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THE PROBLEM
OF THE SOUL



EDMOND HOLMES




Portions of a paper on " The Real Basis of Democracy "
which appeared in the August (1917) number of the
Nineteenth Century and After are included in this book
by the kind permission of the Editor.



THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUL



2?y the same Author

WHAT IS AND WHAT MIGHT BE
IN DEFENCE OF WHAT MIGHT BE
THE TRAGEDY OF EDUCATION
THE NEMESIS OF DOCILITY
THE CREED OF CHRIST
THE CREED OF BUDDHA
THE SILENCE OF LOVE
THE CREED OF MY HEART
ETC.



THE PROBLEM OF
THE SOUL

A TRACT FOR TEACHERS



Being an Attempt to determine what Limits, if any,
there are to the Transforming Influence of Education



BY

EDMOND HOLMES



LONDON

CONSTABLE AND COMPANY LTD



First published
1917



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

PAGE

THE LAW OF GROWTH . 11



CHAPTER II

HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT : A. THE
PHYSICAL PLANE .



CHAPTER III

HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT continued :
B. THE HIGHER PLANES . . .31



CHAPTER IV
THE THEORY OF STRAIN . . .63

9



10 CONTENTS



CHAPTER V

PAGE

THE ANCESTRY OF THE SOUL . 83



CHAPTER VI
THE RANGE or THE SOUL 106



THE

PROBLEM OF THE SOUL

CHAPTER I

THE LAW OF GROWTH

FOR all who educate and for all who are interested
in education there is one question which is of
paramount importance : What can education
do for him who is to be educated ? What changes
can it work in him ? What ends can it set before
itself, and him ? To this question there is an
obvious answer. Education can do one thing,
if no other one thing which includes all other
things ; it can further or hinder growth. So
I, for one, instinctively assume. So I have
always instinctively assumed ever since I began
to think seriously about education. This as-
sumption has another behind it namely, that
human nature comes under the law of growth.
What warrant is there for these assumptions ?
Let us begin with the latter. Does human nature,
not on its physical side only, but in all its length
11



12 THE PKOBLEM OF THE SOUL



and breadth and depth, come under the great
law which dominates the worlds of plant and
animal life ? I have always assumed, and I
must continue to assume, that it does. I cannot
by any effort of thought think otherwise. The
question is, I believe, debated ; but I cannot take
part in the debate. So far as I am concerned,
the question does not exist. Wherever there is
life there is growth (or the opposite of growth
decay) ; and I find it impossible I can use no
weaker word to separate in my thought the
idea of life from that of growth. In the years
of childhood and adolescence we see the gradual
unfolding, not of physical powers and tendencies
only, but also of those which are mental, moral,
aesthetic, spiritual. If this process of unfolding
is not to be called growth, I do not know what
is the right name for it ; nor do I know what
growth means.

But, because I assume that human life in its
totality comes under the law of growth, I am
not therefore bound to assume that it comes under
the law or laws of physical growth. When Pro-
fessor Bateson says that " Shakespeare once
existed as a speck of protoplasm not so big as a
pin's head," he begs, as we shall presently see,
a very large question. If we are to predicate
growth of the whole human being, we must use
the word in its widest and most comprehensive
sense, we must have in mind only what is really



THE LAW OF GROWTH 13

essential in the process of growth. Now what
is essential in the process of growth is the realiza-
tion of potentiality, the transformation of a
complex of possibilities into a fully developed
organism, of what can be into what is. Such a
transformation would not be possible if the
organism, the ultimate product of growth, how-
ever large and complex it might be, were not
present, in promise and potency, in the seed from
which it grows. Each seed is fraught with its
own destiny. It will grow, if it is allowed to
grow, to what is in large measure a predeter-
mined form. I mean by this that its expansive
activities will move in a particular channel and
arrive, in the fulness of time if all goes well
at a particular goal. The channel may not be
accurately mapped out. The goal may be a
matter for conjecture rather than for positive
knowledge. But that the expanding life has a
channel and a goal of its own is certain. The
oak-tree is in the acorn, not in the beechnut ; the
banyan-tree,

" With all its thousand downward-dropping sterna
Waiting to fall from all its thousand boughs,
And all its lakhs and lakhs of lustrous leaves
Waiting to push to sunlight,"

is in the minute seed of the banyan fruit, which,
though scarcely distinguishable from the seed
of the ordinary fig, is fraught with an entirely
different destiny. If, then, human nature in its



14 THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUL

totality comes under the law of growth, the
question at once arises : What are the possibilities
of human development ? What is it that is to
the human embryo what the oak-tree is to the
acorn or the banyan-tree to the seed of the
banyan fruit ?

Before we attempt to answer this question we
shall do well to ask ourselves what is to be our
starting-point in this enterprise. In other words,
how far back are we to go in quest of the human
embryo ? By human embryo I mean the em-
bryo of the whole human being, not of the human
body only. The acorn may be regarded as the
embryo of the oak-tree. But the acorn was once
a mere speck on an oak twig, and had to go
through a long process of growth before it was
able to detach itself from the parent tree and
start on an independent course of growth. This
analogy, though we must not overwork it, is at
least suggestive. It is as a new-born baby that
the embryo of the human being starts on an
independent course of growth. Let us, then,
make the new-born baby our starting-point.
If we go further back, if we go back to Professor
Bateson's " speck of protoplasm," we shall make
the grave mistake of resolving psychology into
biology just when we are attempting the solution
of the greatest of all psychological problems.

Let us now return to my initial assumption.
If human nature in its totality comes under the



THE LAW OF GROWTH 15

law of growth, it is not an assumption but a
legitimate conclusion that the function of educa-
tion is to foster growth. But what does this
mean ? What specific duties are we to assign
to the educator ? What is the scope of her
work ? (I use the feminine pronoun because nine
educators out of ten are women.) What is its
ideal goal ? The work of the educator begins
in the nursery, and is carried on through the
years of childhood and adolescence into the
adult life of the pupil. To foster physical growth
is part of her duty. Here she comes into line
with the planter, the farmer, and the gardener,
from whom she has much to learn. The trainer
of plant and animal life gives his charges as
favourable an environment as possible, and
leaves the rest to their own activities. But
their activities, owing to the operation of the
law of heredity, are strictly predetermined, and
the task of providing a favourable environment
is therefore comparatively simple. The plant
and the animal are in the grip of physical neces-
sity. Their destiny has been marked out for
them by their breeding. They may fall far
short of it. But they cannot transcend it.

It is the same, though possibly not to the
same extent, with the body of man. But what
of the higher planes of his being ? There he feels
and the feeling grows stronger as the dawning
light of consciousness grows fuller and clearer



16 THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUL

that it is open to him to help or hinder the process
of his own growth. We cannot get behind this
feeling of freedom. A profound philosophy of
life is implicit in it. May we trust it ? If we
may and we may because we must the scope
of education will expand indefinitely and the
opportunities and responsibilities of the educator
will know no limits. For if the growth of the
child on the higher planes of his being is not
predetermined (in the narrower sense of that
word), if it is not limited, as is his bodily growth,
by the stress of physical heredity, then the
problem of giving him a favourable environment
becomes, owing to our ignorance of his possi-
bilities, infinitely complex and far-reaching ;
and though the educator must do what the grower
and breeder always do, and she too seldom does
allow her pupil to do the business of growfrig
for himself she must also do far more than that ;
she must help him to ally himself, as it were, with
his own expansive tendencies, to throw his will-
power into the work of furthering, not hindering,
the process of his growth. Above all, she must
help him to discover his latent resources, to
develop his latent potentialities, to realize his
unknown and mysterious self.

The hypothesis of human freedom commits her
to this great adventure. But we must not,
thus early, take so much on her behalf for granted.
So, instead of assuming at the outset that ideally



THE LAW OP GROWTH 17

there are no limits to the transforming influence
of education, let us ask what limits, if any, there
are. This, I repeat, is the question of questions
for all who educate and for all who are interested
in education. To ask the question is equivalent
to asking whether man, though subject to the
law of growth, is exempt from the necessity which
seems to bind all other living things of growing
to a predetermined form ; and if so, in what sense
he is exempt, and to what extent.



2



CHAPTER II

HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT

A. THE PHYSICAL PLANE l

I HAVE now raised the vexed question of heredity
and environment, and I must try to think it out.
Growth is, in its essence, the realization of
potentiality. As far as our experience goes,
potentiality is always the product of generation,
not of creation an inheritance, not a gift ; and
the realization of potentiality is always effected
through reaction to environment. It follows
that there are two chief factors in growth
heredity, which gives us realizable potentiality,

1 When I speak of the physical plane I am thinking of the
physical side of physique and of that only. I do not forget
that physique and spirituality (to use a comprehensive term),
however much we may try to separate them in thought, will
insist on overlapping and even interpenetrating one another
that expression, for example, is a quasi- spiritual feature or
aspect of the outer man, just as temperament, for example, is
a quasi-physical feature or aspect of the inner man. But,
having found it convenient, for the better ordering of my
thoughts, to separate the physical from the higher planes, I
must as far as possible exclude from the former whatever is
not purely physical.

18



HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT 19

and environment, which makes the realization
of potentiality possible. Why, then, is heredity
so often opposed to environment ? Why is
there a controversy as to the parts which environ-
ment and heredity, " nature " and "nurture,"
respectively play in human life ? Why does
Professor Bateson tell us that " the long-standing
controversy as to the relative importance of
nature and nurture ... is drawing to an end,
and of the overwhelming greater significance of
nature there is no longer any possibility of
doubt " ? Why does Dr. Chalmers Mitchell say,
on the contrary, that " with regard to mental,
moral, and emotional qualities, which are of
preponderating importance in man . . . nurture
is incomparably more important than nature " ?
How has this question arisen, and what is its
real significance ? It has been said and with
some show of reason that heredity and environ-
ment are the warp and woof of the tissue of life.
But if these are the parts that they respectively
play, there is no controversy between them.
And perhaps if we could state correctly the
question which, unknown to ourselves, we are
trying to answer, we should find that our opposi-
tion of heredity to environment, of " nature "
to " nurture," was based on a misconception,
and that the question, as it was usually stated,
was unreal. Meanwhile, however, we must face
the fact that many practical problems perplex



20 THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUL

us which raise, or seem to raise, the question to
which Professor Bateson and Dr. Chalmers Mit-
chell have given diametrically opposite answers.
For example : the child of criminal parents,
reared in a criminal slum, becomes a criminal.
Is his criminality " in his blood," or is it the
result of his unfortunate environment ? Or, if
both causes have been at work, which has been
the predominant influence ? Is the servility
of the German people in the blood of the German
race (if there is such a thing), or is it due to a
tradition which has had an historical origin and
which now permeates the environing atmosphere
into which every German is born ? Is the appar-
ent inferiority of the " lower orders " to the
" upper middle classes " (let us say) in intellect,
manners, and general culture vital or accidental ?
Is it due to an inferior strain of blood or to a
less favourable environment ? These are legiti-
mate questions, and their practical significance
is obvious.

But do they really commit us to a considera-
tion of the parts which heredity and environment
respectively play in human life ? I think not.
I think that the question which is actually at
issue has been obscured by a fog of confused
thought, and that the ultimate source of that
confusion has been our failure to distinguish
between racial and lineal heredity, between the
common and the differential elements in our



HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT 21

inheritance. By the common elements I mean
those which we inherit from the whole human
race and which we therefore share with all our
fellow-men. By the differential elements I mean
those which we inherit from our own more recent
line of ancestors and which are therefore in some
special sense our own. The distinction between
what we inherit from the whole human race (or
perhaps from some remoter source of being) and
what we inherit from our own lineal ancestors
is a real one ; and it is a pity that it is so often
ignored. Examples drawn from the physical
side of human life will help me to make my mean-
ing clear. Though no two men are exactly
alike, yet all men have the same bodily structure,
and each man inherits what is essential in his
bodily structure from the whole human race.
Thus every normal infant has so many bones
arranged in such and such ways, such and such
organs arranged in such and such ways, such
and such limbs, such and such facial features
and senses, an elaborate system of veins, nerves,
and muscles, a series of skins, the beginnings of
hair, nails, and teeth. These constitute the
infant's racial inheritance. But infant differs
from infant in respect of the size, form, colour,
and proportions, both of its frame as a whole
and of each of its constituent parts ; and these
differential elements constitute its lineal inherit-
ance, for it owes them not wholly perhaps, but



22 THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUL

in large measure to its more recent line of
ancestors, to what we call, loosely and inaccu-
rately, its " strain of blood."

Or put the matter thus. Racial heredity gives
a man a human nose. Lineal heredity helps
to determine the contour of his nose. Racial
heredity gives a man a pair of human eyes.
Lineal heredity helps to determine the colour and
setting of his eyes. Racial heredity gives a man
a human mouth. Lineal heredity helps to deter-
mine the size and shape of the mouth. And so on.

Now it is certain that when we oppose heredity
to environment, we are thinkftig of lineal, not
of racial heredity ; of the differential, not of
the common elements in human nature. We
take the common elements for granted. When
we speak of the physique which the child inherits,
we take for granted that he has so many bones,
such and such organs, such and such a system
of veins, nerves, muscles, and the rest. The
child has these because he is a human being, not
because he is the child of certain parents or the
descendant of certain ancestors. We do not
give a thought to the common elements in his
bodily structure. What we are thinking of when
we speak of his physical resemblance to his parents
or his ancestors are the differential elements
the build of his skull, the contour of his nose,
the colour and setting of his eyes, the size and
shape of his mouth, the tint and texture of his



HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT 23

hair, his height, weight, colouring, form, propor-
tions, bodily vigour, and so forth.

It is also certain that when we oppose heredity
to environment, we are thinking of environment
as coming in some sort and some measure under
human control.

These reservations are all-important. To op-
pose heredity as such to environment as such, to
ask which of the two influences plays the larger
part in the process of growth, would be nonsense.
As well might we ask (to revert to our borrowed
simile) which counts for more in the weaving of
a tissue, the warp or the woof. But when the
reservations which I have indicated have been
made, we begin to see a meaning in our much-
debated problem. Does lineal heredity count
for so much in human life as to commit us to a
fatalistic, and therefore pessimistic, " theory of
things " ? If not, how are we to counteract its
influence, when it happens to be harmful or unduly
restrictive ? By giving a favourable environ-
ment to its victim, is an obvious answer to this
question. But environment can do no more
than enable inherited potentiality to realize
itself. How, then, can it remove, or even lessen,
the disabilities which are inherent in one's
" blood " ? In one way and one way only.
By allying itself with racial heredity ; in other
words, by allowing the potentialities of our racial
inheritance to realize themselves and play their



24 THE PEOBLEM OF THE SOUL

several parts. The more the racial element in
one's inheritance outweighs the lineal, the more
the potentialities of one's racial inheritance out-
weigh the actualities, the greater will be the scope
for the transforming influence of environment,
and the less will heredity (in the conventional
sense of the word) count in one's life.

This much we can see at the outset. Let us
now consider a concrete case. A, the child of
criminal parents, born and reared in a criminal
slum, grows up a criminal. Does not this illus-
trate the force of " heredity " ? Let us assume
that it does. But B, another child of the same
parents, born in the same slum, having been
taken away from it early in life and brought up
in respectable surroundings, grows up a respect-
able member of society. What has happened ?
Has " environment " triumphed over " heredity " ?
No, but racial heredity, having been given fair
play, has proved stronger than lineal heredity.
It is probable that B would not have been re-
generated had he not been given a favourable
environment. But it is certain that he would
not have been regenerated had he not, as a human
being, had in him certain social and ethical
potentialities which were waiting to be realized.
What environment did in his case, what it does
in all similar cases, is to enable racial heredity,
the nature of man as man, to bring its appropriate
reserves of potentiality into action.



HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT 25

The question, then, which we have to consider
is not what parts do environment and heredity
respectively play in human life, but what parts
do racial and lineal heredity respectively play
in that great drama. Let us first consider this
question in relation to the physical plane of life.
Our starting-point is the body of the new-born
baby. It is not until the baby is born that its
environment comes in any appreciable degree
under human control. During its pre-natal life
its environment is under the control of " Nature " ;
and though the mother can do much to thwart
the action of Nature, she can do nothing to aid
it except in the sense of giving it fair play.

Now in the baby's physical inheritance the
preponderant element is undoubtedly the racial.
The possession of a nose is of much more import-
ance than the shape of the nose. The possession
of eyes than the colour of the eyes. The posses-
sion of a mouth than the size of the mouth. And
so on. The pressure of lineal heredity on the
individual is the pressure of a few centuries
at most perhaps, as in the case of the pure-bred
Jew, of twenty or thirty. The pressure of racial
heredity is the pressure of myriads of centuries
of all the ages, one might almost say, since life
began. The pressure of lineal heredity is the
pressure of a few scores of ancestors. The
pressure of racial heredity is the pressure of
unnumbered millions of men.



26 THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUL

Yet it is on the physical plane that the directive,
and therefore restrictive, influence of heredity
is greatest, and the transforming influence of
environment least. The explanation of this is
simple. On the physical plane there are no
great reserves of potentiality for environment to
draw upon. Or, if there are, its power of drawing
upon them is strictly limited. As far as it goes,
the body of the new-*born child is an actuality,
an accomplished fact. Years of growth await
it. But the process of growing will be carried
on within narrow Iftnits and, in the main, along
predetermined lines. Environment can do much
for the child. In a sense it can do everything.
But it cannot work miracles. It cannot give
him a third eye, or a sixth finger, or a thirty-
third tooth. Nor can it add appreciably to his
predestined strength or stature. If a child has
it in him to grow, under perfectly favourable
conditions, to the height of six feet, a bad environ-
ment may make him fall short of that limit, but
no environment, however good, will enable him
to transcend it. The influence of environment in
what I may call the downward direction is limited
only by death. In the upward direction it is
limited by the physical constitution of man.
From the point of view of physical development,
the average environment of mankind, especially
in what are called civilized countries, is very far
from ideal. And because there is room in it for



HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT 27

endless improvement, we are apt to overestimate
the transforming influence of environment on
physique. It is but right that we should labour
incessantly to improve the material conditions
under which men live. But even if we could
give the growing child an ideal environment we
should do no more than enable him to fulfil his
physical destiny. And that destiny is strictly
limited. Or if there is an element of ideality, and
therefore of infinity, in it, if even such physical
perfection as man, whether collective or individual,
has it in him to attain, is in a sense unattainable,
the goal is near and cannot be transcended.
Favourable physical conditions, if continued for
some generations, might raise the average height
of a nation by two or three inches ; but even if
they were continued for 10,000 years they would
not raise the average height of the nation to
six and a half feet. The movement towards
physical perfection is perhaps an infinite "series " ;
but if so, its infinity, like that of an arithmetical
series which advances by ever-diminishing frac-
tions, has finite limits.

The reason, then, why lineal heredity counts
for so much on the physical plane is that racial
heredity has fixed the typical form to which the
individual is predestined to grow, and that the
transforming influence of environment in what
I have called the upward direction is therefore
comparatively small.



28 THE PROBLEM OF THE SOUL

It is true that A, whose physical inheritance
is inferior to B's, may, under the influence of a
better environment, become the stronger and
healthier man. But the explanation of this is,
not that A has been transformed beyond
recognition by his favourable surroundings, but
that B, living under unfavourable conditions,
has seriously deteriorated. It is because man as
man cannot alter his physical frame or constitu-
tion, that the individual man cannot materially
alter (except for the worse) the face or figure or
constitution which he inherits from his fore-
fathers. It is because man as man cannot alter
the arrangement and general modelling of his
facial features, that the individual man cannot
materially alter (except for the worse) the build
of his nose, or the colour of his eyes, or the shape


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