« PreviousContinue »
see that Saint Hilaire considers those who thus speak of Nature as virtually giving her the attributes of God; this, however, is precisely the language used by some French writers, his successors, and disciples too of the School of Transmutation ; they make Nature an Intelligent being, with an object or intention, which they so expressly designate. Of this we shall ere long see an example.
Neither is this prohibited language avoided by Mr Darwin, as the antecedent pages have already shown. Other more striking examples will hereafter be adduced.
The term Nature with many of the ancient philosophers, and especially with those of the Stoical School, was simply intended as another designation of God; and we ourselves profess to use the word in that sense too, out of respect to the Author of Nature whom we do not name, as Cuvier has well expressed it. Nature with us means an Intelligent Agent: it is not a figure of speech only difficult to avoid,' but a reverential expression cheerfully embraced.
Until the eighteenth century the Mosaic Economy was the undisputed authority in Europe for all discussions on the Origin of Life on our globe. Biology was a revelation, and when the science of geology began, it first started from a revelation. About the beginning of the last century, a French author, De Maillet, composed a work to explain the Origin of Life without any regard to the established opinions. His first proposition was, that at one time the earth had been entirely covered with water, and that, therefore, the first animals must have been aquatic—must have been fishes. When the waters retired, the fishes underwent metamorphoses. (We should suggest that they died, as is the manner of fishes when left on dry land.) The fishes which keep to the bottom of the waters, creeping amongst the mud, became reptiles; those which occasionally rise above the waters became flying animals, their fins were turned into wings, their scales into feathers; and, in one word, mammifers, and man himself, came into existence from this aquatic origin. De Maillet's work was published about the year 1748, shortly after the author's death. Twenty years later, Robinet published a book entitled * Essais de la Nature qui apprend à faire l'homme.' Robinet makes Nature his agent, which he freely personi. fies. Nature, according to him, commenced with creating worms, then insects. Later, she made a bold step, and fabricated the crustaceans. Then she placed inwards the external plates of the crustaceans, and made vertebræ of them—thence came the serpent. After the serpent the lizard; the front part of the lizard was transformed into wings—from thence the bird. And thus, progressively, Nature formed the quadrupeds, the quadrumanous animals, and last of all man.
I know not that any other writer followed in this track till M. Lamarck* appeared, who, with a greatly superior genius and much scientific knowledge, stood forth as the great exponent of the Theory of Transmutation.
M. Lamarck derives all animals from a monad, though what might be the nature of the monad we do not learn. From the monad the next step was to the Polypus : 'int consequence of the efforts which the Polypus imposed on itself, and the habits which it assumed,' the Polypus gave itself, successively, all forms of life even the most elevated.
* Jean Baptiste Monnet de Lamarck was born in Picardie, 1744, and died at Paris, 1829. Appointed professor of Zoology during the Revolution, he developed in the course of his lectures his curious system. This he published, “Extrait du cours de Zoologie du muséum d'histoire naturelle'in 1812 ; and also in his ‘Histoire des animaux sans vertèbres, 1815, in seven volumes. Towards the end of his life, this learned man became quite blind.
† Au moyen des efforts qu'il s'impose, et des habitudes qu'il prend, le polype se donna successivement toutes les formes jusqu'aux plus élevées.
The exercise of habit, and the effort at action, is the transforming power in Lamarck's system ; animals have aimed at certain faculties and functions, and thus have obtained them—a process by which they have gradually become new animals. He has, however, other agents for his system of Transmutation—'efforts of internal sentiment;' 'influence of subtile fluids,' and 'acts of organization :' the usual cloud of words with which an empirical writer surrounds himself, when treating of the essence of his system. Lyell well observes, that in using these phrases he substitutes names for things, and with a disregard to the strict rules of induction, resorts to fictions as ideal as the plastic virtue, and other phantoms of the geologists of the middle ages.'
But to proceed with the system. It being assumed as an undoubted fact, that a change of external circumstances may cause one organ to become entirely obsolete, and a new one to be developed, such as never before belonged to the species, the following proposition is announced, which, however absurd it may seem, is logically deduced from the assumed premises. It is not the organs, or, in other words, the nature and form of the parts of the body of an animal, which have given rise to its habits and its particular faculties ; but on the contrary, its habits, its manner of living, and those of its progenitors have, in the course of time, determined the form of its body, the number and condition of its organs—in short, the faculties which it enjoys. The otters, beavers, water-fowl, turtles and frogs were not made web-footed in order that they might swim ; but their wants having attracted them to the water in search of prey, they stretched out the toes of their feet to strike the water and move rapidly along the surface. By the repeated stretching of their toes, the skin which united them at the base acquired a habit of extension, until, in the course of time, the broad membranes which now connect their extremities were formed.
* This fundamental priuciple of his system, Lamarck expressed in these words :
L'habitude d'exercer un organe, lui fait acquérir des développements et des dimensions qui le changent insensiblement, en sorte qu'avec le temps elle le rend fort différent. Au contraire le défaut constant d'exercise d'un organe l'appauvrit graduelleinent et finit par l'anéantir.'
In like manner, the antelopes and gazelles, in order to escape from the carnivorous animals, were compelled to exert themselves in running with greater speed; a habit which in the course of ages gave rise to the slenderness of their legs, and the agility and elegance of their forms.
The camelopard was not gifted with a long flexible neck because it was destined to live in the interior of Africa, where the soil was devoid of herbage; but being reduced to live on the foliage of lofty trees, it contracted a habit of stretching itself to reach the higher boughs, until its neck was elongated, and its fore legs became much longer than the hinder, so that at last it could raise its head twenty feet from the ground.*
Nature, we are told, is not an Intelligence, nor the Deity, but a delegated power ; a mere instrument—a piece of mechanism acting by necessity—an order of things constituted by the Supreme Being, and subject to laws which are the expression of his will. This Nature is obliged to proceed gradually in all her operations-she cannot produce animals and plants of all classes all at once, but must always begin by the formation of the most simple kinds, and out of them elaborate the more complex, adding different systems of organs as they may be needed.
* Lyell's Analysis of Lamarck.
Nature is daily engaged in the formation of rudimentary sketches of animals and vegetables, by a process which the ancients termed spontaneous generation. She is always beginning anew, day by day, the work of creation, by forming monads, which are the only living things she gives birth to directly.
Such is the system which, though of great celebrity in its day, made very few converts, and would, perhaps, by this time have been shelved with other literary curiosities, had not Mr Darwin come forward, an illustrious disciple to retouch the Theory, to recast some of its parts, to supply its deficiencies, and to give the last finish to the genesis of mutation.
The main difference between the plan of the master and of the disciple is in the machinery by which the required transformations have been effected. In the general principle of Transmutation there is a perfect accordance, but cach proposes a method of his own to accomplish the alleged phenomenon. According to Lamarck, it has been mainly by effort and by continued attempts to bring about a change, that the change has been realized; with Mr Darwin the agent has been a metaphor, or, dropping the metaphorical term, the Sequence of Events,' which can be the cause of nothing, as it is itself a series of effects. Lamarck's agent, though a ridiculous absurdity, is something intelligible and tangible. Mr Darwin's is a phantom always eluding the grasp. We might, if criticising the Lamarckian system, inquire what became of the animals