Luck or Cunning?
by Samuel Butler
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Transcribed by David Price, email from the 1922 Jonathan Cape edition



This second edition of Luck, or Cunning? is a reprint of the first edition, dated 1887, but actually published in November, 1886. The only alterations of any consequence are in the Index, which has been enlarged by the incorporation of several entries made by the author in a copy of the book which came into my possession on the death of his literary executor, Mr. R. A. Streatfeild. I thank Mr. G. W. Webb, of the University Library, Cambridge, for the care and skill with which he has made the necessary alterations; it was a troublesome job because owing to the re-setting, the pagination was no longer the same.

Luck, or Cunning? is the fourth of Butler's evolution books; it was followed in 1890 by three articles in The Universal Review entitled "The Deadlock in Darwinism" (republished in The Humour of Homer), after which he published no more upon that subject.

In this book, as he says in his Introduction, he insists upon two main points: (1) the substantial identity between heredity and memory, and (2) the reintroduction of design into organic development; and these two points he treats as though they have something of that physical life with which they are so closely associated. He was aware that what he had to say was likely to prove more interesting to future generations than to his immediate public, "but any book that desires to see out a literary three-score years and ten must offer something to future generations as well as to its own." By next year one half of the three-score years and ten will have passed, and the new generation by their constant enquiries for the work have already begun to show their appreciation of Butler's method of treating the subject, and their readiness to listen to what was addressed to them as well as to their fathers.



This book, as I have said in my concluding chapter, has turned out very different from the one I had it in my mind to write when I began it. It arose out of a conversation with the late Mr. Alfred Tylor soon after his paper on the growth of trees and protoplasmic continuity was read before the Linnean Society—that is to say, in December, 1884—and I proposed to make the theory concerning the subdivision of organic life into animal and vegetable, which I have broached in my concluding chapter, the main feature of the book. One afternoon, on leaving Mr. Tylor's bedside, much touched at the deep disappointment he evidently felt at being unable to complete the work he had begun so ably, it occurred to me that it might be some pleasure to him if I promised to dedicate my own book to him, and thus, however unworthy it might be, connect it with his name. It occurred to me, of course, also that the honour to my own book would be greater than any it could confer, but the time was not one for balancing considerations nicely, and when I made my suggestion to Mr. Tylor on the last occasion that I ever saw him, the manner in which he received it settled the question. If he had lived I should no doubt have kept more closely to my plan, and should probably have been furnished by him with much that would have enriched the book and made it more worthy of his acceptance; but this was not to be.

In the course of writing I became more and more convinced that no progress could be made towards a sounder view of the theory of descent until people came to understand what the late Mr. Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection amounted to, and how it was that it ever came to be propounded. Until the mindless theory of Charles Darwinian natural selection was finally discredited, and a mindful theory of evolution was substituted in its place, neither Mr. Tylor's experiments nor my own theories could stand much chance of being attended to. I therefore devoted myself mainly, as I had done in "Evolution Old and New," and in "Unconscious Memory," to considering whether the view taken by the late Mr. Darwin, or the one put forward by his three most illustrious predecessors, should most command our assent.

The deflection from my original purpose was increased by the appearance, about a year ago, of Mr. Grant Allen's "Charles Darwin," which I imagine to have had a very large circulation. So important, indeed, did I think it not to leave Mr. Allen's statements unchallenged, that in November last I recast my book completely, cutting out much that I had written, and practically starting anew. How far Mr. Tylor would have liked it, or even sanctioned its being dedicated to him, if he were now living, I cannot, of course, say. I never heard him speak of the late Mr. Darwin in any but terms of warm respect, and am by no means sure that he would have been well pleased at an attempt to connect him with a book so polemical as the present. On the other hand, a promise made and received as mine was, cannot be set aside lightly. The understanding was that my next book was to be dedicated to Mr. Tylor; I have written the best I could, and indeed never took so much pains with any other; to Mr. Tylor's memory, therefore, I have most respectfully, and regretfully, inscribed it.

Desiring that the responsibility for what has been done should rest with me, I have avoided saying anything about the book while it was in progress to any of Mr Tylor's family or representatives. They know nothing, therefore, of its contents, and if they did, would probably feel with myself very uncertain how far it is right to use Mr. Tylor's name in connection with it. I can only trust that, on the whole, they may think I have done most rightly in adhering to the letter of my promise.

October 15, 1886.


I shall perhaps best promote the acceptance of the two main points on which I have been insisting for some years past, I mean, the substantial identity between heredity and memory, and the reintroduction of design into organic development, by treating them as if they had something of that physical life with which they are so closely connected. Ideas are like plants and animals in this respect also, as in so many others, that they are more fully understood when their relations to other ideas of their time, and the history of their development are known and borne in mind. By development I do not merely mean their growth in the minds of those who first advanced them, but that larger development which consists in their subsequent good or evil fortunes—in their reception, favourable or otherwise, by those to whom they were presented. This is to an idea what its surroundings are to an organism, and throws much the same light upon it that knowledge of the conditions under which an organism lives throws upon the organism itself. I shall, therefore, begin this new work with a few remarks about its predecessors.

I am aware that what I may say on this head is likely to prove more interesting to future students of the literature of descent than to my immediate public, but any book that desires to see out a literary three-score years and ten must offer something to future generations as well as to its own. It is a condition of its survival that it shall do this, and herein lies one of the author's chief difficulties. If books only lived as long as men and women, we should know better how to grow them; as matters stand, however, the author lives for one or two generations, whom he comes in the end to understand fairly well, while the book, if reasonable pains have been taken with it, should live more or less usefully for a dozen. About the greater number of these generations the author is in the dark; but come what may, some of them are sure to have arrived at conclusions diametrically opposed to our own upon every subject connected with art, science, philosophy, and religion; it is plain, therefore, that if posterity is to be pleased, it can only be at the cost of repelling some present readers. Unwilling as I am to do this, I still hold it the lesser of two evils; I will be as brief, however, as the interests of the opinions I am supporting will allow.

In "Life and Habit" I contended that heredity was a mode of memory. I endeavoured to show that all hereditary traits, whether of mind or body, are inherited in virtue of, and as a manifestation of, the same power whereby we are able to remember intelligently what we did half an hour, yesterday, or a twelvemonth since, and this in no figurative but in a perfectly real sense. If life be compared to an equation of a hundred unknown quantities, I followed Professor Hering of Prague in reducing it to one of ninety-nine only, by showing two of the supposed unknown quantities to be so closely allied that they should count as one. I maintained that instinct was inherited memory, and this without admitting more exceptions and qualifying clauses than arise, as it were, by way of harmonics from every proposition, and must be neglected if thought and language are to be possible.

I showed that if the view for which I was contending was taken, many facts which, though familiar, were still without explanation or connection with our other ideas, would remain no longer isolated, but be seen at once as joined with the mainland of our most assured convictions. Among the things thus brought more comfortably home to us was the principle underlying longevity. It became apparent why some living beings should live longer than others, and how any race must be treated whose longevity it is desired to increase. Hitherto we had known that an elephant was a long-lived animal and a fly short-lived, but we could give no reason why the one should live longer than the other; that is to say, it did not follow in immediate coherence with, or as intimately associated with, any familiar principle that an animal which is late in the full development of its reproductive system will tend to live longer than one which reproduces early. If the theory of "Life and Habit" be admitted, the fact of a slow-growing animal being in general longer lived than a quick developer is seen to be connected with, and to follow as a matter of course from, the fact of our being able to remember anything at all, and all the well-known traits of memory, as observed where we can best take note of them, are perceived to be reproduced with singular fidelity in the development of an animal from its embryonic stages to maturity.

Take this view, and the very general sterility of hybrids from being a CRUX of the theory of descent becomes a stronghold of defence. It appears as part of the same story as the benefit derived from judicious, and the mischief from injudicious, crossing; and this, in its turn, is seen as part of the same story, as the good we get from change of air and scene when we are overworked. I will not amplify; but reversion to long-lost, or feral, characteristics, the phenomena of old age, the fact of the reproductive system being generally the last to arrive at maturity—few further developments occurring in any organism after this has been attained—the sterility of many animals in confinement, the development in both males and females under certain circumstances of the characteristics of the opposite sex, the latency of memory, the unconsciousness with which we grow, and indeed perform all familiar actions, these points, though hitherto, most of them, so apparently inexplicable that no one even attempted to explain them, became at once intelligible, if the contentions of "Life and Habit" were admitted.

Before I had finished writing this book I fell in with Professor Mivart's "Genesis of Species," and for the first time understood the distinction between the Lamarckian and Charles-Darwinian systems of evolution. This had not, so far as I then knew, been as yet made clear to us by any of our more prominent writers upon the subject of descent with modification; the distinction was unknown to the general public, and indeed is only now beginning to be widely understood. While reading Mr. Mivart's book, however, I became aware that I was being faced by two facts, each incontrovertible, but each, if its leading exponents were to be trusted, incompatible with the other.

On the one hand there was descent; we could not read Mr. Darwin's books and doubt that all, both animals and plants, were descended from a common source. On the other, there was design; we could not read Paley and refuse to admit that design, intelligence, adaptation of means to ends, must have had a large share in the development of the life we saw around us; it seemed indisputable that the minds and bodies of all living beings must have come to be what they are through a wise ordering and administering of their estates. We could not, therefore, dispense either with descent or with design, and yet it seemed impossible to keep both, for those who offered us descent stuck to it that we could have no design, and those, again, who spoke so wisely and so well about design would not for a moment hear of descent with modification.

Each, moreover, had a strong case. Who could reflect upon rudimentary organs, and grant Paley the kind of design that alone would content him? And yet who could examine the foot or the eye, and grant Mr. Darwin his denial of forethought and plan?

For that Mr. Darwin did deny skill and contrivance in connection with the greatly preponderating part of organic developments cannot be and is not now disputed. In the first chapter of "Evolution Old and New" I brought forward passages to show how completely he and his followers deny design, but will here quote one of the latest of the many that have appeared to the same effect since "Evolution Old and New" was published; it is by Mr. Romanes, and runs as follows:-

"It is the VERY ESSENCE of the Darwinian hypothesis that it only seeks to explain the APPARENTLY purposive variations, or variations of an adaptive kind." {17a}

The words "apparently purposive" show that those organs in animals and plants which at first sight seem to have been designed with a view to the work they have to do—that is to say, with a view to future function—had not, according to Mr. Darwin, in reality any connection with, or inception in, effort; effort involves purpose and design; they had therefore no inception in design, however much they might present the appearance of being designed; the appearance was delusive; Mr. Romanes correctly declares it to be "the very essence" of Mr. Darwin's system to attempt an explanation of these seemingly purposive variations which shall be compatible with their having arisen without being in any way connected with intelligence or design.

As it is indisputable that Mr. Darwin denied design, so neither can it be doubted that Paley denied descent with modification. What, then, were the wrong entries in these two sets of accounts, on the detection and removal of which they would be found to balance as they ought?

Paley's weakest place, as already implied, is in the matter of rudimentary organs; the almost universal presence in the higher organisms of useless, and sometimes even troublesome, organs is fatal to the kind of design he is trying to uphold; granted that there is design, still it cannot be so final and far-foreseeing as he wishes to make it out. Mr. Darwin's weak place, on the other hand, lies, firstly, in the supposition that because rudimentary organs imply no purpose now, they could never in time past have done so—that because they had clearly not been designed with an eye to all circumstances and all time, they never, therefore, could have been designed with an eye to any time or any circumstances; and, secondly, in maintaining that "accidental," "fortuitous," "spontaneous" variations could be accumulated at all except under conditions that have never been fulfilled yet, and never will be; in other words, his weak place lay in the contention (for it comes to this) that there can be sustained accumulation of bodily wealth, more than of wealth of any other kind, unless sustained experience, watchfulness, and good sense preside over the accumulation. In "Life and Habit," following Mr. Mivart, and, as I now find, Mr. Herbert Spencer, I showed (pp. 279-281) how impossible it was for variations to accumulate unless they were for the most part underlain by a sustained general principle; but this subject will be touched upon more fully later on.

The accumulation of accidental variations which owed nothing to mind either in their inception, or their accumulation, the pitchforking, in fact, of mind out of the universe, or at any rate its exclusion from all share worth talking about in the process of organic development, this was the pill Mr. Darwin had given us to swallow; but so thickly had he gilded it with descent with modification, that we did as we were told, swallowed it without a murmur, were lavish in our expressions of gratitude, and, for some twenty years or so, through the mouths of our leading biologists, ordered design peremptorily out of court, if she so much as dared to show herself. Indeed, we have even given life pensions to some of the most notable of these biologists, I suppose in order to reward them for having hoodwinked us so much to our satisfaction.

Happily the old saying, Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret, still holds true, and the reaction that has been gaining force for some time will doubtless ere long brush aside the cobwebs with which those who have a vested interest in Mr. Darwin's reputation as a philosopher still try to fog our outlook. Professor Mivart was, as I have said, among the first to awaken us to Mr. Darwin's denial of design, and to the absurdity involved therein. He well showed how incredible Mr Darwin's system was found to be, as soon as it was fully realised, but there he rather left us. He seemed to say that we must have our descent and our design too, but he did not show how we were to manage this with rudimentary organs still staring us in the face. His work rather led up to the clearer statement of the difficulty than either put it before us in so many words, or tried to remove it. Nevertheless there can be no doubt that the "Genesis of Species" gave Natural Selection what will prove sooner or later to be its death-blow, in spite of the persistence with which many still declare that it has received no hurt, and the sixth edition of the" Origin of Species," published in the following year, bore abundant traces of the fray. Moreover, though Mr. Mivart gave us no overt aid, he pointed to the source from which help might come, by expressly saying that his most important objection to Neo- Darwinism had no force against Lamarck.

To Lamarck, therefore, I naturally turned, and soon saw that the theory on which I had been insisting in" Life and Habit" was in reality an easy corollary on his system, though one which he does not appear to have caught sight of. I saw also that his denial of design was only, so to speak, skin deep, and that his system was in reality teleological, inasmuch as, to use Isidore Geoffroy's words, it makes the organism design itself. In making variations depend on changed actions, and these, again, on changed views of life, efforts, and designs, in consequence of changed conditions of life, he in effect makes effort, intention, will, all of which involve design (or at any rate which taken together involve it), underlie progress in organic development. True, he did not know he was a teleologist, but he was none the less a teleologist for this. He was an unconscious teleologist, and as such perhaps more absolutely an upholder of teleology than Paley himself; but this is neither here nor there; our concern is not with what people think about themselves, but with what their reasoning makes it evident that they really hold.

How strange the irony that hides us from ourselves! When Isidore Geoffroy said that according to Lamarck organisms designed themselves, {20a} and endorsed this, as to a great extent he did, he still does not appear to have seen that either he or Lamarck were in reality reintroducing design into organism; he does not appear to have seen this more than Lamarck himself had seen it, but, on the contrary, like Lamarck, remained under the impression that he was opposing teleology or purposiveness.

Of course in one sense he did oppose it; so do we all, if the word design be taken to intend a very far-foreseeing of minute details, a riding out to meet trouble long before it comes, a provision on academic principles for contingencies that are little likely to arise. We can see no evidence of any such design as this in nature, and much everywhere that makes against it. There is no such improvidence as over providence, and whatever theories we may form about the origin and development of the universe, we may be sure that it is not the work of one who is unable to understand how anything can possibly go right unless he sees to it himself. Nature works departmentally and by way of leaving details to subordinates. But though those who see nature thus do indeed deny design of the prescient-from-all-eternity order, they in no way impugn a method which is far more in accord with all that we commonly think of as design. A design which is as incredible as that a ewe should give birth to a lion becomes of a piece with all that we observe most frequently if it be regarded rather as an aggregation of many small steps than as a single large one. This principle is very simple, but it seems rather difficult to understand. It has taken several generations before people would admit it as regards organism even after it was pointed out to them, and those who saw it as regards organism still failed to understand it as regards design; an inexorable "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther" barred them from fruition of the harvest they should have been the first to reap. The very men who most insisted that specific difference was the accumulation of differences so minute as to be often hardly, if at all, perceptible, could not see that the striking and baffling phenomena of design in connection with organism admitted of exactly the same solution as the riddle of organic development, and should be seen not as a result reached per saltum, but as an accumulation of small steps or leaps in a given direction. It was as though those who had insisted on the derivation of all forms of the steam- engine from the common kettle, and who saw that this stands in much the same relations to the engines, we will say, of the Great Eastern steamship as the amoeba to man, were to declare that the Great Eastern engines were not designed at all, on the ground that no one in the early kettle days had foreseen so great a future development, and were unable to understand that a piecemeal solvitur ambulando design is more omnipresent, all-seeing, and all-searching, and hence more truly in the strictest sense design, than any speculative leap of fancy, however bold and even at times successful.

From Lamarck I went on to Buffon and Erasmus Darwin—better men both of them than Lamarck, and treated by him much as he has himself been treated by those who have come after him—and found that the system of these three writers, if considered rightly, and if the corollary that heredity is only a mode of memory were added, would get us out of our dilemma as regards descent and design, and enable us to keep both. We could do this by making the design manifested in organism more like the only design of which we know anything, and therefore the only design of which we ought to speak—I mean our own.

Our own design is tentative, and neither very far-foreseeing nor very retrospective; it is a little of both, but much of neither; it is like a comet with a little light in front of the nucleus and a good deal more behind it, which ere long, however, fades away into the darkness; it is of a kind that, though a little wise before the event, is apt to be much wiser after it, and to profit even by mischance so long as the disaster is not an overwhelming one; nevertheless, though it is so interwoven with luck, there is no doubt about its being design; why, then, should the design which must have attended organic development be other than this? If the thing that has been is the thing that also shall be, must not the thing which is be that which also has been? Was there anything in the phenomena of organic life to militate against such a view of design as this? Not only was there nothing, but this view made things plain, as the connecting of heredity and memory had already done, which till now had been without explanation. Rudimentary organs were no longer a hindrance to our acceptance of design, they became weighty arguments in its favour.

I therefore wrote "Evolution Old and New," with the object partly of backing up "Life and Habit," and showing the easy rider it admitted, partly to show how superior the old view of descent had been to Mr. Darwin's, and partly to reintroduce design into organism. I wrote "Life and Habit" to show that our mental and bodily acquisitions were mainly stores of memory: I wrote "Evolution Old and New" to add that the memory must be a mindful and designing memory.

I followed up these two books with "Unconscious Memory," the main object of which was to show how Professor Hering of Prague had treated the connection between memory and heredity; to show, again, how substantial was the difference between Von Hartmann and myself in spite of some little superficial resemblance; to put forward a suggestion as regards the physics of memory, and to meet the most plausible objection which I have yet seen brought against "Life and Habit."

Since writing these three books I have published nothing on the connection between heredity and memory, except a few pages of remarks on Mr. Romanes' "Mental Evolution in Animals" in my book, {23a} from which I will draw whatever seems to be more properly placed here. I have collected many facts that make my case stronger, but am precluded from publishing them by the reflection that it is strong enough already. I have said enough in "Life and Habit" to satisfy any who wish to be satisfied, and those who wish to be dissatisfied would probably fail to see the force of what I said, no matter how long and seriously I held forth to them; I believe, therefore, that I shall do well to keep my facts for my own private reading and for that of my executors.

I once saw a copy of "Life and Habit" on Mr. Bogue's counter, and was told by the very obliging shopman that a customer had just written something in it which I might like to see. I said of course I should like to see, and immediately taking the book read the following—which it occurs to me that I am not justified in publishing. What was written ran thus:-

"As a reminder of our pleasant hours on the broad Atlantic, will Mr. — please accept this book (which I think contains more truth, and less evidence of it, than any other I have met with) from his friend — ?"

I presume the gentleman had met with the Bible—a work which lays itself open to a somewhat similar comment. I was gratified, however, at what I had read, and take this opportunity of thanking the writer, an American, for having liked my book. It was so plain he had been relieved at not finding the case smothered to death in the weight of its own evidences, that I resolved not to forget the lesson his words had taught me.

The only writer in connection with "Life and Habit" to whom I am anxious to reply is Mr. Herbert Spencer, but before doing this I will conclude the present chapter with a consideration of some general complaints that have been so often brought against me that it may be worth while to notice them.

These general criticisms have resolved themselves mainly into two.

Firstly, it is said that I ought not to write about biology on the ground of my past career, which my critics declare to have been purely literary. I wish I might indulge a reasonable hope of one day becoming a literary man; the expression is not a good one, but there is no other in such common use, and this must excuse it; if a man can be properly called literary, he must have acquired the habit of reading accurately, thinking attentively, and expressing himself clearly. He must have endeavoured in all sorts of ways to enlarge the range of his sympathies so as to be able to put himself easily en rapport with those whom he is studying, and those whom he is addressing. If he cannot speak with tongues himself, he is the interpreter of those who can—without whom they might as well be silent. I wish I could see more signs of literary culture among my scientific opponents; I should find their books much more easy and agreeable reading if I could; and then they tell me to satirise the follies and abuses of the age, just as if it was not this that I was doing in writing about themselves.

What, I wonder, would they say if I were to declare that they ought not to write books at all, on the ground that their past career has been too purely scientific to entitle them to a hearing? They would reply with justice that I should not bring vague general condemnations, but should quote examples of their bad writing. I imagine that I have done this more than once as regards a good many of them, and I dare say I may do it again in the course of this book; but though I must own to thinking that the greater number of our scientific men write abominably, I should not bring this against them if I believed them to be doing their best to help us; many such men we happily have, and doubtless always shall have, but they are not those who push to the fore, and it is these last who are most angry with me for writing on the subjects I have chosen. They constantly tell me that I am not a man of science; no one knows this better than I do, and I am quite used to being told it, but I am not used to being confronted with the mistakes that I have made in matters of fact, and trust that this experience is one which I may continue to spare no pains in trying to avoid.

Nevertheless I again freely grant that I am not a man of science. I have never said I was. I was educated for the Church. I was once inside the Linnean Society's rooms, but have no present wish to go there again; though not a man of science, however, I have never affected indifference to the facts and arguments which men of science have made it their business to lay before us; on the contrary, I have given the greater part of my time to their consideration for several years past. I should not, however, say this unless led to do so by regard to the interests of theories which I believe to be as nearly important as any theories can be which do not directly involve money or bodily convenience.

The second complaint against me is to the effect that I have made no original experiments, but have taken all my facts at second hand. This is true, but I do not see what it has to do with the question. If the facts are sound, how can it matter whether A or B collected them? If Professor Huxley, for example, has made a series of valuable original observations (not that I know of his having done so), why am I to make them over again? What are fact-collectors worth if the fact co-ordinators may not rely upon them? It seems to me that no one need do more than go to the best sources for his facts, and tell his readers where he got them. If I had had occasion for more facts I daresay I should have taken the necessary steps to get hold of them, but there was no difficulty on this score; every text-book supplied me with all, and more than all, I wanted; my complaint was that the facts which Mr. Darwin supplied would not bear the construction he tried to put upon them; I tried, therefore, to make them bear another which seemed at once more sound and more commodious; rightly or wrongly I set up as a builder, not as a burner of bricks, and the complaint so often brought against me of not having made experiments is about as reasonable as complaint against an architect on the score of his not having quarried with his own hands a single one of the stones which he has used in building. Let my opponents show that the facts which they and I use in common are unsound, or that I have misapplied them, and I will gladly learn my mistake, but this has hardly, to my knowledge, been attempted. To me it seems that the chief difference between myself and some of my opponents lies in this, that I take my facts from them with acknowledgment, and they take their theories from me— without.

One word more and I have done. I should like to say that I do not return to the connection between memory and heredity under the impression that I shall do myself much good by doing so. My own share in the matter was very small. The theory that heredity is only a mode of memory is not mine, but Professor Hering's. He wrote in 1870, and I not till 1877. I should be only too glad if he would take his theory and follow it up himself; assuredly he could do so much better than I can; but with the exception of his one not lengthy address published some fifteen or sixteen years ago he has said nothing upon the subject, so far at least as I have been able to ascertain; I tried hard to draw him in 1880, but could get nothing out of him. If, again, any of our more influential writers, not a few of whom evidently think on this matter much as I do, would eschew ambiguities and tell us what they mean in plain language, I would let the matter rest in their abler hands, but of this there does not seem much chance at present.

I wish there was, for in spite of the interest I have felt in working the theory out and the information I have been able to collect while doing so, I must confess that I have found it somewhat of a white elephant. It has got me into the hottest of hot water, made a literary Ishmael of me, lost me friends whom I have been sorry to lose, cost me a good deal of money, done everything to me, in fact, which a good theory ought not to do. Still, as it seems to have taken up with me, and no one else is inclined to treat it fairly, I shall continue to report its developments from time to time as long as life and health are spared me. Moreover, Ishmaels are not without their uses, and they are not a drug in the market just now.

I may now go on to Mr. Spencer.


Mr. Herbert Spencer wrote to the Athenaeum (April 5, 1884), and quoted certain passages from the 1855 edition of his "Principles of Psychology," "the meanings and implications" from which he contended were sufficiently clear. The passages he quoted were as follows:-

Though it is manifest that reflex and instinctive sequences are not determined by the experiences of the INDIVIDUAL organism manifesting them, yet there still remains the hypothesis that they are determined by the experiences of the RACE of organisms forming its ancestry, which by infinite repetition in countless successive generations have established these sequences as organic relations (p. 526).

The modified nervous tendencies produced by such new habits of life are also bequeathed (p. 526).

That is to say, the tendencies to certain combinations of psychical changes have become organic (p. 527).

The doctrine that the connections among our ideas are determined by experience must, in consistency, be extended not only to all the connections established by the accumulated experiences of every individual, but to all those established by the accumulated experiences of every race (p. 529).

Here, then, we have one of the simpler forms of instinct which, under the requisite conditions, must necessarily be established by accumulated experiences (p. 547).

And manifestly, if the organisation of inner relations, in correspondence with outer relations, results from a continual registration of experiences, &c. (p. 551).

On the one hand, Instinct may be regarded as a kind of organised memory; on the other hand, Memory may be regarded as a kind of incipient instinct (pp. 555-6).

Memory, then, pertains to all that class of psychical states which are in process of being organised. It continues so long as the organising of them continues; and disappears when the organisation of them is complete. In the advance of the correspondence, each more complex class of phenomena which the organism acquires the power of recognising is responded to at first irregularly and uncertainly; and there is then a weak remembrance of the relations. By multiplication of experiences this remembrance becomes stronger, and the response more certain. By further multiplication of experiences the internal relations are at last automatically organised in correspondence with the external ones; and so conscious memory passes into unconscious or organic memory. At the same time, a new and still more complex order of experiences is thus rendered appreciable; the relations they present occupy the memory in place of the simpler one; they become gradually organised; and, like the previous ones, are succeeded by others more complex still (p. 563).

Just as we saw that the establishment of those compound reflex actions which we call instincts is comprehensible on the principle that inner relations are, by perpetual repetition, organised into correspondence with outer relations; so the establishment of those consolidated, those indissoluble, those instinctive mental relations constituting our ideas of Space and Time, is comprehensible on the same principle (p. 579).

In a book published a few weeks before Mr. Spencer's letter appeared {29a} I had said that though Mr. Spencer at times closely approached Professor Hering and "Life and Habit," he had nevertheless nowhere shown that he considered memory and heredity to be parts of the same story and parcel of one another. In his letter to the Athenaeum, indeed, he does not profess to have upheld this view, except "by implications;" nor yet, though in the course of the six or seven years that had elapsed since "Life and Habit" was published I had brought out more than one book to support my earlier one, had he said anything during those years to lead me to suppose that I was trespassing upon ground already taken by himself. Nor, again, had he said anything which enabled me to appeal to his authority—which I should have been only too glad to do; at last, however, he wrote, as I have said, to the Athenaeum a letter which, indeed, made no express claim, and nowhere mentioned myself, but "the meanings and implications" from which were this time as clear as could be desired, and amount to an order to Professor Hering and myself to stand aside.

The question is, whether the passages quoted by Mr. Spencer, or any others that can be found in his works, show that he regarded heredity in all its manifestations as a mode of memory. I submit that this conception is not derivable from Mr. Spencer's writings, and that even the passages in which he approaches it most closely are unintelligible till read by the light of Professor Hering's address and of "Life and Habit."

True, Mr. Spencer made abundant use of such expressions as "the experience of the race," "accumulated experiences," and others like them, but he did not explain—and it was here the difficulty lay— how a race could have any experience at all. We know what we mean when we say that an individual has had experience; we mean that he is the same person now (in the common use of the words), on the occasion of some present action, as the one who performed a like action at some past time or times, and that he remembers how he acted before, so as to be able to turn his past action to account, gaining in proficiency through practice. Continued personality and memory are the elements that constitute experience; where these are present there may, and commonly will, be experience; where they are absent the word "experience" cannot properly be used.

Formerly we used to see an individual as one, and a race as many. We now see that though this is true as far as it goes, it is by no means the whole truth, and that in certain important respects it is the race that is one, and the individual many. We all admit and understand this readily enough now, but it was not understood when Mr. Spencer wrote the passages he adduced in the letter to the Athenaeum above referred to. In the then state of our ideas a race was only a succession of individuals, each one of them new persons, and as such incapable of profiting by the experience of its predecessors except in the very limited number of cases where oral teaching, or, as in recent times, writing, was possible. The thread of life was, as I have elsewhere said, remorselessly shorn between each successive generation, and the importance of the physical and psychical connection between parents and offspring had been quite, or nearly quite, lost sight of. It seems strange how this could ever have been allowed to come about, but it should be remembered that the Church in the Middle Ages would strongly discourage attempts to emphasize a connection that would raise troublesome questions as to who in a future state was to be responsible for what; and, after all, for nine purposes of life out of ten the generally received opinion that each person is himself and nobody else is on many grounds the most convenient. Every now and then, however, there comes a tenth purpose, for which the continued personality side of the connection between successive generations is as convenient as the new personality side is for the remaining nine, and these tenth purposes—some of which are not unimportant—are obscured and fulfilled amiss owing to the completeness with which the more commonly needed conception has overgrown the other.

Neither view is more true than the other, but the one was wanted every hour and minute of the day, and was therefore kept, so to speak, in stock, and in one of the most accessible places of our mental storehouse, while the other was so seldom asked for that it became not worth while to keep it. By-and-by it was found so troublesome to send out for it, and so hard to come by even then, that people left off selling it at all, and if any one wanted it he must think it out at home as best he could; this was troublesome, so by common consent the world decided no longer to busy itself with the continued personality of successive generations—which was all very well until it also decided to busy itself with the theory of descent with modification. On the introduction of a foe so inimical to many of our pre-existing ideas the balance of power among them was upset, and a readjustment became necessary, which is still far from having attained the next settlement that seems likely to be reasonably permanent.

To change the illustration, the ordinary view is true for seven places of decimals, and this commonly is enough; occasions, however, have now arisen when the error caused by neglect of the omitted places is appreciably disturbing, and we must have three or four more. Mr. Spencer showed no more signs of seeing that he must supply these, and make personal identity continue between successive generations before talking about inherited (as opposed to post-natal and educational) experience, than others had done before him; the race with him, as with every one else till recently, was not one long individual living indeed in pulsations, so to speak, but no more losing continued personality by living in successive generations, than an individual loses it by living in consecutive days; a race was simply a succession of individuals, each one of which was held to be an entirely new person, and was regarded exclusively, or very nearly so, from this point of view.

When I wrote "Life and Habit" I knew that the words "experience of the race" sounded familiar, and were going about in magazines and newspapers, but I did not know where they came from; if I had, I should have given their source. To me they conveyed no meaning, and vexed me as an attempt to make me take stones instead of bread, and to palm off an illustration upon me as though it were an explanation. When I had worked the matter out in my own way, I saw that the illustration, with certain additions, would become an explanation, but I saw also that neither he who had adduced it nor any one else could have seen how right he was, till much had been said which had not, so far as 1 knew, been said yet, and which undoubtedly would have been said if people had seen their way to saying it.

"What is this talk," I wrote, "which is made about the experience of the race, as though the experience of one man could profit another who knows nothing about him? If a man eats his dinner it nourishes him and not his neighbour; if he learns a difficult art it is he that can do it and not his neighbour" ("Life and Habit," p. 49).

When I wrote thus in 1877, it was not generally seen that though the father is not nourished by the dinners that the son eats, yet the son was fed when the father ate before he begot him.

"Is there any way," I continued, "of showing that this experience of the race about which so much is said without the least attempt to show in what way it may, or does, become the experience of the individual, is in sober seriousness the experience of one single being only, who repeats on a great many different occasions, and in slightly different ways, certain performances with which he has already become exceedingly familiar?"

I felt, as every one else must have felt who reflected upon the expression in question, that it was fallacious till this was done. When I first began to write "Life and Habit" I did not believe it could be done, but when I had gone right up to the end, as it were, of my cu de sac, I saw the path which led straight to the point I had despaired of reaching—I mean I saw that personality could not be broken as between generations, without also breaking it between the years, days, and moments of a man's life. What differentiates "Life and Habit" from the "Principles of Psychology" is the prominence given to continued personal identity, and hence to bona fide memory, as between successive generations; but surely this makes the two books differ widely.

Ideas can be changed to almost any extent in almost any direction, if the change is brought about gradually and in accordance with the rules of all development. As in music we may take almost any possible discord with pleasing effect if we have prepared and resolved it rightly, so our ideas will outlive and outgrow almost any modification which is approached and quitted in such a way as to fuse the old and new harmoniously. Words are to ideas what the fairy invisible cloak was to the prince who wore it—only that the prince was seen till he put on the cloak, whereas ideas are unseen until they don the robe of words which reveals them to us; the words, however, and the ideas, should be such as fit each other and stick to one another in our minds as soon as they are brought together, or the ideas will fly off, and leave the words void of that spirit by the aid of which alone they can become transmuted into physical action and shape material things with their own impress. Whether a discord is too violent or no, depends on what we have been accustomed to, and on how widely the new differs from the old, but in no case can we fuse and assimilate more than a very little new at a time without exhausting our tempering power—and hence presently our temper.

Mr. Spencer appears to have forgotten that though de minimis non curat lex,—though all the laws fail when applied to trifles,—yet too sudden a change in the manner in which our ideas are associated is as cataclysmic and subversive of healthy evolution as are material convulsions, or too violent revolutions in politics. This must always be the case, for change is essentially miraculous, and the only lawful home of the miracle is in the microscopically small. Here, indeed, miracles were in the beginning, are now, and ever shall be, but we are deadened if they are required of us on a scale which is visible to the naked eye. If we are told to work them our hands fall nerveless down; if, come what may, we must do or die, we are more likely to die than to succeed in doing. If we are required to believe them—which only means to fuse them with our other ideas- -we either take the law into our own hands, and our minds being in the dark fuse something easier of assimilation, and say we have fused the miracle; or if we play more fairly and insist on our minds swallowing and assimilating it, we weaken our judgments, and pro tanto kill our souls. If we stick out beyond a certain point we go mad, as fanatics, or at the best make Coleridges of ourselves; and yet upon a small scale these same miracles are the breath and essence of life; to cease to work them is to die. And by miracle I do not merely mean something new, strange, and not very easy of comprehension—I mean something which violates every canon of thought which in the palpable world we are accustomed to respect; something as alien to, and inconceivable by, us as contradiction in terms, the destructibility of force or matter, or the creation of something out of nothing. This, which when writ large maddens and kills, writ small is our meat and drink; it attends each minutest and most impalpable detail of the ceaseless fusion and diffusion in which change appears to us as consisting, and which we recognise as growth and decay, or as life and death.

Claude Bernard says, Rien ne nait, rien ne se cree, tout se continue. La nature ne nous offre le spectacle d'aucune creation, elle est d'une eternelle continuation; {35a} but surely he is insisting upon one side of the truth only, to the neglect of another which is just as real, and just as important; he might have said, Rien ne se continue, tout nait, tout se cree. La nature ne nous offre le spectacle d'aucune continuation. Elle est d'une eternelle creation; for change is no less patent a fact than continuity, and, indeed, the two stand or fall together. True, discontinuity, where development is normal, is on a very small scale, but this is only the difference between looking at distances on a small instead of a large map; we cannot have even the smallest change without a small partial corresponding discontinuity; on a small scale—too small, indeed, for us to cognise—these breaks in continuity, each one of which must, so far as our understanding goes, rank as a creation, are as essential a factor of the phenomena we see around us, as is the other factor that they shall normally be on too small a scale for us to find it out. Creations, then, there must be, but they must be so small that practically they are no creations. We must have a continuity in discontinuity, and a discontinuity in continuity; that is to say, we can only conceive the help of change at all by the help of flat contradiction in terms. It comes, therefore, to this, that if we are to think fluently and harmoniously upon any subject into which change enters (and there is no conceivable subject into which it does not), we must begin by flying in the face of every rule that professors of the art of thinking have drawn up for our instruction. These rules may be good enough as servants, but we have let them become the worst of masters, forgetting that philosophy is made for man, not man for philosophy. Logic has been the true Tower of Babel, which we have thought to build so that we might climb up into the heavens, and have no more miracle, but see God and live—nor has confusion of tongues failed to follow on our presumption. Truly St. Paul said well that the just shall live by faith; and the question "By what faith?" is a detail of minor moment, for there are as many faiths as species, whether of plants or animals, and each of them is in its own way both living and saving.

All, then, whether fusion or diffusion, whether of ideas or things, is miraculous. It is the two in one, and at the same time one in two, which is only two and two making five put before us in another shape; yet this fusion—so easy to think so long as it is not thought about, and so unthinkable if we try to think it—is, as it were, the matrix from which our more thinkable thought is taken; it is the cloud gathering in the unseen world from which the waters of life descend in an impalpable dew. Granted that all, whether fusion or diffusion, whether of ideas or things, is, if we dwell upon it and take it seriously, an outrage upon our understandings which common sense alone enables us to brook; granted that it carries with it a distinctly miraculous element which should vitiate the whole process ab initio, still, if we have faith we can so work these miracles as Orpheus-like to charm denizens of the unseen world into the seen again—provided we do not look back, and provided also we do not try to charm half a dozen Eurydices at a time. To think is to fuse and diffuse ideas, and to fuse and diffuse ideas is to feed. We can all feed, and by consequence within reasonable limits we can fuse ideas; or we can fuse ideas, and by consequence within reasonable limits we can feed; we know not which comes first, the food or the ideas, but we must not overtax our strength; the moment we do this we taste of death.

It is in the closest connection with this that we must chew our food fine before we can digest it, and that the same food given in large lumps will choke and kill which in small pieces feeds us; or, again, that that which is impotent as a pellet may be potent as a gas. Food is very thoughtful: through thought it comes, and back through thought it shall return; the process of its conversion and comprehension within our own system is mental as well as physical, and here, as everywhere else with mind and evolution, there must be a cross, but not too wide a cross—that is to say, there must be a miracle, but not upon a large scale. Granted that no one can draw a clear line and define the limits within which a miracle is healthy working and beyond which it is unwholesome, any more than he can prescribe the exact degree of fineness to which we must comminute our food; granted, again, that some can do more than others, and that at all times all men sport, so to speak, and surpass themselves, still we know as a general rule near enough, and find that the strongest can do but very little at a time, and, to return to Mr. Spencer, the fusion of two such hitherto unassociated ideas as race and experience was a miracle beyond our strength.

Assuredly when Mr. Spencer wrote the passages he quoted in the letter to the Athenaeum above referred to, we were not in the habit of thinking of any one as able to remember things that had happened before he had been born or thought of. This notion will still strike many of my non-readers as harsh and strained; no such discord, therefore, should have been taken unprepared, and when taken it should have been resolved with pomp and circumstance. Mr Spencer, however, though he took it continually, never either prepared it or resolved it at all, but by using the words "experience of the race" sprang this seeming paradox upon us, with the result that his words were barren. They were barren because they were incoherent; they were incoherent because they were approached and quitted too suddenly. While we were realising "experience" our minds excluded "race," inasmuch as experience was an idea we had been accustomed hitherto to connect only with the individual; while realising the idea "race," for the same reason, we as a matter of course excluded experience. We were required to fuse two ideas that were alien to one another, without having had those other ideas presented to us which would alone flux them. The absence of these—which indeed were not immediately ready to hand, or Mr. Spencer would have doubtless grasped them—made nonsense of the whole thing; we saw the ideas propped up as two cards one against the other, on one of Mr. Spencer's pages, only to find that they had fallen asunder before we had turned over to the next, so we put down his book resentfully, as written by one who did not know what to do with his meaning even if he had one, or bore it meekly while he chastised us with scorpions, as Mr. Darwin had done with whips, according to our temperaments.

I may say, in passing, that the barrenness of incoherent ideas, and the sterility of widely distant species and genera of animals and plants, are one in principle—the sterility of hybrids being just as much due to inability to fuse widely unlike and unfamiliar ideas into a coherent whole, as barrenness of ideas is, and, indeed, resolving itself ultimately into neither more nor less than barrenness of ideas—that is to say, into inability to think at all, or at any rate to think as their neighbours do.

If Mr. Spencer had made it clear that the generations of any race are bona fide united by a common personality, and that in virtue of being so united each generation remembers (within, of course, the limits to which all memory is subject) what happened to it while still in the persons of its progenitors—then his order to Professor Hering and myself should be immediately obeyed; but this was just what was at once most wanted, and least done by Mr. Spencer. Even in the passages given above—passages collected by Mr. Spencer himself—this point is altogether ignored; make it clear as Professor Hering made it—put continued personality and memory in the foreground as Professor Hering did, instead of leaving them to be discovered "by implications," and then such expressions as "accumulated experiences" and "experience of the race" become luminous; till this had been done they were Vox et praeterea nihil.

To sum up briefly. The passages quoted by Mr. Spencer from his "Principles of Psychology" can hardly be called clear, even now that Professor Hering and others have thrown light upon them. If, indeed, they had been clear Mr. Spencer would probably have seen what they necesitated, and found the way of meeting the difficulties of the case which occurred to Professor Hering and myself. Till we wrote, very few writers had even suggested this. The idea that offspring was only "an elongation or branch proceeding from its parents" had scintillated in the ingenious brain of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and in that of the designer of Jesse tree windows, but it had kindled no fire; it now turns out that Canon Kingsley had once called instinct inherited memory, {40a} but the idea, if born alive at all, died on the page on which it saw light: Professor Ray Lankester, again called attention to Professor Hering's address (Nature, July 13, 1876), but no discussion followed, and the matter dropped without having produced visible effect. As for offspring remembering in any legitimate sense of the words what it had done, and what had happened to it, before it was born, no such notion was understood to have been gravely mooted till very recently. I doubt whether Mr. Spencer and Mr. Romanes would accept this even now, when it is put thus undisguisedly; but this is what Professor Hering and I mean, and it is the only thing that should be meant, by those who speak of instinct as inherited memory. Mr Spencer cannot maintain that these two startling novelties went without saying "by implication" from the use of such expressions as "accumulated experiences" or "experience of the race."


Whether they ought to have gone or not, they did not go.

When "Life and Habit" was first published no one considered Mr. Spencer to be maintaining the phenomena of heredity to be in reality phenomena of memory. When, for example, Professor Ray Lankester first called attention to Professor Hering's address, he did not understand Mr. Spencer to be intending this. "Professor Hering," he wrote (Nature, July 13, 1876), "helps us to a comprehensive view of the nature of heredity and adaptation, by giving us the word 'memory,' conscious or unconscious, for the continuity of Mr. Spencer's polar forces or polarities of physiological units." He evidently found the prominence given to memory a help to him which he had not derived from reading Mr. Spencer's works.

When, again, he attacked me in the Athenaeum (March 29, 1884), he spoke of my "tardy recognition" of the fact that Professor Hering had preceded me "in treating all manifestations of heredity as a form of memory." Professor Lankester's words could have no force if he held that any other writer, and much less so well known a writer as Mr. Spencer, had preceded me in putting forward the theory in question.

When Mr. Romanes reviewed "Unconscious Memory" in Nature (January 27, 1881) the notion of a "race-memory," to use his own words, was still so new to him that he declared it "simply absurd" to suppose that it could "possibly be fraught with any benefit to science," and with him too it was Professor Hering who had anticipated me in the matter, not Mr. Spencer.

In his "Mental Evolution in Animals" (p. 296) he said that Canon Kingsley, writing in 1867, was the first to advance the theory that instinct is inherited memory; he could not have said this if Mr. Spencer had been understood to have been upholding this view for the last thirty years.

Mr. A. R. Wallace reviewed "Life and Habit" in Nature (March 27, 1879), but he did not find the line I had taken a familiar one, as he surely must have done if it had followed easily by implication from Mr. Spencer's works. He called it "an ingenious and paradoxical explanation" which was evidently new to him. He concluded by saying that "it might yet afford a clue to some of the deepest mysteries of the organic world."

Professor Mivart, when he reviewed my books on Evolution in the American Catholic Quarterly Review (July 1881), said, "Mr Butler is not only perfectly logical and consistent in the startling consequences he deduces from his principles, but," &c. Professor Mivart could not have found my consequences startling if they had already been insisted upon for many years by one of the best-known writers of the day.

The reviewer of "Evolution Old and New" in the Saturday Review (March 31, 1879), of whom all I can venture to say is that he or she is a person whose name carries weight in matters connected with biology, though he (for brevity) was in the humour for seeing everything objectionable in me that could be seen, still saw no Mr. Spencer in me. He said—"Mr Butler's own particular contribution to the terminology of Evolution is the phrase two or three times repeated with some emphasis" (I repeated it not two or three times only, but whenever and wherever I could venture to do so without wearying the reader beyond endurance) "oneness of personality between parents and offspring." The writer proceeded to reprobate this in language upon which a Huxley could hardly improve, but as he declares himself unable to discover what it means, it may be presumed that the idea of continued personality between successive generations was new to him.

When Dr. Francis Darwin called on me a day or two before "Life and Habit" went to the press, he said the theory which had pleased him more than any he had seen for some time was one which referred all life to memory; {44a} he doubtless intended "which referred all the phenomena of heredity to memory." He then mentioned Professor Ray Lankester's article in Nature, of which I had not heard, but he said nothing about Mr. Spencer, and spoke of the idea as one which had been quite new to him.

The above names comprise (excluding Mr. Spencer himself) perhaps those of the best-known writers on evolution that can be mentioned as now before the public; it is curious that Mr Spencer should be the only one of them to see any substantial resemblance between the "Principles of Psychology" and Professor Hering's address and "Life and Habit."

I ought, perhaps, to say that Mr. Romanes, writing to the Athenaeum (March 8, 1884), took a different view of the value of the theory of inherited memory to the one he took in 1881.

In 1881 he said it was "simply absurd" to suppose it could "possibly be fraught with any benefit to science" or "reveal any truth of profound significance;" in 1884 he said of the same theory, that "it formed the backbone of all the previous literature upon instinct" by Darwin, Spencer, Lewes, Fiske, and Spalding, "not to mention their numerous followers, and is by all of them elaborately stated as clearly as any theory can be stated in words."

Few except Mr. Romanes will say this. I grant it ought to "have formed the backbone," &c., and ought "to have been elaborately stated," &c., but when I wrote "Life and Habit" neither Mr Romanes nor any one else understood it to have been even glanced at by more than a very few, and as for having been "elaborately stated," it had been stated by Professor Hering as elaborately as it could be stated within the limits of an address of only twenty-two pages, but with this exception it had never been stated at all. It is not too much to say that "Life and Habit," when it first came out, was considered so startling a paradox that people would not believe in my desire to be taken seriously, or at any rate were able to pretend that they thought I was not writing seriously.

Mr. Romanes knows this just as well as all must do who keep an eye on evolution; he himself, indeed, had said (Nature, January 27, 1881) that so long as I "aimed only at entertaining" my "readers by such works as 'Erewhon' and 'Life and Habit'" (as though these books were of kindred character) I was in my proper sphere. It would be doing too little credit to Mr. Romanes' intelligence to suppose him not to have known when he said this that "Life and Habit" was written as seriously as my subsequent books on evolution, but it suited him at the moment to join those who professed to consider it another book of paradoxes such as, I suppose, "Erewhon" had been, so he classed the two together. He could not have done this unless enough people thought, or said they thought, the books akin, to give colour to his doing so.

One alone of all my reviewers has, to my knowledge, brought Mr. Spencer against me. This was a writer in the St. James's Gazette (December 2, 1880). I challenged him in a letter which appeared (December 8, 1880), and said, "I would ask your reviewer to be kind enough to refer your readers to those passages of Mr. Spencer's "Principles of Psychology" which in any direct intelligible way refer the phenomena of instinct and heredity generally, to memory on the part of offspring of the action it bona fide took in the persons of its forefathers." The reviewer made no reply, and I concluded, as I have since found correctly, that he could not find the passages.

True, in his "Principles of Psychology" (vol. ii. p. 195) Mr. Spencer says that we have only to expand the doctrine that all intelligence is acquired through experience "so as to make it include with the experience of each individual the experiences of all ancestral individuals," &c. This is all very good, but it is much the same as saying, "We have only got to stand on our heads and we shall be able to do so and so." We did not see our way to standing on our heads, and Mr. Spencer did not help us; we had been accustomed, as I am afraid I must have said usque ad nauseam already, to lose sight of the physical connection existing between parents and offspring; we understood from the marriage service that husband and wife were in a sense one flesh, but not that parents and children were so also; and without this conception of the matter, which in its way is just as true as the more commonly received one, we could not extend the experience of parents to offspring. It was not in the bond or nexus of our ideas to consider experience as appertaining to more than a single individual in the common acceptance of the term; these two ideas were so closely bound together that wherever the one went the other went perforce. Here, indeed, in the very passage of Mr. Spencer's just referred to, the race is throughout regarded as "a series of individuals"—without an attempt to call attention to that other view, in virtue of which we are able to extend to many an idea we had been accustomed to confine to one.

In his chapter on Memory, Mr. Spencer certainly approaches the Heringian view. He says, "On the one hand, Instinct may be regarded as a kind of organised memory; on the other, Memory may be regarded as a kind of incipient instinct" ("Principles of Psychology," ed. 2, vol. i. p. 445). Here the ball has fallen into his hands, but if he had got firm hold of it he could not have written, "Instinct MAY BE regarded as A KIND OF, &c.;" to us there is neither "may be regarded as" nor "kind of" about it; we require, "Instinct is inherited memory," with an explanation making it intelligible how memory can come to be inherited at all. I do not like, again, calling memory "a kind of incipient instinct;" as Mr. Spencer puts them the words have a pleasant antithesis, but "instinct is inherited memory" covers all the ground, and to say that memory is inherited instinct is surplusage.

Nor does he stick to it long when he says that "instinct is a kind of organised memory," for two pages later he says that memory, to be memory at all, must be tolerably conscious or deliberate; he, therefore (vol. i. p. 447), denies that there can be such a thing as unconscious memory; but without this it is impossible for us to see instinct as the "kind of organised memory" which he has just been calling it, inasmuch as instinct is notably undeliberate and unreflecting.

A few pages farther on (vol. i. p. 452) he finds himself driven to unconscious memory after all, and says that "conscious memory passes into unconscious or organic memory." Having admitted unconscious memory, he declares (vol. i. p. 450) that "as fast as those connections among psychical states, which we form in memory, grow by constant repetition automatic—they CEASE TO BE PART OF MEMORY," or, in other words, he again denies that there can be an unconscious memory.

Mr. Spencer doubtless saw that he was involved in contradiction in terms, and having always understood that contradictions in terms were very dreadful things—which, of course, under some circumstances they are—thought it well so to express himself that his readers should be more likely to push on than dwell on what was before them at the moment. I should be the last to complain of him merely on the ground that he could not escape contradiction in terms: who can? When facts conflict, contradict one another, melt into one another as the colours of the spectrum so insensibly that none can say where one begins and the other ends, contradictions in terms become first fruits of thought and speech. They are the basis of intellectual consciousness, in the same way that a physical obstacle is the basis of physical sensation. No opposition, no sensation, applies as much to the psychical as to the physical kingdom, as soon as these two have got well above the horizon of our thoughts and can be seen as two. No contradiction, no consciousness; no cross, no crown; contradictions are the very small deadlocks without which there is no going; going is our sense of a succession of small impediments or deadlocks; it is a succession of cutting Gordian knots, which on a small scale please or pain as the case may be; on a larger, give an ecstasy of pleasure, or shock to the extreme of endurance; and on a still larger, kill whether they be on the right side or the wrong. Nature, as I said in "Life and Habit," hates that any principle should breed hermaphroditically, but will give to each an helpmeet for it which shall cross it and be the undoing of it; and in the undoing, do; and in the doing, undo, and so ad infinitum. Cross-fertilisation is just as necessary for continued fertility of ideas as for that of organic life, and the attempt to frown this or that down merely on the ground that it involves contradiction in terms, without at the same time showing that the contradiction is on a larger scale than healthy thought can stomach, argues either small sense or small sincerity on the part of those who make it. The contradictions employed by Mr. Spencer are objectionable, not on the ground of their being contradictions at all, but on the ground of their being blinked, and used unintelligently.

But though it is not possible for any one to get a clear conception of Mr. Spencer's meaning, we may say with more confidence what it was that he did not mean. He did not mean to make memory the keystone of his system; he has none of that sense of the unifying, binding force of memory which Professor Hering has so well expressed, nor does he show any signs of perceiving the far-reaching consequences that ensue if the phenomena of heredity are considered as phenomena of memory. Thus, when he is dealing with the phenomena of old age (vol. i. p. 538, ed. 2) he does not ascribe them to lapse and failure of memory, nor surmise the principle underlying longevity. He never mentions memory in connection with heredity without presently saying something which makes us involuntarily think of a man missing an easy catch at cricket; it is only rarely, however, that he connects the two at all. I have only been able to find the word "inherited" or any derivative of the verb "to inherit" in connection with memory once in all the 1300 long pages of the "Principles of Psychology." It occurs in vol ii. p. 200, 2d ed., where the words stand, "Memory, inherited or acquired." I submit that this was unintelligible when Mr. Spencer wrote it, for want of an explanation which he never gave; I submit, also, that he could not have left it unexplained, nor yet as an unrepeated expression not introduced till late in his work, if he had had any idea of its pregnancy.

At any rate, whether he intended to imply what he now implies that he intended to imply (for Mr. Spencer, like the late Mr. Darwin, is fond of qualifying phrases), I have shown that those most able and willing to understand him did not take him to mean what he now appears anxious to have it supposed that he meant. Surely, moreover, if he had meant it he would have spoken sooner, when he saw his meaning had been missed. I can, however, have no hesitation in saying that if I had known the "Principles of Psychology" earlier, as well as I know the work now, I should have used it largely.

It may be interesting, before we leave Mr. Spencer, to see whether he even now assigns to continued personality and memory the place assigned to it by Professor Hering and myself. I will therefore give the concluding words of the letter to the Athenaeum already referred to, in which he tells us to stand aside. He writes "I still hold that inheritance of functionally produced modifications is the chief factor throughout the higher stages of organic evolution, bodily as well as mental (see 'Principles of Biology,' i. 166), while I recognise the truth that throughout the lower stages survival of the fittest is the chief factor, and in the lowest the almost exclusive factor."

This is the same confused and confusing utterance which Mr. Spencer has been giving us any time this thirty years. According to him the fact that variations can be inherited and accumulated has less to do with the first development of organic life, than the fact that if a square organism happens to get into a square hole, it will live longer and more happily than a square organism which happens to get into a round one; he declares "the survival of the fittest"—and this is nothing but the fact that those who "fit" best into their surroundings will live longest and most comfortably—to have more to do with the development of the amoeba into, we will say, a mollusc than heredity itself. True, "inheritance of functionally produced modifications" is allowed to be the chief factor throughout the "higher stages of organic evolution," but it has very little to do in the lower; in these "the almost exclusive factor" is not heredity, or inheritance, but "survival of the fittest."

Of course we know that Mr. Spencer does not believe this; of course, also, all who are fairly well up in the history of the development theory will see why Mr. Spencer has attempted to draw this distinction between the "factors" of the development of the higher and lower forms of life; but no matter how or why Mr. Spencer has been led to say what he has, he has no business to have said it. What can we think of a writer who, after so many years of writing upon his subject, in a passage in which he should make his meaning doubly clear, inasmuch as he is claiming ground taken by other writers, declares that though hereditary use and disuse, or, to use his own words, "the inheritance of functionally produced modifications," is indeed very important in connection with the development of the higher forms of life, yet heredity itself has little or nothing to do with that of the lower? Variations, whether produced functionally or not, can only be perpetuated and accumulated because they can be inherited;—and this applies just as much to the lower as to the higher forms of life; the question which Professor Hering and I have tried to answer is, "How comes it that anything can be inherited at all? In virtue of what power is it that offspring can repeat and improve upon the performances of their parents?" Our answer was, "Because in a very valid sense, though not perhaps in the most usually understood, there is continued personality and an abiding memory between successive generations." How does Mr. Spencer's confession of faith touch this? If any meaning can be extracted from his words, he is no more supporting this view now than he was when he wrote the passages he has adduced to show that he was supporting it thirty years ago; but after all no coherent meaning can be got out of Mr. Spencer's letter—except, of course, that Professor Hering and myself are to stand aside. I have abundantly shown that I am very ready to do this in favour of Professor Hering, but see no reason for admitting Mr. Spencer's claim to have been among the forestallers of "Life and Habit."

CHAPTER IV {52a}—Mr. Romanes' "Mental Evolution in Animals"

Without raising the unprofitable question how Mr. Romanes, in spite of the indifference with which he treated the theory of Inherited Memory in 1881, came, in 1883, to be sufficiently imbued with a sense of its importance, I still cannot afford to dispense with the weight of his authority, and in this chapter will show how closely he not infrequently approaches the Heringian position.

Thus, he says that the analogies between the memory with which we are familiar in daily life and hereditary memory "are so numerous and precise" as to justify us in considering them to be of essentially the same kind. {52b}

Again, he says that although the memory of milk shown by new-born infants is "at all events in large part hereditary, it is none the less memory" of a certain kind. {52c}

Two lines lower down he writes of "hereditary memory or instinct," thereby implying that instinct is "hereditary memory." "It makes no essential difference," he says, "whether the past sensation was actually experienced by the individual itself, or bequeathed it, so to speak, by its ancestors. {52d} For it makes no essential difference whether the nervous changes . . . were occasioned during the life-time of the individual or during that of the species, and afterwards impressed by heredity on the individual."

Lower down on the same page he writes:-

"As showing how close is the connection between hereditary memory and instinct," &c.

And on the following page:-

"And this shows how closely the phenomena of hereditary memory are related to those of individual memory: at this stage . . . it is practically impossible to disentangle the effects of hereditary memory from those of the individual."


"Another point which we have here to consider is the part which heredity has played in forming the perceptive faculty of the individual prior to its own experience. We have already seen that heredity plays an important part in forming memory of ancestral experiences, and thus it is that many animals come into the world with their power of perception already largely developed. The wealth of ready-formed information, and therefore of ready-made powers of perception, with which many newly-born or newly-hatched animals are provided, is so great and so precise that it scarcely requires to be supplemented by the subsequent experience of the individual." {53a}


"Instincts probably owe their origin and development to one or other of the two principles.

"I. The first mode of origin consists in natural selection or survival of the fittest, continuously preserving actions, &c. &c.

"II. The second mode of origin is as follows:- By the effects of habit in successive generations, actions which were originally intelligent become as it were stereotyped into permanent instincts. Just as in the lifetime of the individual adjustive actions which were originally intelligent may by frequent repetition become automatic, so in the lifetime of species actions originally intelligent may by frequent repetition and heredity so write their effects on the nervous system that the latter is prepared, even before individual experience, to perform adjustive actions mechanically which in previous generations were performed intelligently. This mode of origin of instincts has been appropriately called (by Lewes—see "Problems of Life and Mind" {54a}) the 'lapsing of intelligence.'" {54b}

I may say in passing that in spite of the great stress laid by Mr. Romanes both in his "Mental Evolution in Animals" and in his letters to the Athenaeum in March 1884, on Natural Selection as an originator and developer of instinct, he very soon afterwards let the Natural Selection part of the story go as completely without saying as I do myself, or as Mr. Darwin did during the later years of his life. Writing to Nature, April 10, 1884, he said: "To deny THAT EXPERIENCE IN THE COURSE OF SUCCESSIVE GENERATIONS IS THE SOURCE OF INSTINCT, is not to meet by way of argument the enormous mass of evidence which goes to prove THAT THIS IS THE CASE." Here, then, instinct is referred, without reservation, to "experience in successive generations," and this is nonsense unless explained as Professor Hering and I explain it. Mr. Romanes' words, in fact, amount to an unqualified acceptance of the chapter "Instinct as Inherited Memory" given in "Life and Habit," of which Mr. Romanes in March 1884 wrote in terms which it is not necessary to repeat.

Later on:-

"That 'practice makes perfect' is a matter, as I have previously said, of daily observation. Whether we regard a juggler, a pianist, or a billiard-player, a child learning his lesson or an actor his part by frequently repeating it, or a thousand other illustrations of the same process, we see at once that there is truth in the cynical definition of a man as a 'bundle of habits.' And the same, of course, is true of animals." {55a}

From this Mr. Romanes goes on to show "that automatic actions and conscious habits may be inherited," {55b} and in the course of doing this contends that "instincts may be lost by disuse, and conversely that they may be acquired as instincts by the hereditary transmission of ancestral experience."

On another page Mr. Romanes says:-

"Let us now turn to the second of these two assumptions, viz., that some at least among migratory birds must possess, by inheritance alone, a very precise knowledge of the particular direction to be pursued. It is without question an astonishing fact that a young cuckoo should be prompted to leave its foster parents at a particular season of the year, and without any guide to show the course previously taken by its own parents, but this is a fact which must be met by any theory of instinct which aims at being complete. Now upon our own theory it can only be met by taking it to be due to inherited memory."

A little lower Mr. Romanes says: "Of what kind, then, is the inherited memory on which the young cuckoo (if not also other migratory birds) depends? We can only answer, of the same kind, whatever this may be, as that upon which the old bird depends." {55c}

I have given above most of the more marked passages which I have been able to find in Mr. Romanes' book which attribute instinct to memory, and which admit that there is no fundamental difference between the kind of memory with which we are all familiar and hereditary memory as transmitted from one generation to another.

But throughout his work there are passages which suggest, though less obviously, the same inference.

The passages I have quoted show that Mr. Romanes is upholding the same opinions as Professor Hering's and my own, but their effect and tendency is more plain here than in Mr Romanes' own book, where they are overlaid by nearly 400 long pages of matter which is not always easy of comprehension.

Moreover, at the same time that I claim the weight of Mr. Romanes' authority, I am bound to admit that I do not find his support satisfactory. The late Mr. Darwin himself—whose mantle seems to have fallen more especially and particularly on Mr. Romanes—could not contradict himself more hopelessly than Mr. Romanes often does. Indeed in one of the very passages I have quoted in order to show that Mr. Romanes accepts the phenomena of heredity as phenomena of memory, he speaks of "heredity as playing an important part IN FORMING MEMORY of ancestral experiences;" so that, whereas I want him to say that the phenomena of heredity are due to memory, he will have it that the memory is due to the heredity, which seems to me absurd.

Over and over again Mr. Romanes insists that it is heredity which does this or that. Thus it is "HEREDITY WITH NATURAL SELECTION WHICH ADAPT the anatomical plan of the ganglia." {56a} It is heredity which impresses nervous changes on the individual. {56b} "In the lifetime of species actions originally intelligent may by frequent repetition and heredity," &c.; {56c} but he nowhere tells us what heredity is any more than Messrs. Herbert Spencer, Darwin, and Lewes have done. This, however, is exactly what Professor Hering, whom I have unwittingly followed, does. He resolves all phenomena of heredity, whether in respect of body or mind, into phenomena of memory. He says in effect, "A man grows his body as he does, and a bird makes her nest as she does, because both man and bird remember having grown body and made nest as they now do, or very nearly so, on innumerable past occasions." He thus, as I have said on an earlier page, reduces life from an equation of say 100 unknown quantities to one of 99 only by showing that heredity and memory, two of the original 100 unknown quantities, are in reality part of one and the same thing.

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