenets is discussed with earnestness if not with heat. The orthodox school still holds in the main to the old creed; while the dissenters, styling themselves the Historical School—a name the fitness whereof their opponents decline to allow—denounce this creed as being based upon rude generalizations, obtained by a superficial and unphilosophical process of abstraction.

We shall not, at this time, attempt any discussion of these questions. We have faith in political economy as a science, and a perfect assurance that, whatever subdivision or specialization it may undergo, its vitality will remain unimpaired. We could, therefore, look upon the present contention with equanimity were it not for the reflection that, here in America, we are still disputing over those economical principles which in England are irrevocably settled.

However true the statements that the science has outlived its usefulness may be with regard to that nation, they have no application to the condition of the United States. Here its most fundamental propositions are matters for discussion and legislation, and the problems involved imperatively demand solution. We who, this year, are celebrating the hundredth anniversary, not of a book, but of the nation's birth, have still to decide whether the progress over which we are prone, rightly enough, to indulge in a good deal of self-glorification, has been helped or hindered by the policy of protection which has ruled hitherto; whether, had an opposite course been pursued, our internal resources might not have been quite as fully developed, and at the same time our external commerce have received a commensurate impetus instead of being at its present low ebb. This, and the condition of our currency, are very real questions with us; the way in which they are answered may make all the difference between continued progress and comparative immobility; and yet, while the country is in a ferment from shore to shore over the most inconsequential of elections, these important matters lie apparently dead in the public mind.

The profound stagnation of the commercial world has brought us nearly to a stand. Old combinations are disturbed and broken up. In the lull some of the hallucinations of speculative fever are disappearing, but the state of our finances is notoriously unsatisfactory, and that which Mr. Lowe is pleased to call the "great work" of political economy, the establishment of free-trade principles, with us remains undone. Is it not time seriously to consider what can be done to make the readjustment of the social elements a favorable one for us—one more adequate to the exigencies of the time?

Prolonged immunity from wars, the sway of sound commercial doctrines, the absence of the element of uncertainty in her finances, has enabled England to absorb a great part of the exchange business of the world. Continental disturbances made her opportunity, and she was ready to improve it. London is a vast clearing-house, while the United States do not act as middle-man between any two nations.

It is almost universally admitted that there can be no peaceful settlement of the Eastern question which can be lasting. Sooner or later it must be submitted to the arbitrament of war, and when that comes England cannot stand aloof. Engaged in such a struggle, she can no longer offer so secure a refuge as formerly to capital seeking a place of safety and stability. She must relinquish, in part at least, this function, and there is nothing mercenary in the suggestion that that would be our opportunity. But, however favorable for our aggrandizement foreign complications might become, they would now find us unprepared to take our rightful place in the world's commerce—unable to arrest the hour. Economical reform is an essential preliminary to success in such an endeavor. Our distance from Old-World centres finds compensation in our freedom from European entanglements; but the obstacles presented by a cumbrous and oppressive tariff, and a depreciated, fluctuating currency—compared with which three thousand miles of ocean are as nothing—would be simply insurmountable. And what is the prospect of their removal?

The answer which must be given is not satisfactory.

There is reason to believe that the vagaries of inflationists are giving place to sounder financial views. There is warrant for the hope that the friends of free trade are increasing in numbers, and that its principles are slowly gaining ground, but no demonstration of this by legislation has yet appeared—nor are there any signs of it. Neither set of politicians seems to consider them worthy of consideration. Meantime the forces of protection are in close order, well appointed and alert—they will make a stout fight, and that there should, at this critical period, be a disaffection anywhere in the ranks of sound political economy, must be regarded as a matter of the gravest concern.



Lady Burdett Coutts, who, having much money to give away, patronizes numerous charities and receives great applause, has come to be a kind of authority in the sphere of philanthropy, duty, ethics, etc. Hearing much said against science, on account of the experimental study of animals, she sought Prof. Tyndall, to inform him that science was growing immoral, because it did not formerly do such dreadful things as it is in the habit of doing now. Prof. Tyndall replied that it was rather growing biological, or passing into a new sphere to explore the laws of life, to which experimental investigations on organisms in life are indispensable.

This comparatively new subject, biology, which, after three centuries of preparation in physics and chemistry, has only been fully reached by the scientific mind of the world during the last fifty years, is now beginning to be recognized in its full import in our system of higher education. Biological chairs have been founded, and laboratories and schools of biological research have been established in connection with various of the old European universities; and although we, in this country, have had chairs, and schools, and museums of natural history, connected with our colleges, or apart from them, yet the provision made for biological study in the organization of the Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore marks a decisive step forward in the educational treatment of this important subject.

We give our readers the able inaugural address of Prof. Martin in entering upon his work at Baltimore, and they will be repaid by a careful perusal of it. The statement of principles, purposes, and plans, is excellent; and if they are carried out intelligently and perseveringly, as there is no reason to doubt they will be. the results cannot fail to be in a high degree advantageous. The proposed mode of combining original work with practical teaching is full of promise. Prof. Martin dispels the erroneous and injurious notion, too current, that original work means great discoveries. He points out how students of but ordinary capacity may yet do something to extend the boundaries of knowledge, while at the same time the important ends will be secured of mastering the true methods of inquiry, of making solid acquisitions, and of being able to teach from an actual understanding of the subject. What he says of the influence of scientific study, when conducted by proper methods, and in its genuine spirit, in cultivating the love of strict truth, and the mental habit of seeking it as the supreme thing, deserves the most serious attention. How to include a thorough discipline in truth-seeking, in our systems of education, is the problem of problems yet to be solved. No one who goes to church, or drops into the court-room, or visits our halls of legislation, or reads the newspapers, can fail to see that, with all their learning and volubility, our cultivated men are still very much in Pilate's state of mind in regard to truth. It may not be possible for all educated people to get the benefits of biological training as a part of culture, but the most salutary results will come from making scientific training an integral and established part of higher education. When thorough scientific culture once gets a fair foothold in our colleges and universities, so that its results can be compared with the purely literary training that now prevails, its influence will soon be felt, and we may safely leave the rival methods to the operation of natural selection. Meantime, our teachers will do well to consider carefully Prof. Martin's suggestions, and set themselves to the inquiry, how far it may be in their power to make application of them, in modified ways, in their own sphere of activity.



We publish this month the third lecture of Prof. Huxley, as corrected by himself for The Popular Science Monthly, and accurately illustrated under the supervision of Prof. Marsh, of New Haven. The lecture deals mainly with the genealogy of the horse as traced far back into geological antiquity, by the discovery of successive fossil forms in successive strata or deposits. These forms are so closely related, and exhibit so graduated a series of modifications, as to establish the fact of a genetic and derivative relation from the lowest to the highest. The fossil terms of this series were already so far made out in Europe as to satisfy paleontologists there that the pedigree of the horse is established; but, by recent discoveries on this continent, the ancestral chain has been traced still farther back, so as greatly to strengthen the conclusion reached by foreign investigators. To the three ancestral forms found in Europe, which go back to what the geologists call the Miocene, Prof. Marsh had added two others, carrying the line back to the Eocene formations, and connecting the present Equus or horse-tribe with an early Eocene animal known as the Orohippus. In his lecture Prof. Huxley traced the relationship of these six ancestral forms of the existing horse, and based his argument for the demonstrative evidence of evolution on the continuity and extent of the series. But he went further, and stated what the characteristics of a still earlier form would be if it were ever discovered; and, within a month from his departure from the country, Prof. Marsh announces that fossils of the predicted animal have been actually found in the lowest Tertiary deposits of the West, giving the Eohippus as the seventh term of paleontological ancestry of the Equine group.

We pointed out last month that proof is a thing of degrees, and that demonstration may be cumulative; and the very case we were considering now furnishes further illustration of it. Prof. Huxley says that the doctrine of evolution and the Copernican theory of the motions of the heavenly bodies have precisely the same basis, that is, "the coincidence of observed facts with theoretical requirements;" and that "an inductive hypothesis is said to be demonstrated when the facts are shown to be in entire accordance with it." But the demonstration becomes still stronger when the requirements of theory lead to the prediction of what must follow from it, and Nature subsequently furnishes the facts that vindicate the prophecy. It is one of the highest tests of the truth of a theory, that it leads to new discoveries, as was conspicuously the case with the wave-theory, of light. A scientific professor is reported to have said that the proof of the evolution theory is far less strong than that of the undulatory theory, while nobody regards that as demonstrated. On the contrary, it is so regarded, and with abundant reason. The objective existence of the ether may not be proved, but this conception is not essential to the theory, and is held by many as nothing more than a convenient assumption or hypothetical artifice to aid the imagination in picturing wave-actions. The essence of the theory, whether the medium assumed be ethereal or material, is that light originates in some kind of undulatory motion, and a rational optical science is now only possible on this view. In the sense in which Huxley uses the term demonstration, as "the coincidence of observed facts with theoretical requirements," it is an established demonstration, and evolution stands exactly on the same ground. The facts are what the theory requires them to be, and what it predicts them to be; it explains them by the operations of real causes, and offers the only explanation we can have without going outside of Nature to get it.

Prof. Huxley has done us great service by going over the question of evidence in his three lectures, and bringing out the full force of the proof for this doctrine, and to make any less claim than he has made is to be wanting in fidelity to the truth.

And from this point of view we must think that Prof. Martin, in his admirable introductory discourse, did not fairly represent the case in giving the scientific status of the principles of the conservation of energy and of natural selection. He said: "These ideas may or may not be true; increase of knowledge may confirm or may possibly upset them." So sharp an alternative as true or false, determinable only in a contingency of the future, certainly does injustice to the logical validity of these great ideas. They can no more be subverted or abandoned in the future than any other truths of experiment and observation. They may disappear by absorption into larger truths, may change aspects, but they are basal and permanent factors of science, and we see not why the professors of physics and mathematics might not open their courses by conceding the insecurity of the fundamental principles of their sciences with just as much propriety as the professor of biology.



Recent writers upon the subject of commercial manias usually indulge in congratulations over the fact that the world is grown more wise; that the mental aberrations of our day are less marked than those of earlier times; that, for example, the absurd Dutch tulip-mania, Law's wild Mississippi scheme in France, and the South-Sea bubble in England, find no parallel in these days of greater intelligence and self-control; that the time has gone by when a sharper could clear $10,000 in five hours by selling shares in "a company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is!"

It is probably true that our tendencies are not quite so rabid as those of our fathers, but we hold on bravely to some of their worst follies. It was only at the last session of Congress that the advocates of an unlimited issue of irredeemable paper were strong enough to prevent any steps being taken toward resumption. It was but the other day that the progressive Commonwealth of Massachusetts chose as a representative B. F. Butler, who declares that the "progressive" dollar is a paper dollar so issued that it can never be redeemed. The absorbing interest of a presidential election has hushed somewhat the clamor for the interconvertible note scheme—which is to pay all debts, public and private, and make everybody easy without costing anybody anything but, had all those who still fully sympathize with the financial imbecility of Mr. Peter Cooper voted for him, the old gentleman would have had a very different showing in the official count. Nor are there lacking concrete examples of credulity which rival any of the exhibitions of former generations. A case in point is now running its course in Spain.

A woman has opened a bank in Madrid for deposits in sums of a hundred dollars and upward, on which she pays interest as follows: twenty per cent. on receiving the deposit, twenty per cent. at the end of the first, second, and third months, and then at the expiration of the fourth month, when eighty per cent. has been already paid, she reimburses the entire sum lent. The payments thus far have been regularly made, and the public are flocking in crowds with their money, the deposits now amounting to several millions of francs. The bankers and savings banks are being drained of their deposits by this extraordinary traffic. Hours before the bank opens in the morning hundreds of depositors collect, and the presence of the police is necessary to preserve order. In this case "nobody is to know" how the money is employed, and on that point contrary rumors prevail; some assert that the capital is used in working mines of fabulous wealth; others, that the woman is an agent of the Government, adding that it is thus procuring money on more advantageous terms than with its regular bankers! The true explanation will not be long withheld, unless the police interfere to prevent her running off with her plunder. This is almost a precise repetition of a case which took place in enlightened Germany four years ago—the Spitzeder affair of Munich. In this case enormous sums were confided to a woman banker, who lived in opulence, squandering the money of her depositors, and, as she could not repay them, she was sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Her time expired some months ago, and the likeness of the transactions at Madrid to her operations at Munich is strong enough to suggest a common origin.

These cases appear still more remarkable when we recall the fact that in Continental Europe the confidence in banks of deposit has never attained the strength that it has in this country and in England. Outside of strictly commercial circles and people of large means the practice of depositing money with a banker is comparatively unknown. Small dealers, mechanics, and farmers, still adhere, in the main, to the old custom of hoarding, in feather-beds or underground, that has descended from the troublous days of the middle ages. That men should go from the extreme of unfounded distrust of stable and well-managed institutions into the incredible folly of pouring their money like water into the tills of a barefaced swindler, would seem to show that the springs of human action have not been raised very much; that a love of great gains, a desire to get more than our money's worth, a credulous faith in the performance of impossible promises are still deeply rooted, and need but the stimulus of some new and untried humbug to develop an amazing number of credulous fools.