Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/December 1875/Martineau and Materialism
By JOHN TYNDALL, F. R. S., LL. D.
PRESENTED in the order of their publication, these Fragments will, I think, make it plain that, within the last two years, I have added no material iniquity to the list previously recorded against me. I have gone carefully over them all this year in Switzerland, bestowing special attention upon the one which has given most offense. To the judgment of thoughtful men I now commit them: the unthoughtful and the unfair will not read them, though they will continue to abuse them.
I have no desire to repay in kind the hard words already thrown at them and me; but a simple comparison will make clear to my more noisy and unreasonable assailants how I regard their position. To the nobler Bereans of the press and pulpit, who have honored me with their attention, I do not now refer. Webster defines a squatter as one who settles on new land without a title. This, in regard to anthropology and cosmogony, I hold to have been the position of the older theologians; and what their heated successors of to-day denounce as "a raid upon theology," is, in my opinion, a perfectly legal and equitable attempt to remove them from ground which they have no right to hold.
If the title exist, let it be produced. It is not the revision of the text of Genesis by accomplished scholars that the public so much need, as to be informed and convinced how far the text, polished or unpolished, has a claim upon the belief of intelligent persons. It is, I fear, a growing conviction that our ministers of religion, for the sake of peace, more or less sacrifice their sincerity in dealing with the cosmogony of the Old Testament. I notice this in conversation, and it is also appearing in print. Before me, for example, is a little brochure, in which a layman presses a clerical friend with a series of questions regarding creation—the six-day period of divine activity, the destruction of the world by a flood, the building of an ark, the placing of creatures in it by pairs, and the descent from this ancestry of all living things, "men and women, birds and beasts." He asks his friend, "Do you, without any mental reservation, believe these things?" "If you do," he continues, "then I can only say that the accumulated and accepted knowledge of mankind, including the entire sciences of astronomy, geology, philology, and history, are [as far as you are concerned] naught and mistaken. If you do not believe those events to have so happened, or do so with some mental reservation, which destroys the whole sense and meaning of the narrative, why do you not say so from your pulpits?"
The friend merely parries and evades the question. According to Mr. Martineau, the clergy speak very differently indeed from their pulpits. After showing how the Mosaic picture of the genetic order of things has been not only altered but inverted by scientific research, be says: "Notwithstanding the deplorable condition to which the picture has been reduced, it is exhibited fresh every week to millions taught to believe it as divine." It cannot be said that error here does no practical harm, or that it does not act to the detriment of honest men. It was for openly avowing doubts which, it is said, others discreetly entertain, that the Bishop of Natal suffered persecution; it was for his public fidelity to scientific truth, as far as his lights extended, that he was branded, even during his recent visit to this country, as an "excommunicated heretic." The courage of Dean Stanley and of the Master of Balliol, in reference to this question, disarmed indignation, and caused the public to overlook a wrong which might not otherwise have been endured.
The liberal and intelligent portion of Christendom must, I take it, differentiate itself more and more, in word and act, from the fanatical, foolish, and more purely sacerdotal portion. Enlightened Roman Catholics are more specially bound to take action here; for the travesty of heaven and earth is grosser, and the attempt to impose it on the world is more serious, in their community than elsewhere. That they are more or less alive to this state of things, and that they show an increasing courage and independence in their demands for education, will be plain to the reader of the "Apology for the Belfast Address." The "Memorial" there referred to was the impatient protest of barristers, physicians, surgeons, solicitors, and scholars, among the Catholics themselves. They must not relax their pressure nor relinquish their demands. For their spiritual guides live so exclusively in the prescientific past, that even the really strong intellects among them are reduced to atrophy as regards scientific truth. Eyes they have, and see not; ears they have, and hear not; for both eyes and ears are taken possession of by the sights and sounds of another age. In relation to science, the ultramontane brain, through lack of exercise, is virtually the undeveloped brain of the child. And thus it is that as children in scientific knowledge, but as potent wielders of spiritual power among the ignorant, they countenance and enforce practices sufficient to bring the blush of shame to the cheeks of the more intelligent among themselves.
Such is the force of early education, when maintained and perpetuated by the habits of subsequent life; such the ground of peril in allowing the schools of a nation to fall into ultramontane hands. Let any able Catholic student, fairly educated, and not yet cramped by sacerdotalism, get a real scientific grasp of the magnitude and organization of this universe. Let him sit under the immeasurable heavens, watch the stars in their courses, scan the mysterious nebulæ, and try to realize what it all is and means. Let him bring the thoughts and conceptions which thus enter his mind face to face with the notions of the genesis and rule of things which pervade the writings of the princes of his Church, and he will see and feel what drivelers even men of strenuous intellect may become, through exclusively dwelling and dealing with theological chimeras.
But, quitting the more grotesque forms of the theological, I already see, or think I see, emerging from recent discussions, that wonderful plasticity of the theistic idea, which enables it to maintain, through many changes, its hold upon superior minds; and which, if it is to last, will eventually enable it to shape itself in accordance with scientific conditions. I notice this, for instance, in the philosophic sermon of Dr. Quarry, and more markedly still in that of Dr. Ryder. "There pervades," says the Rector of Donnybrook, these atoms and that illimitable universe, that 'choir of heaven and furniture of earth,' which of such atoms is built up, a certain force, known in its most familiar form by the name of 'life,' which may he regarded as the ultimate essence of matter, And, speaking of the awful search of the intellect for the infinite Creator, and of the grave difficulties which encompass the subject, the same writer says: "We know from our senses finite existences only. Now we cannot logically infer the existence of an infinite God from the greatest conceivable number of finite existences. There must always obviously be more in the conclusion than in the premises." Such language is new to the pulpit, but it will become less and less rare. It is not the poets and philosophers among our theologians—and in our day the philosopher who wanders beyond the strict boundary of Science is more or less merged in the poet—it is not these, who feel the life of religion, but the mechanics, who cling to its scaffolding, that are most anxious to tie the world down to the untenable conceptions of an uncultivated past.
Before me is another printed sermon of a different character from those just referred to. It is entitled "The Necessary Limits of Christian Evidences." Its author. Dr. Reichel, has been frequently referred to as an authority, particularly on personal subjects, during recent discussions. The sermon was first preached in Belfast, and afterward, in an amplified and amended form, in the Exhibition Building in Dublin. In passing, I would make a single remark upon its opening paragraph. This contains an argument regarding Christ which I have frequently heard used in substance by good men, though never before with the grating emphasis here employed. "The resurrection of our Saviour," says Dr. Reichel, "is the central fact of Christianity. Without his resurrection, his birth and his death would have been alike unavailing: nay more, if he did not rise from the dead, his birth was the birth of a bastard, and his death the death of an impostor." This may be "orthodoxy;" but entertaining the notions that I do of Christ, and of his incomparable life upon the earth, if the momentary use of the term "blasphemy" were granted to me by my Christian brethren, I should feel inclined to employ it here.
Better instructed than he had been at Belfast, the orator in Dublin gave prominence to a personal argument which I have already noticed elsewhere. He has been followed in this particular by the Bishop of Meath and other estimable persons. This is to be regretted, because in dealing with these high themes the mind ought to be the seat of dignity—if possible of chivalry—but certainly not the seat of littleness. "I propose," says the preacher, "making some remarks on the doctrine thus propounded" [in Belfast]. "And, first, lest any of you should be unduly impressed by the mere authority of its propounder, as well as by the fluent grace with which he sets it forth, it is right that I should tell you, that these conclusions, though given out on an occasion which apparently stamped them with the general approbation of the scientific world, do not possess that approbation. The mind that arrived at them, and displayed them with so much complacency, is a mind trained in the school of mere experiment, not in the study, but in the laboratory. Accordingly, the highest mathematical intellects of the Association disclaim and repudiate the theories of its president. In the mathematical laws to which all material phenomena and substances are each year more distinctly perceived to be subordinated, they see another side of Nature, which has not impressed itself upon the mere experimentalist."
In view of the new virtue here thrust upon the mathematician, D'Alembert and Laplace present a difficulty, and we are left without a clew to the peculiar orthodoxy of Prof. Clifford and other distinguished men. As regards my own mental training, inasmuch as my censors think it not beneath them to dwell upon a point so small, I may say that the foregoing statement is incorrect. The separation, moreover, of the "study" from the "laboratory" is not admissible, because the laboratory is a "study" in which symbols give place to natural facts. The word Mesopotamia is said to have a sacred unction for many minds, and possibly the title of my "Inaugural Dissertation" at Marburg may have an effect of this kind on my right reverend and reverend critics of the new mathematical school. Here accordingly it is: "Die Schraubenfläche mit geneigter Erzeugungslinie, und die Bedingungen des Gleichewichts auf solchen Schrauben." A little tenderness may, perhaps, flow toward me, after these words have made it known that I began my narrow scientific life less as an experimentalist than as a mathematician.
If, as asserted, "the highest mathematical intellects of the Association disclaim and repudiate the theories of its president," it would be their bounden duty to not rest content with this mere second-hand utterance. They ought to permit the light of life to stream upon us directly from themselves, instead of sending it through the polemoscope of Dr. Reichel. But the point of importance to be impressed upon him, and upon those who may be tempted to follow him in his adventurous theories, is, that out of mathematics no salvation for theology can possibly come.
By such reflections I am brought face to face with an essay to which my attention has been directed by several estimable, and indeed eminent persons, as demanding serious consideration at my hands. I refer with pleasure to the complete accord subsisting between the Rev. James Martineau and myself on certain points of biblical cosmogony. "In so far," says Mr. Martineau, "as church belief is still committed to a given cosmogony and natural history of man, it lies open to scientific refutation." And again: "It turns out that with the sun and moon and stars, and in and on the earth, before and after the appearance of our race, quite other things have happened than those which the sacred cosmogony recites." Once more: "The whole history of the genesis of things Religion must surrender to the Sciences." Finally, still more emphatically: "In the investigation of the genetic order of things, Theology is an intruder, and must stand aside." This expresses, only in words of fuller pith, the views which I ventured to enunciate in Belfast. "The impregnable position of Science," I there say, "may be stated in a few words. We claim, and we shall wrest from Theology, the entire domain of cosmological theory." Thus Theology, so far as it is represented by Mr. Martineau, and Science, so far as I understand it, are in absolute harmony here.
But Mr. Martineau would have just reason to complain of me, if, by partial citation, I left my readers under the impression that the agreement between us is complete. At the opening of the eighty-ninth session of the Manchester New College, London, on October 6, 1874, Mr. Martineau delivered the Address from which I have quoted. It bears the title "Religion as affected by Modern Materialism;" and its references and general tone make evident the depth of its author's discontent with my previous deliverance at Belfast. I find it difficult to grapple with the exact grounds of this discontent. Indeed, logically considered, the impression left upon my mind by an essay of great æsthetic merit, containing many passages of exceeding beauty, and many sentiments which none but the pure in heart could utter as they are uttered here, is vague and unsatisfactory—the author appears at times so brave and liberal, at times so timid and captious, and at times so imperfectly informed regarding the position he assails.
At the outset of his address, Mr. Martineau states with some distinctness his "sources of religious faith." They are two—"the scrutiny of Nature" and "the interpretation of sacred books." It would have been a theme worthy of his intelligence to have deduced from these two sources his religion as it stands. But not another word is said about the "sacred books." Having swept with the besom of Science various "books" contemptuously away, he does not define the sacred residue; much less give us the reasons why he deems them sacred. His references to "Nature," on the other hand, are magnificent tirades against Nature, intended, apparently, to show the wholly abominable character of man's antecedents if the theory of evolution be true. Here, also, his mood lacks steadiness. While joyfully accepting, at one place, "the widening space, the deepening vistas of time, the detected marvels of physiological structure, and the rapid filling-in of the missing links in the chain of organic life," he falls, at another, into lamentation and mourning over the very theory which renders "organic life" a "chain." He claims the largest liberality for his sect, and avows its contempt for the dangers of possible discovery. But immediately afterward he damages the claim, and ruins all confidence in the avowal. He professes sympathy with modern science, and almost in the same breath he treats, or certainly will be understood to treat, the atomic theory, and the doctrine of the conservation of energy, as if they were a kind of scientific thimble-riggery.
His ardor, moreover, renders him inaccurate; causing him to see discord between scientific men, where nothing but harmony reigns. In his celebrated address to the Congress of German Naturforscher, delivered at Leipsic, three years ago, Du Bois-Reymond speaks thus: "What conceivable connection subsists between definite movements of definite atoms in my brain, on the one hand, and on the other hand such primordial, indefinable, undeniable facts as these: I feel pain or pleasure; I experience a sweet taste, or smell a rose, or hear an organ, or see something red?... It is absolutely and forever inconceivable that a number of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms, should be otherwise than indifferent as to their own position and motion, past, present, or future. It is utterly inconceivable how consciousness should result from their joint action."
This language, which was spoken in 1872, Mr. Martineau "freely" translates, and quotes against me. The act is due to a misapprehension of his own. Evidence is at hand to prove that I employed the same language twenty years ago. It is to be found in the Saturday Review for 1860; but a sufficient illustration of the agreement between my friend Du Bois-Reymond and myself is furnished by the discourse on "Scientific Materialism," delivered in 1868, then widely circulated, and reprinted here. With a little attention, Mr. Martineau would have seen that, in the very address his essay criticises, precisely the same position is maintained. "You cannot," I there say, "satisfy the human understanding in its demand for logical continuity between molecular processes and the phenomena of consciousness. This is a rock on which materialism must inevitably split whenever it pretends to be a complete philosophy of the human mind."
"The affluence of illustration," writes an able and sympathetic reviewer of this essay, in the New York Tribune, "in which Mr. Martineau delights often impairs the distinctness of his statements by diverting the attention of the reader from the essential points of his discussion to the beauty of his imagery, and thus diminishes their power of conviction." To the beauties here referred to I bear willing testimony; but the excesses touched upon reach far beyond the reader, to their primal seat and source in Mr. Martineau's own mind; mixing together there things that ought to be kept apart; producing vagueness where precision is the one thing needful; poetic fervor where we require judicial calm; and practical unfairness where the strictest justice ought to be, and I willingly believe is meant to be, observed.
In one of his nobler passages, Mr. Martineau tells us how the pupils of his college have been educated hitherto: "They have been trained under the assumptions—1. That the universe which includes us and folds us round is the life-dwelling of an Eternal Mind; 2. That the world of our abode is the scene of a moral government, incipient but not complete; and, 3. That the upper zones of human affection, above the clouds of self and passion, take us into the sphere of a Divine communion. Into this overarching scene it is that growing thought and enthusiasm have expanded to catch their light and fire."
Alpine summits must kindle above the mountaineer who reads these stirring words; I see their beauty and feel their life. Nay, in my own feeble way, at the close of one of the essays here printed, I thus affirm the "communion" which Mr. Martineau calls "Divine:" "'Two things,' said Immanuel Kant, 'fill me with awe—the starry heavens, and the sense of moral responsibility in man.' And in his hours of health and strength and sanity, when the stroke of action has ceased, and the pause of reflection has set in, the scientific investigator finds himself overshadowed by the same awe. Breaking contact with the hampering details of earth, it associates him with a power which gives fullness and tone to his existence, but which he can neither analyze nor comprehend."
Though "knowledge" is here disavowed, the "feelings" of Mr. Martineau and myself are, I think, very much alike. But, notwithstanding this mutual independence of religious feeling and objective knowledge thus demonstrated, he censures me—almost denounces me—for referring religion to the region of emotion. Surely he is inconsistent here. The foregoing words refer to an inward hue or temperature, rather than to an external object of thought. When I attempt to give the power which I see manifested in the universe an objective form, personal or otherwise, it slips away from me, declining all intellectual manipulation, I dare not, save poetically, use the pronoun "he" regarding it; I dare not call it a "mind;" I refuse to call it even "a cause." Its mystery overshadows me; but it remains a mystery, while the objective frames which my neighbors try to make it fit, simply distort and desecrate it.
It is otherwise with Mr. Martineau, and hence his discontent. He professes to know where I only claim to feel. He could make his contention good against me if he would transform, by a process of verification, the foregoing three assumptions into "objective knowledge." But he makes no attempt to do so. They remain assumptions from the beginning of his address to its end. And yet he frequently uses the word "unverified," as if it were fatal to the position on which its incidence falls. "The scrutiny of Nature" is one of his sources of "religious faith:" what logical foothold does that scrutiny furnish on which any one of the foregoing three assumptions could be planted? Nature, according to his picturing, is base and cruel: what is the inference to be drawn regarding its author? If Nature be "red in tooth and claw," who is responsible? On a mindless Nature, Mr. Martineau pours the full torrent of his gorgeous invective; but could the "assumption" of "an Eternal Mind"—even of a beneficent Eternal Mind—render the world objectively a whit less mean and ugly than it is? Not an iota. It is man's feelings, and not external phenomena, that are influenced by the assumption. It adds not a ray of light nor a strain of music to the objective sum of things. It docs not touch the phenomena of physical Nature—storm, flood, or fire—nor diminish by a pang the bloody combats of the animal world. But it does add the glow of religious emotion to the human
soul, as represented by Mr. Martineau. Beyond this I defy him to go; and yet he rashly—it might be said petulantly—kicks away the only philosophic-foundation on which it is possible for him to build his religion.
He twits incidentally the modern scientific interpretation of Nature because of its want of cheerfulness. "Let the new future," he says, "preach its own gospel and devise, if it can, the means of making the tidings glad." This is a common argument: "If you only knew the comfort of belief!" My reply to it is that I choose the nobler part of Emerson, when, after various disenchantments, he exclaimed, "I covet truth!" The gladness of true heroism visits the heart of him who is really competent to say this. Besides, "gladness" is an emotion, and Mr. Martineau theoretically scorns the emotional. I am not, however, acquainted with a writer who draws more largely upon this source, while mistaking it for something objective. "To reach the cause," he says, "there is no need to go into the past, as though being missed here he could be found there. But when once he has been apprehended by the proper organs of divine apprehension, the whole life of humanity is recognized as the scene of his agency." That Mr. Martineau should have lived so long, thought so much, and failed to recognize the entirely subjective character of this creed, is highly instructive. His "proper organs of divine apprehension"—denied, I may say, to some of the greatest intellects and noblest men in this and other ages—lie at the very core of his emotions.
In fact, it is when Mr. Martineau is most purely emotional that he scorns the emotions; and it is when he is most purely subjective, that he rejects subjectivity. He pays a just and liberal tribute to the character of John Stuart Mill. But in the light of Mill's philosophy, benevolence, honor, purity, having "shrunk into mere unaccredited subjective susceptibilities, have lost all support from Omniscient approval, and all presumable accordance with the reality of things." If Mr. Martineau had given them any inkling of the process by which he renders the "subjective susceptibilities" objective; or how be arrives at an objective ground of "Omniscient approval," gratitude from his pupils would have been his just need. But as it is, he leaves them lost in an iridescent cloud of words, after exciting a desire which he is incompetent to appease.
"We are," he says, in another place, "forever shaping our representations of invisible things into forms of definite opinion, and throwing them to the front, as if they were the photographic equivalent of our real faith. It is a delusion which affects us all. Yet somehow the essence of our religion never finds its way into these frames of theory: as we put them together it slips away, and, if we turn to pursue it, still retreats behind; ever ready to work with the will, to unbind and sweeten the affections, and bathe the life with reverence, but refusing to be seen, or to pass from a divine hue of thinking into a human pattern of thought." This is very beautiful, and mainly so because the man who utters it obviously brings it all out of the treasury of his own heart. But the "hue" and "pattern" here so finely spoken of are neither more nor less than that "emotion" and that "objective knowledge" which have drawn this suicidal fire from Mr. Martineau's battery.
I now come to one of the most serious portions of Mr. Martineau's pamphlet—serious far less on account of its "personal errors," than of its intrinsic gravity, though its author has thought fit to give it a witty and sarcastic tone. He analyzes and criticises "the materialist doctrine, which, in our time, is proclaimed with so much pomp, and resisted with so much passion. 'Matter is all I want,' says the physicist; 'give me its atoms alone, and I will explain the universe.'" It is thought, even by Mr. Martineau's intimate friends, that in this pamphlet he is answering me. I must therefore ask the reader to contrast the foregoing travesty with what I really do say regarding atoms: "I do not think that he (the materialist) is entitled to say that his molecular groupings and motions explain every thing. In reality, they explain nothing. The utmost he can affirm is the association of two classes of phenomena, of whose real bond of union he is in absolute ignorance." This is very different from saying, "Give me its atoms alone, and I will explain the universe." Mr. Martineau continues his dialogue with the physicist: "'Good,' he says; 'take as many atoms as you please. See that they have all that is requisite to Body' [a metaphysical B], 'being homogeneous extended solids.' 'That is not enough,' he replies; 'it might do for Democritus and the mathematicians, but I must have something more. The atoms must not only be in motion, and of various shapes, but also of as many kinds as there are chemical elements; for how could I ever get water if I had only hydrogen elements to work with?' 'So be it,' Mr. Martineau consents to reply, 'only this is a considerable enlargement of your specified datum' [where, and by whom specified?]—'in fact, a conversion of it into several; yet, even at the cost of its monism' [put into it by Mr. Martineau] 'your scheme seems hardly to gain its end; for by what manipulation of your resources will you, for example, educe consciousness?'"
This reads like pleasantry, but it deals with serious things. For the last seven years the question proposed by Mr. Martineau and my answer to it have been accessible to all. Here, briefly, is the question: "A man can say 'I feel, I think, I love,' but how does consciousness infuse itself into the problem?" And here is the answer: "The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from one to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why. Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened, and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electric discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem, 'How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness?' The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable."
Compare this with the answer which Mr. Martineau puts into the mouth of his physicist, and with which I am generally credited by Mr. Martineau's readers: "'It (the problem of consciousness) does not daunt me at all. Of course you understand that all along my atoms have been affected by gravitation and polarity; and now I have only to insist with Fechner on a difference among molecules; there are the inorganic, which can change only their place, like the particles in an undulation; and there are the organic, which can change their order, as in a globule that turns itself inside out. With an adequate number of these, our problem will be manageable.' 'Likely enough,' we may say ['entirely unlikely,' say I], 'seeing how careful you are to provide for all emergencies; and if any hitch should occur in the next step, where you will have to pass from mere sentiency to thought and will, you can again look in upon your atoms, and fling among them a handful of Leibnitz's monads, to serve as souls in little, and be ready, in a latent form, with that Vorstellungsfähigkeit which our picturesque interpreters of Nature so much prize.'"
"But surely," continues Mr. Martineau, "you must observe that this 'matter' of yours alters its style with every change of service: starting as a beggar, with scarce a rag of 'property' to cover its bones, it turns up as a prince when large undertakings are wanted. 'We must radically change our notions of matter,' says Prof. Tyndall; and then, he ventures to believe, it will answer all demands, carrying 'the promise and potency of all terrestrial life.' If the measure of the required 'change in our notions' had been specified, the proposition would have had a real meaning, and been susceptible of a test. It is easy traveling through the stages of such an hypothesis; you deposit at your bank a round sum ere you start, and, drawing on it piecemeal at every pause, complete your grand tour without a debt."
The last paragraph of this argument is forcibly and ably stated. On it I am willing to try conclusions with Mr. Martineau. I may say, in passing, that I share his contempt for the picturesque interpretation of Nature, if accuracy of vision be thereby impaired. But the term Vorstellungs-fähigkeit, as used by me, means the power of definite mental presentation, of attaching to words the corresponding objects of thought, and of seeing these in their proper relations, without the interior haze and soft penumbral borders, which the theologian loves. To this mode of "interpreting Nature" I shall to the best of my ability now adhere.
Neither of us, I trust, will be afraid or ashamed to begin at the alphabet of this question. Our first effort must be to understand each other, and this mutual understanding can only be insured by beginning low down. Physically speaking, however, we need not go below the sea-level. Let us, then, travel in company to the Caribbean Sea, and halt upon the heated water. What is that sea, and what is the sun which heats it? Answering for myself, I say that they are both matter. I fill a glass with the sea-water and expose it on the deck of the vessel; after some time the liquid has all disappeared, and left a solid residue of salts in the glass behind. We have mobility, invisibility—apparent annihilation. In virtue of
"The glad and secret aid
The sun unto the ocean paid,"
the water has taken to itself wings and flown off as vapor. From the whole surface of the Caribbean Sea such vapor is rising; and now we must follow it—not upon our legs, however, nor in a ship, nor even in a balloon, but by the mind's eye—in other words, by that power of Vorstellung which Mr. Martineau knows so well, and which he so justly scorns when it indulges in loose practices.
Compounding, then, the northward motion of the vapor with the earth's axial rotation, we track our fugitive through the higher atmospheric regions, obliquely across the Atlantic Ocean to Western Europe, and on to our familiar Alps. Here another wonderful metamorphosis occurs. Floating on the cold, calm air, and in presence of the cold firmament, the vapor condenses, not only to particles of water, but to particles of crystalline water. These coalesce to stars of snow, and afterward fall upon the mountains In forms so exquisite that, when first seen, they never fail to excite rapture. As to beauty, indeed, they put the work of the lapidary to shame, while as to accuracy they render concrete the abstractions of the geometer. Are these crystals "matter?" Without presuming to dogmatize, I answer for myself in the affirmative.
Still, a formative power has obviously here come into play which did not manifest itself in either the liquid or the vapor. The question now is, Was not the power "potential" in both of them, requiring only the proper conditions of temperature to bring it into action? Again I answer for myself in the affirmative. I am, however, quite willing to discuss with Mr. Martineau the alternative hypothesis, that an imponderable formative soul unites itself with the substance after its escape from the liquid. If he should espouse this hypothesis, then I should demand of him an immediate exercise of that Vorstellungs-fähigkeit, with which, in my efforts to think clearly, I can never dispense. I should ask, At what moment did the soul come in? Did it enter at once or by degrees; perfect from the first, or growing and perfecting itself contemporaneously with its own handiwork? I should also ask whether it was localized or diffused? Does it move about as a lonely builder, putting the bits of solid water in their places as soon as the proper temperature has set in? or is it distributed through the entire mass of the crystal? If the latter, then the soul has the shape of the crystal; but if the former, then I should inquire after its shape. Has it legs or arms? If not, I would ask it to be made clear to me how a thing without these appliances can act so perfectly the part of a builder? (I insist on definition, and ask unusual questions, if haply I might thereby abolish unmeaning words.) What were the condition and residence of the soul before it joined the crystal? What becomes of it when the crystal is dissolved? Why should a particular temperature be needed before it can exercise its vocation? Finally, is the problem before us in anyway simplified by the assumption of its existence? I think it probable that, after a full discussion of the question, Mr. Martineau would agree with me in ascribing the building power displayed in the crystal to the bits of water themselves. At all events, I should count upon his sympathy so far as to believe that he would consider any man unmannerly who would denounce me for rejecting this notion of a separate soul, and for holding the snow-crystal to be "matter."
But then what an astonishing addition is here made to the powers of matter! Who would have dreamed, without actually seeing its work, that such a power was locked up in a drop of water? All that we needed to make the action of the liquid intelligible was the assumption of Mr. Martineau's "homogeneous extended atomic solids," smoothly gliding over one another. But had we supposed the water to be nothing more than this, we should have ignorantly defrauded it of an intrinsic architectural power, which the art of man, even when pushed to its utmost degree of refinement, is incompetent to imitate. I would invite Mr. Martineau to consider how inappropriate his figure of a fictitious bank-deposit becomes under these circumstances. The "account current" of matter receives nothing at my hands which could be honestly kept back from it. If, then, "Democritus and the mathematicians" so defined matter as to exclude the powers here proved to belong to it, they were clearly wrong, and Mr. Martineau, instead of twitting me with my departure from them, ought rather to applaud me for correcting them.
The reader of my small contributions to the literature which deals with the overlapping margins of science and theology will have noticed how frequently I quote Mr. Emerson. I do so mainly because in him we have a poet and a profoundly religious man, who is really and entirely undaunted by the discoveries of science, past, present, or prospective. In his case Poetry, with the joy of a bacchanal, takes her graver brother Science by the hand, and cheers him with immortal laughter. By Emerson scientific conceptions are continually transmuted into the finer forms and warmer hues of an ideal world. Our present theme is touched upon in the lines—
"The journeying atoms, primordial wholes
Firmly draw, firmly drive by their animate poles."
As regards veracity and insight these few words outweigh, in my estimation, all the formal learning expended by Mr. Martineau in these disquisitions on force, in which he treats the physicist as a conjurer, and speaks so wittily of atomic polarity. In fact, without this notion of polarity—this "drawing" and "driving"—this attraction and repulsion, we stand as stupidly dumb before the phenomena of crystallization as a Bushman before the phenomena of the solar system. The genesis and growth of the notion I have endeavored to make clear in my third lecture on "Light," and in the article "Crystals and Molecular Force," published in this volume.
Our future course is here foreshadowed. A Sunday or two ago I stood under an oak planted by Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna. On the ground near the tree little oaklets were successfully fighting for life with the surrounding vegetation. The acorns had dropped into the friendly soil, and this was the result of their interaction. What is the acorn? what the earth? and what the sun, without whose heat and light the tree could not become a tree, however rich the soil, and however healthy the seed? I answer for myself as before—all "matter." And the heat and light which here play so potent a part are acknowledged to be motions of matter. By taking something much lower down in the vegetable kingdom than the oak, we might approach much more nearly to the case of crystallization already discussed, but this is not now necessary.
If, instead of conceding the sufficiency of matter here, Mr. Martineau should fly to the hypothesis of a vegetative soul, all the questions before asked in relation to the snow-star become pertinent. I would invite him to go over them one by one, and consider what replies he will make to them. He may retort by asking me "Who infused the principle of life into the tree?" I say in answer that our present question is not this, but another—not who made the tree, but what is it? Is there any thing besides matter in the tree? If so, what, and where? Mr. Martineau may have begun by this time to discern that it is not "picturesqueness," but cold precision, that my Vorstellungs-fähigkeit demands. How, I would ask, is this vegetative soul to be presented to the mind; where did it flourish before the tree grew, and what will become of it when the tree is sawn into planks, or consumed in fire?
Possibly Mr, Martineau may consider the assumption of this soul to be as untenable and as useless as I do. But, then, if the power to build a tree be conceded to pure matter, what an amazing expansion of our notions of the "potency of matter" is implied in the concession! Think of the acorn, of the earth, and of the solar light and heat—was ever such necromancy dreamed of as the production of that massive trunk, those swaying boughs and whispering leaves, from the interaction of these three factors? In this interaction, moreover, consists what we call life. It will be seen that I am not in the least insensible to the wonder of the tree; nay, I should not be surprised if, in the presence of this wonder, I feel more perplexed and overwhelmed than Mr. Martineau himself.
Consider it for a moment. There is an experiment, first made by Wheatstone, where the music of a piano is transferred from its soundboard, through a thin wooden rod, across several silent rooms in succession, and poured out at a distance from the instrument. The strings of the piano vibrate, not singly, but ten at a time. Every string subdivides, yielding not one note, but a dozen. All these vibrations and subvibrations are crowded together into a bit of deal not more than a quarter of a square inch in section. Yet no note is lost. Each vibration asserts its individual rights; and all are, at last, shaken forth into the air by a second sound-board, against which the distant end of the rod presses. Thought ends in amazement when it seeks to realize the motions of that rod as the music flows through it. I turn to my tree and observe its roots, its trunk, its branches, and its leaves. As the rod conveys the music, and yields it up to the distant air, so does the trunk convey the matter and the motion—the shocks and pulses and other vital actions—which eventually emerge in the umbrageous foliage of the tree. I went some time ago through the greenhouse of a friend. He had ferns from Ceylon, the branches of which were in some cases not much thicker than an ordinary pin—hard, smooth, and cylindrical—often leafless for a foot or more. But at the end of every one of them the unsightly twig unlocked the exuberant beauty hidden within it, and broke forth into a mass of fronds, almost large enough to fill the arms. We stand here upon a higher level of the wonderful: we are conscious of a music subtiler than that of the piano, passing unheard through these tiny boughs, and issuing in what Mr. Martineau would opulently call the "clustered magnificence" of the leaves. Does it lessen my amazement to know that every cluster, and every leaf—their form and texture—lie, like the music in the rod, in the molecular structure of these apparently insignificant stems? Not so. Mr. Martineau weeps for "the beauty of the flower fading into a necessity." I care not whether it comes to me through necessity or through freedom, my delight in it is all the same. I see what he sees with a wonder superadded. To me as to him—nay, to me more than to him—not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these.
I have spoken above as if the assumption of a soul would save Mr. Martineau from the inconsistency of crediting pure matter with the astonishing building power displayed in crystals and trees. This, however, would not be the necessary result; for it would remain to be proved that the soul assumed is not itself matter. When a boy, I learned from Dr. Watts that the souls of conscious brutes are mere matter. And the man who would claim for matter the human soul itself, would find himself in very orthodox company. "All that is created," says Fauste, a famous French bishop of the fourth century, "is matter. The soul occupies a place; it is inclosed in a body; it quits the body at death, and returns to it at the resurrection, as in the case of Lazarus; the distinction between hell and heaven, between eternal pleasures and eternal pains, proves that, even after death, souls occupy a place and are corporeal. God only is incorporeal." Tertullian, moreover, was quite a physicist in the definiteness of his conceptions regarding the soul. "The materiality of the soul," he says, "is evident from the evangelists. A human soul is there expressly pictured as suffering in hell; it is placed in the middle of a flame, its tongue feels a cruel agony, and it implores a drop of water at the hands of a happier soul. Wanting materiality," adds Tertullian, "all this would be without meaning." One wonders what would have happened to this great Christian father amid the roaring lions of Belfast. Could its excellent press have shielded him from its angry pulpits, as it sheltered me?
I have glanced at inorganic Nature—at the sea, and the sun, and the vapor, and the snow-flake—and at organic Nature as represented by the fern and the oak. That same sun which warmed the water and liberated the vapor, exerts a subtiler power on the nutriment of the tree. It takes hold of matter wholly unfit for the purposes of nutrition, separates its nutritive from its non-nutritive portions, gives the former to the vegetable, and carries the others away. Planted in the earth, bathed by the air, and tended by the sun, the tree is traversed by its sap, the cells are formed, the woody fibre is spun, and the whole is woven to a texture wonderful even to. the naked eye, but a million-fold more so to microscopic vision. Does consciousness mix in any way with these processes? No man can tell. Our only ground for a negative conclusion is the absence of those outward manifestations from which feeling is usually inferred. But even these are not entirely absent. In the greenhouses of Kew we may see that a leaf can close, in response to a proper stimulus, as promptly as the human fingers themselves; and while there Dr. Hooker will tell us of the wondrous fly-catching and fly-devouring power of the Dionæa. No man can say that the feelings of the animal are not represented by a drowsier consciousness in the vegetable world. At all events, no line has ever been drawn between the conscious and the unconscious; for the vegetable shades into the animal by such fine gradations, that it is impossible to say where the one ends and the other begins.
In all such inquiries we are necessarily limited by our own powers: we observe what our senses, armed with the aids furnished by science, enable us to observe; nothing more. The evidences as to consciousness in the vegetable world depend wholly upon our capacity to observe and weigh them. Alter the capacity, and the evidence would alter too. Would that which to us is a total absence of any manifestation of consciousness be the same to a being with our capacities indefinitely multiplied? To such a being I can imagine not only the vegetable, but the mineral world, responsive to the proper irritants; the response differing only in degree from those exaggerated manifestations which, in virtue of their grossness, appeal to our weak powers of observation.
Our conclusions, however, must be based, not on powers that we can imagine, but upon those that we possess. What do they reveal? As the earth and atmosphere offer themselves as the nutriment of the vegetable world, so does the latter, which contains no constituent not found in inorganic nature, offer itself to the animal world. Mixed with certain inorganic substances—water, for example—the vegetable constitutes, in the long-run, the sole sustenance of the animal. Animals may be divided into two classes, the first of which can utilize the vegetable world immediately, having chemical forces strong enough to cope with its most refractory parts; the second class use the vegetable world mediately; that is to say, after its finer portions have been extracted and stored up by the first. But in neither class have we an atom newly created. The animal world is, so to say, a distillation through the vegetable world from inorganic nature.
From this point of view all three worlds would constitute a unity, in which I picture life as immanent everywhere. Nor am I anxious to shut out the idea that the life here spoken of may be but a subordinate part and function of a higher life, as the living, moving blood is subordinate to the living man. I resist no such idea as long as it is not dogmatically imposed. Left for the human mind freely to operate upon, the idea has ethical vitality; but, stiffened into a dogma, this inner force disappears, and the outward yoke of a usurping hierarchy takes its place.
The problem before us is, at all events, capable of definite statement. We have on the one hand strong grounds for concluding that the earth was once a molten mass. We now find it not only swathed by an atmosphere, and covered by a sea, but also crowded with living things. The question is, How were they introduced? Certainty may be as unattainable here as Bishop Butler held it to be in matters of religion; but in the contemplation of probabilities the thoughtful mind is forced to take a side. The conclusion of Science, which recognizes unbroken causal connection between the past and the present, would undoubtedly be that the molten earth contained within it elements of life, which grouped themselves into their present forms as the planet cooled. The difficulty and reluctance encountered by this conception arise solely from the fact that the theologic conception obtained a prior footing in the human mind. Did the latter depend upon reasoning alone, it could not hold its ground for an hour against its rival. But it is warmed into life and strength by the emotions—by associated hopes, fears, and expectations—and not only by these, which are more or less mean, but by that loftiness of thought and feeling which lifts its possessor above the atmosphere of self, and which the theologic idea, in its nobler forms, has through ages engendered in noble minds.
Were not man's origin implicated, we should accept without a murmur the derivation of animal and vegetable life from what we call inorganic nature. The conclusion of pure intellect points this way and no other. But this purity is troubled by our interests in this life, and by our hopes and fears regarding the life to come. Reason is traversed by the emotions, anger rising in the weaker heads to the height of suggesting that the compendious shooting of the inquirer would be an act agreeable to God and serviceable to man. But this foolishness is more than neutralized by the sympathy of the wise; and in England at least, so long as the courtesy which befits an earnest theme is adhered to, such sympathy is ever ready for an honest man. None of us here need shrink from saying all that he has a right to say. We ought, however, to remember that it is not only a band of Jesuits, weaving their schemes of intellectual slavery, under the innocent guise of "education," that we are opposing. Our foes are to some extent they of our own household, including not only the ignorant and the passionate, but a minority of minds of high calibre and culture, lovers of freedom, moreover, who, though its objective pull be riddled by logic, still find the ethic life of their religion unimpaired. But while such considerations ought to influence the form of our argument, and prevent it from ever slipping out of the region of courtesy into that of scorn or abuse, its substance, I think, ought to be maintained and presented in unmitigated strength.
In the year 1855 the chair of Philosophy in the University of Munich happened to be filled by a Catholic priest of great critical penetration, great learning, and great courage, who bore the brunt of battle long before Döllinger. His Jesuit colleagues, he knew, inculcated the belief that every human soul is sent into the world from God by a separate and supernatural act of creation. In a work entitled "The Origin of the Human Soul," Prof. Froschammer, the philosopher here alluded to, was hardy enough to question this doctrine, and to affirm that man, body and soul, comes from his parents, the act of creation being, therefore, mediate and secondary only. The Jesuits keep a sharp lookout on all temerities of this kind, and their organ, the Civiltà Cattolica, immediately pounced upon Froschammer. His book was branded as "pestilent," placed in the Index, and stamped with the condemnation of the Church.
It will be seen in the "Apology for the Belfast Address" how simply and beautifully the great Jesuit Perrone causes the Almighty to play with the sun and planets, desiring this one to stop, and another to move, according to his pleasure. To Perrone's Vorstellung God is obviously a large Individual who holds the leading-strings of the universe, and orders its steps from a position outside it all. Nor does the notion now under consideration err on the score of indefiniteness. According to it, the Power whom Goethe does not dare to name, and whom Gassendi and Clerk Maxwell present to us under the guise of a "Manufacturer" of atoms, turns out annually, for England and Wales alone, a quarter of a million of new souls. Taken in connection with the dictum of Mr, Carlyle, that this annual increment to our population are "mostly fools," but little profit to the human heart seems derivable from this mode of regarding the Divine operations.
But if the Jesuit notion be rejected, what are we to accept? Physiologists say that every human being comes from an egg, not more than 1⁄120th of an inch in diameter. Is this egg matter? I hold it to be so, as much as the seed of a fern or of an oak. Nine months go to the making of it into a man. Are the additions made during this period of gestation drawn from matter? I think so undoubtedly. If there be anything besides matter in the egg, or in the infant subsequently slumbering in the womb, what is it? The questions already asked with reference to the stars of snow may be here repeated, Mr. Martineau will complain that I am disenchanting the babe of its wonder; but is this the case? I figure it growing in the womb, woven by a something not itself, without conscious participation on the part of either father or mother, and appearing in due time, a living miracle, with all its organs and all their implications. Consider the work accomplished during these nine months in forming the eye alone —with its lens, and its humors, and its miraculous retina behind. Consider the ear with its tympanum, cochlea, and Corti's organ—an instrument of three thousand strings, built adjacent to the brain, and employed by it to sift, separate, and interpret, antecedent to all consciousness, the sonorous tremors of the external world. All this has been accomplished not only without man's contrivance, but without his knowledge, the secret of his own organization having been withheld from him since his birth in the immeasurable past, until the other day. Matter I define as that mysterious thing by which all this is accomplished. How it came to have this power is a question on which I never ventured an opinion. If, then. Matter starts as "a beggar," it is, in my view, because the Jacobs of theology have deprived it of its birthright. Mr. Martineau need fear no disenchantment. Theories of evolution go but a short way toward the explanation of this mystery; while, in its presence, the notion of an atomic Manufacturer and Artificer of souls raises the doubt whether those who entertain it were ever really penetrated by the solemnity of the problem for which they offer such a solution.
There are men, and they include among them some of the best of the race of men, upon whose minds this mystery falls without producing either warmth or color. The "dry light" of the intellect suffices for them, and they live their noble lives untouched by a desire to give the mystery shape or expression. There are, on the other hand, men whose minds are warmed and colored by its presence, and who, under its stimulus, attain to moral heights which have never been overtopped. Different spiritual climates are necessary for the healthy existence of these two classes of men; and different climates must be accorded them. The history of humanity, however, proves the experience of the second class to illustrate the most pervading need. The world will have religion of some kind, even though it should fly for it to the intellectual whoredom of "spiritualism." What is really wanted is the lifting power of an ideal element in human life. But the free play of this power must be preceded by its release from the torn swaddling-bands of the past, and from the practical materialism of the present. It is now in danger of being strangled by the one, or stupefied by the other. I look, however, forward to a time when the strength, insight, and elevation, which now visit us in mere hints and glimpses during moments "of clearness and vigor," shall be the stable and permanent possession of purer and mightier minds than ours—purer and mightier, partly because of their deeper knowledge of matter and their more faithful conformity to its laws.