Samuel Butler.

Selections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal online

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerSelections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal → online text (page 16 of 23)
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any knowledge of what Lamarck maintained, but merely repeating at
secondhand bad caricatures of his teaching.

"When will the time come when we may see Lamarck's theory
discussed - and, I may as well at once say, refuted in some important
points {225a} - with at any rate the respect due to one of the most
illustrious masters of our science? And when will this theory, the
hardihood of which has been greatly exaggerated, become freed from the
interpretations and commentaries by the false light of which so many
naturalists have followed their opinion concerning it? If its author
is to be condemned, let it be, at any rate, not before he has been
heard." {225b}

In 1873 M. Martin published his edition of Lamarck's _Philosophic
Zoologique_. He was still able to say, with, I believe, perfect truth,
that Lamarck's theory has "never yet had the honour of being discussed
seriously." {225c}

Professor Huxley in his article on Evolution is no less cavalier than Mr.
Wallace. He writes: {225d} -

"Lamarck introduced the conception of the action of an animal on
itself as a factor in producing modification."

Lamarck did nothing of the kind. It was Buffon and Dr. Darwin who
introduced this, but more especially Dr. Darwin. The accuracy of
Professor Huxley's statements about the history and literature of
evolution is like the direct interference of the Deity - it vanishes
whenever and wherever I have occasion to test it.

"But _a little consideration showed_" (italics mine) "that though Lamarck
had seized what, as far as it goes, is a true cause of modification, it
is a cause the actual effects of which are wholly inadequate to account
for any considerable modification in animals, and which can have no
influence whatever in the vegetable world," &c.

I should be very glad to come across some of the "little consideration"
which will show this. I have searched for it far and wide, and have
never been able to find it.

I think Professor Huxley has been exercising some of his ineradicable
tendency to try to make things clear in the article on Evolution, already
so often quoted from. We find him (p. 750) pooh-poohing Lamarck, yet on
the next page he says, "How far 'natural selection' suffices for the
production of species remains to be seen." And this when "natural
selection" was already so nearly of age! Why, to those who know how to
read between a philosopher's lines the sentence comes to very nearly the
same as a declaration that the writer has no great opinion of "natural
selection." Professor Huxley continues, "Few can doubt that, if not the
whole cause, it is a very important factor in that operation." A
philosopher's words should be weighed carefully, and when Professor
Huxley says, "few can doubt," we must remember that he may be including
himself among the few whom he considers to have the power of doubting on
this matter. He does not say "few will," but "few can" doubt, as though
it were only the enlightened who would have the power of doing so.
Certainly "nature" - for that is what "natural selection" comes to - is
rather an important factor in the operation, but we do not gain much by
being told so. If however, Professor Huxley neither believes in the
origin of species, through sense of need on the part of animals
themselves, nor yet in "natural selection," we should be glad to know
what he does believe in.

The battle is one of greater importance than appears at first sight. It
is a battle between teleology and non-teleology, between the
purposiveness and the non-purposiveness of the organs in animal and
vegetable bodies. According to Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, and Paley,
organs are purposive; according to Mr. Darwin and his followers, they are
not purposive. But the main arguments against the system of Dr. Erasmus
Darwin are arguments which, so far as they have any weight, tell against
evolution generally. Now that these have been disposed of, and the
prejudice against evolution has been overcome, it will be seen that there
is nothing to be said against the system of Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck
which does not tell with far greater force against that of Mr. Charles
Darwin and Mr. Wallace.


I have said on page 96 of this book that the word "heredity" may be a
very good way of stating the difficulty which meets us when we observe
the reappearance of like characteristics, whether of body or mind, in
successive generations, but that it does nothing whatever towards
removing it.

It is here that Mr. Herbert Spencer, the late Mr. G. H. Lewes, and Mr.
Romanes fail. Mr. Herbert Spencer does indeed go so far in one place as
to call instinct "organised memory," {228b} and Mr. G. H. Lewes
attributes many instincts to what he calls the "lapsing of intelligence."
{228c} So does Mr. Herbert Spencer, {228d} whom Mr. Romanes should have
known that Mr. Lewis was following. Mr. Romanes, in his recent work,
Mental Evolution in Animals (November, 1883), endorses this, and
frequently uses such expressions as "the lifetime of the species," {228e}
"hereditary experience," {228f} and "hereditary memory and instinct,"
{228g} but none of these writers (and indeed no writer that I know of
except Professor Hering of Prague, for a translation of whose address on
this subject I must refer the reader to my book Unconscious Memory) has
shown a comprehension of the fact that these expressions are unexplained
so long as "heredity," whereby they explain them, is unexplained; and
none of them sees the importance of emphasizing Memory, and making it as
it were the keystone of the system.

Mr. Spencer may very well call instinct "organised memory" if he means
that offspring can remember - within the limitations to which all memory
is subject - what happened to it while it was yet in the person or persons
of its parent or parents; but if he does not mean this, his use of the
word "memory," his talk about "the experience of the race," and other
expressions of kindred nature, are delusive. If he does mean this, it is
a pity he has nowhere said so.

Professor Hering does mean this, and makes it clear that he does so. He
does not catch the ball and let it slip through his fingers again, but
holds it firmly. "It is to memory," he says, "that we owe almost all
that we have or are; our ideas and conceptions are its work; our every
thought and movement are derived from this source. Memory connects the
countless phenomena of our existence into a single whole, and as our
bodies would be scattered into the dust of their component atoms if they
were not held together by the cohesion of matter, so our consciousness
would be broken up into as many moments as we had lived seconds, but for
the binding and unifying force of Memory." {229} And he proceeds to show
that Memory persists between generations exactly as it does between the
various stages in the life of the individual. If I could find any such
passage as the one I have just quoted, in Mr. Herbert Spencer's, Mr.
Lewes's, or Mr. Romanes' works, I should be only too glad to quote it,
but I know of nothing comparable to it for definiteness of idea,
thoroughness and consistency.

No reader indeed can rise from a perusal of Mr. Herbert Spencer's, or Mr.
G. H. Lewes', work with an adequate - if indeed with any - impression that
the phenomena of heredity are in fact phenomena of memory; that heredity,
whether as regards body or mind, is only possible because each generation
is linked on to and made one with its predecessor by the possession of a
common and abiding memory, in as far as bodily existence was common - that
is to say, until the substance of the one left the substance of the
other; and that this memory is exactly of the same general character as
that which enables us to remember what we did half an hour ago - strong
under the same circumstances as those under which this familiar kind of
memory is strong, and weak under those under which it is weak. Mr.
Spencer and Mr. Lewes have even less conception of the connection between
heredity and memory than Dr. Erasmus Darwin had at the close of the last
century. {230}

Mr. Lewes' position was briefly this. He denied that there could be any
knowledge independent of experience, but he could not help seeing that
young animals come into the world furnished with many organs which they
use with great dexterity at a very early age. This looks as if they are
acting on knowledge acquired independently of experience. "No," says Mr.
Lewes, "not so. They are born with the organs - I cannot tell how or why,
but heredity explains all that, and having once got the organs, the
objects that come into contact with them in daily life naturally produce
the same effect as on the parents, just as oxygen coming into contact
with the right quantity of hydrogen will make water; hence even the first
time the offspring come into contact with any given object they act as
their parents did." The idea of the young having got their experience in
a past generation does not seem to have even crossed his mind.

"What marvel is there," he asks, "that constant conditions acting upon
structures which are similar should produce similar results? It is in
this sense that the paradox of Leibnitz is true, and we can be said 'to
acquire an innate idea;' only the idea is not acquired independently of
experience, but through the process of experience similar to that which
originally produced it." {231a}

The impression left upon me is that he is all at sea for want of the clue
with which Professor Hering would have furnished him, and that had that
clue been presented to him a dozen years or so earlier than it was he
would have adopted it.

As regards Mr. Romanes the case is different. His recent work, Mental
Evolution in Animals, {231b} shows that he is well aware of the direction
which modern opinion is taking, and in several places he so writes as to
warrant me in claiming his authority in support of the views which I have
been insisting on for several years past.

Thus Mr. Romanes 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. {232a}

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. {232b}

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. {232c} For it makes no essential difference whether the
nervous changes . . . were occasioned during the lifetime 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."

Again: -

"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." {233a}

Again: -

"Instincts probably owe their origin and development to one or other
of 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 {233b}) the 'lapsing of intelligence.'" {233c}

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." {234a}

From this Mr. Romanes goes on to show "that automatic actions and
conscious habits may be inherited," {234b} 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." {234c}

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." {234d}

Mr. Romanes says in a note that this theory was first advanced by Canon
Kingsley in _Nature_, January 18, 1867, a piece of information which I
learn for the first time; otherwise, as I need hardly say, I should have
called attention to it in my own books on evolution. _Nature_ did not
begin to appear till the end of 1869, and I can find no communication
from Canon Kingsley bearing upon hereditary memory in any number of
_Nature_ prior to the date of Canon Kingsley's death; but no doubt Mr.
Romanes has only made a slip in his reference. Mr. Romanes also says
that the theory connecting instinct with inherited memory "has since been
independently 'suggested' by many writers."

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." {235}

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

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

The late Mr. Darwin himself, indeed - 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, {236a} 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." {236b} It is heredity which
impresses nervous changes on the individual. {236c} "In the lifetime of
species actions originally intelligent may by frequent repetition _and
heredity_," &c. {236d}; 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
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.

That he is right Mr. Romanes seems to me to admit, though in a very
unsatisfactory way.


I will give examples of my meaning. Mr. Romanes says on an early page,
"The most fundamental principle of mental operation is that of memory,
for this is the _conditio sine qua non_ of all mental life" (page 35).

I do not understand Mr. Romanes to hold that there is any living being
which has no mind at all, and I do understand him to admit that
development of body and mind are closely interdependent.

If then, "the most fundamental principle" of mind is memory, it follows
that memory enters also as a fundamental principle into development of
body. For mind and body are so closely connected that nothing can enter
largely into the one without correspondingly affecting the other.

On a later page, indeed, Mr. Romanes speaks point-blank of the new-born
child as "_embodying_ the results of a great mass of _hereditary
experience_" (p. 77), so that what he is driving at can be collected by
those who take trouble, but is not seen until we call up from our own
knowledge matter whose relevancy does not appear on the face of it, and
until we connect passages many pages asunder, the first of which may
easily be forgotten before we reach the second. There can be no doubt,
however, that Mr. Romanes does in reality, like Professor Hering and
myself, regard development, whether of mind or body, as due to memory,
for it is nonsense indeed to talk about "hereditary experience" or
"hereditary memory" if anything else is intended.

I have said above that on page 113 of his recent work Mr. Romanes
declares the analogies between the memory with which we are familiar in
daily life, and hereditary memory, to be "so numerous and precise" as to
justify us in considering them as of one and the same kind.

This is certainly his meaning, but, with the exception of the words
within inverted commas, it is not his language. His own words are
these: -

"Profound, however, as our ignorance unquestionably is concerning the
physical substratum of memory, I think we are at least justified in
regarding this substratum as the same both in ganglionic or organic,
and in conscious or psychological memory, seeing that the analogies
between them are so numerous and precise. Consciousness is but an
adjunct which arises when the physical processes, owing to infrequency
of repetition, complexity of operation, or other causes, involve what
I have before called ganglionic friction."

I submit that I have correctly translated Mr. Romanes' meaning, and also
that we have a right to complain of his not saying what he has to say in
words which will involve less "ganglionic friction" on the part of the

Another example may be found on p. 43 of Mr. Romanes' book. "Lastly," he
writes, "just as innumerable special mechanisms of muscular
co-ordinations are found to be inherited, innumerable special
associations of ideas are found to be the same, and in one case as in the
other the strength of the organically imposed connection is found to bear
a direct proportion to the frequency with which in the history of the
species it has occurred."

Mr. Romanes is here intending what the reader will find insisted on on p.
98 of the present volume; but how difficult he has made what could have
been said intelligibly enough, if there had been nothing but the reader's
comfort to be considered. Unfortunately that seems to have been by no
means the only thing of which Mr. Romanes was thinking, or why, after
implying and even saying over and over again that instinct is inherited
habit due to inherited memory, should he turn sharply round on p. 297 and
praise Mr. Darwin for trying to snuff out "the well-known doctrine of
inherited habit as advanced by Lamarck"? The answer is not far to seek.
It is because Mr. Romanes did not merely want to tell us all about
instinct, but wanted also, if I may use a homely metaphor, to hunt with
the hounds and run with the hare at one and the same time.

I remember saying that if the late Mr. Darwin "had told us what the
earlier evolutionists said, why they said it, wherein he differed from
them, and in what way he proposed to set them straight, he would have
taken a course at once more agreeable with usual practice, and more
likely to remove misconception from his own mind and from those of his
readers." {239} This I have no doubt was one of the passages which made
Mr. Romanes so angry with me. I can find no better words to apply to Mr.
Romanes himself. He knows perfectly well what others have written about
the connection between heredity and memory, and he knows no less well
that so far as he is intelligible at all he is taking the same view that
they have taken. If he had begun by saying what they had said and had
then improved on it, I for one should have been only too glad to be
improved upon.

Mr. Romanes has spoiled his book just because this plain old-fashioned
method of procedure was not good enough for him. One-half the obscurity
which makes his meaning so hard to apprehend is due to exactly the same
cause as that which has ruined so much of the late Mr. Darwin's work - I
mean to a desire to appear to be differing altogether from others with
whom he knew himself after all to be in substantial agreement. He
adopts, but (probably quite unconsciously) in his anxiety to avoid
appearing to adopt, he obscures what he is adopting.

Here, for example, is Mr. Romanes' definition of instinct: -

"Instinct is reflex action into which there is imported the element of
consciousness. The term is therefore a generic one, comprising all
those faculties of mind which are concerned in conscious and adaptive
action, antecedent to individual experience, without necessary
knowledge of the relation between means employed and ends attained,
but similarly performed under similar and frequently recurring
circumstances by all the individuals of the same species." {240}

If Mr, Romanes would have been content to build frankly upon Professor
Hering's foundation, the soundness of which he has elsewhere abundantly
admitted, he might have said -

"Instinct is knowledge or habit acquired in past generations - the new
generation remembering what happened to it before it parted company with
the old." Then he might have added as a rider -

"If a habit is acquired as a new one, during any given lifetime, it is

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Online LibrarySamuel ButlerSelections from previous works, with remarks on G. J. Romanes' Mentl evolution in animals, and A psalm of Montreal → online text (page 16 of 23)