Graham's Magazine, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, September 1850 online

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sagacity rises so high above the ordinary level of brutes as to require
the service of a proboscis, which is nearly equal in capabilities of use
to the human hand. Furnished with a sort of finger at the extremity of
this excellent instrument of prehension, he can draw a cork, lift a
shilling piece from the ground, or separate one blade of grass from a
number with dexterity and despatch. In this his eminence of intellect is
indicated, for external instruments are in accurate relation to internal
faculties, and considerable handicraft bespeaks a proportionately high
range of mental power. Now observe how his organization differs from
that of other quadrupeds, and approaches, against all the analogies of
classification, toward the arrangements of the human form. He has the
rudiments of five toes on each foot, shown externally by five toe-nails.
This is one toe more than belongs to any beast below the monkey tribe.
He has a kneepan on the hind leg, and the flexure of the limb is
backward, like the human, and unlike other quadrupeds. The breast of the
female is removed from its usual position upon the pelvis, to the chest
or breast bone, as in the more elevated races; and all the organs of
reproductive life correspond to those of the higher orders. All this is
unexplained by any mechanical necessity or advantage, and is so far, in
violation of the analogies of that lower constitution by which he is
linked to the order of four footed animals. Of his internal organization
I have no means of information within reach, but I am satisfied _a
priori_ that the human configuration and position of ports are
approximated wherever the quadruped form and attitude leaves it
possible. Comparative anatomists make great account of all instances of
mechanical accommodations which they meet with, but they are in nothing
so remarkable or so conspicuous as those which we are now noticing. They
have the advantage of being understood, and are therefore much insisted
upon; but the facts which we have given and hinted at are at once so
striking and so conclusive, as to leave no doubt and no necessity for
further proof of the preeminence of the law which they indicate.

II. In looking over the world of animal and vegetable forms there is
nothing more remarkable than the continual sacrifice of strength to
beauty, and of quantity or bulk to symmetry and shapeliness. Use seems
postponed to appearance, and order, attitude and elegance take rank of
quantity in the forms of things. I suppose that the law under
consideration determines these conditions of structure; and that the
beauty to which the sacrifice is credited, as an end and object, is only
an incident; and, that the pleasure derived arises upon the felt
correspondence of such forms with our faculties, innately adjusted to
the harmonies of this universal law—in other words—that there is an
intrinsic force of essence which compels organization, limits its
dimensions, and determines its figure, and so, all substances take shape
and volume from a law higher and more general than individual use and
efficiency. Beauty, being but the name for harmony between faculty and
object, may well serve as a rule of criticism, but the efficient cause
which determines form lies deeper; it lies, doubtless, in the necessary
relation of organization and essence—structure and use—appearance and
office—making one the correspondent and exponent of the other in the
innermost philosophy of signs.

The abrogation of a rule, and departure from an established method of
conformation, belonging to a whole class of natural beings, in order to
attain the forms and order of arrangement of another class into whose
higher style of constitution the lower has been somewhat advanced, as in
the case of the elephant; and, the clear evidence that mechanical
perfection is everywhere in the human mechanism subordinated to a law of
configuration, which has respect to another standard and a higher
necessity—each, in its own way, demonstrates that form is not only a
necessity of mechanics, but is still more eminently an essential
condition of all substance. Facts from these sources hold a sort of
raking position in the array of our argument, but the multitude and
variety of examples which muster regularly under the rule are, of
themselves, every way adequate to maintain it.

III. Our proposition (to vary the statement of it) is, that form, or
figure, and, doubtless, dimension also, have a fixed relation to the
special qualities and characters of beings and things, and that it is
not indifferent in the grand economy of creation whether they be put
into their present shapes or into some other; but, on the contrary, the
whole matter of configuration and dimension is determined by laws which
arise out of the nature of things.

In generals the evidence is clear, and it must, therefore, be true in
the minutest particulars; for the law of aggregates is the law of
individuals—the mass and the atom have like essential conditions. It
is, indeed, difficult to trace facts into the inmost nature of things,
and quite impossible to penetrate by observation as deep as principles
lead by the process of mental investigation—so much more limited in the
discovery of truth, even the truth of physics, are the senses than the
reasoning faculties. We need, however, but open our eyes to see that the
diversities of form among all created things are, at least, as great as
their differences of character and use; and whether there be a
determinate relation of appearance to constitution or not, there is at
least an unlikeness of configuration or dimension, or of both, wherever
there is unlikeness of quality; and that this difference of form thus
commensurate with difference of constitution, is not merely a matter of
arbitrary distinctiveness among the multifarious objects of creation, as
names or marks are sometimes attached to things for certainty of
reference and recognition, appears from such facts and considerations as

1. All mineral substances in their fixed, that is, in their crystaline
form, are angular with flat sides and straight edges. This is not only a
general rule and an approximate statement, but exactly accurate and
universal; for in the few instances of crystals occurring with convex or
curvilinear faces, such as the diamond, it is known that their primary
forms have plane or flat faces and a parallel cleavage—making the rule
good against accidental influences and superficial appearances.

Here then we have a mode of configuration appropriate to and distinctive
of one whole kingdom of nature.

2. In vegetables we have a different figure and characteristic
conformation. Their trunks, stems, roots and branches are nearly
cylindrical, and uniformly so, in all individuals clearly and completely
within the class.

Soon as we enter the precincts of life curvature of lines and convexity
of surface begin to mark the higher styles of existence, the law being
that nothing which lives and grows by the reception and assimilation of
food is angular, rectilinear or included within plane surfaces. Inert
bodies take straight, but life assumes curve lines.

3. In animal forms the curve or life line is present of necessity, but
it undergoes such modification and departure from that which marks
vegetable existence as our law demands. We no longer have almost
cylindrical simplicity of shape as the sign of character and kind, but,
retaining curvity, which is common to vitality of all modes, we find the
cylinder shaped or tapered toward the conical, with continually
increasing approach to a higher style of configuration as we ascend
toward a higher character of function.

In the human body all that belongs to the whole inferior creation is
represented and reproduced, for man is logically a microcosm, and in his
body we find the various orders of natural beings marked by their
appropriate modes of construction and configuration—from a hair to a
heart, the multifarious parts bring with them the forms native to their
respective varieties of being.

The bones have in them the material of the mineral kingdom, and they
have conformity of figure. In the short, square bones of the wrist, in
the teeth, and several other instances, the flatness, straightness and
angularity proper to crystalized matter, marks its presence as an
element of the structure.

The correspondence of the vascular system with the forms proper to
vegetation, is most striking. A good drawing of the blood vessels is a
complete picture of a tree. Now, animals and vegetables differ widely in
their manner of taking in food, but they are alike in the method and end
of the distribution of the nutritious fluids, and between them the
resemblance of form obtains only in this, as our law requires. There is
nothing in trees, shrubs or grasses, that has any outline likeness to
the esophagus, stomach or intestinal tube; nothing in them has any
resemblance of office, and nothing, therefore, is formed upon their
pattern. The roots of trees, which are the avenues of their principal
aliment, are merely absorbing and circulating instruments—a sort of
counterpart branches in function—and they have, therefore, what
scientific people call the arborescent arrangement wherever they find

If it is answered here that a hydraulic necessity determines the general
form of circulating vessels, and that certain immediate mechanical
advantages belong to the cylindrical over the square or polygonal shape
of tube, our point is not affected. We are showing, now, that the
expected conformity never fails. It is essential to our position that
mechanical requirements shall not over-rule the general law. The
instance given is in accordance, and a presumption rises that even
mechanical conformation itself is covered and accommodated by the great
principle which we are illustrating. It is enough for us, however, that
no facts contradict, though it be doubted whether all the instances
cited afford us the expected support.

But, leaving the functions and organs, which belong to all living and
growing beings in common, and entering the province of animal life and
animal law proper, we everywhere observe a significant departure from
the angular and cylindrical forms of the mineral and vegetable kingdoms,
and an approach, in proportion to the rank and value of the organ and
its use, toward an ideal or model, which is neither conical nor
heart-shaped, exactly, but such a modification of them as carries the
standard figure farthest from that uniformity of curve which marks a
globe, from the parallelism of fibre which belongs to the cylinder, and
from the flatness of base and sharpness of apex which bound the cone.

The limbs that take their shape from the muscles of locomotion, and the
internal parts concerned in those high vital offices, of which minerals
and vegetables are wholly destitute, are examples and proof of the
configuration proper to the animal kingdom. The thigh, leg, arm,
fore-arm, finger, the neck and shoulders, the chest, and the abdomen
meeting it and resting on the pelvic bones, are felt to be beautiful or
true to the standard form as they taper or conform to this intuitive

The glands are all larger at one end than the other, and those that have
the highest uses are most conspicuously so, and have the best defined
and most elegant contour. The descending grade of figure and function is
marked by tendency to roundness and flatness. In the uses, actions and
positions of these organs, there is nothing mechanical to determine
their figure. The human stomach is remarkable for an elegance of form
and conformity to the ideal or pattern configuration, to a degree that
seems to have no other cause, and, therefore, well supports the doctrine
that the importance of its office confers such excellence of shape. The
facts of comparative anatomy cannot be introduced with convenience, but
they are believed to be in the happiest agreement and strongest

The heart, lungs and brain, are eminent instances of the principle. They
hold a very high rank in the organization, and, while their automatic
relations, uses and actions are _toto cœlo_ dissimilar, their agreement
with each other in general style of configuration, and their common
tendency toward the standard intimated, is most remarkable.

Their near equality of rank and use, as measured by the significance of
form, over-rides all mechanical difference in their mode of working. The
heart is, in office, a forcing pump or engine of the circulation. The
lungs have no motion of their own, and the porosity or cellular
formation of the sponge seems to be the only quality of texture that
they require for their duty, which is classed as a process of vital
chemistry. The brain differs, again, into a distinct category of
function, which accepts no classification, but bears some resemblance to
electrical action. Yet, differing thus by all the unlikeness that there
is between mechanical, chemical and electro-vital modes of action, they
evidently derive their very considerable resemblance of figure from
their nearly equal elevation and dignity of service in the frame. This
near neighborhood of use and rank allows, however, room enough for their
individual differences and its marks. The heart is lowest of the three
in rank, and nearest the regularly conical form. The lungs, as their
shape is indicated by the cavity which they occupy, are more delicately
tapered at their apex, and more oblique and variously incurvated at
their base. And the brain, whether viewed in four compartments, or two,
or entire, (it admits naturally of such division,) answers still nearer
to the highest style and form of the life pattern; and with the due
degree of resemblance, or allusion to it, in its several parts,
according to their probable value; for the hemispheres are shaped much
more conformably to the ideal than the cerebellum or the cerebral
apparatus at the base of the brain, where the office begins to change
from that of generating the nervous power to the lower service of merely
conducting it out to the dependencies.

IV. Hitherto we have looked for proof and illustration only to well
marked and clearly defined examples of the orders and kinds of things
examined. But the borders of kingdoms and classes, the individuals which
make the transitions, and the elements and qualities common to several
provinces which link kind to kind and rank to rank, confess the same
law, and even more nicely illustrate where, to superficial view, they
seem to contradict it.

Every species of beings in the creation is a reproduction, with
modifications and additions, but a real reproduction, in effect, of all
that is below it in the scale; so that the simplest and the lowest
continues and reappears in all, through all variety of advancement, up
to the most complex and the highest; in some sense, as decimals include
the constituent units, and hundreds include the tens, and other
multiples of these embrace them again, until the perfect number is
reached, if there be any such bound to either numerals or natures.

1. The rectilinear and parallel arrangement of parts proper to
crystalization, which is the lowest plastic power of nature known to us,
continues, proximately, in the stems and branches of vegetables. This
will accord with our theory, if ascribed to the abundant mineral
elements present in the woody fibre, and to its insensibility and
enduring nature, as shown by its integral preservation for ages after
death, to a degree that rivals the rocks themselves. But the stems of
trees are not exactly cylindrical and their fibres are not quite
parallel; for there is something of life in them that refuses the
arrangement of dead matter. From root to top they taper, but so
gradually that it is only decidedly seen at considerable distances or in
the whole length.

2. A section of a timber tree shows a regular concentric arrangement of
rings—the successive deposits of sequent years—and its cleavage proves
that it has also a radiated disposition of fibres. In the flat bones of
the head this same arrangement of parts obtains. The cartilaginous base
of bone has a life of perhaps equal rank with that of the vegetable
structure; it has its insensibility, elasticity, and durability at
least, with scarcely any higher qualities; and the osseous deposit is
thrown into figure and order similar to the ligneous.

3. The fruits, kernels, and seeds of plants, being the highest results
of the vegetable grade of living action, and so bordering upon the
sphere of animal existence, and even intruding into it, begin to take
its proper forms, and they are spheroidal, oblate spheroids, conical
exactly, ovoid, and even closely touch upon the heart-shaped; yet
without danger of confusion with the forms distinctive of the higher
style of life. This comparison, it must be remarked also, is between the
fruits of one kind and the organic structures of the other, and not of
organ with organ, which in different kinds shows the greatest diversity,
but of spheres of existence immediately contiguous, and therefore
closely resembling each other.

V. Of these forms the globular is probably the very lowest; and,
accordingly, of it we have no perfect instance in the animal body, and
no near approach to it, except the eye-ball, where mechanical law
compels a rotundity, that muscle, fat, and skin seem employed to hide as
well as move and guard, and, in the round heads of bones, where the ball
and socket-joint is required for rotatory motion. But in both these
cases the offices which the roundness serves are mechanical, and so, not
exceptions to our rule. The perfectly spherical must rank as a low order
of form, because it results from the simplest kind of force, mere
physical attraction being adequate to its production, without any
inherent modifying power or tendency in the subject. It is, accordingly,
very repugnant to taste in the human structure; as, for instance,
rotundity of body, or a bullet-head. Nothing of that regularity of curve
which returns into itself, and might be produced upon a turning lathe,
and no continuity of straight lines within the capacity of square and
jack-plane, are tolerable in a human feature. Lips, slit with the
straightness of a button-hole, or conical precision, or roly-poly
globularity, would be equally offensive in the configuration of any
feature of the face or general form. Cheek, chin, nose, brow, or bosom,
put up into such rotundity and uniformity of line and surface, have that
mean and insignificant ugliness that nothing can relieve. In raggedest
irregularity there is place and space for the light and shade of thought
and feeling, but there is no trace or hint of this nobler life in the
booby cushiony style of face and figure. Nose and brows, with almost any
breadth of angle; and chin, with any variety of line and surface, are
better, just as crystalization, flat and straight and sharp as it is,
nevertheless, seems to have some share in its own make and meaning,
which rolls and balls cannot lay any claim to.

VI. But the law under consideration cannot be restrained to shape only.
Dimension is also a result of intrinsic qualities, and must in some way
and to some extent, indicate the character to which it corresponds.
Druggists are so well aware of, and so much concerned with the
difference in the size of the drops of different fluids, that they have
constructed a table of equivalents, made necessary by the fact. Thus a
fluid drachm of distilled water contains forty-five drops, of sulphuric
ether one hundred and fifty, of sulphuric acid ninety, and of Teneriffe
wine seventy-eight. So that the law is absolutely universal, however
varied in expression, and a specific character in fluids and other parts
of the inanimate world declares itself as decidedly in bulk or volume,
as difference of constitution is shown by variety of figure in the
living and sentient creation.

Among the crystals termed _isomorphous_ by chemists, the dominant
ingredient which is common to them all, controls the form, but
difference of size answers sufficiently to the partial unlikeness of the
other less active elements; and so in the instances of cubes and
octahedrons formed of dissimilar minerals where difference of
constitution is indicated by varied dimensions only.

VII. Crystal and crystal, and, drop and drop, are alike within the
limits of the species, or their unlikeness, if there be any, is not
appreciable to our senses, and scarcely conceivable though not
absolutely impossible to thought; but we know certainly that clear
individuality of character is everywhere pursued and marked by
peculiarity of form and size throughout the entire universe.

While among minerals and fluids dissimilarity occurs obviously only
between species, among plants it begins to be conspicuous between
individuals, growing more and more so as observation ascends in the
vegetable kingdom. Two stalks of grass may resemble each other as much
as two crystals of the same salt, but timber trees grow more unlike, and
fruit trees differ enough to make their identification comparatively
easy. But it is in the animal kingdom, eminently, and with increasing
distinctness as the rank rises, that individuals become distinguishable
from each other; for it is here that diversity of character gets
opportunity, from complexity of nature, freedom of generating laws, and
varied influence of circumstances, to impress dissimilarity deepest and
clearest. Crystals undergo no modification of state but instant
formation and the sudden violence which destroys them. Vegetables pass
through the changes of germination and growth, and feel the difference
of soil, and winds, and temperature, and to the limits of these
influences, confess them in color, size, and shape; but animals, endowed
with acuteness of sense, enjoying locomotion, and related to all the
world around them—living in all surrounding nature, and susceptible of
all its influences—their individual differences know no limits, and
they are universally unlike in appearance as in circumstances, training
and character.

Even in the lower orders there is ample proof of this. The mother bird
and beast know their own young; the shepherd and the shepherd’s dog know
every one of their own flock from every other on all the hills and
plains; and among the millions of men that people the earth, a quick eye
detects a perfectly defined difference as broad as the peculiarity of
character which underlies it.

_Narrowness of relations and Simplicity of function are as
narrowly restrained in range of conformation; Complexity makes
proportionate room for difference; and Variety is the result,
the sign, and the measure of Liberty._

Detailed illustrations of the law would interest in proportion to the
range of the investigation; and gratification and delight would keep
pace with the deepening conviction of its universality; but the limits
of an essay restrain the discussion to mere hints and suggestions, and
general statements of principles which reflection must unfold into
formal demonstration for every one in his own department of observation.

Some inaccuracies of statement have been indulged to avoid the
complexity which greater precision would have induced. Broad, frank
thinking will easily bring up this looseness of language to the required
closeness of thought as the advancing and deepening inquiry demands.
Moreover, it may be difficult or impossible to meet every fact that
presents itself with an instant correspondence in the alleged law; but
such things cannot be avoided until people learn how to learn, and cease
to meet novel propositions with a piddling criticism, or a wrangling
spirit of controversy. Looking largely and deeply into facts in a
hundred departments of observation will show the rule clear in the focal
light of their concurrent proofs, or, looking out from the central
position of _a priori_ reasoning, it will be seen in every direction to
be a _necessary_ truth.

It would be curious, and more than curious, to trace ascent of form up
through ascertained gradation of quality in minerals, plants, fruits,
and animal structures; and it would be as curious to apply a criticism
derived from this doctrine to the purpose of fixing the rank and
relations of all natural beings—in other words, to construct a science
of taste and beauty, and, striking still deeper, a science of universal
physiognomy, useful at once as a law of classification, and as an
instrument of discovery. The scale would range most probably from the

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Online LibraryVariousGraham's Magazine, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, September 1850 → online text (page 9 of 16)