Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/October 1882/Mozley on Evolution

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IN the "Reminiscences, chiefly of Oriel College," by the Rev. Thomas Mozley, there occurs on page 1-16, vol. i, the following passage:

I had indulged from my boyhood in a Darwinian dream of moral philosophy, derived in the first instance from one of my early instructors. This was Mr. George Spencer, [honorary] Secretary of the Derby Philosophical Association, founded by Dr. Darwin,[1] and father of Mr. Herbert Spencer. My dream had a certain family resemblance to the "System of Philosophy" bearing that writer's name. There was an important and saving difference between the two systems, between that which never saw the light, and perished before it was born, without even coming to wither like grass on the house-tops, and that other imposing system which occupies several yards of shelf in most public libraries. The latter makes the world of life, as we see, and take part in it, the present outcome of a continual outcoming from atoms, lichens, and vegetables, bound by the necessities of existence to mutual relations, up to or down to brutes, savages, ladies and gentlemen, inheriting various opinions, maxims, and superstitions. The brother and elder philosophy, for such it was, that is mine, saved itself from birth by its palpable inconsistency, for it retained a divine original and some other incongruous elements. In particular, instead of rating the patriarchal stage hardly above the brute, it assigned to that state of society a heavenly source, and described it as rather a model for English country gentlemen—that is, upon the whole, and with certain reservations.

As I find, by inquiring of those who have read it, this passage leaves the impression that the doctrines set forth in the "System of Synthetic Philosophy," as well as those which Mr. Mozley entertained in his early days, were in some way derived from my father. Were this true, the implication would be that during the last five-and-twenty years I have been allowing myself to be credited with ideas which are not my own. And, since this is entirely untrue, I can not be expected to let it pass unnoticed. If I do, I tacitly countenance an error, and tacitly admit an act by no means creditable to me.

I should be the last to underestimate my indebtedness to my father, for whom I have great admiration, as will be seen when, hereafter, there comes to be published a sketch of him which I long ago prepared in rough draft. But this indebtedness was general and not special—an indebtedness for habits of thought encouraged rather than for ideas communicated. I distinctly trace to him an ingrained tendency to inquire for causes—causes, I mean, of the physical class. Though far from having himself abandoned supernaturalism, yet the bias toward naturalism was strong in him, and was, I doubt not, communicated (though rather by example than by precept) to others he taught as it was to me. But while admitting, and indeed asserting, that the tendency toward naturalistic interpretation of things was fostered in me by him, as probably also in Mr. Mozley, yet I am not aware that any of those results of naturalistic interpretation distinctive of my works are traceable to him.

Were the general reader in the habit of criticising each statement he meets, he might be expected to discover in the paragraph quoted above from Mr. Mozley reasons for skepticism. When, for example, he found my books described as occupying several yards of library shelves, while in fact they occupy less than two feet, he might be led to suspect that other statements, made with like regard for effectiveness rather than accuracy, are misleading. A reperusal of the last part of the paragraph might confirm his suspicion. Observing that, along with the allegation of "family resemblance," the closing sentence admits that the course of human affairs as conceived by Mr. Mozley was the reverse in direction to the course alleged by me—observing that in this only respect in which Mr. Mozley specifies his view it is so fundamentally anti-evolutionary as to be irreconcilable with the evolutionary view—he might have further doubts raised. But the general reader, not pausing to consider, mostly accepts without hesitation what a writer tells him.

Even scientific readers, even readers familiar with the contents of my books, can not, I fear, be trusted so to test Mr. Mozley's statement as to recognize its necessary erroneousness; though a little thought would show them this. They would have but to recall the cardinal ideas developed throughout the series of volumes I have published, to become conscious that these ideas are necessarily of much later origin than the period to which Mr. Mozley's account refers. Though, in Rumford's day and before, an advance had been made toward the doctrine of the correlation of heat and motion, this doctrine had not become current; and no conception, even, had arisen of the more general doctrine of the correlation and equivalence of the physical forces at large. Still more recent was the rise and establishment of the associated abstract doctrine commonly known as the "conservation of energy." Further, Yon Baer's discovery, that the changes undergone during development of each organic body are always from the general to the special, was not enunciated till some eight years after the time at which Mr. Mozley was a pupil of my father, and was not heard of in England until twenty years after. Now, since these three doctrines are indispensable elements of the general theory of evolution (the last of them being that which set up in me the course of thought leading to it), it is manifest that not even a rude conception of such a theory could have been framed at the date referred to in Mr. Mozley's account. Even apart from this, one who compared my successive writings would find clear proof that their cardinal ideas could have had no such origin as Mr. Mozley's account seems to imply. In the earliest of them—"Letters on the Proper Sphere of Government"—published in 1842 and republished as a pamphlet in 1844, the only point of community with the general doctrine of evolution is a belief in the modifiability of human nature through adaptation to conditions (which I held as a corollary from the theory of Lamarck) and a consequent belief in human progression. In the second and more important one, "Social Statics," published in 1850, the same general ideas are to be seen, worked out more elaborately in their ethical and political consequences. Only in an essay published in 1852 would the inquirer note for the first time a passing reference to the increase of heterogeneity as a trait of development, and a first recognition of this trait as seen in other orders of phenomena than those displayed by individual organisms. Onward through essays published in several following years, he would observe further extensions in the alleged range of this law; until, in 1855, in the "Principles of Psychology," it begins to take an important position, joined with the additional law of integration, afterward to be similarly extended. Not until 1857, in two essays then published, would he find a statement, relatively crude in form, of the law of evolution, set forth as holding throughout all orders of phenomena, and joined with it the statement of certain universal physical principles which necessitate its universality. And only in 1861 would he come to an expression of the law approximating in definiteness to that final one reached in 1867. All which facts the scientific reader who took the trouble to investigate would see are conclusive against the implication contained in Mr. Mozley's statement; since, were this implication true, my early writings would have contained traces of the specific doctrine set forth in the later ones. But, as I have said, even a reader of my books can not be trusted to recall and consider these facts, but will certainly, in many cases, and probably in most, passively accept the belief Mr. Mozley suggests.

Seeing this, I have felt it requisite definitely to raise the issue; and for this purpose have written to Mr. Mozley the following letter. It is made long by including a general outline of the doctrine of evolution, which it was needful to place before him that he might be in a position to answer my question definitely. Perhaps I may be excused for reproducing the letter in full, since ninety-nine out of a hundred do not know what the doctrine of evolution in its wider sense is, but suppose it to be simply another name for the doctrine of the origin of species by natural selection:

"My dear Sir: The passages from three letters of my father, sent herewith—one written in 1820, which was about the date referred to in your account of him, one written some thirteen years later, and the other twenty years later—will prove to you how erroneous is the statement you have made with regard to his religious beliefs. Having in this case clear proof of error, you will, I think, be the better prepared to recognize the probability of error in the statements which you make concerning his philosophical ideas and the ideas which, under his influence, you in early life elaborated for yourself.

"The passage in which you refer to these gives the impression that they were akin to those views which are developed in the 'System of Synthetic Philosophy.' I am anxious to ascertain in what the alleged kinship consists. Some twelve years ago an American friend requested me, with a view to a certain use which he named, to furnish him with a succinct statement of the cardinal principles developed in the successive works I have published. The rough draft of this statement I have preserved; and, that you may be enabled definitely to compare the propositions of that which you have called 'the younger philosophy' with that which you have called 'the elder,' I copy it out. It runs as follows:

"'1. Throughout the universe in general and in detail there is an unceasing redistribution of matter and motion.

"'2. This redistribution constitutes evolution where there is a predominant integration of matter and dissipation of motion, and constitutes dissolution where there is a predominant absorption of motion and disintegration of matter.

"'3. Evolution is simple when the process of integration, or the formation of a coherent aggregate, proceeds uncomplicated by other processes.

"'4. Evolution is compound when, along with this primary change from an incoherent to a coherent state, there go on secondary changes due to differences in the circumstances of the different parts of the aggregate.

"'5. These secondary changes constitute a transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous—a transformation which, like the first, is exhibited in the universe as a whole and in all (or nearly all) its details; in the aggregate of stars and nebulæ; in the planetary system; in the earth as an inorganic mass; in each organism, vegetal or animal (Von Baer's law otherwise expressed); in the aggregate of organisms throughout geologic time; in the mind; in society; in all products of social activity.

"'6. The process of integration, acting locally as well as generally, combines with the process of differentiation to render this change not simply from homogeneity to heterogeneity, but from an indefinite homogeneity to a definite heterogeneity; and this trait of increasing definiteness, which accompanies the trait of increasing heterogeneity, is, like it, exhibited in the totality of things and in all its divisions and subdivisions down to the minutest.

"'7. Along with this redistribution of the matter composing any evolving aggregate there goes on a redistribution of the retained motion of its components in relation to one another; this also becomes, step by step, more definitely heterogeneous.

"'8. In the absence of a homogeneity that is infinite and absolute, that redistribution, of which evolution is one phase, is inevitable. The causes which necessitate it are these:

"'9. The instability of the homogeneous, which is consequent upon the different exposures of the different parts of any limited aggregate to incident forces. The transformations hence resulting are complicated by—

"'10. The multiplication of effects. Every mass and part of a mass on which a force falls subdivides and differentiates that force, which thereupon proceeds to work a variety of changes; and each of these becomes the parent of similarly multiplying changes; the multiplication of them becoming greater in proportion as the aggregate becomes more heterogeneous. And these two causes of increasing differentiations are furthered by—

"'11. Segregation, which is a process tending ever to separate unlike units and to bring together like units—so serving continually to sharpen, or make definite, differentiations otherwise caused.

"'12. Equilibration is the final result of these transformations which an evolving aggregate undergoes. The changes go on until there is reached an equilibrium between the forces which all parts of the aggregate are exposed to, and the forces these parts oppose to them. Equilibration may pass through a transition stage of balanced motions (as in a planetary system), or of balanced functions (as in a living body), on the way to ultimate equilibrium; but the state of rest in inorganic bodies, or death in organic bodies, is the necessary limit of the changes constituting evolution.

"'13. Dissolution is the counter-change which sooner or later every evolved aggregate undergoes. Remaining exposed to surrounding forces that are unequilibrated, each aggregate is ever liable to be dissipated by the increase, gradual or sudden, of its contained motion; and its dissipation, quickly undergone by bodies lately animate and slowly undergone by inanimate masses, remains to be undergone at an indefinitely remote period by each planetary and stellar mass, which since an indefinitely distant period in the past has been slowly evolving; the cycle of its transformations being thus completed.

"'14. This rhythm of evolution and dissolution, completing itself during short periods in small aggregates, and in the vast aggregates distributed through space completing itself in periods which are immeasurable by human thought, is, so far as we can see, universal and eternal—each alternating phase of the process predominating now in this region of space and now in that, as local conditions determine.

"'15. All these phenomena, from their great features down to their minutest details, are necessary results of the persistence of force, under its forms of matter and motion. Given these as distributed through space, and their quantities being unchangeable, either by increase or decrease, there inevitably result the continuous redistributions distinguishable as evolution and dissolution, as well as all those special traits above enumerated.

"'16. That which persists unchanging in quantity but ever changing in form, under these sensible appearances which the universe presents to us, transcends human knowledge and conception—is an unknown and unknowable power, which we are obliged to recognize as without limit in space and without beginning or end in time.'

"I am not aware that my father entertained any of these views, either definitely or vaguely. But if he did, or if under his influence you reached views similar to these or any of them, it will, I presume, be possible to indicate the resemblances. Or, if specific resemblances are not alleged, still it will be possible to point out what were the ideas you received from him which potentially involved conclusions such as are above set forth.

"I fear I am entailing some trouble upon you in asking an answer to this question, but the importance of the matter must be my apology.

"I am, my dear sir, faithfully yours,

"Herbert Spencer."

In Mr. Mozley's reply he stated that he had been obliged already to send off his corrections for a second edition, adding that, "as, therefore, nothing can be done now, you would not care for any discussion." The result is, that I remain without any reply to my question. One passage, however, in Mr. Mozley's letter serves to give a widely different meaning to his statement; and, having obtained his permission, I here quote it as follows: "You will observe that I have only a vague idea of my own c philosophy,' and I can not pretend to an accurate knowledge of yours. I spoke of a 'family likeness.' But what is that? There is a family likeness between Cardinal Newman's view and his brother Frank's."

Now, if the "family likeness" alleged is not greater than that between the belief of a Roman Catholic and the belief of a Rationalist who retains his theism, my chief objection is removed; for just as the views of the brothers Newman have a certain kinship in virtue of the religious sentiment common to them, so Mr. Mozley's early views and my own may have had the common trait of naturalistic interpretation—partially carried out in the one and completely in the other: a common trait, however, which would give Mr. Mozley's early views a "family likeness" to other philosophies than mine. This being understood, the only further objection to Mr. Mozley's statement which I have to make is that I do not see how, even in this vague sense, a likeness can be alleged between that which he names and describes as "a moral philosophy" and "a system of philosophy" of which the greater part is concerned with the phenomena of evolution at large—inorganic, organic, and super-organic—as interpreted on physical principles, and of which only the closing portion sets forth ethical conclusions as corollaries from all the conclusions that have preceded.

There remains only to answer the question, How could Mr. Mozley have been led to imagine a resemblance between things so different? He has himself gone far toward furnishing an explanation. In his introduction (page 1) he admits, or rather asserts, that "reminiscences are very suspicious matter"; and that "the mental picture of events long passed by, and seen through an increasing breadth of many-tinted haze, is liable to be warped and colored by more recent remembrances, and by impressions received from other quarters." He adds sundry illustrations of the extreme untrustworthiness of memory concerning the remote past; and in chapter lxxxiii he characterizes Denison's "Reminiscences of Oriole College" as a "jumble of inaccuracies, absurdities, and apparent forgets." Moreover, he indicates (page 4) a special cause of distortion, saying of those "whose memory is subordinate to imagination and passion" that "they remember too easily, too quickly, and too much as they please." Now, as is implied by his religious ideas and ecclesiastical leanings, and as is also shown by a passage in which he refers to the scientific school with manifest aversion, Mr. Mozley is biased toward an interpretation which tends to discredit this school, or a part of it; and, obviously, to fancy a resemblance between scientific views now current and those which he describes as a "dream" of his youth, which disappeared with his manhood, is not unsatisfactory. On looking through the "many-tinted haze" of sixty years at what he admits to be "a vague idea" of his early philosophy, he has unconsciously "warped and colored" it, and imagined in it a resemblance which, as I have shown, it could not possibly have had.

I will add only that serious injustice is apt to be done by publication of reminiscences which concern others than the writer of them. Widely diffused as is Mr. Mozley's interesting work, his statement will be read and accepted by thousands who will never see this rectification.—Athenæum.

  1. It was more than a dozen years after Dr. Darwin's death in 1802 when my father became honorary secretary. I believe my father (who was twelve years old when Dr. Darwin died) never saw him, and, so far as I know, knew nothing of his ideas.