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 17 of 23)
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not an instinct. If having been acquired in one lifetime it is
transmitted to offspring, it is an instinct in the offspring though it
was not an instinct in the parent. If the habit is transmitted
partially, it must be considered as partly instinctive and partly

This is easy; it tells people how they may test any action so as to know
what they ought to call it; it leaves well alone by avoiding all such
debatable matters as reflex action, consciousness, intelligence, purpose,
knowledge of purpose, &c.; it both introduces the feature of inheritance
which is the one mainly distinguishing instinctive from so-called
intelligent actions, and shows the manner in which these last pass into
the first, that is to say, by way of memory and habitual repetition;
finally it points the fact that the new generation is not to be looked
upon as a new thing, but (as Dr. Erasmus Darwin long since said {241}) as
"a branch or elongation" of the one immediately preceding it.

But then to have said this would have made it too plain that Mr. Romanes
was following some one else. Mr. Romanes should remember that no one
would mind how much he took if he would only take it well. But this is
what those who take without due acknowledgment never do.

In Mr. Darwin's case it is hardly possible to exaggerate the waste of
time, money, and trouble that has been caused by his not having been
content to appear as descending with modification like other people from
those who went before him. It will take years to get the evolution
theory out of the mess in which Mr. Darwin has left it. He was heir to a
discredited truth; he left behind him an accredited fallacy. Mr.
Romanes, if he is not stopped in time, will get the theory connecting
heredity and memory into just such another muddle as Mr. Darwin has got
Evolution, for surely the writer who can talk about "_heredity being able
to work up_ the faculty of homing into the instinct of migration," {242a}
or of "the principle of (natural) selection combining with that of
lapsing intelligence to the formation of a joint result," {242b} is
little likely to depart from the usual methods of scientific procedure
with advantage either to himself or any one else. Fortunately Mr.
Romanes is not Mr. Darwin, and though he has certainly got Mr. Darwin's
mantle, and got it very much too, it will not on Mr. Romanes' shoulders
hide a good deal that people were not going to observe too closely while
Mr. Darwin wore it.


I gather that in the end the late Mr. Darwin himself admitted the
soundness of the view which the reader will have found insisted upon in
the extracts from my earlier books given in this volume. Mr. Romanes
quotes a letter written by Mr. Darwin in the last year of his life, in
which he speaks of an intelligent action gradually becoming
"_instinctive_, _i.e._, _memory transmitted from one generation to
another_." {243a}

Briefly, the stages of Mr. Darwin's opinion upon the subject of
hereditary memory are as follows: -

1859. "It would be _the most serious error_ to suppose that the greater
number of instincts have been acquired by habit in one generation and
transmitted by inheritance to succeeding generations." {243b} And this
more especially applies to the instincts of many ants.

1876. "It would be _a serious error_ to suppose" &c., as before. {243c}

1881. "We should remember _what a mass of inherited knowledge_ is
crowded into the minute brain of a worker ant." {243d}

1881 or 1882. Speaking of a given habitual action Mr. Darwin writes: - "It
does not seem to me at all incredible that this action [and why this more
than any other habitual action?] should then become instinctive:" _i.e._,
_memory transmitted from one generation to another_. {244a}

And yet in 1839 or thereabouts, Mr. Darwin had pretty nearly grasped the
conception from which until the last year or two of his life he so
fatally strayed; for in his contribution to the volumes giving an account
of the voyages of the _Adventure_ and _Beagle_, he wrote: "Nature by
making habit omnipotent and its effects hereditary, has fitted the
Fuegian for the climate and productions of his country" (p. 237).

What is the secret of the long departure from the simple common-sense
view of the matter which he took when he was a young man? I imagine
simply what I have referred to in the preceding chapter, - over-anxiety to
appear to be differing from his grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and

I believe I may say that Mr. Darwin before he died not only admitted the
connection between memory and heredity, but came also to see that he must
readmit that design in organism which he had so many years opposed. For
in the preface to Hermann Muller's Fertilisation of Flowers, {244b} which
bears a date only a very few weeks prior to Mr. Darwin's death, I find
him saying: - "Design in nature has for a long time deeply interested many
men, and though the subject must now be looked at from a somewhat
different point of view from what was formerly the case, it is not on
that account rendered less interesting." This is mused forth as a
general gnome, and may mean anything or nothing: the writer of the
letterpress under the hieroglyph in Old Moore's Almanac could not be more
guarded; but I think I know what it does mean.

I cannot of course be sure; Mr. Darwin did not probably intend that I
should; but I assume with confidence that whether there is design in
organism or no, there is at any rate design in this passage of Mr.
Darwin's. This, we may be sure, is not a fortuitous variation; and
moreover it is introduced for some reason which made Mr. Darwin think it
worth while to go out of his way to introduce it. It has no fitness in
its connection with Hermann Muller's book, for what little Hermann Muller
says about teleology at all is to condemn it; why then should Mr. Darwin
muse here of all places in the world about the interest attaching to
design in organism? Neither has the passage any connection with the rest
of the preface. There is not another word about design, and even here
Mr. Darwin seems mainly anxious to face both ways, and pat design as it
were on the head while not committing himself to any proposition which
could be disputed.

The explanation is sufficiently obvious. Mr. Darwin wanted to hedge. He
saw that the design which his works had been mainly instrumental in
pitchforking out of organisms no less manifestly designed than a
burglar's jemmy is designed, had nevertheless found its way back again,
and that though, as I insisted in Evolution, Old and New, and Unconscious
Memory, it must now be placed within the organism instead of outside it,
as "was formerly the case," it was not on that account any the
less - design, as well as interesting.

I should like to have seen Mr. Darwin say this more explicitly. Indeed I
should have liked to have seen Mr. Darwin say anything at all about the
meaning of which there could be no mistake, and without contradicting
himself elsewhere; but this was not Mr. Darwin's manner.

In passing I will give another example of Mr. Darwin's manner when he did
not quite dare even to hedge. It is to be found in the preface which he
wrote to Professor Weismann's Studies in the Theory of Descent, published
in 1882.

"Several distinguished naturalists," says Mr. Darwin, "maintain with much
confidence that organic beings tend to vary and to rise in the scale,
independently of the conditions to which they and their progenitors have
been exposed; whilst others maintain that all variation is due to such
exposure, though the manner in which the environment acts is as yet quite
unknown. At the present time there is hardly any question in biology of
more importance than this of the nature and causes of variability, and
the reader will find in the present work an able discussion on the whole
subject which will probably lead him to pause before he admits the
existence of an innate tendency to perfectibility" - or towards, _being
able to be perfected_.

I could find no able discussion upon the whole subject in Professor
Weismann's book. There was a little something here and there, but not

Mr Herbert Spencer has not in his more recent works said anything which
enables me to appeal to his authority.

I imagine that if he had got hold of the idea that heredity was only a
mode of memory before 1870, when he published the second edition of his
Principles of Psychology, he would have gladly adopted it, for he seems
continually groping after it, and aware of it as near him, though he is
never able to grasp it. He probably failed to grasp it because Lamarck
had failed. He could not adopt it in his edition of 1880, for this is
evidently printed from stereos taken from the 1870 edition, and no
considerable alteration was therefore possible.

The late Mr. G. H. Lewes did not get hold of the memory theory, probably
because neither Mr. Spencer nor any of the well-known German philosophers
had done so. Mr. Romanes, as I think I have shown, actually has adopted
it, but he does not say where he got it from. I suppose from reading
Canon Kingsley in _Nature_ some years before _Nature_ began to exist, or
(for has not the mantle of Mr. Darwin fallen upon him?) he has thought it
all out independently; but however Mr. Romanes may have reached his
conclusion, he must have done so comparatively recently, for when he
reviewed my book, Unconscious Memory, {247} he scoffed at the very theory
which he is now adopting.

Of the view that "there is thus a race memory, as there is an individual
memory, and that the expression of the former constitutes the phenomena
of heredity" - for it is thus Mr. Romanes with fair accuracy describes the
theory I was supporting - he wrote:

"Now this view, in which Mr. Butler was anticipated by Prof. Hering, is
interesting if advanced merely as an illustration; but to imagine that it
maintains any truth of profound significance, or that it can possibly be
fraught with any benefit to science, is simply absurd. The most cursory
thought is enough to show," &c. &c.

"We can understand," he continued, "in some measure how an alteration in
brain structure when once made should be permanent, . . . but we cannot
understand how this alteration is transmitted to progeny through
structures so unlike the brain as are the products of the generative
glands. And we merely stultify ourselves if we suppose that the problem
is brought any nearer to a solution by asserting that a future individual
while still in the germ has already participated, say in the cerebral
alterations of its parents," &c. Mr. Romanes could find no measure of
abuse strong enough for me, - as any reader may see who feels curious
enough to turn to Mr. Romanes' article in _Nature_ already referred to.

As for Evolution, Old and New, he said I had written it "in the hope of
gaining some notoriety by deserving and perhaps receiving a contemptuous
refutation from" Mr. Darwin. {248a} In my reply to Mr. Romanes I said,
"I will not characterise this accusation in the terms which it merits."
{248b} Mr. Romanes, in the following number of _Nature_, withdrew his
accusation and immediately added, "I was induced to advance it because it
seemed the only rational motive that could have led to the publication of
such a book." Again I will not characterise such a withdrawal in the
terms it merits, but I may say in passing that if Mr. Romanes thinks the
motive he assigned to me "a rational one," his view of what is rational
and mine differ. It does not commend itself as "rational" to me, that a
man should spend a good deal of money and two or three years of work in
the hope of deserving a contemptuous refutation from any one - not even
from Mr. Darwin. But then Mr. Romanes has written such a lot about
reason and intelligence.

The reply to Evolution, Old and New, which I actually did get from Mr.
Darwin, was one which I do not see advertised among Mr. Darwin's other
works now, and which I venture to say never will be advertised among them
again - not at least until it has been altered. I have seen no reason to
leave off advertising Evolution, Old and New, and Unconscious Memory.

I have never that I know of seen Mr. Romanes, but am told that he is
still young. I can find no publication of his indexed in the British
Museum Catalogue earlier than 1874, and then it was only about Christian
Prayer. Mr. Romanes was good enough to advise me to turn painter or
homoeopathist; {249} as he has introduced the subject, and considering
how many years I am his senior, I might be justified (if it could be any
pleasure to me to do so) in suggesting to him too what I should imagine
most likely to tend to his advancement in life; but there are examples so
bad that even those who have no wish to be any better than their
neighbours may yet decline to follow them, and I think Mr. Romanes' is
one of these. I will not therefore find him a profession.

But leaving this matter on one side, the point I wish to insist on is
that Mr. Romanes is saying almost in my own words what less than three
years ago he was very angry with me for saying. I do not think that
under these circumstances much explanation is necessary as to the reasons
which have led Mr. Romanes to fight so shy of any reference to Life and
Habit, Evolution, Old and New, and Unconscious Memory - works in which, if
I may venture to say so, the theory connecting the phenomena of heredity
with memory has been not only "suggested," but so far established that
even Mr. Romanes has been led to think the matter over independently and
to arrive at the same general conclusion as myself.

Curiously enough, Mr. Grant Allen too has come to much the same
conclusions as myself, after having attacked me, though not so fiercely,
as Mr. Romanes has done. In 1879 he said in the _Examiner_ (May 17) that
the teleological view put forward in Evolution, Old and New, was "just
the sort of mystical nonsense from which" he "had hoped Mr. Darwin had
for ever saved us." And so in the _Academy_ on the same day he said that
no "one-sided argument" (referring to Evolution, Old and New) could ever
deprive Mr. Darwin of the "place which he had eternally won in the
history of human thought by his magnificent achievement."

A few years, and Mr. Allen entertains a very different opinion of Mr.
Darwin's magnificent achievement.

"There are only two conceivable ways," he writes, "in which any increment
of brain power can ever have arisen in any individual. The one is the
Darwinian way, by 'spontaneous variation,' that is to say by variation
due to minute physical circumstances affecting the individual in the
germ. The other is the Spencerian way, by functional increment, that is
to say by the effect of increased use and constant exposure to varying
circumstances during conscious life." {250}

Mr. Allen must know very well, or if he does not he has no excuse at any
rate for not knowing, that the theory according to which increase of
brain power or any other bodily or mental power is due to use, is no more
Mr. Spencer's than the theory of gravitation is, except in so far as that
Mr. Spencer has adopted it. It is the theory which every one except Mr.
Allen associates with Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck, but more especially
(and on the whole I suppose justly) with Lamarck.

"I venture to think," continues Mr. Allen, "that the first way [Mr.
Darwin's], if we look it clearly in the face, will be seen to be
_practically unthinkable_; and that we have therefore no alternative but
to accept the second."

These writers go round so quickly and so completely that there is no
keeping pace with them. "As to Materialism," he writes presently,
"surely it is more profoundly materialistic to suppose that mere physical
causes operating on the germ can determine minute physical and material
changes in the brain, which will in turn make the individuality what it
is to be, than to suppose _that all brains are what they are in virtue of
antecedent function_. The one creed makes the man depend mainly upon the
accidents of molecular physics in a colliding germ cell and sperm cell;
_the other makes him depend mainly upon the doings and gains of his
ancestors as modified and altered by himself_."

Here is a sentence taken almost at random from the body of the article: -

"We are always seeing something which adds to our total stock of
memories; we are always learning and doing something new. The vast
majority of these experiences are similar in kind to those already
passed through by our ancestors: they add nothing to the inheritance
of the race. . . . Though they leave physical traces on the
individual, they do not so far affect the underlying organisation of
the brain as to make the development of after-brains somewhat
different from previous ones. But there are certain functional
activities which do tend so to alter the development of after-brains;
certain novel or sustained activities which apparently result in the
production of new correlated brain elements or brain connections
hereditarily transmissible as increased potentialities of similar
activity in the offspring."

Of Natural Selection Mr. Allen writes much, as Professor Mivart and
others have been writing for many years past.

"It seems to me," he says, "easy to understand how survival of the
fittest may result in progress starting from such functionally produced
gains, but impossible to understand how it could result in progress if it
had to start in mere accidental structural increments due to spontaneous
variation alone." {252a}

Mr. Allen may say this now, but until lately he has been among the first
to scold any one else who said so.

And this is how the article concludes: -

"The first hypothesis (Mr Darwin's) is one that throws no light upon any
of the facts. The second hypothesis (which Mr. Allen is pleased to call
Mr. Herbert Spencer's) is one that explains them all with transparent
lucidity." {252b}

So that Mr. Darwin, according to Mr. Allen, is clean out of it. Truly
when Mr. Allen makes stepping-stones of his dead selves, he jumps upon
them to some tune. But then Mr. Darwin is dead now. I have not heard of
his having given Mr. Allen any manuscripts as he gave Mr. Romanes. I
hope Mr. Herbert Spencer will not give him any. If I was Mr. Spencer and
found my admirers crowning me with Lamarck's laurels, I think I should
have something to say to them.

What are we to think of a writer who declares that the theory that
specific and generic changes are due to use and disuse "explains _all the
facts_ with transparent lucidity"?

Lamarck's hypothesis is no doubt a great help and a great step toward
Professor Hering's; it makes a known cause underlie variations, and thus
is free from those fatal objections which Professor Mivart and others
have brought against the theory of Messrs. Darwin and Wallace; but how
does the theory that use develops an organism explain why offspring
repeat the organism at all? How does the Lamarckian hypothesis explain
the sterility of hybrids, for example? The sterility of hybrids has been
always considered one of the great _cruces_ in connection with any theory
of Evolution. How again does it explain reversion to long-lost
characters and the resumption of feral characteristics? the phenomena of
old age? the principle that underlies longevity? the reason why the
reproductive system is generally the last to arrive at maturity, and why
few further developments take place in any organism after this has been
fully developed? the sterility of many animals under captivity? 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 develop, and with which instinctive actions
are performed? How does any theory advanced either by Lamarck, Mr.
Herbert Spencer, or Mr. Darwin explain, or indeed throw light upon these
facts until supplemented with the explanation given of them in Life and
Habit - for which I must refer the reader to that work itself?

People may say what they like about "the experience of the race," {254a}
"the registration of experiences continued for numberless generations,"
{254b} "infinity of experiences," {254c} "lapsed intelligence," &c., but
until they make Memory, in the most uncompromising sense of the word, the
key to all the phenomena of Heredity, they will get little help to the
better understanding of the difficulties above adverted to. Add this to
the theory of Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck, and the points which I
have above alluded to receive a good deal of "lucidity."

But to return to Mr. Romanes: however much he and Mr. Allen may differ
about the merits of Mr. Darwin, they were at any rate not long since
cordially agreed in vilipending my unhappy self, and are now saying very
much what I have been saying for some years past. I do not deny that
they are capable witnesses. They will generally see a thing when a
certain number of other people have come to do so. I submit that, no
matter how grudgingly they give their evidence, the tendency of that
evidence is sufficiently clear to show that the opinions put forward in
Life and Habit, Evolution, Old and New, and Unconscious Memory, deserve
the attention of the reader.

I may perhaps deal with Mr. Romanes' recent work more fully in the sequel
to Life and Habit on which I am now engaged. For the present it is
enough to say that if he does not mean what Professor Hering and, _longo
intervallo_, myself do, he should not talk about habit or experience as
between successive generations, and that if he does mean what we do - which
I suppose he does - he should have said so much more clearly and
consistently than he has.


This afternoon (March 7, 1884), the copies of this book being ready for
issue, I see Mr. Romanes' letter to the _Athenaeum_ of this day, and get
this postscript pasted into the book after binding.

Mr. Romanes corrects his reference to the passage in which he says that
Canon Kingsley first advanced the theory that instinct is inherited
memory ("M. E. in Animals," p. 296). Canon Kingsley's words are to be
found in _Fraser_, June, 1867, and are as follows: -

"Yon wood-wren has had enough to make him sad, if only he recollects
it, and if he can recollect his road from Morocco hither he maybe
recollects likewise what happened on the road: the long weary journey
up the Portuguese coast, and through the gap between the Pyrenees and
the Jaysquivel, and up the Landes of Bordeaux, and through Brittany,
flitting by night and hiding and feeding as he could by day; and how
his mates flew against the lighthouses and were killed by hundreds,
and how he essayed the British Channel and was blown back, shrivelled
up by bitter blasts; and how he felt, nevertheless, that 'that was
water he must cross,' he knew not why; but something told him that his
mother had done it before him, and he was flesh of her flesh, life of
her life, and had inherited her instinct (as we call hereditary memory
in order to avoid the trouble of finding out what it is and how it
comes). A duty was laid on him to go back to the place where he was
bred, and now it is done, and he is weary and sad and lonely, &c. &c.

This is a very interesting passage, and I am glad to quote it; but it
hardly amounts to advancing the theory that instinct is inherited memory.
Observing Mr. Romanes' words closely, I see he only says that Canon
Kingsley was the first to advance the theory "that many hundred miles of
landscape scenery" can "constitute an object of inherited memory;" but as
he proceeds to say that "_this_" has since "been independently suggested
by several writers," it is plain he intends to convey the idea that Canon
Kingsley advanced the theory that instinct generally is inherited memory,
which indeed his words do; but it is hardly credible that he should have
left them where he did if he had realized their importance.

Mr. Romanes proceeds to inform me personally that the reference to
"Nature" in his proof "originally indicated another writer who had
independently advanced the same theory as that of Canon Kingsley." After
this I have a right to ask him to tell me who the writer is, and where I
shall find what he said. I ask this, and at my earliest opportunity will
do my best to give this writer, too, the credit he doubtless deserves.

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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 17 of 23)