LECTURES AND ESSAYS
By T.H. Huxley
The People's Library
Cassell And Company, Ltd.
London, Paris, New York, Toronto & Melbourne.
Of the great thinkers of the nineteenth century, Thomas Henry Huxley, son of an Ealing schoolmaster, was undoubtedly the most noteworthy. His researches in biology, his contributions to scientific controversy, his pungent criticisms of conventional beliefs and thoughts have probably had greater influence than the work of any other English scientist. And yet he was a "self-made" intellectualist. In spite of the fact that his father was a schoolmaster he passed through no regular course of education. "I had," he said, "two years of a pandemonium of a school (between eight and ten) and after that neither help nor sympathy in any intellectual direction till I reached manhood." When he was twelve a craving for reading found satisfaction in Hutton's "Geology," and when fifteen in Hamilton's "Logic."
At seventeen Huxley entered as a student at Charing Cross Hospital, and three years later he was M.B. and the possessor of the gold medal for anatomy and physiology. An appointment as surgeon in the navy proved to be the entry to Huxley's great scientific career, for he was gazetted to the "Rattlesnake", commissioned for surveying work in Torres Straits. He was attracted by the teeming surface life of tropical seas and his study of it was the commencement of that revolution in scientific knowledge ultimately brought about by his researches.
Thomas Henry Huxley was born at Ealing on May 4, 1825, and died at Eastbourne June 29, 1895.
ON OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE CAUSES OF THE PHENOMENA OF ORGANIC NATURE:
THE PRESENT CONDITION OF ORGANIC NATURE.
THE PAST CONDITION OF ORGANIC NATURE.
THE METHOD BY WHICH THE CAUSES OF THE PRESENT AND PAST CONDITIONS OF ORGANIC NATURE ARE TO BE DISCOVERED.—THE ORIGINATION OF LIVING BEINGS.
THE PERPETUATION OF LIVING BEINGS, HEREDITARY TRANSMISSION AND VARIATION.
THE CONDITIONS OF EXISTENCE AS AFFECTING THE PERPETUATION OF LIVING BEINGS.
A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF THE POSITION OF MR. DARWIN'S WORK, "ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES," IN RELATION TO THE COMPLETE THEORY OF THE CAUSES OF THE PHENOMENA OF ORGANIC NATURE.
ESSAYS ON DARWIN'S "ORIGIN OF SPECIES":
THE DARWINIAN HYPOTHESIS.
TIME AND LIFE.
THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.
CRITICISMS ON "THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES".
EVIDENCE AS TO MAN'S PLACE IN NATURE:
ON THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE MAN-LIKE APES.
ON THE RELATIONS OF MAN TO THE LOWER ANIMALS.
ON SOME FOSSIL REMAINS OF MAN.
ON THE ADVISABLENESS OF IMPROVING NATURAL KNOWLEDGE.
ON THE STUDY OF ZOOLOGY.
GEOLOGICAL CONTEMPORANEITY AND PERSISTENT TYPES OF LIFE.
CORAL AND CORAL REEFS.
THE CIRCULATION OF THE BLOOD.
ON OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE CAUSES OF THE PHENOMENA OF ORGANIC NATURE.
NOTICE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
The Publisher of these interesting Lectures, having made an arrangement for their publication with Mr. J.A. Mays, the Reporter, begs to append the following note from Professor Huxley:—
"Mr. J. Aldous Mays, who is taking shorthand notes of my 'Lectures to Working Men,' has asked me to allow him, on his own account, to print those Notes for the use of my audience. I willingly accede to this request, on the understanding that a notice is prefixed to the effect that I have no leisure to revise the Lectures, or to make alterations in them, beyond the correction of any important error in a matter of fact."
ON OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE CAUSES OF THE PHENOMENA OF ORGANIC NATURE:
THE PRESENT CONDITION OF ORGANIC NATURE.
When it was my duty to consider what subject I would select for the six lectures* ([Footnote] *To Working Men, at the Museum of Practical Geology, 1863.) which I shall now have the pleasure of delivering to you, it occurred to me that I could not do better than endeavour to put before you in a true light, or in what I might perhaps with more modesty call, that which I conceive myself to be the true light, the position of a book which has been more praised and more abused, perhaps, than any book which has appeared for some years;—I mean Mr. Darwin's work on the "Origin of Species". That work, I doubt not, many of you have read; for I know the inquiring spirit which is rife among you. At any rate, all of you will have heard of it,—some by one kind of report and some by another kind of report; the attention of all and the curiosity of all have been probably more or less excited on the subject of that work. All I can do, and all I shall attempt to do, is to put before you that kind of judgment which has been formed by a man, who, of course, is liable to judge erroneously; but, at any rate, of one whose business and profession it is to form judgments upon questions of this nature.
And here, as it will always happen when dealing with an extensive subject, the greater part of my course—if, indeed, so small a number of lectures can be properly called a course—must be devoted to preliminary matters, or rather to a statement of those facts and of those principles which the work itself dwells upon, and brings more or less directly before us. I have no right to suppose that all or any of you are naturalists; and even if you were, the misconceptions and misunderstandings prevalent even among naturalists on these matters would make it desirable that I should take the course I now propose to take,—that I should start from the beginning,—that I should endeavour to point out what is the existing state of the organic world,—that I should point out its past condition,—that I should state what is the precise nature of the undertaking which Mr. Darwin has taken in hand; that I should endeavour to show you what are the only methods by which that undertaking can be brought to an issue, and to point out to you how far the author of the work in question has satisfied those conditions, how far he has not satisfied them, how far they are satisfiable by man, and how far they are not satisfiable by man.
To-night, in taking up the first part of this question, I shall endeavour to put before you a sort of broad notion of our knowledge of the condition of the living world. There are many ways of doing this. I might deal with it pictorially and graphically. Following the example of Humboldt in his "Aspects of Nature", I might endeavour to point out the infinite variety of organic life in every mode of its existence, with reference to the variations of climate and the like; and such an attempt would be fraught with interest to us all; but considering the subject before us, such a course would not be that best calculated to assist us. In an argument of this kind we must go further and dig deeper into the matter; we must endeavour to look into the foundations of living Nature, if I may so say, and discover the principles involved in some of her most secret operations. I propose, therefore, in the first place, to take some ordinary animal with which you are all familiar, and, by easily comprehensible and obvious examples drawn from it, to show what are the kind of problems which living beings in general lay before us; and I shall then show you that the same problems are laid open to us by all kinds of living beings. But first, let me say in what sense I have used the words "organic nature." In speaking of the causes which lead to our present knowledge of organic nature, I have used it almost as an equivalent of the word "living," and for this reason,—that in almost all living beings you can distinguish several distinct portions set apart to do particular things and work in a particular way. These are termed "organs," and the whole together is called "organic." And as it is universally characteristic of them, this term "organic" has been very conveniently employed to denote the whole of living nature,—the whole of the plant world, and the whole of the animal world.
Few animals can be more familiar to you than that whose skeleton is shown on our diagram. You need not bother yourselves with this "Equus caballus" written under it; that is only the Latin name of it, and does not make it any better. It simply means the common Horse. Suppose we wish to understand all about the Horse. Our first object must be to study the structure of the animal. The whole of his body is inclosed within a hide, a skin covered with hair; and if that hide or skin be taken off, we find a great mass of flesh, or what is technically called muscle, being the substance which by its power of contraction enables the animal to move. These muscles move the hard parts one upon the other, and so give that strength and power of motion which renders the Horse so useful to us in the performance of those services in which we employ him.
And then, on separating and removing the whole of this skin and flesh, you have a great series of bones, hard structures, bound together with ligaments, and forming the skeleton which is represented here.
(FIGURE 1. Section through a horse.
FIGURE 2. Section through a cell.)
In that skeleton there are a number of parts to be recognized. The long series of bones, beginning from the skull and ending in the tail, is called the spine, and those in front are the ribs; and then there are two pairs of limbs, one before and one behind; and there are what we all know as the fore-legs and the hind-legs. If we pursue our researches into the interior of this animal, we find within the framework of the skeleton a great cavity, or rather, I should say, two great cavities,—one cavity beginning in the skull and running through the neck-bones, along the spine, and ending in the tail, containing the brain and the spinal marrow, which are extremely important organs. The second great cavity, commencing with the mouth, contains the gullet, the stomach, the long intestine, and all the rest of those internal apparatus which are essential for digestion; and then in the same great cavity, there are lodged the heart and all the great vessels going from it; and, besides that, the organs of respiration—the lungs: and then the kidneys, and the organs of reproduction, and so on. Let us now endeavour to reduce this notion of a horse that we now have, to some such kind of simple expression as can be at once, and without difficulty, retained in the mind, apart from all minor details. If I make a transverse section, that is, if I were to saw a dead horse across, I should find that, if I left out the details, and supposing I took my section through the anterior region, and through the fore-limbs, I should have here this kind of section of the body (Figure 1). Here would be the upper part of the animal—that great mass of bones that we spoke of as the spine (a, Figure 1). Here I should have the alimentary canal (b, Figure 1). Here I should have the heart (c, Figure 1); and then you see, there would be a kind of double tube, the whole being inclosed within the hide; the spinal marrow would be placed in the upper tube (a, Figure 1), and in the lower tube (d d, Figure 1), there would be the alimentary canal (b), and the heart (c); and here I shall have the legs proceeding from each side. For simplicity's sake, I represent them merely as stumps (e e, Figure 1). Now that is a horse—as mathematicians would say—reduced to its most simple expression. Carry that in your minds, if you please, as a simplified idea of the structure of the Horse. The considerations which I have now put before you belong to what we technically call the 'Anatomy' of the Horse. Now, suppose we go to work upon these several parts,—flesh and hair, and skin and bone,—and lay open these various organs with our scalpels, and examine them by means of our magnifying-glasses, and see what we can make of them. We shall find that the flesh is made up of bundles of strong fibres. The brain and nerves, too, we shall find, are made up of fibres, and these queer-looking things that are called ganglionic corpuscles. If we take a slice of the bone and examine it, we shall find that it is very like this diagram of a section of the bone of an ostrich, though differing, of course, in some details; and if we take any part whatsoever of the tissue, and examine it, we shall find it all has a minute structure, visible only under the microscope. All these parts constitute microscopic anatomy or 'Histology.' These parts are constantly being changed; every part is constantly growing, decaying, and being replaced during the life of the animal. The tissue is constantly replaced by new material; and if you go back to the young state of the tissue in the case of muscle, or in the case of skin, or any of the organs I have mentioned, you will find that they all come under the same condition. Every one of these microscopic filaments and fibres (I now speak merely of the general character of the whole process)—every one of these parts—could be traced down to some modification of a tissue which can be readily divided into little particles of fleshy matter, of that substance which is composed of the chemical elements, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, having such a shape as this (Figure 2). These particles, into which all primitive tissues break up, are called cells. If I were to make a section of a piece of the skin of my hand, I should find that it was made up of these cells. If I examine the fibres which form the various organs of all living animals, I should find that all of them, at one time or other, had been formed out of a substance consisting of similar elements; so that you see, just as we reduced the whole body in the gross to that sort of simple expression given in Figure 1, so we may reduce the whole of the microscopic structural elements to a form of even greater simplicity; just as the plan of the whole body may be so represented in a sense (Figure 1), so the primary structure of every tissue may be represented by a mass of cells (Figure 2).
Having thus, in this sort of general way, sketched to you what I may call, perhaps, the architecture of the body of the Horse (what we term technically its Morphology), I must now turn to another aspect. A horse is not a mere dead structure: it is an active, living, working machine. Hitherto we have, as it were, been looking at a steam-engine with the fires out, and nothing in the boiler; but the body of the living animal is a beautifully-formed active machine, and every part has its different work to do in the working of that machine, which is what we call its life. The Horse, if you see him after his day's work is done, is cropping the grass in the fields, as it may be, or munching the oats in his stable. What is he doing? His jaws are working as a mill—and a very complex mill too—grinding the corn, or crushing the grass to a pulp. As soon as that operation has taken place, the food is passed down to the stomach, and there it is mixed with the chemical fluid called the gastric juice, a substance which has the peculiar property of making soluble and dissolving out the nutritious matter in the grass, and leaving behind those parts which are not nutritious; so that you have, first, the mill, then a sort of chemical digester; and then the food, thus partially dissolved, is carried back by the muscular contractions of the intestines into the hinder parts of the body, while the soluble portions are taken up into the blood. The blood is contained in a vast system of pipes, spreading through the whole body, connected with a force pump,—the heart,—which, by its position and by the contractions of its valves, keeps the blood constantly circulating in one direction, never allowing it to rest; and then, by means of this circulation of the blood, laden as it is with the products of digestion, the skin, the flesh, the hair, and every other part of the body, draws from it that which it wants, and every one of these organs derives those materials which are necessary to enable it to do its work.
The action of each of these organs, the performance of each of these various duties, involve in their operation a continual absorption of the matters necessary for their support, from the blood, and a constant formation of waste products, which are returned to the blood, and conveyed by it to the lungs and the kidneys, which are organs that have allotted to them the office of extracting, separating, and getting rid of these waste products; and thus the general nourishment, labour, and repair of the whole machine is kept up with order and regularity. But not only is it a machine which feeds and appropriates to its own support the nourishment necessary to its existence—it is an engine for locomotive purposes. The Horse desires to go from one place to another; and to enable it to do this, it has those strong contractile bundles of muscles attached to the bones of its limbs, which are put in motion by means of a sort of telegraphic apparatus formed by the brain and the great spinal cord running through the spine or backbone; and to this spinal cord are attached a number of fibres termed nerves, which proceed to all parts of the structure. By means of these the eyes, nose, tongue, and skin—all the organs of perception—transmit impressions or sensations to the brain, which acts as a sort of great central telegraph-office, receiving impressions and sending messages to all parts of the body, and putting in motion the muscles necessary to accomplish any movement that may be desired. So that you have here an extremely complex and beautifully-proportioned machine, with all its parts working harmoniously together towards one common object—the preservation of the life of the animal.
Now, note this: the Horse makes up its waste by feeding, and its food is grass or oats, or perhaps other vegetable products; therefore, in the long run, the source of all this complex machinery lies in the vegetable kingdom. But where does the grass, or the oat, or any other plant, obtain this nourishing food-producing material? At first it is a little seed, which soon begins to draw into itself from the earth and the surrounding air matters which in themselves contain no vital properties whatever; it absorbs into its own substance water, an inorganic body; it draws into its substance carbonic acid, an inorganic matter; and ammonia, another inorganic matter, found in the air; and then, by some wonderful chemical process, the details of which chemists do not yet understand, though they are near foreshadowing them, it combines them into one substance, which is known to us as 'Protein,' a complex compound of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, which alone possesses the property of manifesting vitality and of permanently supporting animal life. So that, you see, the waste products of the animal economy, the effete materials which are continually being thrown off by all living beings, in the form of organic matters, are constantly replaced by supplies of the necessary repairing and rebuilding materials drawn from the plants, which in their turn manufacture them, so to speak, by a mysterious combination of those same inorganic materials.
Let us trace out the history of the Horse in another direction. After a certain time, as the result of sickness or disease, the effect of accident, or the consequence of old age, sooner or later, the animal dies. The multitudinous operations of this beautiful mechanism flag in their performance, the Horse loses its vigour, and after passing through the curious series of changes comprised in its formation and preservation, it finally decays, and ends its life by going back into that inorganic world from which all but an inappreciable fraction of its substance was derived. Its bones become mere carbonate and phosphate of lime; the matter of its flesh, and of its other parts, becomes, in the long run, converted into carbonic acid, into water, and into ammonia. You will now, perhaps, understand the curious relation of the animal with the plant, of the organic with the inorganic world, which is shown in this diagram (Figure 3).
(FIGURE 3. Diagram showing material relationship of the Vegetable, Animal and Inorganic Worlds.)
The plant gathers these inorganic materials together and makes them up into its own substance. The animal eats the plant and appropriates the nutritious portions to its own sustenance, rejects and gets rid of the useless matters; and, finally, the animal itself dies, and its whole body is decomposed and returned into the inorganic world. There is thus a constant circulation from one to the other, a continual formation of organic life from inorganic matters, and as constant a return of the matter of living bodies to the inorganic world; so that the materials of which our bodies are composed are largely, in all probability, the substances which constituted the matter of long extinct creations, but which have in the interval constituted a part of the inorganic world.
Thus we come to the conclusion, strange at first sight, that the MATTER constituting the living world is identical with that which forms the inorganic world. And not less true is it that, remarkable as are the powers or, in other words, as are the FORCES which are exerted by living beings, yet all these forces are either identical with those which exist in the inorganic world, or they are convertible into them; I mean in just the same sense as the researches of physical philosophers have shown that heat is convertible into electricity, that electricity is convertible into magnetism, magnetism into mechanical force or chemical force, and any one of them with the other, each being measurable in terms of the other,—even so, I say, that great law is applicable to the living world. Consider why is the skeleton of this horse capable of supporting the masses of flesh and the various organs forming the living body, unless it is because of the action of the same forces of cohesion which combines together the particles of matter composing this piece of chalk? What is there in the muscular contractile power of the animal but the force which is expressible, and which is in a certain sense convertible, into the force of gravity which it overcomes? Or, if you go to more hidden processes, in what does the process of digestion differ from those processes which are carried on in the laboratory of the chemist? Even if we take the most recondite and most complex operations of animal life—those of the nervous system, these of late years have been shown to be—I do not say identical in any sense with the electrical processes—but this has been shown, that they are in some way or other associated with them; that is to say, that every amount of nervous action is accompanied by a certain amount of electrical disturbance in the particles of the nerves in which that nervous action is carried on. In this way the nervous action is related to electricity in the same way that heat is related to electricity; and the same sort of argument which demonstrates the two latter to be related to one another shows that the nervous forces are correlated to electricity; for the experiments of M. Dubois Reymond and others have shown that whenever a nerve is in a state of excitement, sending a message to the muscles or conveying an impression to the brain, there is a disturbance of the electrical condition of that nerve which does not exist at other times; and there are a number of other facts and phenomena of that sort; so that we come to the broad conclusion that not only as to living matter itself, but as to the forces that matter exerts, there is a close relationship between the organic and the inorganic world—the difference between them arising from the diverse combination and disposition of identical forces, and not from any primary diversity, so far as we can see.
I said just now that the Horse eventually died and became converted into the same inorganic substances from whence all but an inappreciable fraction of its substance demonstrably originated, so that the actual wanderings of matter are as remarkable as the transmigrations of the soul fabled by Indian tradition. But before death has occurred, in the one sex or the other, and in fact in both, certain products or parts of the organism have been set free, certain parts of the organisms of the two sexes have come into contact with one another, and from that conjunction, from that union which then takes place, there results the formation of a new being. At stated times the mare, from a particular part of the interior of her body, called the ovary, gets rid of a minute particle of matter comparable in all essential respects with that which we called a cell a little while since, which cell contains a kind of nucleus in its centre, surrounded by a clear space and by a viscid mass of protein substance (Figure 2); and though it is different in appearance from the eggs which we are mostly acquainted with, it is really an egg. After a time this minute particle of matter, which may only be a small fraction of a grain in weight, undergoes a series of changes,—wonderful, complex changes. Finally, upon its surface there is fashioned a little elevation, which afterwards becomes divided and marked by a groove. The lateral boundaries of the groove extend upwards and downwards, and at length give rise to a double tube. In the upper smaller tube the spinal marrow and brain are fashioned; in the lower, the alimentary canal and heart; and at length two pairs of buds shoot out at the sides of the body, which are the rudiments of the limbs. In fact a true drawing of a section of the embryo in this state would in all essential respects resemble that diagram of a horse reduced to its simplest expression, which I first placed before you (Figure 1).
Slowly and gradually these changes take place. The whole of the body, at first, can be broken up into "cells," which become in one place metamorphosed into muscle,—in another place into gristle and bone,—in another place into fibrous tissue,—and in another into hair; every part becoming gradually and slowly fashioned, as if there were an artificer at work in each of these complex structures that we have mentioned. This embryo, as it is called, then passes into other conditions. I should tell you that there is a time when the embryos of neither dog, nor horse, nor porpoise, nor monkey, nor man, can be distinguished by any essential feature one from the other; there is a time when they each and all of them resemble this one of the Dog. But as development advances, all the parts acquire their speciality, till at length you have the embryo converted into the form of the parent from which it started. So that you see, this living animal, this horse, begins its existence as a minute particle of nitrogenous matter, which, being supplied with nutriment (derived, as I have shown, from the inorganic world), grows up according to the special type and construction of its parents, works and undergoes a constant waste, and that waste is made good by nutriment derived from the inorganic world; the waste given off in this way being directly added to the inorganic world; and eventually the animal itself dies, and, by the process of decomposition, its whole body is returned to those conditions of inorganic matter in which its substance originated.
This, then, is that which is true of every living form, from the lowest plant to the highest animal—to man himself. You might define the life of every one in exactly the same terms as those which I have now used; the difference between the highest and the lowest being simply in the complexity of the developmental changes, the variety of the structural forms, the diversity of the physiological functions which are exerted by each.
If I were to take an oak tree as a specimen of the plant world, I should find that it originated in an acorn, which, too, commenced in a cell; the acorn is placed in the ground, and it very speedily begins to absorb the inorganic matters I have named, adds enormously to its bulk, and we can see it, year after year, extending itself upward and downward, attracting and appropriating to itself inorganic materials, which it vivifies, and eventually, as it ripens, gives off its own proper acorns, which again run the same course. But I need not multiply examples,—from the highest to the lowest the essential features of life are the same, as I have described in each of these cases.
So much, then, for these particular features of the organic world, which you can understand and comprehend, so long as you confine yourself to one sort of living being, and study that only.
But, as you know, horses are not the only living creatures in the world; and again, horses, like all other animals, have certain limits—are confined to a certain area on the surface of the earth on which we live,—and, as that is the simpler matter, I may take that first. In its wild state, and before the discovery of America, when the natural state of things was interfered with by the Spaniards, the Horse was only to be found in parts of the earth which are known to geographers as the Old World; that is to say, you might meet with horses in Europe, Asia, or Africa; but there were none in Australia, and there were none whatsoever in the whole continent of America, from Labrador down to Cape Horn. This is an empirical fact, and it is what is called, stated in the way I have given it you, the 'Geographical Distribution' of the Horse.
Why horses should be found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and not in America, is not obvious; the explanation that the conditions of life in America are unfavourable to their existence, and that, therefore, they had not been created there, evidently does not apply; for when the invading Spaniards, or our own yeomen farmers, conveyed horses to these countries for their own use, they were found to thrive well and multiply very rapidly; and many are even now running wild in those countries, and in a perfectly natural condition. Now, suppose we were to do for every animal what we have here done for the Horse,—that is, to mark off and distinguish the particular district or region to which each belonged; and supposing we tabulated all these results, that would be called the Geographical Distribution of animals, while a corresponding study of plants would yield as a result the Geographical Distribution of plants.
I pass on from that now, as I merely wished to explain to you what I meant by the use of the term 'Geographical Distribution.' As I said, there is another aspect, and a much more important one, and that is, the relations of the various animals to one another. The Horse is a very well-defined matter-of-fact sort of animal, and we are all pretty familiar with its structure. I dare say it may have struck you, that it resembles very much no other member of the animal kingdom, except perhaps the Zebra or the Ass. But let me ask you to look along these diagrams. Here is the skeleton of the Horse, and here the skeleton of the Dog. You will notice that we have in the Horse a skull, a backbone and ribs, shoulder-blades and haunch-bones. In the fore-limb, one upper arm-bone, two fore arm-bones, wrist-bones (wrongly called knee), and middle hand-bones, ending in the three bones of a finger, the last of which is sheathed in the horny hoof of the fore-foot: in the hind-limb, one thigh-bone, two leg-bones, anklebones, and middle foot-bones, ending in the three bones of a toe, the last of which is encased in the hoof of the hind-foot. Now turn to the Dog's skeleton. We find identically the same bones, but more of them, there being more toes in each foot, and hence more toe-bones.
Well, that is a very curious thing! The fact is that the Dog and the Horse—when one gets a look at them without the outward impediments of the skin—are found to be made in very much the same sort of fashion. And if I were to make a transverse section of the Dog, I should find the same organs that I have already shown you as forming parts of the Horse. Well, here is another skeleton—that of a kind of Lemur—you see he has just the same bones; and if I were to make a transverse section of it, it would be just the same again. In your mind's eye turn him round, so as to put his backbone in a position inclined obliquely upwards and forwards, just as in the next three diagrams, which represent the skeletons of an Orang, a Chimpanzee, a Gorilla, and you find you have no trouble in identifying the bones throughout; and lastly turn to the end of the series, the diagram representing a man's skeleton, and still you find no great structural feature essentially altered. There are the same bones in the same relations. From the Horse we pass on and on, with gradual steps, until we arrive at last at the highest known forms. On the other hand, take the other line of diagrams, and pass from the Horse downwards in the scale to this fish; and still, though the modifications are vastly greater, the essential framework of the organization remains unchanged. Here, for instance, is a Porpoise: here is its strong backbone, with the cavity running through it, which contains the spinal cord; here are the ribs, here the shoulder blade; here is the little short upper-arm bone, here are the two forearm bones, the wrist-bone, and the finger-bones.
Strange, is it not, that the Porpoise should have in this queer-looking affair—its flapper (as it is called), the same fundamental elements as the fore-leg of the Horse or the Dog, or the Ape or Man; and here you will notice a very curious thing,—the hinder limbs are absent. Now, let us make another jump. Let us go to the Codfish: here you see is the forearm, in this large pectoral fin—carrying your mind's eye onward from the flapper of the Porpoise. And here you have the hinder limbs restored in the shape of these ventral fins. If I were to make a transverse section of this, I should find just the same organs that we have before noticed. So that, you see, there comes out this strange conclusion as the result of our investigations, that the Horse, when examined and compared with other animals, is found by no means to stand alone in nature; but that there are an enormous number of other creatures which have backbones, ribs, and legs, and other parts arranged in the same general manner, and in all their formation exhibiting the same broad peculiarities.
I am sure that you cannot have followed me even in this extremely elementary exposition of the structural relations of animals, without seeing what I have been driving at all through, which is, to show you that, step by step, naturalists have come to the idea of a unity of plan, or conformity of construction, among animals which appeared at first sight to be extremely dissimilar.
And here you have evidence of such a unity of plan among all the animals which have backbones, and which we technically call "Vertebrata". But there are multitudes of other animals, such as crabs, lobsters, spiders, and so on, which we term "Annulosa". In these I could not point out to you the parts that correspond with those of the Horse,—the backbone, for instance,—as they are constructed upon a very different principle, which is also common to all of them; that is to say, the Lobster, the Spider, and the Centipede, have a common plan running through their whole arrangement, in just the same way that the Horse, the Dog, and the Porpoise assimilate to each other.
Yet other creatures—whelks, cuttlefishes, oysters, snails, and all their tribe ("Mollusca")—resemble one another in the same way, but differ from both "Vertebrata" and "Annulosa"; and the like is true of the animals called "Coelenterata" (Polypes) and "Protozoa" (animalcules and sponges).
Now, by pursuing this sort of comparison, naturalists have arrived at the conviction that there are,—some think five, and some seven,—but certainly not more than the latter number—and perhaps it is simpler to assume five—distinct plans or constructions in the whole of the animal world; and that the hundreds of thousands of species of creatures on the surface of the earth, are all reducible to those five, or, at most, seven, plans of organization.
But can we go no further than that? When one has got so far, one is tempted to go on a step and inquire whether we cannot go back yet further and bring down the whole to modifications of one primordial unit. The anatomist cannot do this; but if he call to his aid the study of development, he can do it. For we shall find that, distinct as those plans are, whether it be a porpoise or man, or lobster, or any of those other kinds I have mentioned, every one begins its existence with one and the same primitive form,—that of the egg, consisting, as we have seen, of a nitrogenous substance, having a small particle or nucleus in the centre of it. Furthermore, the earlier changes of each are substantially the same. And it is in this that lies that true "unity of organization" of the animal kingdom which has been guessed at and fancied for many years; but which it has been left to the present time to be demonstrated by the careful study of development. But is it possible to go another step further still, and to show that in the same way the whole of the organic world is reducible to one primitive condition of form? Is there among the plants the same primitive form of organization, and is that identical with that of the animal kingdom? The reply to that question, too, is not uncertain or doubtful. It is now proved that every plant begins its existence under the same form; that is to say, in that of a cell—a particle of nitrogenous matter having substantially the same conditions. So that if you trace back the oak to its first germ, or a man, or a horse, or lobster, or oyster, or any other animal you choose to name, you shall find each and all of these commencing their existence in forms essentially similar to each other: and, furthermore, that the first processes of growth, and many of the subsequent modifications, are essentially the same in principle in almost all.
In conclusion, let me, in a few words, recapitulate the positions which I have laid down. And you must understand that I have not been talking mere theory; I have been speaking of matters which are as plainly demonstrable as the commonest propositions of Euclid—of facts that must form the basis of all speculations and beliefs in Biological science. We have gradually traced down all organic forms, or, in other words, we have analyzed the present condition of animated nature, until we found that each species took its origin in a form similar to that under which all the others commence their existence. We have found the whole of the vast array of living forms, with which we are surrounded, constantly growing, increasing, decaying and disappearing; the animal constantly attracting, modifying, and applying to its sustenance the matter of the vegetable kingdom, which derived its support from the absorption and conversion of inorganic matter. And so constant and universal is this absorption, waste, and reproduction, that it may be said with perfect certainty that there is left in no one of our bodies at the present moment a millionth part of the matter of which they were originally formed! We have seen, again, that not only is the living matter derived from the inorganic world, but that the forces of that matter are all of them correlative with and convertible into those of inorganic nature.
This, for our present purposes, is the best view of the present condition of organic nature which I can lay before you: it gives you the great outlines of a vast picture, which you must fill up by your own study.
In the next lecture I shall endeavour in the same way to go back into the past, and to sketch in the same broad manner the history of life in epochs preceding our own.
End of The Present Condition of Organic Nature.
THE PAST CONDITION OF ORGANIC NATURE.
In the lecture which I delivered last Monday evening, I endeavoured to sketch in a very brief manner, but as well as the time at my disposal would permit, the present condition of organic nature, meaning by that large title simply an indication of the great, broad, and general principles which are to be discovered by those who look attentively at the phenomena of organic nature as at present displayed. The general result of our investigations might be summed up thus: we found that the multiplicity of the forms of animal life, great as that may be, may be reduced to a comparatively few primitive plans or types of construction; that a further study of the development of those different forms revealed to us that they were again reducible, until we at last brought the infinite diversity of animal, and even vegetable life, down to the primordial form of a single cell.
We found that our analysis of the organic world, whether animals or plants, showed, in the long run, that they might both be reduced into, and were, in fact, composed of, the same constituents. And we saw that the plant obtained the materials constituting its substance by a peculiar combination of matters belonging entirely to the inorganic world; that, then, the animal was constantly appropriating the nitrogenous matters of the plant to its own nourishment, and returning them back to the inorganic world, in what we spoke of as its waste; and that finally, when the animal ceased to exist, the constituents of its body were dissolved and transmitted to that inorganic world whence they had been at first abstracted. Thus we saw in both the blade of grass and the horse but the same elements differently combined and arranged. We discovered a continual circulation going on,—the plant drawing in the elements of inorganic nature and combining them into food for the animal creation; the animal borrowing from the plant the matter for its own support, giving off during its life products which returned immediately to the inorganic world; and that, eventually, the constituent materials of the whole structure of both animals and plants were thus returned to their original source: there was a constant passage from one state of existence to another, and a returning back again.
Lastly, when we endeavoured to form some notion of the nature of the forces exercised by living beings, we discovered that they—if not capable of being subjected to the same minute analysis as the constituents of those beings themselves—that they were correlative with—that they were the equivalents of the forces of inorganic nature—that they were, in the sense in which the term is now used, convertible with them. That was our general result.
And now, leaving the Present, I must endeavour in the same manner to put before you the facts that are to be discovered in the Past history of the living world, in the past conditions of organic nature. We have, to-night, to deal with the facts of that history—a history involving periods of time before which our mere human records sink into utter insignificance—a history the variety and physical magnitude of whose events cannot even be foreshadowed by the history of human life and human phenomena—a history of the most varied and complex character.
We must deal with the history, then, in the first place, as we should deal with all other histories. The historical student knows that his first business should be to inquire into the validity of his evidence, and the nature of the record in which the evidence is contained, that he may be able to form a proper estimate of the correctness of the conclusions which have been drawn from that evidence. So, here, we must pass, in the first place, to the consideration of a matter which may seem foreign to the question under discussion. We must dwell upon the nature of the records, and the credibility of the evidence they contain; we must look to the completeness or incompleteness of those records themselves, before we turn to that which they contain and reveal. The question of the credibility of the history, happily for us, will not require much consideration, for, in this history, unlike those of human origin, there can be no cavilling, no differences as to the reality and truth of the facts of which it is made up; the facts state themselves, and are laid out clearly before us.
But, although one of the greatest difficulties of the historical student is cleared out of our path, there are other difficulties—difficulties in rightly interpreting the facts as they are presented to us—which may be compared with the greatest difficulties of any other kinds of historical study.
What is this record of the past history of the globe, and what are the questions which are involved in an inquiry into its completeness or incompleteness? That record is composed of mud; and the question which we have to investigate this evening resolves itself into a question of the formation of mud. You may think, perhaps, that this is a vast step—of almost from the sublime to the ridiculous—from the contemplation of the history of the past ages of the world's existence to the consideration of the history of the formation of mud! But, in nature, there is nothing mean and unworthy of attention; there is nothing ridiculous or contemptible in any of her works; and this inquiry, you will soon see, I hope, takes us to the very root and foundations of our subject.
How, then, is mud formed? Always, with some trifling exception, which I need not consider now—always, as the result of the action of water, wearing down and disintegrating the surface of the earth and rocks with which it comes in contact—pounding and grinding it down, and carrying the particles away to places where they cease to be disturbed by this mechanical action, and where they can subside and rest. For the ocean, urged by winds, washes, as we know, a long extent of coast, and every wave, loaded as it is with particles of sand and gravel as it breaks upon the shore, does something towards the disintegrating process. And thus, slowly but surely, the hardest rocks are gradually ground down to a powdery substance; and the mud thus formed, coarser or finer, as the case may be, is carried by the rush of the tides, or currents, till it reaches the comparatively deeper parts of the ocean, in which it can sink to the bottom, that is, to parts where there is a depth of about fourteen or fifteen fathoms, a depth at which the water is, usually, nearly motionless, and in which, of course, the finer particles of this detritus, or mud as we call it, sinks to the bottom.
Or, again, if you take a river, rushing down from its mountain sources, brawling over the stones and rocks that intersect its path, loosening, removing, and carrying with it in its downward course the pebbles and lighter matters from its banks, it crushes and pounds down the rocks and earths in precisely the same way as the wearing action of the sea waves. The matters forming the deposit are torn from the mountain-side and whirled impetuously into the valley, more slowly over the plain, thence into the estuary, and from the estuary they are swept into the sea. The coarser and heavier fragments are obviously deposited first, that is, as soon as the current begins to lose its force by becoming amalgamated with the stiller depths of the ocean, but the finer and lighter particles are carried further on, and eventually deposited in a deeper and stiller portion of the ocean.
It clearly follows from this that mud gives us a chronology; for it is evident that supposing this, which I now sketch, to be the sea bottom, and supposing this to be a coast-line; from the washing action of the sea upon the rock, wearing and grinding it down into a sediment of mud, the mud will be carried down, and at length, deposited in the deeper parts of this sea bottom, where it will form a layer; and then, while that first layer is hardening, other mud which is coming from the same source will, of course, be carried to the same place; and, as it is quite impossible for it to get beneath the layer already there, it deposits itself above it, and forms another layer, and in that way you gradually have layers of mud constantly forming and hardening one above the other, and conveying a record of time.
It is a necessary result of the operation of the law of gravitation that the uppermost layer shall be the youngest and the lowest the oldest, and that the different beds shall be older at any particular point or spot in exactly the ratio of their depth from the surface. So that if they were upheaved afterwards, and you had a series of these different layers of mud, converted into sandstone, or limestone, as the case might be, you might be sure that the bottom layer was deposited first, and that the upper layers were formed afterwards. Here, you see, is the first step in the history—these layers of mud give us an idea of time.
The whole surface of the earth,—I speak broadly, and leave out minor qualifications,—is made up of such layers of mud, so hard, the majority of them, that we call them rock whether limestone or sandstone, or other varieties of rock. And, seeing that every part of the crust of the earth is made up in this way, you might think that the determination of the chronology, the fixing of the time which it has taken to form this crust is a comparatively simple matter. Take a broad average, ascertain how fast the mud is deposited upon the bottom of the sea, or in the estuary of rivers; take it to be an inch, or two, or three inches a year, or whatever you may roughly estimate it at; then take the total thickness of the whole series of stratified rocks, which geologists estimate at twelve or thirteen miles, or about seventy thousand feet, make a sum in short division, divide the total thickness by that of the quantity deposited in one year, and the result will, of course, give you the number of years which the crust has taken to form.
Truly, that looks a very simple process! It would be so except for certain difficulties, the very first of which is that of finding how rapidly sediments are deposited; but the main difficulty—a difficulty which renders any certain calculations of such a matter out of the question—is this, the sea-bottom on which the deposit takes place is continually shifting.
Instead of the surface of the earth being that stable, fixed thing that it is popularly believed to be, being, in common parlance, the very emblem of fixity itself, it is incessantly moving, and is, in fact, as unstable as the surface of the sea, except that its undulations are infinitely slower and enormously higher and deeper.
Now, what is the effect of this oscillation? Take the case to which I have previously referred. The finer or coarser sediments that are carried down by the current of the river, will only be carried out a certain distance, and eventually, as we have already seen, on reaching the stiller part of the ocean, will be deposited at the bottom.
(FIGURE 4. Section through deposits on sea-bottom and shore.)
Let C y (Figure 4) be the sea-bottom, y D the shore, x y the sea-level, then the coarser deposit will subside over the region B, the finer over A, while beyond A there will be no deposit at all; and, consequently, no record will be kept, simply because no deposit is going on. Now, suppose that the whole land, C, D, which we have regarded as stationary, goes down, as it does so, both A and B go further out from the shore, which will be at yl; x1, y1, being the new sea-level. The consequence will be that the layer of mud (A), being now, for the most part, further than the force of the current is strong enough to convey even the finest 'debris', will, of course, receive no more deposits, and having attained a certain thickness will now grow no thicker.
We should be misled in taking the thickness of that layer, whenever it may be exposed to our view, as a record of time in the manner in which we are now regarding this subject, as it would give us only an imperfect and partial record: it would seem to represent too short a period of time.
Suppose, on the other hand, that the land (C D) had gone on rising slowly and gradually—say an inch or two inches in the course of a century,—what would be the practical effect of that movement? Why, that the sediment A and B which has been already deposited, would eventually be brought nearer to the shore-level, and again subjected to the wear and tear of the sea; and directly the sea begins to act upon it, it would of course soon cut up and carry it away, to a greater or less extent, to be re-deposited further out.
Well, as there is, in all probability, not one single spot on the whole surface of the earth, which has not been up and down in this way a great many times, it follows that the thickness of the deposits formed at any particular spot cannot be taken (even supposing we had at first obtained correct data as to the rate at which they took place) as affording reliable information as to the period of time occupied in its deposit. So that you see it is absolutely necessary from these facts, seeing that our record entirely consists of accumulations of mud, superimposed one on the other; seeing in the next place that any particular spots on which accumulations have occurred, have been constantly moving up and down, and sometimes out of the reach of a deposit, and at other times its own deposit broken up and carried away, it follows that our record must be in the highest degree imperfect, and we have hardly a trace left of thick deposits, or any definite knowledge of the area that they occupied, in a great many cases. And mark this! That supposing even that the whole surface of the earth had been accessible to the geologist,—that man had had access to every part of the earth, and had made sections of the whole, and put them all together,—even then his record must of necessity be imperfect.
But to how much has man really access? If you will look at this Map you will see that it represents the proportion of the sea to the earth: this coloured part indicates all the dry land, and this other portion is the water. You will notice at once that the water covers three-fifths of the whole surface of the globe, and has covered it in the same manner ever since man has kept any record of his own observations, to say nothing of the minute period during which he has cultivated geological inquiry. So that three-fifths of the surface of the earth is shut out from us because it is under the sea. Let us look at the other two-fifths, and see what are the countries in which anything that may be termed searching geological inquiry has been carried out: a good deal of France, Germany, and Great Britain and Ireland, bits of Spain, of Italy, and of Russia, have been examined, but of the whole great mass of Africa, except parts of the southern extremity, we know next to nothing; little bits of India, but of the greater part of the Asiatic continent nothing; bits of the Northern American States and of Canada, but of the greater part of the continent of North America, and in still larger proportion, of South America, nothing!
Under these circumstances, it follows that even with reference to that kind of imperfect information which we can possess, it is only of about the ten-thousandth part of the accessible parts of the earth that has been examined properly. Therefore, it is with justice that the most thoughtful of those who are concerned in these inquiries insist continually upon the imperfection of the geological record; for, I repeat, it is absolutely necessary, from the nature of things, that that record should be of the most fragmentary and imperfect character. Unfortunately this circumstance has been constantly forgotten. Men of science, like young colts in a fresh pasture, are apt to be exhilarated on being turned into a new field of inquiry, to go off at a hand-gallop, in total disregard of hedges and ditches, losing sight of the real limitation of their inquiries, and to forget the extreme imperfection of what is really known. Geologists have imagined that they could tell us what was going on at all parts of the earth's surface during a given epoch; they have talked of this deposit being contemporaneous with that deposit, until, from our little local histories of the changes at limited spots of the earth's surface, they have constructed a universal history of the globe as full of wonders and portents as any other story of antiquity.
But what does this attempt to construct a universal history of the globe imply? It implies that we shall not only have a precise knowledge of the events which have occurred at any particular point, but that we shall be able to say what events, at any one spot, took place at the same time with those at other spots.
(FIGURE 5. Section through two beds of mud.)
Let us see how far that is in the nature of things practicable. Suppose that here I make a section of the Lake of Killarney, and here the section of another lake—that of Loch Lomond in Scotland for instance. The rivers that flow into them are constantly carrying down deposits of mud, and beds, or strata, are being as constantly formed, one above the other, at the bottom of those lakes. Now, there is not a shadow of doubt that in these two lakes the lower beds are all older than the upper—there is no doubt about that; but what does 'this' tell us about the age of any given bed in Loch Lomond, as compared with that of any given bed in the Lake of Killarney? It is, indeed, obvious that if any two sets of deposits are separated and discontinuous, there is absolutely no means whatever given you by the nature of the deposit of saying whether one is much younger or older than the other; but you may say, as many have said and think, that the case is very much altered if the beds which we are comparing are continuous. Suppose two beds of mud hardened into rock,—A and B—are seen in section. (Figure 5.)
Well, you say, it is admitted that the lowermost bed is always the older. Very well; B, therefore, is older than A. No doubt, 'as a whole', it is so; or if any parts of the two beds which are in the same vertical line are compared, it is so. But suppose you take what seems a very natural step further, and say that the part 'a' of the bed A is younger than the part 'b' of the bed B. Is this sound reasoning? If you find any record of changes taking place at 'b', did they occur before any events which took place while 'a' was being deposited? It looks all very plain sailing, indeed, to say that they did; and yet there is no proof of anything of the kind. As the former Director of this Institution, Sir H. De la Beche, long ago showed, this reasoning may involve an entire fallacy. It is extremely possible that 'a' may have been deposited ages before 'b'. It is very easy to understand how that can be. To return to Figure 4; when A and B were deposited, they were 'substantially' contemporaneous; A being simply the finer deposit, and B the coarser of the same detritus or waste of land. Now suppose that that sea-bottom goes down (as shown in Figure 4), so that the first deposit is carried no farther than 'a', forming the bed Al, and the coarse no farther than 'b', forming the bed B1, the result will be the formation of two continuous beds, one of fine sediment (A A1) over-lapping another of coarse sediment (B Bl). Now suppose the whole sea-bottom is raised up, and a section exposed about the point Al; no doubt, AT THIS SPOT, the upper bed is younger than the lower. But we should obviously greatly err if we concluded that the mass of the upper bed at A was younger than the lower bed at B; for we have just seen that they are contemporaneous deposits. Still more should we be in error if we supposed the upper bed at A to be younger than the continuation of the lower bed at Bl; for A was deposited long before B1. In fine, if, instead of comparing immediately adjacent parts of two beds, one of which lies upon another, we compare distant parts, it is quite possible that the upper may be any number of years older than the under, and the under any number of years younger than the upper.
Now you must not suppose that I put this before you for the purpose of raising a paradoxical difficulty; the fact is, that the great mass of deposits have taken place in sea-bottoms which are gradually sinking, and have been formed under the very conditions I am here supposing.
Do not run away with the notion that this subverts the principle I laid down at first. The error lies in extending a principle which is perfectly applicable to deposits in the same vertical line to deposits which are not in that relation to one another.
It is in consequence of circumstances of this kind, and of others that I might mention to you, that our conclusions on and interpretations of the record are really and strictly only valid so long as we confine ourselves to one vertical section. I do not mean to tell you that there are no qualifying circumstances, so that, even in very considerable areas, we may safely speak of conformably superimposed beds being older or younger than others at many different points. But we can never be quite sure in coming to that conclusion, and especially we cannot be sure if there is any break in their continuity, or any very great distance between the points to be compared.
Well now, so much for the record itself,—so much for its imperfections,—so much for the conditions to be observed in interpreting it, and its chronological indications, the moment we pass beyond the limits of a vertical linear section.
Now let us pass from the record to that which it contains,—from the book itself to the writing and the figures on its pages. This writing and these figures consist of remains of animals and plants which, in the great majority of cases, have lived and died in the very spot in which we now find them, or at least in the immediate vicinity. You must all of you be aware—and I referred to the fact in my last lecture—that there are vast numbers of creatures living at the bottom of the sea. These creatures, like all others, sooner or later die, and their shells and hard parts lie at the bottom; and then the fine mud which is being constantly brought down by rivers and the action of the wear and tear of the sea, covers them over and protects them from any further change or alteration; and, of course, as in process of time the mud becomes hardened and solidified, the shells of these animals are preserved and firmly imbedded in the limestone or sandstone which is being thus formed. You may see in the galleries of the Museum up stairs specimens of limestones in which such fossil remains of existing animals are imbedded. There are some specimens in which turtles' eggs have been imbedded in calcareous sand, and before the sun had hatched the young turtles, they became covered over with calcareous mud, and thus have been preserved and fossilized.
Not only does this process of imbedding and fossilization occur with marine and other aquatic animals and plants, but it affects those land animals and plants which are drifted away to sea, or become buried in bogs or morasses; and the animals which have been trodden down by their fellows and crushed in the mud at the river's bank, as the herd have come to drink. In any of these cases, the organisms may be crushed or be mutilated, before or after putrefaction, in such a manner that perhaps only a part will be left in the form in which it reaches us. It is, indeed, a most remarkable fact, that it is quite an exceptional case to find a skeleton of any one of all the thousands of wild land animals that we know are constantly being killed, or dying in the course of nature: they are preyed on and devoured by other animals or die in places where their bodies are not afterwards protected by mud. There are other animals existing in the sea, the shells of which form exceedingly large deposits. You are probably aware that before the attempt was made to lay the Atlantic telegraphic cable, the Government employed vessels in making a series of very careful observations and soundings of the bottom of the Atlantic; and although, as we must all regret, up to the present time that project has not succeeded, we have the satisfaction of knowing that it yielded some most remarkable results to science. The Atlantic Ocean had to be sounded right across, to depths of several miles in some places, and the nature of its bottom was carefully ascertained. Well, now, a space of about 1,000 miles wide from east to west, and I do not exactly know how many from north to south, but at any rate 600 or 700 miles, was carefully examined, and it was found that over the whole of that immense area an excessively fine chalky mud is being deposited; and this deposit is entirely made up of animals whose hard parts are deposited in this part of the ocean, and are doubtless gradually acquiring solidity and becoming metamorphosed into a chalky limestone. Thus, you see, it is quite possible in this way to preserve unmistakable records of animal and vegetable life. Whenever the sea-bottom, by some of those undulations of the earth's crust that I have referred to, becomes upheaved, and sections or borings are made, or pits are dug, then we become able to examine the contents and constituents of these ancient sea-bottoms, and find out what manner of animals lived at that period.
Now it is a very important consideration in its bearing on the completeness of the record, to inquire how far the remains contained in these fossiliferous limestones are able to convey anything like an accurate or complete account of the animals which were in existence at the time of its formation. Upon that point we can form a very clear judgment, and one in which there is no possible room for any mistake. There are of course a great number of animals—such as jelly-fishes, and other animals—without any hard parts, of which we cannot reasonably expect to find any traces whatever: there is nothing of them to preserve. Within a very short time, you will have noticed, after they are removed from the water, they dry up to a mere nothing; certainly they are not of a nature to leave any very visible traces of their existence on such bodies as chalk or mud. Then again, look at land animals; it is, as I have said, a very uncommon thing to find a land animal entire after death. Insects and other carnivorous animals very speedily pull them to pieces, putrefaction takes place, and so, out of the hundreds of thousands that are known to die every year, it is the rarest thing in the world to see one imbedded in such a way that its remains would be preserved for a lengthened period. Not only is this the case, but even when animal remains have been safely imbedded, certain natural agents may wholly destroy and remove them.
Almost all the hard parts of animals—the bones and so on—are composed chiefly of phosphate of lime and carbonate of lime. Some years ago, I had to make an inquiry into the nature of some very curious fossils sent to me from the North of Scotland. Fossils are usually hard bony structures that have become imbedded in the way I have described, and have gradually acquired the nature and solidity of the body with which they are associated; but in this case I had a series of 'holes' in some pieces of rock, and nothing else. Those holes, however, had a certain definite shape about them, and when I got a skilful workman to make castings of the interior of these holes, I found that they were the impressions of the joints of a backbone and of the armour of a great reptile, twelve or more feet long. This great beast had died and got buried in the sand; the sand had gradually hardened over the bones, but remained porous. Water had trickled through it, and that water being probably charged with a superfluity of carbonic acid, had dissolved all the phosphate and carbonate of lime, and the bones themselves had thus decayed and entirely disappeared; but as the sandstone happened to have consolidated by that time, the precise shape of the bones was retained. If that sandstone had remained soft a little longer, we should have known nothing whatsoever of the existence of the reptile whose bones it had encased.
How certain it is that a vast number of animals which have existed at one period on this earth have entirely perished, and left no trace whatever of their forms, may be proved to you by other considerations. There are large tracts of sandstone in various parts of the world, in which nobody has yet found anything but footsteps. Not a bone of any description, but an enormous number of traces of footsteps. There is no question about them. There is a whole valley in Connecticut covered with these footsteps, and not a single fragment of the animals which made them has yet been found. Let me mention another case while upon that matter, which is even more surprising than those to which I have yet referred. There is a limestone formation near Oxford, at a place called Stonesfield, which has yielded the remains of certain very interesting mammalian animals, and up to this time, if I recollect rightly, there have been found seven specimens of its lower jaws, and not a bit of anything else, neither limb-bones nor skull, or any part whatever; not a fragment of the whole system! Of course, it would be preposterous to imagine that the beasts had nothing else but a lower jaw! The probability is, as Dr. Buckland showed, as the result of his observations on dead dogs in the river Thames, that the lower jaw, not being secured by very firm ligaments to the bones of the head, and being a weighty affair, would easily be knocked off, or might drop away from the body as it floated in water in a state of decomposition. The jaw would thus be deposited immediately, while the rest of the body would float and drift away altogether, ultimately reaching the sea, and perhaps becoming destroyed. The jaw becomes covered up and preserved in the river silt, and thus it comes that we have such a curious circumstance as that of the lower jaws in the Stonesfield slates. So that, you see, faulty as these layers of stone in the earth's crust are, defective as they necessarily are as a record, the account of contemporaneous vital phenomena presented by them is, by the necessity of the case, infinitely more defective and fragmentary.
It was necessary that I should put all this very strongly before you, because, otherwise, you might have been led to think differently of the completeness of our knowledge by the next facts I shall state to you.
The researches of the last three-quarters of a century have, in truth, revealed a wonderful richness of organic life in those rocks. Certainly not fewer than thirty or forty thousand different species of fossils have been discovered. You have no more ground for doubting that these creatures really lived and died at or near the places in which we find them than you have for like scepticism about a shell on the sea-shore. The evidence is as good in the one case as in the other.
Our next business is to look at the general character of these fossil remains, and it is a subject which it will be requisite to consider carefully; and the first point for us is to examine how much the extinct 'Flora' and 'Fauna' as a 'whole'—disregarding altogether the 'succession' of their constituents, of which I shall speak afterwards—differ from the 'Flora' and 'Fauna' of the present day;—how far they differ in what we 'do' know about them, leaving altogether out of consideration speculations based upon what we 'do not' know.
I strongly imagine that if it were not for the peculiar appearance that fossilised animals have, any of you might readily walk through a museum which contains fossil remains mixed up with those of the present forms of life, and I doubt very much whether your uninstructed eyes would lead you to see any vast or wonderful difference between the two. If you looked closely, you would notice, in the first place, a great many things very like animals with which you are acquainted now: you would see differences of shape and proportion, but on the whole a close similarity.
I explained what I meant by ORDERS the other day, when I described the animal kingdom as being divided in sub-kingdoms, classes and orders. If you divide the animal kingdom into orders, you will find that there are about one hundred and twenty. The number may vary on one side or the other, but this is a fair estimate. That is the sum total of the orders of all the animals which we know now, and which have been known in past times, and left remains behind.
Now, how many of those are absolutely extinct? That is to say, how many of these orders of animals have lived at a former period of the world's history, but have at present no representatives? That is the sense in which I meant to use the word "extinct." I mean that those animals did live on this earth at one time, but have left no one of their kind with us at the present moment. So that estimating the number of extinct animals is a sort of way of comparing the past creation as a whole with the present as a whole. Among the mammalia and birds there are none extinct; but when we come to the reptiles there is a most wonderful thing: out of the eight orders, or thereabouts, which you can make among reptiles, one-half are extinct. These diagrams of the plesiosaurus, the ichthyosaurus, the pterodactyle, give you a notion of some of these extinct reptiles. And here is a cast of the pterodactyle and bones of the ichthyosaurus and the plesiosaurus, just as fresh as if it had been recently dug up in a churchyard. Thus, in the reptile class, there are no less than half of the orders which are absolutely extinct. If we turn to the 'Amphibia', there was one extinct order, the Labyrinthodonts, typified by the large salamander-like beast shown in this diagram.
No order of fishes is known to be extinct. Every fish that we find in the strata—to which I have been referring—can be identified and placed in one of the orders which exist at the present day. There is not known to be a single ordinal form of insect extinct. There are only two orders extinct among the 'Crustacea'. There is not known to be an extinct order of these creatures, the parasitic and other worms; but there are two, not to say three, absolutely extinct orders of this class, the 'Echinodermata'; out of all the orders of the 'Coelenterata' and 'Protozoa' only one, the Rugose Corals.
So that, you see, out of somewhere about 120 orders of animals, taking them altogether, you will not, at the outside estimate, find above ten or a dozen extinct. Summing up all the orders of animals which have left remains behind them, you will not find above ten or a dozen which cannot be arranged with those of the present day; that is to say, that the difference does not amount to much more than ten per cent.: and the proportion of extinct orders of plants is still smaller. I think that that is a very astounding, a most astonishing fact, seeing the enormous epochs of time which have elapsed during the constitution of the surface of the earth as it at present exists; it is, indeed, a most astounding thing that the proportion of extinct ordinal types should be so exceedingly small.
But now, there is another point of view in which we must look at this past creation. Suppose that we were to sink a vertical pit through the floor beneath us, and that I could succeed in making a section right through in the direction of New Zealand, I should find in each of the different beds through which I passed the remains of animals which I should find in that stratum and not in the others. First, I should come upon beds of gravel or drift containing the bones of large animals, such as the elephant, rhinoceros, and cave tiger. Rather curious things to fall across in Piccadilly! If I should dig lower still, I should come upon a bed of what we call the London clay, and in this, as you will see in our galleries upstairs, are found remains of strange cattle, remains of turtles, palms, and large tropical fruits; with shell-fish such as you see the like of now only in tropical regions. If I went below that, I should come upon the chalk, and there I should find something altogether different, the remains of ichthyosauri and pterodactyles, and ammonites, and so forth.
I do not know what Mr. Godwin Austin would say comes next, but probably rocks containing more ammonites, and more ichthyosauri and plesiosauri, with a vast number of other things; and under that I should meet with yet older rocks, containing numbers of strange shells and fishes; and in thus passing from the surface to the lowest depths of the earth's crust, the forms of animal life and vegetable life which I should meet with in the successive beds would, looking at them broadly, be the more different the further that I went down. Or, in other words, inasmuch as we started with the clear principle, that in a series of naturally-disposed mud beds the lowest are the oldest, we should come to this result, that the further we go back in time the more difference exists between the animal and vegetable life of an epoch and that which now exists. That was the conclusion to which I wished to bring you at the end of this Lecture.
End of The Past Condition of Organic Nature.
THE METHOD BY WHICH THE CAUSES OF THE PRESENT AND PAST CONDITIONS OF ORGANIC NATURE ARE TO BE DISCOVERED.—THE ORIGINATION OF LIVING BEINGS.
In the two preceding lectures I have endeavoured to indicate to you the extent of the subject-matter of the inquiry upon which we are engaged; and now, having thus acquired some conception of the Past and Present phenomena of Organic Nature, I must now turn to that which constitutes the great problem which we have set before ourselves;—I mean, the question of what knowledge we have of the causes of these phenomena of organic nature, and how such knowledge is obtainable.
Here, on the threshold of the inquiry, an objection meets us. There are in the world a number of extremely worthy, well-meaning persons, whose judgments and opinions are entitled to the utmost respect on account of their sincerity, who are of opinion that Vital Phenomena, and especially all questions relating to the origin of vital phenomena, are questions quite apart from the ordinary run of inquiry, and are, by their very nature, placed out of our reach. They say that all these phenomena originated miraculously, or in some way totally different from the ordinary course of nature, and that therefore they conceive it to be futile, not to say presumptuous, to attempt to inquire into them.
To such sincere and earnest persons, I would only say, that a question of this kind is not to be shelved upon theoretical or speculative grounds. You may remember the story of the Sophist who demonstrated to Diogenes in the most complete and satisfactory manner that he could not walk; that, in fact, all motion was an impossibility; and that Diogenes refuted him by simply getting up and walking round his tub. So, in the same way, the man of science replies to objections of this kind, by simply getting up and walking onward, and showing what science has done and is doing—by pointing to that immense mass of facts which have been ascertained and systematized under the forms of the great doctrines of Morphology, of Development, of Distribution, and the like. He sees an enormous mass of facts and laws relating to organic beings, which stand on the same good sound foundation as every other natural law; and therefore, with this mass of facts and laws before us, therefore, seeing that, as far as organic matters have hitherto been accessible and studied, they have shown themselves capable of yielding to scientific investigation, we may accept this as proof that order and law reign there as well as in the rest of nature; and the man of science says nothing to objectors of this sort, but supposes that we can and shall walk to a knowledge of the origin of organic nature, in the same way that we have walked to a knowledge of the laws and principles of the inorganic world.
But there are objectors who say the same from ignorance and ill-will. To such I would reply that the objection comes ill from them, and that the real presumption, I may almost say the real blasphemy, in this matter, is in the attempt to limit that inquiry into the causes of phenomena which is the source of all human blessings, and from which has sprung all human prosperity and progress; for, after all, we can accomplish comparatively little; the limited range of our own faculties bounds us on every side,—the field of our powers of observation is small enough, and he who endeavours to narrow the sphere of our inquiries is only pursuing a course that is likely to produce the greatest harm to his fellow-men.
But now, assuming, as we all do, I hope, that these phenomena are properly accessible to inquiry, and setting out upon our search into the causes of the phenomena of organic nature, or, at any rate, setting out to discover how much we at present know upon these abstruse matters, the question arises as to what is to be our course of proceeding, and what method we must lay down for our guidance. I reply to that question, that our method must be exactly the same as that which is pursued in any other scientific inquiry, the method of scientific investigation being the same for all orders of facts and phenomena whatsoever.
I must dwell a little on this point, for I wish you to leave this room with a very clear conviction that scientific investigation is not, as many people seem to suppose, some kind of modern black art. I say that you might easily gather this impression from the manner in which many persons speak of scientific inquiry, or talk about inductive and deductive philosophy, or the principles of the "Baconian philosophy." I do protest that, of the vast number of cants in this world, there are none, to my mind, so contemptible as the pseudoscientific cant which is talked about the "Baconian philosophy."
To hear people talk about the great Chancellor—and a very great man he certainly was,—you would think that it was he who had invented science, and that there was no such thing as sound reasoning before the time of Queen Elizabeth. Of course you say, that cannot possibly be true; you perceive, on a moment's reflection, that such an idea is absurdly wrong, and yet, so firmly rooted is this sort of impression,—I cannot call it an idea, or conception,—the thing is too absurd to be entertained,—but so completely does it exist at the bottom of most men's minds, that this has been a matter of observation with me for many years past. There are many men who, though knowing absolutely nothing of the subject with which they may be dealing, wish, nevertheless, to damage the author of some view with which they think fit to disagree. What they do, then, is not to go and learn something about the subject, which one would naturally think the best way of fairly dealing with it; but they abuse the originator of the view they question, in a general manner, and wind up by saying that, "After all, you know, the principles and method of this author are totally opposed to the canons of the Baconian philosophy." Then everybody applauds, as a matter of course, and agrees that it must be so. But if you were to stop them all in the middle of their applause, you would probably find that neither the speaker nor his applauders could tell you how or in what way it was so; neither the one nor the other having the slightest idea of what they mean when they speak of the "Baconian philosophy."
You will understand, I hope, that I have not the slightest desire to join in the outcry against either the morals, the intellect, or the great genius of Lord Chancellor Bacon. He was undoubtedly a very great man, let people say what they will of him; but notwithstanding all that he did for philosophy, it would be entirely wrong to suppose that the methods of modern scientific inquiry originated with him, or with his age; they originated with the first man, whoever he was; and indeed existed long before him, for many of the essential processes of reasoning are exerted by the higher order of brutes as completely and effectively as by ourselves. We see in many of the brute creation the exercise of one, at least, of the same powers of reasoning as that which we ourselves employ.
The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind. It is simply the mode at which all phenomena are reasoned about, rendered precise and exact. There is no more difference, but there is just the same kind of difference, between the mental operations of a man of science and those of an ordinary person, as there is between the operations and methods of a baker or of a butcher weighing out his goods in common scales, and the operations of a chemist in performing a difficult and complex analysis by means of his balance and finely-graduated weights. It is not that the action of the scales in the one case, and the balance in the other, differ in the principles of their construction or manner of working; but the beam of one is set on an infinitely finer axis than the other, and of course turns by the addition of a much smaller weight.
You will understand this better, perhaps, if I give you some familiar example. You have all heard it repeated, I dare say, that men of science work by means of Induction and Deduction, and that by the help of these operations, they, in a sort of sense, wring from Nature certain other things, which are called Natural Laws, and Causes, and that out of these, by some cunning skill of their own, they build up Hypotheses and Theories. And it is imagined by many, that the operations of the common mind can be by no means compared with these processes, and that they have to be acquired by a sort of special apprenticeship to the craft. To hear all these large words, you would think that the mind of a man of science must be constituted differently from that of his fellow men; but if you will not be frightened by terms, you will discover that you are quite wrong, and that all these terrible apparatus are being used by yourselves every day and every hour of your lives.
There is a well-known incident in one of Moliere's plays, where the author makes the hero express unbounded delight on being told that he had been talking prose during the whole of his life. In the same way, I trust, that you will take comfort, and be delighted with yourselves, on the discovery that you have been acting on the principles of inductive and deductive philosophy during the same period. Probably there is not one here who has not in the course of the day had occasion to set in motion a complex train of reasoning, of the very same kind, though differing of course in degree, as that which a scientific man goes through in tracing the causes of natural phenomena.
A very trivial circumstance will serve to exemplify this. Suppose you go into a fruiterer's shop, wanting an apple,—you take up one, and, on biting it, you find it is sour; you look at it, and see that it is hard and green. You take up another one, and that too is hard, green, and sour. The shopman offers you a third; but, before biting it, you examine it, and find that it is hard and green, and you immediately say that you will not have it, as it must be sour, like those that you have already tried.
Nothing can be more simple than that, you think; but if you will take the trouble to analyze and trace out into its logical elements what has been done by the mind, you will be greatly surprised. In the first place, you have performed the operation of INDUCTION. You found that, in two experiences, hardness and greenness in apples go together with sourness. It was so in the first case, and it was confirmed by the second. True, it is a very small basis, but still it is enough to make an induction from; you generalize the facts, and you expect to find sourness in apples where you get hardness and greenness. You found upon that a general law, that all hard and green apples are sour; and that, so far as it goes, is a perfect induction. Well, having got your natural law in this way, when you are offered another apple which you find is hard and green, you say, "All hard and green apples are sour; this apple is hard and green, therefore this apple is sour." That train of reasoning is what logicians call a syllogism, and has all its various parts and terms,—its major premiss, its minor premiss, and its conclusion. And, by the help of further reasoning, which, if drawn out, would have to be exhibited in two or three other syllogisms, you arrive at your final determination, "I will not have that apple." So that, you see, you have, in the first place, established a law by Induction, and upon that you have founded a Deduction, and reasoned out the special conclusion of the particular case. Well now, suppose, having got your law, that at some time afterwards, you are discussing the qualities of apples with a friend: you will say to him, "It is a very curious thing,—but I find that all hard and green apples are sour!" Your friend says to you, "But how do you know that?" You at once reply, "Oh, because I have tried it over and over again, and have always found them to be so." Well, if we were talking science instead of common sense, we should call that an Experimental Verification. And, if still opposed, you go further, and say, "I have heard from the people in Somersetshire and Devonshire, where a large number of apples are grown, that they have observed the same thing. It is also found to be the case in Normandy, and in North America. In short, I find it to be the universal experience of mankind wherever attention has been directed to the subject." Whereupon, your friend, unless he is a very unreasonable man, agrees with you, and is convinced that you are quite right in the conclusion you have drawn. He believes, although perhaps he does not know he believes it, that the more extensive Verifications are,—that the more frequently experiments have been made, and results of the same kind arrived at,—that the more varied the conditions under which the same results have been attained, the more certain is the ultimate conclusion, and he disputes the question no further. He sees that the experiment has been tried under all sorts of conditions, as to time, place, and people, with the same result; and he says with you, therefore, that the law you have laid down must be a good one, and he must believe it.
In science we do the same thing;—the philosopher exercises precisely the same faculties, though in a much more delicate manner. In scientific inquiry it becomes a matter of duty to expose a supposed law to every possible kind of verification, and to take care, moreover, that this is done intentionally, and not left to a mere accident, as in the case of the apples. And in science, as in common life, our confidence in a law is in exact proportion to the absence of variation in the result of our experimental verifications. For instance, if you let go your grasp of an article you may have in your hand, it will immediately fall to the ground. That is a very common verification of one of the best established laws of nature—that of gravitation. The method by which men of science establish the existence of that law is exactly the same as that by which we have established the trivial proposition about the sourness of hard and green apples. But we believe it in such an extensive, thorough, and unhesitating manner because the universal experience of mankind verifies it, and we can verify it ourselves at any time; and that is the strongest possible foundation on which any natural law can rest.
So much by way of proof that the method of establishing laws in science is exactly the same as that pursued in common life. Let us now turn to another matter (though really it is but another phase of the same question), and that is, the method by which, from the relations of certain phenomena, we prove that some stand in the position of causes towards the others.
I want to put the case clearly before you, and I will therefore show you what I mean by another familiar example. I will suppose that one of you, on coming down in the morning to the parlour of your house, finds that a tea-pot and some spoons which had been left in the room on the previous evening are gone,—the window is open, and you observe the mark of a dirty hand on the window-frame, and perhaps, in addition to that, you notice the impress of a hob-nailed shoe on the gravel outside. All these phenomena have struck your attention instantly, and before two minutes have passed you say, "Oh, somebody has broken open the window, entered the room, and run off with the spoons and the tea-pot!" That speech is out of your mouth in a moment. And you will probably add, "I know there has; I am quite sure of it!" You mean to say exactly what you know; but in reality what you have said has been the expression of what is, in all essential particulars, an Hypothesis. You do not 'know' it at all; it is nothing but an hypothesis rapidly framed in your own mind! And it is an hypothesis founded on a long train of inductions and deductions.
What are those inductions and deductions, and how have you got at this hypothesis? You have observed, in the first place, that the window is open; but by a train of reasoning involving many Inductions and Deductions, you have probably arrived long before at the General Law—and a very good one it is—that windows do not open of themselves; and you therefore conclude that something has opened the window. A second general law that you have arrived at in the same way is, that tea-pots and spoons do not go out of a window spontaneously, and you are satisfied that, as they are not now where you left them, they have been removed. In the third place, you look at the marks on the window-sill, and the shoemarks outside, and you say that in all previous experience the former kind of mark has never been produced by anything else but the hand of a human being; and the same experience shows that no other animal but man at present wears shoes with hob-nails on them such as would produce the marks in the gravel. I do not know, even if we could discover any of those "missing links" that are talked about, that they would help us to any other conclusion! At any rate the law which states our present experience is strong enough for my present purpose.—You next reach the conclusion, that as these kinds of marks have not been left by any other animals than men, or are liable to be formed in any other way than by a man's hand and shoe, the marks in question have been formed by a man in that way. You have, further, a general law, founded on observation and experience, and that, too, is, I am sorry to say, a very universal and unimpeachable one,—that some men are thieves; and you assume at once from all these premisses—and that is what constitutes your hypothesis—that the man who made the marks outside and on the window-sill, opened the window, got into the room, and stole your tea-pot and spoons. You have now arrived at a 'Vera Causa';—you have assumed a Cause which it is plain is competent to produce all the phenomena you have observed. You can explain all these phenomena only by the hypothesis of a thief. But that is a hypothetical conclusion, of the justice of which you have no absolute proof at all; it is only rendered highly probable by a series of inductive and deductive reasonings.
I suppose your first action, assuming that you are a man of ordinary common sense, and that you have established this hypothesis to your own satisfaction, will very likely be to go off for the police, and set them on the track of the burglar, with the view to the recovery of your property. But just as you are starting with this object, some person comes in, and on learning what you are about, says, "My good friend, you are going on a great deal too fast. How do you know that the man who really made the marks took the spoons? It might have been a monkey that took them, and the man may have merely looked in afterwards." You would probably reply, "Well, that is all very well, but you see it is contrary to all experience of the way tea-pots and spoons are abstracted; so that, at any rate, your hypothesis is less probable than mine." While you are talking the thing over in this way, another friend arrives, one of that good kind of people that I was talking of a little while ago. And he might say, "Oh, my dear sir, you are certainly going on a great deal too fast. You are most presumptuous. You admit that all these occurrences took place when you were fast asleep, at a time when you could not possibly have known anything about what was taking place. How do you know that the laws of Nature are not suspended during the night? It may be that there has been some kind of supernatural interference in this case." In point of fact, he declares that your hypothesis is one of which you cannot at all demonstrate the truth, and that you are by no means sure that the laws of Nature are the same when you are asleep as when you are awake.