*Hints Towards the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory Of Life*
*by S. T. Coleridge*
*Edited by Seth B. Watson, M.D.*
Of St. John's College,
And Formerly One of the Physicians to the Hospital at Oxford
Magna sunt opera Domini exquisita in omnes voluntates ejus.
London: John Churchill, Princes Street, Soho
*C. and J. Adlard, Printers, Bartholomew Close*
Preface. Physiology Of Life. The Nature Of Life. Advertisements. Footnotes
The Editor takes this opportunity of returning his best acknowledgments to Sir JOHN STODDART, LL.D., to the Rev. JAMES GILLMAN, Incumbent of Trinity, Lambeth, and to HENRY LEE, Esq., Assistant Surgeon to King's College Hospital, for their great kindness, in regard to this publication.
16, Norfolk Street, Park Lane.
The accompanying pages contain the unfinished Sketch of a Theory of Life by S. T. Coleridge. Everything that fell from the pen of that extraordinary man bore latent, as well as more obvious indications of genius, and of its inseparable concomitant—originality. To this general remark the present Essay is far from forming an exception. No one can peruse it, without admiring the author's comprehensive research and profound meditation; but at the same time, partly from the exuberance of his imagination, and partly from an apparent want of method (though, in truth, he had a method of his own, by which he marshalled his thoughts in an order perfectly intelligible to himself), a first perusal will, to many readers, prove unsatisfactory, unless they are prepared for it by an introduction of a more popular character. This purpose, therefore, I shall endeavour to accomplish; it being to be understood that I by no means make myself responsible either for Mr. Coleridge's speculations, or for the manner in which they are enunciated; and that, on the contrary, I shall occasionally indicate views from which I dissent, and expressions which perhaps the author himself, on revision, would have seen reason to correct.
It is clear that Mr. Coleridge considers the unity of human nature to result from two combined elements, Body and Soul; that he regards the latter as the principle of Reason and of Conscience (both which he has largely treated in his published works), and that the "Life," which he here investigates, concerns, in relation to mankind, only the Body. He is far, however, from confining the term "Life" to its action on the human body; on the contrary, he disclaims the division of all that surrounds us into things with life, and things without life; and contends, that the term Life is no less applicable to the irreducible bases of chemistry, such as sodium, potassium, &c., or to the various forms of crystals, or the geological strata which compose the crust of our globe, than it is to the human body itself, the acme and perfection of animal organization. I admit that there are certain great powers, such as magnetism, electricity, and chemistry, whose action may be traced, even by the limited means which science at present possesses, in admirable gradation, from purely unorganized to the most highly organized matter: and, I think, that Mr. Coleridge has done this with great ingenuity and striking effect; but what I object to is, that he applies to the combined operation of these powers, in all cases, the term Life. If we look back to the early history of language, we shall probably find that this word, and its synonymes in other tongues, were first employed to denote human life, that is, the duration of a human being's existence from birth to the grave. As this existence was marked by actions, many of which were common to man with other animals, those animals also were said to "live;" but the extension of the notion of Life to the vegetable creation is comparatively a recent usage,—and hitherto (in this country at least) no writer before Mr. Coleridge, so far as I know, has maintained that rocks and mountains, nay, "the great globe itself," share with mankind the gift of Life. On the other hand, there are well known and energetic uses of the word "Life," to which Mr. Coleridge's speculations, as contained in the accompanying pages, are wholly inapplicable. Almost all nations, even the most savage, agree in the belief that individuals of the human race, after they have ceased to exist in this mortal life, will exist in another state, to which also the word Life is universally applied; but to this latter Mr. Coleridge's views of magnetism, electricity, &c., can hardly be thought applicable. Still less can they apply to "Life" in its spiritual sense; as, when Moses says to the Jews, "the words of the law are your life," (Deut. xxxii, 47,) and when our Saviour says, "the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life;" (John, vi, 63;) and again, "I am the resurrection and the life," (John, xi, 25.) Upon the whole, therefore, I think it would have been advisable in Mr. Coleridge to have adopted a different phraseology, in tracing the operation of certain natural agencies first on unorganized, and then on organized bodies.
Another word, of which I consider an improper use to be made in this Essay, is "Nature." I find this imaginary being introduced on all occasions, and invested with attributes of personality, which may be extremely apt to make a false impression on young or thoughtless minds. At one time, "the life of Nature" is spoken of; then we are informed that "Nature has succeeded. She has created the intermediate link between the vegetable world and the animal." Again, it is said that "Nature seems to fall back, and to reexert herself on the lower ground, which she had before occupied;"—and elsewhere we are told that "Nature never loses what she has once learnt; though in the acquirement of each new power she intermits or performs less energetically the act immediately preceding. She often drops a faculty, but never fails to pick it up again. She may seem forgetful and absent; but it is only to recollect herself with additional as well as recruited vigour in some after and higher state." Now the word "Nature," in any intelligible sense, means nothing but that method and order by which the Almighty regulates the common course of things. Nature is not a person; it is not active; it neither creates nor performs actions more or less energetically, nor learns, nor forgets, nor reexerts itself, nor recruits its vigour. Perhaps it will be said that all this is merely figurative language. Figurative language is very much misplaced in strict philosophical investigations; and these particular figures, which might be quite consistent with the atheistical philosophy of Lucretius, sound ill in the mouth of a pious Christian, which Mr. Coleridge undoubtedly was. He probably adopted them unconsciously from Bacon; but Bacon's use of the word Nature ought rather to have served as a warning than an example; for it has contributed, in no small degree, to the atheistical philosophy of recent times.
The prevalent natural philosophy of the present day is that which is called corpuscular, because it assumes the existence of a first matter, consisting of corpuscula or atoms, which are supposed to be definite, though extremely small, quantities, invested with the qualities of extension, impenetrability, and the like; and from certain combinations of these qualities, Life is considered, by some persons, to be a necessary result. This philosophy Mr. Coleridge combats. The supposed atoms, he says, are mere abstractions of the mind; and Life is not a thing, the result of atomic arrangement or action, but is itself an act, or process. He refutes various definitions of Life, such as, that it is the sum of all the functions by which death is resisted; or, that it depends on the faculty of nutrition, or of anti-putrescence. His own definition he proposes merely as an hypothesis. Life, he says, is "the principle of Individuation," that is to say, it is a power which discloses itself from within, combining many qualities into one individual thing. This individualising principle unites, as he conceives, with the cooperating action of magnetism, electricity, and chemistry. At least, such is the inference to be drawn from the present state of science; though it is easily conceivable that future discoveries may bring us acquainted with powers more directly connected with Life. The most general law governing the action of Life, as a tendency to individuation, is here designated polarity; for instance, the power termed magnetism (not meaning that there is necessarily an actual tangible magnet in the case) has two poles, the negative, answering to attraction, rest, carbon, &c., and the positive, answering to repulsion, mobility, azote, &c.; and as the magnetic needle which points to the north necessarily indicates thereby the south, so the power disposing to rest has necessarily a counteracting influence disposing to mobility, between which lies the point of indifference. Now this quality, to which Mr. Coleridge gives the name of polarity, is in truth nothing more than an exemplification of the doctrine of opposites, the πρός ἂλληλα ἀντικειμένω ἀντίθεσις, which the Eleatic Philosopher, in Plato's "Sophist," applies to the idea of existence and non-existence, and which accompanies every other idea as its shadow, whether in physics, in intellect, or in morals; for the finite is opposed to the infinite, the false to the true, the evil to the good, and so forth; which we say, not to derogate from the value of Mr. Coleridge's application of the doctrine, of which he has very ably availed himself; but merely to explain the term polarity, by referring it, as a species, to a higher genus of intellectual conceptions.
Reverting to the three powers before mentioned, it is not to be understood, that on Mr. Coleridge's hypothesis of Life, they ever act separately; but in the different modifications of Life, at one time the power of magnetism predominates, at another that of electricity, and at another that of chemistry. Magnetism is stated to act as a line, electricity as a surface, and chemistry as a solid; for all which Mr. Coleridge refers to certain physical experiments. The predominance of magnetism is characterised by reproduction, that of electricity by irritability; and irritability, which first appears as muscle, gradually rises into sensibility as nerve. The limits of a mere introduction will not permit me to examine Mr. Coleridge's first principles more in detail; and I can but briefly notice their application to the successive stages of ascent, from the first rudiments of individualised Life, in the lowest classes of the mineral, vegetable, and animal creation, to its crown and consummation in the human body. Beginning with magnetism, by which, in its widest sense, he means what he improperly calls the first and simplest differential act of Nature (he should rather have said the first and simplest conception that we can form of a differential act of God, in the work of creation), he supposes the pre-existence of chaos, not, indeed, in the Miltonic sense—
"For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions fierce, Strive there for mast'ry, and to battle bring Their embryon atoms,—"
but rather as one vast homogeneous fluid, and even that he suggests not as a historical fact, but as the appropriate symbol of a great fundamental truth. The first effort of magnetic power, the first step from indifference to difference, from formless homogeneity to independent existence, is seen in the tranquil deposition of crystals; and an increasing tendency to difference is observable in the increasing multitude of strata, till we come to organic life; of which the vegetable and animal worlds may be regarded as opposite poles; carbon prevailing in the former and azote in the latter; and vegetation being characterised by the predominance of magnetism in its highest power, as reproduction; whilst the animal tribes evince the power of electricity, as shown in irritability and sensibility. Passing over the forms of vegetation, we come to the polypi, corallines, &c., in which individuality appears in its first dawn; for a multitude of animals form, as it were, a common animal, and different genera pass into each other, almost indistinguishably. The tubipora of the corals connects with the serpula of the conchylia. In the mollusca the separation of organs becomes more observable; in the higher species there are rudiments of nerves, and an exponent, though scarcely distinguishable, of sensibility. In the snail, and muscle, the separation of the fluid from the solid is more marked, yet the prevalence of the carbonic principle connects these and the preceding classes, in a certain degree, with the vegetable creation. "But the insect world, taken at large (says Mr. Coleridge) appears as an intense Life, that has struggled itself loose, and become emancipated from vegetation—Florae liberti, et libertini!" In insects we first find the distinct commencement of a separation between the muscular system, that is, organs of irritability, and the nervous system, that is, organs of sensibility; the former, however, maintaining a pre-eminence throughout, and the nerves themselves being probably subservient to the motory power. With the fishes begins an internal system of bones, but these are the results of a comparatively imperfect formation, being in general little more than mere gristle. In birds we find a sort of synthesis of the powers of fish and insects. In all three, the powers are under the predominance of irritability; but sensibility, which is dormant in the insect, begins to awaken in the fish, and, though still subordinate, is quite awake in the bird, of which no better proof can be given than its power of sound, with the rudiments of modulation, in the large class of singing birds, and in some others a tendency to acquire and to imitate articulate speech. The next step of ascent brings us to the mammalia; and in these, including beasts and men, the complete and universal presence of a nervous system raises sensibility to its due place and rank among the animal powers. Finally, in Man the whole force of organic power attains an inward and centripetal direction, and the "apex of the living pyramid"becomes a fit receptacle for Reason and Conscience.
* * * * *
It is much to be regretted, that the estimable Author did not live to put a finishing hand to this Essay; but the part completed involves speculations of so interesting a nature, and presents such striking marks of deep and original thought, that the Editor, to whose hands it was committed, did not feel himself justified in withholding it from the judgment of the public.
PHYSIOLOGY OF LIFE.
When we stand before the bust of John Hunter, or as we enter the magnificent museum furnished by his labours, and pass slowly, with meditative observation, through this august temple, which the genius of one great man has raised and dedicated to the wisdom and uniform working of the Creator, we perceive at every step the guidance, we had almost said, the inspiration, of those profound ideas concerning Life, which dawn upon us, indeed, through his written works, but which he has here presented to us in a more perfect language than that of words—the language of God himself, as uttered by Nature.
That the true idea of Life existed in the mind of John Hunter I do not entertain the least doubt; but it may, perhaps, be doubted whether his incessant occupation, and his stupendous industry in the service, both of his contemporaries and of posterity, added to his comparatively slight acquaintance with the arts and aids of logical arrangement, permitted him fully to unfold and arrange it in distinct, clear, and communicable conceptions. Assuredly, however, I may, without incurring the charge of arrogance or detraction, venture to assert that, in his writings the light which occasionally flashes upon us seems at other times, and more frequently, to struggle through an unfriendly medium, and even sometimes to suffer a temporary occultation. At least, in order to dissipate the undeniable obscurities, and to reconcile the apparent contradictions found in his works,—to distinguish, in short, the numerous passages in which without, perhaps, losing sight internally of his own peculiar belief, he yet falls into the phraseology and mechanical solutions of his age,—we must distinguish such passages from those in which the form corresponds to the substance, and in which, therefore, the nature and essential laws of vital action are expressed, as far as his researches had unveiled them to his own mind, without disguise. To effect this, we must, as it were, climb up on his shoulders, and look at the same objects in a distincter form, because seen from the more commanding point of view furnished by himself. This has, indeed, been more than once attempted already, and, in one instance, with so evident a display of power and insight as announces in the assertor and vindicator of the Hunterian Theory a congenial intellect, and a disciple in whom Hunter himself would have exulted. Would that this attempt had been made on a larger scale, that the writer to whom I refer(1) had in consequence developed his opinions systematically, and carried them yet further back, even to their ultimate principle!
But this the scientific world has yet to expect; or it is more than probable that the present humble endeavour would have been superseded, or confined, at least, to the task of restating the opinion of my predecessor with such modifications as the differences that will always exist between men who have thought independently, and each for himself, have never failed to introduce, even on problems of far easier and more obvious solution.
Without further preface or apology, therefore, I shall state at once my objections to all the definitions that have hitherto been given of Life, as meaning too much or too little, with an exception, however, in favour of those which mean nothing at all; and even these last must, in certain cases, receive an honour they do not merit, and be confuted, or rather detected, on account of their too general acceptance, and the incalculable power of words over the minds of men in proportion to the remoteness of the subject from the cognizance of the senses.
It would be equally presumptuous and unreasonable should I, with a late writer on this subject, "exhort the reader to be particularly on his guard against loose and indefinite expressions;" but I perfectly agree that they are the bane of all science, and have been remarkably injurious in the different departments of physiology.
THE NATURE OF LIFE.
On The Definitions Of Life Hitherto Received. Hints Towards A More Comprehensive Theory.
The attempts to explain the nature of Life, which have fallen within my knowledge, presuppose the arbitrary division of all that surrounds us into things with life, and things without life—a division grounded on a mere assumption. At the best, it can be regarded only as a hasty deduction from the first superficial notices of the objects that surround us, sufficient, perhaps, for the purpose of ordinary discrimination, but far too indeterminate and diffluent to be taken unexamined by the philosophic inquirer. The positions of science must be tried in the jeweller's scales, not like the mixed commodities of the market, on the weigh-bridge of common opinion and vulgar usage. Such, however, has been the procedure in the present instance, and the result has been answerable to the coarseness of the process. By a comprisal of the _petitio principii_ with the _argumentum in circulo_,—in plain English, by an easy logic, which begins with begging the question, and then moving in a circle, comes round to the point where it began,—each of the two divisions has been made to define the other by a mere reassertion of their assumed contrariety. The physiologist has luminously explained Y plus X by informing us that it is a somewhat that is the antithesis of Y minus X; and if we ask, what then is Y-X? the answer is, the antithesis of Y+X,—a reciprocation of great service, that may remind us of the twin sisters in the fable of the Lamiae, with but one eye between them both, which each borrowed from the other as either happened to want it; but with this additional disadvantage, that in the present case it is after all but an eye of glass. The definitions themselves will best illustrate our meaning. I will begin with that given by Bichat. "Life is the sum of all the functions by which death is resisted," in which I have in vain endeavoured to discover any other meaning than that life consists in being able to live. This author, with a whimsical gravity, prefaces his definition with the remark, that the nature of life has hitherto been sought for in _abstract_ considerations; as if it were possible that four more inveterate abstractions could be brought together in one sentence than are here assembled in the words, life, death, function, and resistance. Similar instances might be cited from Richerand and others. The word Life is translated into other more learned words; and this _paraphrase_ of the _term_ is substituted for the _definition_ of the _thing_, and therefore (as is always the case in every _real_ definition as contra-distinguished from a _verbal_ definition,) for at least a partial _solution_ of the _fact_. Such as these form the _first_ class.—The second class takes some one particular function of Life common to all living objects,—nutrition, for instance; or, to adopt the phrase most in vogue at present, assimilation, for the purposes of reproduction and growth. Now this, it is evident, can be an appropriate definition only of the very lowest species, as of a Fungus or a Mollusca; and just as comprehensive an idea of the mystery of Life, as a Mollusca might give, can this definition afford. But this is not the only objection. For, _first_, it is not pretended that we begin with seeking for an organ evidently appropriated to nutrition, and then infer that the substance in which such an organ is found _lives_. On the contrary, in a number of cases among the obscurer animals and vegetables we infer the organ from the pre-established fact of its life. _Secondly_, it identifies the process itself with a certain range of its forms, those, namely, by which it is manifested in animals and vegetables. For this, too, no less than the former, presupposes the arbitrary division of all things into not living and lifeless, on which, as I before observed, all these definitions are grounded. But it is sorry logic to take the proof of an affirmative in one thing as the proof of the negative in another. All animals that have lungs breathe, but it would be a childish oversight to deduce the converse, viz. all animals that breathe have lungs. The theory in which the French chemists organized the discoveries of Black, Cavendish, Priestly, Scheele, and other English and German philosophers, is still, indeed, the reigning theory, but rather, it should seem, from the absence of a rival sufficiently popular to fill the throne in its stead, than from the continuance of an implicit belief in its own stability. We no longer at least cherish that intensity of faith which, before Davy commenced his brilliant career, had not only identified it with chemistry itself, but had substituted its nomenclature, even in common conversation, for the far more philosophic language which the human race had abstracted from the laboratory of Nature. I may venture to prophecy that no future Beddoes will make it the corival of the mathematical sciences in demonstrative evidence. I think it a matter of doubt whether, during the period of its supposed infallibility, physiology derived more benefit from the extension, or injury from the misdirection, of its views. Enough of the latter is fresh in recollection to make it but an equivocal compliment to a physiological position, that it must stand or fall with the corpuscular philosophy, as modified by the French theory of chemistry. Yet should it happen (and the event is not impossible, nor the supposition altogether absurd,) that more and more decisive facts should present themselves in confirmation of the metamorphosis of elements, the position that life consists in assimilation would either cease to be distinctive, or fall back into the former class as an identical proposition, namely, that Life, meaning by the word that sort of growth which takes place by means of a peculiar organization, consists in that sort of growth which is peculiar to organized life. _Thirdly_, the definition involves a still more egregious flaw in the reasoning, namely, that of _cum hoc, ergo propter hoc_ (or the assumption of causation from mere coexistence); and this, too, in its very worst form. For it is not _cum hoc solo, ergo propter hoc_, which would in many cases supply a presumptive proof by induction, but _cum hoc, et plurimis aliis, ergo propter hoc_! Shell, of some kind or other, is common to the whole order of testacea, but it would be absurd to define the _vis vitae_ of testaceous animals as existing in the shell, though we know it to be the constant accompaniment, and have every reason to believe the constant effect, of the specific life that acts in those animals. Were we (_argumenti _ causa_) to imagine shell coextensive with the organized creation, this would produce no abatement in the falsity of the reasoning. Nor does the flaw stop here; for a physiological, that is a real, definition, as distinguished from the verbal definitions of lexicography, must consist neither in any single property or function of the thing to be defined, nor yet in all collectively, which latter, indeed, would be a history, not a definition. It must consist, therefore, in the _law_ of the thing, or in such an _idea_ of it, as, being admitted, all the properties and functions are admitted by implication. It must likewise be so far _causal_, that a full insight having been obtained of the law, we derive from it a progressive insight into the necessity and _generation_ of the phenomena of which it is the law. Suppose a disease in question, which appeared always accompanied with certain symptoms in certain stages, and with some one or more symptoms in all stages—say deranged digestion, capricious alternation of vivacity and languor, headache, dilated pupil, diminished sensibility to light, &c.—Neither the man who selected the one constant symptom, nor he who enumerated all the symptoms, would give the scientific definition _talem scilicet, quali scientia fit vel datur_, but the man who at once named and defined the disease hydrocephalus, producing pressure on the brain. For it is the essence of a scientific definition to be causative, not by introduction of imaginary somewhats, natural or supernatural under the name of causes, but by announcing the law of action in the particular case, in subordination to the common law of which all the phenomena are modifications or results.
Now in the definition on which, as the representative of a whole class, we are now animadverting, a single effect is given as constituting the cause. For nutrition by digestion is certainly necessary to life, only under certain circumstances, but that life is previously necessary to digestion is absolutely certain under all circumstances. Besides, what other phenomenon of Life would the conception of assimilation, per se, or as it exists in the lowest order of animals, involve or explain? How, for instance, does it include sensation, locomotion, or habit? or if the two former should be taken as distinct from life, toto genere, and supervenient to it, we then ask what conception is given of vital assimilation as contradistinguished from that of the nucleus of a crystal?
Lastly, this definition confounds the Law of Life, or the primary and universal form of vital agency, with the conception, Animals. For the kind, it substitutes the representative of its degrees and modifications. But the first and most important office of science, physical or physiological, is to contemplate the power in kind, abstracted from the degree. The ideas of caloric, whether as substance or property, and the conceptions of latent heat, the heat in ice, &c., that excite the wonder or the laughter of the vulgar, though susceptible of the most important practical applications, are the result of this abstraction; while the only purpose to which a definition like the preceding could become subservient, would be in supplying a nomenclature with the character of the most common species of a genus—its genus generalissimum, and even this would be useless in the present instance, inasmuch as it presupposes the knowledge of the things characterised.
The third class, and far superior to the two former, selects some property characteristic of all living bodies, not merely found in all animals alike, but existing equally in all parts of all living things, both animals and plants. Such, for instance, is the definition of Life, as consisting in anti-putrescence, or the power of resisting putrefaction. Like all the others, however, even this confines the idea of Life to those degrees or concentrations of it, which manifest themselves in organized beings, or rather in those the organization of which is apparent to us. Consequently, it substitutes an abstract term, or generalization of effects, for the idea, or superior form of causative agency. At best, it describes the vis vita by one only of its many influences. It is however, as we have said before, preferable to the former, because it is not, as they are, altogether unfruitful, inasmuch as it attests, less equivocally than any other sign, the presence or absence of that degree of the vis vita which is the necessary condition of organic or self-renewing power. It throws no light, however, on the law or principle of action; it does not increase our insight into the other phenomena; it presents to us no inclusive form, out of which the other forms may be developed, and finally, its defect as a definition may be detected by generalizing it into a higher formula, as a power which, during its continuance, resists or subordinates heterogeneous and adverse powers. Now this holds equally true of chemical relatively to the mechanical powers; and really affirms no more of Life than may be equally affirmed of every form of being, namely, that it tends to preserve itself, and resists, to a certain extent, whatever is incompatible with the laws that constitute its particular state for the time being. For it is not true only of the great divisions or classes into which we have found it expedient to distinguish, while we generalize, the powers acting in nature, as into intellectual, vital, chemical, mechanical; but it holds equally true of the degrees, or species of each of these genera relatively to each other: as in the decomposition of the alkalies by heat, or the galvanic spark. Like the combining power of Life, the copula here resists for awhile the attempts to dissolve it, and then yields, to reappear in new phenomena.
It is a wonderful property of the human mind, that when once a momentum has been given to it in a fresh direction, it pursues the new path with obstinate perseverance, in all conceivable bearings, to its utmost extremes. And by the startling consequences which arise out of these extremes, it is first awakened to its error, and either recalled to some former track, or receives some fresh impulse, which it follows with the same eagerness, and admits to the same monopoly. Thus in the 13th century the first science which roused the intellects of men from the torpor of barbarism, was, as in all countries ever has been, and ever must be the case, the science of Metaphysics and Ontology. We first seek what can be found at home, and what wonder if truths, that appeared to reveal the secret depths of our own souls, should take possession of the whole mind, and all truths appear trivial which could not either be evolved out of similar principles, by the same process, or at least brought under the same forms of thought, by perceived or imagined analogies? And so it was. For more than a century men continued to invoke the oracle of their own spirits, not only concerning its own forms and modes of being, but likewise concerning the laws of external nature. All attempts at philosophical explication were commenced by a mere effort of the understanding, as the power of abstraction; or by the imagination, transferring its own experiences to every object presented from without. By the former, a class of phenomena were in the first place abstracted, and fixed in some general term: of course this could designate only the impressions made by the outward objects, and so far, therefore, having been thus metamorphosed, they were effects of these objects; but then made to supply the place of their own causes, under the name of occult qualities. Thus the properties peculiar to gold, were abstracted from those it possessed in common with other bodies, and then generalized in the term Aureity: and the inquirer was instructed that the Essence of Gold, or the cause which constituted the peculiar modification of matter called gold, was the power of aureity. By the latter, i.e. by the imagination, thought and will were superadded to the occult quality, and every form of nature had its appropriate Spirit, to be controlled or conciliated by an appropriate ceremonial. This was entitled its SUBSTANTIAL FORM. Thus, physic became a sort of dull poetry, and the art of medicine (for physiology could scarcely be said to exist) was a system of magic, blended with traditional empiricism. Thus the forms of thought proceeded to act in their own emptiness, with no attempt to fill or substantiate them by the information of the senses, and all the branches of science formed so many sections of logic and metaphysics. And so it continued, even to the time that the Reformation sounded the second trumpet, and the authority of the schools sank with that of the hierarchy, under the intellectual courage and activity which this great revolution had inspired. Power, once awakened, cannot rest in one object. All the sciences partook of the new influences. The world of experimental philosophy was soon mapped out for posterity by the comprehensive and enterprising genius of Bacon, and the laws explained by which experiment could be dignified into experience.(2) But no sooner was the impulse given, than the same propensity was made manifest of looking at all things in the one point of view which chanced to be of predominant attraction. Our Gilbert, a man of genuine philosophical genius, had no sooner multiplied the facts of magnetism, and extended our knowledge concerning the property of magnetic bodies, but all things in heaven, and earth, and in the waters beneath the earth, were resolved into magnetic influences.
Shortly after a new light was struck by Harriott and Descartes, with their contemporaries, or immediate predecessors, and the restoration of ancient geometry, aided by the modern invention of algebra, placed the science of mechanism on the philosophic throne. How widely this domination spread, and how long it continued, if, indeed, even now it can be said to have abdicated its pretensions, the reader need not be reminded. The sublime discoveries of Newton, and, together with these, his not less fruitful than wonderful application, of the higher mathesis to the movements of the celestial bodies, and to the laws of light, gave almost a religious sanction to the corpuscular system and mechanical theory. It became synonymous with philosophy itself. It was the sole portal at which truth was permitted to enter. The human body was treated of as an hydraulic machine, the operations of medicine were solved, and alas! even directed by reference partly to gravitation and the laws of motion, and partly by chemistry, which itself, however, as far as its theory was concerned, was but a branch of mechanics working exclusively by imaginary wedges, angles, and spheres. Should the reader chance to put his hand on the "Principles of Philosophy," by La Forge, an immediate disciple of Descartes, he may see the phenomena of sleep solved in a copper-plate engraving, with all the figures into which the globules of the blood shaped themselves, and the results demonstrated by mathematical calculations. In short, from the time of Kepler(3) to that of Newton, and from Newton to Hartley, not only all things in external nature, but the subtlest mysteries of life and organization, and even of the intellect and moral being, were conjured within the magic circle of mathematical formulae. And now a new light was struck by the discovery of electricity, and, in every sense of the word, both playful and serious, both for good and for evil, it may be affirmed to have electrified the whole frame of natural philosophy. Close on its heels followed the momentous discovery of the principal gases by Scheele and Priestly, the composition of water by Cavendish, and the doctrine of latent heat by Black. The scientific world was prepared for a new dynasty; accordingly, as soon as Lavoisier had reduced the infinite variety of chemical phenomena to the actions, reactions, and interchanges of a few elementary substances, or at least excited the expectation that this would speedily be effected, the hope shot up, almost instantly, into full faith, that it had been effected. Henceforward the new path, thus brilliantly opened, became the common road to all departments of knowledge: and, to this moment, it has been pursued with an eagerness and almost epidemic enthusiasm which, scarcely less than its political revolutions, characterise the spirit of the age. Many and inauspicious have been the invasions and inroads of this new conqueror into the rightful territories of other sciences; and strange alterations have been made in less harmless points than those of terminology, in homage to an art unsettled, in the very ferment of imperfect discoveries, and either without a theory, or with a theory maintained only by composition and compromise. Yet this very circumstance has favoured its encroachments, by the gratifications which its novelty affords to our curiosity, and by the keener interest and higher excitement which an unsettled and revolutionary state is sure to inspire. He who supposes that science possesses an immunity from such influences knows little of human nature. How, otherwise, could men of strong minds and sound judgments have attempted to penetrate by the clue of chemical experiment the secret recesses, the sacred adyta of organic life, without being aware that chemistry must needs be at its extreme limits, when it has approached the threshold of a higher power? Its own transgressions, however, and the failure of its enterprises will become the means of defining its absolute boundary, and we shall have to guard against the opposite error of rejecting its aid altogether as analogy, because we have repelled its ambitious claims to an identity with the vital powers.
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Previously to the submitting my own ideas on the subject of life, and the powers into which it resolves itself, or rather in which it is manifested to us, I have hazarded this apparent digression from the anxiety to preclude certain suspicions, which the subject itself is so fitted to awaken, and while I anticipate the charges, to plead in answer to each a full and unequivocal—not guilty!
In the first place, therefore, I distinctly disclaim all intention of explaining life into an occult quality; and retort the charge on those who can satisfy themselves with defining it as the peculiar power by which death is resisted.
Secondly. Convinced—by revelation, by the consenting authority of all countries, and of all ages, by the imperative voice of my own conscience, and by that wide chasm between man and the noblest animals of the brute creation, which no perceivable or conceivable difference of organization is sufficient to overbridge—that I have a rational and responsible soul, I think far too reverentially of the same to degrade it into an hypothesis, and cannot be blind to the contradiction I must incur, if I assign that soul which I believe to constitute the peculiar nature of man as the cause of functions and properties, which man possesses in common with the oyster and the mushroom.(4)
Thirdly, while I disclaim the error of Stahl in deriving the phenomena of life from the unconscious actions of the rational soul, I repel with still greater earnestness the assertion and even the supposition that the functions are the offspring of the structure, and "Life(5) the result of organization," connected with it as effect with cause. Nay, the position seems to me little less strange, than as if a man should say, that building with all the included handicraft, of plastering, sawing, planing, &c. were the offspring of the house; and that the mason and carpenter were the result of a suite of chambers, with the passages and staircases that lead to them. To make A the offspring of B, when the very existence of B as B presupposes the existence of A, is preposterous in the literal sense of the word, and a consummate instance of the hysteron proteron in logic. But if I reject the organ as the cause of that, of which it is the organ, though I might admit it among the conditions of its actual functions; for the same reason, I must reject fluids and ethers of all kinds, magnetical, electrical, and universal, to whatever quintessential thinness they may be treble distilled, and (as it were) super-substantiated. With these, I abjure likewise all chemical agencies, compositions, and decompositions, were it only that as stimulants they suppose a stimulability sui generis, which is but another paraphrase for life. Or if they are themselves at once both the excitant and the excitability, I miss the connecting link between this imaginary ether and the visible body, which then becomes no otherwise distinguished from inanimate matter, than by its juxtaposition in mere space, with an heterogeneous inmate, the cycle of whose actions revolves within itself. Besides which I should think that I was confounding metaphors and realities most absurdly, if I imagined that I had a greater insight into the meaning and possibility of a living alcohol, than of a living quicksilver. In short, visible surface and power of any kind, much more the power of life, are ideas which the very forms of the human understanding make it impossible to identify. But whether the powers which manifest themselves to us under certain conditions in the forms of electricity, or chemical attraction, have any analogy to the power which manifests itself in growth and organization, is altogether a different question, and demands altogether a different chain of reasoning: if it be indeed a tree of knowledge, it will be known by its fruits, and these will depends not on the mere assertion, but on the inductions by which the position is supported, and by the additions which it makes to our insight into the nature of the facts it is meant to illustrate.
To account for Life is one thing; to explain Life another. In the first we are supposed to state something prior (if not in time, yet in the order of Nature) to the thing accounted for, as the ground or cause of that thing, or (which comprises the meaning and force of both words) as its sufficient cause, quae et facit, et subest. And to this, in the question of Life, I know no possible answer, but GOD. To account for a thing is to see into the principle of its possibility, and from that principle to evolve its being. Thus the mathematician demonstrates the truths of geometry by constructing them. It is an admirable remark of Joh. Bapt. a Vico, in a Tract published at Naples, 1710,(6) "Geometrica ideo demonstramus, quia facimus; physica si demonstrare possimus, faceremus. Metaphysici veri claritas eadem ac lucis, quam non nisi per opaca cognoscimus; nam non lucem sed lucidas res videmus. Physica sunt opaca, nempe formata et finita, in quibus Metaphysici veri lumen videmus." The reasoner who assigns structure or organization as the antecedent of Life, who names the former a cause, and the latter its effect, he it is who pretends to account for life. Now Euclid would, with great right, demand of such a philosopher to make Life; in the same sense, I mean, in which Euclid makes an Icosahedron, or a figure of twenty sides, namely, in the understanding or by an intellectual construction. An argument which, of itself, is sufficient to prove the untenable nature of Materialism.
To explain a power, on the other hand, is (the power itself being assumed, though not comprehended, ut qui datur, non intelligitur) to unfold or spread it out: ex implicito planum facere. In the present instance, such an explanation would consist in the reduction of the idea of Life to its simplest and most comprehensive form or mode of action; that is, to some characteristic instinct or tendency, evident in all its manifestations, and involved in the idea itself. This assumed as existing in kind, it will be required to present an ascending series of corresponding phenomena as involved in, proceeding from, and so far therefore explained by, the supposition of its progressive intensity and of the gradual enlargement of its sphere, the necessity of which again must be contained in the idea of the tendency itself. In other words, the tendency having been given in kind, it is required to render the phenomena intelligible as its different degrees and modifications. Still more perfect will the explanation be, should the necessity of this progression and of these ascending gradations be contained in the assumed idea of life, as thus defined by the general form and common purport of all its various tendencies. This done, we have only to add the conditions common to all its phenomena, and, those appropriate to each place and rank, in the scale of ascent, and then proceed to determine the primary and constitutive forms, i.e. the elementary powers in which this tendency realizes itself under different degrees and conditions.(7)
What is Life? Were such a question proposed, we should be tempted to answer, what is not Life that really is? Our reason convinces us that the quantities of things, taken abstractedly as quantity, exist only in the relations they bear to the percipient; in plainer words, they exist only in our minds, ut quorum esse est percipi. For if the definite quantities have a ground, and therefore a reality, in the external world, and independent of the mind that perceives them, this ground is ipso facto a quality; the very etymon of this world showing that a quality, not taken in its own nature but in relation to another thing, is to be defined causa sufficiens, entia, de quibus loquimur; esse talia, qualia sunt. Either the quantities perceived exist only in the perception, or they have likewise a real existence. In the former case, the quality (the word is here used in an active sense) that determines them belongs to Life, per ipsam hypothesin; and in the other case, since by the agreement of all parties Life may exist in other forms than those of consciousness, or even of sensibility, the onus probandi falls on those who assert of any quality that it is not Life. For the analogy of all that we know is clearly in favour of the contrary supposition, and if a man would analyse the meaning of his own words, and carefully distinguish his perceptions and sensations from the external cause exciting them, and at the same time from the quantity or superficies under which that cause is acting, he would instantly find himself, if we mistake not, involuntarily identifying the ideas of Quality and Life. Life, it is admitted on all hands, does not necessarily imply consciousness or sensibility; and we, for our parts, cannot see that the irritability which metals manifest to galvanism, can be more remote from that which may be supposed to exist in the tribe of lichens, or in the helvellae, pezizee, &c., than the latter is from the phenomena of excitability in the human body, whatever name it may be called by, or in whatever way it may modify itself.(8) That the mere act of growth does not constitute the idea of Life, or the absence of that act exclude it, we have a proof in every egg before it is placed under the hen, and in every grain of corn before it is put into the soil. All that could be deduced by fair reasoning would amount to this only, that the life of metals, as the power which effects and determines their comparative cohesion, ductility, &c., was yet lower on the scale than the Life which produces the first attempts of organization, in the almost shapeless tremella, or in such fungi as grow in the dark recesses of the mine.
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If it were asked, to what purpose or with what view we should generalize the idea of Life thus broadly, I should not hesitate to reply that, were there no other use conceivable, there would be some advantage in merely destroying an arbitrary assumption in natural philosophy, and in reminding the physiologists that they could not hear the life of metals asserted with a more contemptuous surprise than they themselves incur from the vulgar, when they speak of the Life in mould or mucor. But this is not the case. This wider view not only precludes a groundless assumption, it likewise fills up the arbitrary chasm between physics and physiology, and justifies us in using the former as means of insight into the latter, which would be contrary to all sound rules of ratiocination if the powers working in the objects of the two sciences were absolutely and essentially diverse. For as to abstract the idea of kind from that of degrees, which are alone designated in the language of common use, is the first and indispensable step in philosophy, so are we the better enabled to form a notion of the kind, the lower the degree, and the simpler the form is in which it appears to us. We study the complex in the simple; and only from the intuition of the lower can we safely proceed to the intellection of the higher degrees. The only danger lies in the leaping from low to high, with the neglect of the intervening gradations. But the same error would introduce discord into the gamut, et ab abusu contra usum non valet consequentia. That these degrees will themselves bring forth secondary kinds sufficiently distinct for all the purposes of science, and even for common sense, will be seen in the course of this inquisition: for this is one proof of the essential vitality of nature, that she does not ascend as links in a suspended chain, but as the steps in a ladder; or rather she at one and the same time ascends as by a climax, and expands as the concentric circles on the lake from the point to which the stone in its fall had given the first impulse. At all events, a contemptuous rejection of this mode of reasoning would come with an ill grace from a medical philosopher, who cannot combine any three phenomena of health or of disease without the assumption of powers, which he is compelled to deduce without being able to demonstrate; nay, even of material substances as the vehicles of these powers, which he can never expect to exhibit before the senses.
From the preceding it should appear, that the most comprehensive formula to which life is reducible, would be that of the internal copula of bodies, or (if we may venture to borrow a phrase from the Platonic school) the power which discloses itself from within as a principle of unity in the many. But that there is a physiognomy in words, which, without reference to their fitness or necessity, make unfavorable as well as favorable impressions, and that every unusual term in an abstruse research incurs the risk of being denominated jargon, I should at the same time have borrowed a scholastic term, and defined life absolutely, as the principle of unity in multeity, as far as the former, the unity to wit, is produced ab intra; but eminently (sensu eminenti), I define life as the principle of individuation, or the power which unites a given all into a whole that is presupposed by all its parts. The link that combines the two, and acts throughout both, will, of course, be defined by the tendency to individuation. Thus, from its utmost latency, in which life is one with the elementary powers of mechanism, that is, with the powers of mechanism considered as qualitative and actually synthetic, to its highest manifestation, (in which, as the vis vitae vivida, or life as life, it subordinates and modifies these powers, becoming contra-distinguished from mechanism,(9) ab extra, under the form of organization,) there is an ascending series of intermediate classes, and of analogous gradations in each class. To a reflecting mind, indeed, the very fact that the powers peculiar to life in living animals include cohesion, elasticity, &c. (or, in the words of a late publication, "that living matter exhibits these physical properties,"(10)) would demonstrate that, in the truth of things, they are homogeneous, and that both the classes are but degrees and different dignities of one and the same tendency. For the latter are not subjected to the former as a lever, or walking-stick to the muscles; the more intense the life is, the less does elasticity, for instance, appear as elasticity. It sinks down into the nearest approach to its physical form by a series of degrees from the contraction and elongation of the irritable muscle to the physical hardness of the insensitive nail. The lower powers are assimilated, not merely employed, and assimilation presupposes the homogeneous nature of the thing assimilated; else it is a miracle, only not the same as that of a creation, because it would imply that additional and equal miracle of annihilation. In short, all the impossibilities which the acutest of the reformed Divines have detected in the hypothesis of transubstantiation would apply, totidem verbis et syllabis, to that of assimilation, if the objects and the agents were really heterogeneous. Unless, therefore, a thing can exhibit properties which do not belong to it, the very admission that living matter exhibits physical properties, includes the further admission, that those physical or dead properties are themselves vital in essence, really distinct but in appearance only different; or in absolute contrast with each other.
In all cases that which, abstractly taken, is the definition of the kind, will, when applied absolutely, or in its fullest sense, be the definition of the highest degree of that kind. If life, in general, be defined vis ab intra, cujus proprium est coadunare plura in rem unicam, quantum est res unica; the unity will be more intense in proportion as it constitutes each particular thing a whole of itself; and yet more, again, in proportion to the number and interdependence of the parts, which it unites as a whole. But a whole composed, ab intra, of different parts, so far interdependent that each is reciprocally means and end, is an individual, and the individuality is most intense where the greatest dependence of the parts on the whole is combined with the greatest dependence of the whole on its parts; the first (namely, the dependence of the parts on the whole) being absolute; the second (namely, the dependence of the whole on its parts) being proportional to the importance of the relation which the parts have to the whole, that is, as their action extends more or less beyond themselves. For this spirit of the whole is most expressed in that part which derives its importance as an End from its importance as a Mean, relatively to all the parts under the same copula.
Finally, of individuals, the living power will be most intense in that individual which, as a whole, has the greatest number of integral parts presupposed in it; when, moreover, these integral parts, together with a proportional increase of their interdependence, as parts, have themselves most the character of wholes in the sphere occupied by them. A mathematical point, line, or surface, is an ens rationis, for it expresses an intellectual act; but a physical atom is ens fictitium, which may be made subservient, as ciphers are in arithmetic, to the purposes of hypothetical construction, per regulam falsi; but transferred to Nature, it is in the strictest sense an absurd quantity; for extension, and consequently divisibility, or multeity,(11) (for space cannot be divided,) is the indispensable condition, under which alone anything can appear to us, or even be thought of, as a thing. But if it should be replied, that the elementary particles are atoms not positively, but by such a hardness communicated to them as is relatively invincible, I should remind the assertor that temeraria citatio supernaturalium est pulvinar intellectus pigri, and that he who requires me to believe a miracle of his own dreaming, must first work a miracle to convince me that he had dreamt by inspiration. Add, too, the gross inconsistency of resorting to an immaterial influence in order to complete a system of materialism, by the exclusion of all modes of existence which the theorist cannot in imagination, at least, finger and peep at! Each of the preceding gradations, as above defined, might be represented as they exist, and are realised in Nature. But each would require a work for itself, co-extensive with the science of metals, and that of fossils (both as geologically applied); of crystallization; and of vegetable and animal physiology, in all its distinct branches. The nature of the present essay scarcely permits the space sufficient to illustrate our meaning. The proof of its probability (for to that only can we arrive by so partial an application of the hypothesis), is to be found in its powers of solving the particular class of phenomena, that form the subjects of the present inquisition, more satisfactorily and profitably than has been done, or even attempted before.
Exclusively, therefore, for the purposes of illustration, I would take as an instance of the first step, the metals, those, namely, that are capable of permanent reduction. For, by the established laws of nomenclature, the others (as sodium, potassium, calcium, silicium, &c.) would be entitled to a class of their own, under the name of bases. It is long since the chemists have despaired of decomposing this class of bodies. They still remain, one and all, as elements or simple bodies, though, on the principles of the corpuscularian philosophy, nothing can be more improbable than that they really are such; and no reason has or can be assigned on the grounds of that system, why, in no one instance, the contrary has not been proved. But this is at once explained, if we assume them as the simplest form of unity, namely, the unity of powers and properties. For these, it is evident, may be endlessly modified, but can never be decomposed. If I were asked by a philosopher who had previously extended the attribute of Life to the Byssus speciosa, and even to the crustaceous matter, or outward bones of a lobster, &c., whether the ingot of gold expressed life, I should answer without hesitation, as the ingot of gold assuredly not, for its form is accidental and ab extra. It may be added to or detracted from without in the least affecting the nature, state, or properties in the specific matter of which the ingot consists. But as gold, as that special union of absolute and of relative gravity, ductility, and hardness, which, wherever they are found, constitute gold, I should answer no less fearlessly, in the affirmative. But I should further add, that of the two counteracting tendencies of nature, namely, that of detachment from the universal life, which universality is represented to us by gravitation, and that of attachment or reduction into it, this and the other noble metals represented the units in which the latter tendency, namely, that of identity with the life of nature, subsisted in the greatest overbalance over the former. It is the form of unity with the least degree of tendency to individuation.
Rising in the ascent, I should take, as illustrative of the second step, the various forms of crystals as a union, not of powers only, but of parts, and as the simplest forms of composition in the next narrowest sphere of affinity. Here the form, or apparent quantity, is manifestly the result of the quality, and the chemist himself not seldom admits them as infallible characters of the substances united in the whole of a given crystal.
In the first step, we had Life, as the mere unity of powers; in the second we have the simplest forms of totality evolved. The third step is presented to us in those vast formations, the tracing of which generically would form the science of Geology, or its history in the strict sense of the word, even as their description and diagnostics constitute its preliminaries.
Their claim to this rank I cannot here even attempt to support. It will be sufficient to explain my reason for having assigned it to them, by the avowal, that I regard them in a twofold point of view: 1st, as the residue and product of vegetable and animal life; 2d, as manifesting the tendencies of the Life of Nature to vegetation or animalization. And this process I believe—in one instance by the peat morasses of the northern, and in the other instance by the coral banks of the southern hemisphere—to be still connected with the present order of vegetable and animal Life, which constitute the fourth and last step in these wide and comprehensive divisions.
In the lowest forms of the vegetable and animal world we perceive totality dawning into individuation, while in man, as the highest of the class, the individuality is not only perfected in its corporeal sense, but begins a new series beyond the appropriate limits of physiology. The tendency to individuation, more or less obscure, more or less obvious, constitutes the common character of all classes, as far as they maintain for themselves a distinction from the universal life of the planet; while the degrees, both of intensity and extension, to which this tendency is realized, form the species, and their ranks in the great scale of ascent and expansion.
In the treatment of a subject so vast and complex, within the limits prescribed for an essay like the present, where it is impossible not to say either too much or too little (and too much because too little), an author is entitled to make large claims on the candour of his judges. Many things he must express inaccurately, not from ignorance or oversight, but because the more precise expression would have involved the necessity of a further explanation, and this another, even to the first elements of the science. This is an inconvenience which presses on the analytic method, on however large a scale it may be conducted, compared with the synthetic; and it must bear with a tenfold weight in the present instance, where we are not permitted to avail ourselves of its usual advantages as a counterbalance to its inherent defects. I shall have done all that I dared propose to myself, or that can be justly demanded of me by others, if I have succeeded in conveying a sufficiently clear, though indistinct and inadequate notion, so as of its many results to render intelligible that one which I am to apply to my particular subject, not as a truth already demonstrated, but as an hypothesis, which pretends to no higher merit than that of explaining the particular class of phenomena to which it is applied, and asks no other reward than a presumption in favour of the general system of which it affirms itself to be a dependent though integral part. By Life I everywhere mean the true Idea of Life, or that most general form under which Life manifests itself to us, which includes all its other forms. This I have stated to be the tendency to individuation, and the degrees or intensities of Life to consist in the progressive realization of this tendency. The power which is acknowledged to exist, wherever the realization is found, must subsist wherever the tendency is manifested. The power which comes forth and stirs abroad in the bird, must be latent in the egg. I have shown, moreover, that this tendency to individuate cannot be conceived without the opposite tendency to connect, even as the centrifugal power supposes the centripetal, or as the two opposite poles constitute each other, and are the constituent acts of one and the same power in the magnet. We might say that the life of the magnet subsists in their union, but that it lives (acts or manifests itself) in their strife. Again, if the tendency be at once to individuate and to connect, to detach, but so as either to retain or to reproduce attachment, the individuation itself must be a tendency to the ultimate production of the highest and most comprehensive individuality. This must be the one great end of Nature, her ultimate object, or by whatever other word we may designate that something which bears to a final cause the same relation that Nature herself bears to the Supreme Intelligence.
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According to the plan I have prescribed for this inquisition, we are now to seek for the highest law, or most general form, under which this tendency acts, and then to pursue the same process with this, as we have already done with the tendency itself, namely, having stated the law in its highest abstraction, to present it in the different forms in which it appears and reappears in higher and higher dignities. I restate the question. The tendency having been ascertained, what is its most general law? I answer—polarity, or the essential dualism of Nature, arising out of its productive unity, and still tending to reaffirm it, either as equilibrium, indifference, or identity. In its productive power, of which the product is the only measure, consists its incompatibility with mathematical calculus. For the full applicability of an abstract science ceases, the moment reality begins.(12) Life, then, we consider as the copula, or the unity of thesis and antithesis, position and counterposition,—Life itself being the positive of both; as, on the other hand, the two counterpoints are the necessary conditions of the manifestations of Life. These, by the same necessity, unite in a synthesis; which again, by the law of dualism, essential to all actual existence, expands, or produces itself, from the point into the line, in order again to converge, as the initiation of the same productive process in some intenser form of reality. Thus, in the identity of the two counter-powers, Life subsists; in their strife it consists: and in their reconciliation it at once dies and is born again into a new form, either falling back into the life of the whole, or starting anew in the process of individuation.
Whence shall we take our beginning? From Space, istud litigium philosophorum, which leaves the mind equally dissatisfied, whether we deny or assert its real existence. To make it wholly ideal, would be at the same time to idealize all phenomena, and to undermine the very conception of an external world. To make it real, would be to assert the existence of something, with the properties of nothing. It would far transcend the height to which a physiologist must confine his flights, should we attempt to reconcile this apparent contradiction. It is the duty and the privilege of the theologian to demonstrate, that space is the ideal organ by which the soul of man perceives the omnipresence of the Supreme Reality, as distinct from the works, which in him move, and live, and have their being; while the equal mystery of Time bears the same relation to his Eternity, or what is fully equivalent, his Unity.
Physiologically contemplated, Nature begins, proceeds, and ends in a contradiction; for the moment of absolute solution would be that in which Nature would cease to be Nature, i.e. a scheme of ever-varying relations; and physiology, in the ambitious attempt to solve phenomena into absolute realities, would itself become a mere web of verbal abstractions.
But it is in strict connexion with our subject, that we should make the universal FORMS as well as the not less universal LAW of Life, clear and intelligible in the example of Time and Space, these being both the first specification of the principle, and ever after its indispensable symbols. First, a single act of self-inquiry will show the impossibility of distinctly conceiving the one without some involution of the other; either time expressed in space, in the form of the mathematical line, or space within time, as in the circle. But to form the first conception of a real thing, we state both as one in the idea, duration. The formula is: (AB+BA)(AA) or the oneness of space and time, is the predicate of all real being.
But as little can we conceive the oneness, except as the mid-point producing itself on each side; that is, manifesting itself on two opposite poles. Thus, from identity we derive duality, and from both together we obtain polarity, synthesis, indifference, predominance. The line is Time + Space, under the predominance of Time: Surface is Space + Time, under the predominance of Space, while Line + Surface as the synthesis of units, is the circle in the first dignity; to the sphere in the second; and to the globe in the third. In short, neither can the antagonists appear but as two forces of one power, nor can the power be conceived by us but as the equatorial point of the two counteracting forces; of which the hypomochlion of the lever is as good an illustration as anything can be that is thought of mechanically only, and exclusively of life. To make it adequate, we must substitute the idea of positive production for that of rest, or mere neutralization. To the fancy alone it is the null-point, or zero, but to the reason it is the punctum saliens, and the power itself in its eminence. Even in these, the most abstract and universal forms of all thought and perception—even in the ideas of time and space, we slip under them, as it were, a substratum; for we cannot think of them but as far as they are co-inherent, and therefore as reciprocally the measures of each other. Nor, again, can we finish the process without having the idea of motion as its immediate product. Thus we say, that time has one dimension, and imagine it to ourselves as a line. But the line we have already proved to be the productive synthesis of time, with space under the predominance of time. If we exclude space by an abstract assumption, the time remains as a spaceless point, and represents the concentered power of unity and active negation, i.e. retraction, determination, and limit, ab intra. But if we assume the time as excluded, the line vanishes, and we leave space dimensionless, an indistinguishable ALL, and therefore the representative of absolute weakness and formlessness, but, for that very reason, of infinite capacity and formability.
We have been thus full and express on this subject, because these simple ideas of time, space, and motion, of length, breadth, and depth, are not only the simplest and universal, but the necessary symbols of all philosophic construction. They will be found the primary factors and elementary forms of every calculus and of every diagram in the algebra and geometry of a scientific physiology. Accordingly, we shall recognise the same forms under other names; but at each return more specific and intense; and the whole process repeated with ascending gradations of reality, exempli gratia: Time + space = motion; Tm + space = line + breadth = depth; depth + motion = force; Lf + Bf = Df; LDf + BDf = attraction + repulsion = gravitation; and so on, even till they pass into outward phenomena, and form the intermediate link between productive powers and fixed products in light, heat, and electricity. If we pass to the construction of matter, we find it as the product, or tertium aliud, of antagonist powers of repulsion and attraction. Remove these powers, and the conception of matter vanishes into space—conceive repulsion only, and you have the same result. For infinite repulsion, uncounteracted and alone, is tantamount to infinite, dimensionless diffusion, and this again to infinite weakness; viz., to space. Conceive attraction alone, and as an infinite contraction, its product amounts to the absolute point, viz., to time. Conceive the synthesis of both, and you have matter as a fluxional antecedent, which, in the very act of formation, passes into body by its gravity, and yet in all bodies it still remains as their mass, which, being exclusively calculable under the law of gravitation, gives rise, as we before observed, to the science of statics, most improperly called celestial mechanics.
In strict consistence with the same philosophy which, instead of considering the powers of bodies to have been miraculously stuck into a prepared and pre-existing matter, as pins into a pin-cushion, conceives the powers as the productive factors, and the body or phenomenon as the fact, product, or fixture; we revert again to potentiated length in the power of magnetism; to surface in the power of electricity; and to the synthesis of both, or potentiated depth, in constructive, that is, chemical affinity. But while the two factors are as poles to each other, each factor has likewise its own poles, and thus in the simple cross—
With M M, the magnetic line, running from top to bottom, with f f its northern pole, or pole of attraction; and m m its south, or pole of repulsion, and E E, running from left to right, one of the lines that spring from each point of M M, with its east, or pole of contraction, and d its west, or pole of diffluence and expansion—we have presented to us the universal quadruplicity, or four elemental forms of power; in the endless proportions and modifications of which, the innumerable offspring of all-bearing Nature consist. Wisely docile to the suggestions of Nature herself, the ancients significantly expressed these forces under the names of earth, water, air, and fire; not meaning any tangible or visible substance so generalized, but the powers predominant, and, as it were, the living basis of each, which no chemical decomposition can ever present to the senses, were it only that their interpenetration and co-inherence first constitutes them sensible, and is the condition and meaning of a—thing. Already our more truly philosophical naturalists (Ritter, for instance) have begun to generalize the four great elements of chemical nomenclature, carbon, azote, oxygen, and hydrogen: the two former as the positive and negative pole of the magnetic axis, or as the power of fixity and mobility; and the two latter as the opposite poles, or plus and minus states of cosmical electricity, as the powers of contraction and dilatation, or of comburence and combustibility. These powers are to each other as longitude to latitude, and the poles of each relatively as north to south, and as east to west. For surely the reader will find no distrust in a system only because Nature, ever consistent with herself, presents us everywhere with harmonious and accordant symbols of her consistent doctrines. Nothing would be more easy than, by the ordinary principles of sound logic and common sense, to demonstrate the impossibility and expose the absurdity of the corpuscularian or mechanic system, or than to prove the intenable nature of any intermediate system. But we cannot force any man into an insight or intuitive possession of the true philosophy, because we cannot give him abstraction, intellectual intuition, or constructive imagination; because we cannot organize for him an eye that can see, an ear that can listen to, or a heart that can feel, the harmonies of Nature, or recognise in her endless forms, the thousand-fold realization of those simple and majestic laws, which yet in their absoluteness can be discovered only in the recesses of his own spirit,—not by that man, therefore, whose imaginative powers have been ossified by the continual reaction and assimilating influences of mere objects on his mind, and who is a prisoner to his own eye and its reflex, the passive fancy!—not by him in whom an unbroken familiarity with the organic world, as if it were mechanical, with the sensitive, but as if it were insensate, has engendered the coarse and hard spirit of a sorcerer. The former is unable, the latter unwilling, to master the absolute pre-requisites. There is neither hope nor occasion for him "to cudgel his brains about it, he has no feeling of the business." If he do not see the necessity from without, if he have not learned the possibility from within, of interpenetration, of total intussusception, of the existence of all in each as the condition of Nature's unity and substantiality, and of the latency under the predominance of some one power, wherein subsists her life and its endless variety, as he must be, by habitual slavery to the eye, or its reflex, the passive fancy, under the influences of the corpuscularian philosophy, he has so paralysed his imaginative powers as to be unable—or by that hardness and heart-hardening spirit of contempt, which is sure to result from a perpetual commune with the lifeless, he has so far debased his inward being—as to be unwilling to comprehend the pre-requisite, he must be content, while standing thus at the threshold of philosophy, to receive the results, though he cannot be admitted to the deliberation—in other words, to act upon rules which he is incapable of understanding as LAWS, and to reap the harvest with the sharpened iron for which others have delved for him in the mine.
It is not improbable that there may exist, and even be discovered, higher forms and more akin to Life than those of magnetism, electricity, and constructive (or chemical) affinity appear to be, even in their finest known influences. It is not improbable that we may hereafter find ourselves justified in revoking certain of the latter, and unappropriating them to a yet unnamed triplicity; or that, being thus assisted, we may obtain a qualitative instead of a quantitative insight into vegetable animation, as distinct from animal, and that of the insect world from both. But in the present state of science, the magnetic, electric, and chemical powers are the last and highest of inorganic nature. These, therefore, we assume as presenting themselves again to us, in their next metamorphosis, as reproduction (i.e. growth and identity of the whole, amid the change or flux of all the parts), irritability and sensibility; reproduction corresponding to magnetism, irritability to electricity, and sensibility to constructive chemical affinity.
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But before we proceed further, it behoves us to answer the objections contained in the following passage, or withdraw ourselves in time from the bitter contempt in which it would involve us. Acting under such a necessity, we need not apologise for the length of the quotation.
1. "If," says Mr. Lawrence, "the properties of living matter are to be explained in this way, why should not we adopt the same plan with physical properties, and account for gravitation, or chemical affinity, by the supposition of appropriate subtile fluids? Why does the irritability of a muscle need such an explanation, if explanation it can be called, more than the elective attraction of a salt?"
2. "To make the matter more intelligible, this vital principle is compared to magnetism, to electricity, and to galvanism; or it is roundly stated to be oxygen. 'Tis like a camel, or like a whale, or like what you please."
3. "You have only to grant that the phenomena of the sciences just alluded to depend on extremely fine and invisible fluids, superadded to the matters in which they are exhibited, and to allow further that Life, and magnetic, galvanic, and electric phenomena correspond perfectly; the existence of a subtile matter of Life will then be a very probable inference."
4. "On this illustration you will naturally remark, that the existence of the magnetic, electric, and galvanic fluids, which is offered as a proof of the existence of a vital fluid, is as much a matter of doubt as that of the vital fluid itself."
5. "It is singular, also, that the vital principle should be like both magnetism and electricity, when these two are not like each other."
6. "It would have been interesting to have had this illustration prosecuted a little further. We should have been pleased to learn whether the human body is more like a loadstone, a voltaic pile, or an electrical machine; whether the organs are to be regarded as Leyden jars, magnetic needles, or batteries."
7. "The truth is, there is no resemblance, no analogy, between Electricity and Life; the two orders of phenomena are completely distinct; they are incommensurable. Electricity illustrates life no more than life illustrates electricity."(13)
To avoid unnecessary description, I shall refer to the passages by the numbers affixed to them, for that purpose, in the margin.
In reply to No. 1, I ask whether, in the nature of the mind, illustration and explanation must not of necessity proceed from the lower to the higher? or whether a boy is to be taught his addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, by the highest branches of algebraic analysis? Is there any better way of systematic teaching, than that of illustrating each new step, or having each new step illustrated to him by its identity in kind with the step the next below it? though it be the only mode in which this objection can be answered, yet it seems affronting to remind the objector, of rules so simple as that the complex must even be illustrated by the more simple, or the less scrutible by that which is more subject to our examination.
In reply to No. 2, I first refer to the author's eulogy on Mr. Hunter, p. 163, in which he is justly extolled for having "surveyed the whole system of organized beings, from plants to man:" of course, therefore, as a system; and therefore under some one common law. Now in the very same sense, and no other, than that in which the writer himself by implication compares himself as a man to the dermestes typographicus, or the fucus scorpioides, do I compare the principle of Life to magnetism, electricity, and constructive affinity,—or rather to that power to which the two former are the thesis and antithesis, the latter the synthesis. But if to compare involve the sense of its etymon, and involve the sense of parity, I utterly deny that I do at all compare them; and, in truth, in no conceivable sense of the word is it applicable, any more than a geometrician can be affirmed to compare a polygon to a point, because he generates the line out of the point. The writer attributes to a philosophy essentially vital the barrenness of the mechanic system, with which alone his imagination has been familiarised, and which, as hath been justly observed by a contemporary writer, is contradistinguished from the former principally in this respect; that demanding for every mode and act of existence real or possible visibility, it knows only of distance and nearness, composition (or rather compaction) and decomposition, in short, the relations of unproductive particles to each other; so that in every instance the result is the exact sum of the component qualities, as in arithmetical addition. This is the philosophy of Death, and only of a dead nature can it hold good. In Life, and in the view of a vital philosophy, the two component counter-powers actually interpenetrate each other, and generate a higher third, including both the former, "ita tamen ut sit alia et major."
As a complete answer to No. 3, I refer the reader to many passages in the preceding and following pages, in which, on far higher and more demonstrative grounds than the mechanic system can furnish, I have exposed the unmeaningness and absurdity of these finer fluids, as applied even to electricity itself; unless, indeed, they are assumed as its product. But in addition I beg leave to remind the author, that it is incomparably more agreeable to all experience to originate the formative process in the fluid, whether fine or gross, than in corporeal atoms, in which we are not only deserted by all experience, but contradicted by the primary conception of body itself.
Equally inapplicable is No. 4: and of No. 5 I can only repeat, first, that I do not make Life like magnetism, or like electricity; that the difference between magnetism and electricity, and the powers illustrated by them, is an essential part of my system, but that the animal Life of man is the identity of all three. To whatever other system this objection may apply, it is utterly irrelevant to that which I have here propounded: though from the narrow limits prescribed to me, it has been propounded with an inadequacy painful to my own feelings.
The ridicule in No. 6 might be easily retorted; but as it could prove nothing, I will leave it where I found it, in a page where nothing is proved.
A similar remark might be sufficient for the bold and blank assertion (No. 7) with which the extract concludes; but that I feel some curiosity to discover what meaning the author attaches to the term analogy. Analogy implies a difference in sort, and not merely in degree; and it is the sameness of the end, with the difference of the means, which constitutes analogy. No one would say the lungs of a man were analogous to the lungs of a monkey, but any one might say that the gills of fish and the spiracula of insects are analogous to lungs. Now if there be any philosophers who have asserted that electricity as electricity is the same as Life, for that reason they cannot be analogous to each other; and as no man in his senses, philosopher or not, is capable of imagining that the lightning which destroys a sheep, was a means to the same end with the principle of its organization; for this reason, too, the two powers cannot be represented as analogous. Indeed I know of no system in which the word, as thus applied, would admit of an endurable meaning, but that which teaches us, that a mass of marrow in the skull is analogous to the rational soul, which Plato and Bacon, equally with the "poor Indian," believe themselves to have received from the Supreme Reason.