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sports -that is to say, of modifications due to the over-
flowing energy of the organism, which happen to be
useful to it in its special circumstances. Modifications
may take place by direct pressure of external circum-
stances ; the whole organism or any organ may lose in
size and strength from failure of the proper food, but
such modifications are in the downward, not in the up-
ward, direction. Indirectly external circumstances may
of course produce upward changes ; thus the drying up
of axolotl ponds caused the survival of individuals
which had ' sported ' in the direction of lungs. But the

1 Swinburne, Poems and Ballads. I am aware of the difficulties which
beset Dr. Beale's theory of germinal matter, as they are stated by Mr. G. H.
Lewes ; but however hard it may be to decide what is living: matter, and
what is formed stuff, the distinction appears to me to be a real one, to the
extent, at least, of the use here made of it.


immediate cause of change in the direction of higher
organization is always the internal and quasi-spontane-
ous action of the organism.

Freedom we call it, for holier
Name of the soul there is none ;

Surelier it labours, if slowlier,

Than the metres of star or of sun ;

Slowlier than life into breath,

Surelier than time into death,
It moves till its labour be done. 1

Thejiighest of organisms is the social organism. To
Mr. Herbert Spencer, who has done so much for the
whole doctrine of evolution and for all that is connected
with it, we owe the first clear and rational statement
of the analogy between the individual and the social
organism, which, indeed, is more than an analogy, being
in many respects a true identity of process and structure
and function. Our main business is with one property
which the social organism has in common with the
individual namely, this, that it aggregates molecular
motions into molar ones. The molecules of a social
organism are the individual men, women, and children
of which it is composed. By means of it, actions which,
as individual, are insignificant, are massed together into
the important movements of a society. Co-operation, or
band-work, is the life of it. Thus it is able to ' originate
events independently of foreign determining causes,' or
to act with freedom.

Freedom in a society, then, is a very different thing
from anarchy. It is the organic action of the society as
such ; the union of its elements in a common work. As
Mr. Spencer points out, society does not resemble those

1 Swinburne, Songs before Sunrise.


organisms which are so highly centralized that the unity
of the whole is the important thing, and every part must
die if separated from the rest, but rather those which
will bear separation and reunion, because although there
is a certain union and organization of the parts in regard
to one another, yet the far more important fact is the
life of the parts separately. The true health of society
depends upon the communes, the villages and townships,
infinitely more than on the form and pageantry of an
imperial government. If in them there is band-work,
union for a common effort, converse in the working out
of a common thought, then the Eepublic is, and needs
not to be made with hands, though Caesar have his guns
in every citadel. None the less it will be part of the
business of the Kepublic, as she grows in strength, to
remove him. So long as two or three are gathered to-
gether, freedom is there in the midst of them, and it is
not until society is utterly divided into its elements that
she departs :

Courage yet ! my brother or my sister !

Keep on ! Liberty is to be subserv'd, whatever occurs ;

That is nothing, that is quell'd by one or two failures, or any number
of failures,

Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by any unfaith-

Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal statutes.

Revolt ! and still revolt ! revolt !

What we believe in waits latent forever through all the continents,
and all the islands and archipelagos of the sea ;

What we believe in invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness
and light, is positive and composed, knows no discouragement,

Waiting patiently, waiting its time.

When liberty goes out of a place, it is not the first to go, nor the

second or third to go,
It waits for all the rest to go it is the last.


When there are no mare memories of heroes and martyrs,

And when all life, and all the souls of men and women are discharged

from any part of the earth,
Then only shall liberty, or the idea of liberty, be discharged from that

part of the earth,
And the infidel come into full possession. 1

So far our cosmic conception is external. Starting
with organic action, as that which has affected the
evolution of life and all the works of life, we have found
it to have the character of freedom, or action from
within, and in the case of the social organism we have
seen that freedom is the organic action of society as such,
which is what we call the Bepublic. The Kepublic is 1
the visible embodiment and personification of freedom f
in its highest external type.

But the Republic is itself still further personified, in
a way that leads us back with new light to the concep-
tion of the internal cosmos. The practice of band-work,
or comradeship, the organic action of society, has so
moulded the nature of man as to create in it two
specially human faculties the conscience and the
intellect. Conscience is an instinctive desire for those
things which conduce to the welfare of society ; intellect
is an apparatus for connecting sensation and action, by
means of a symbolic representation of the external world,
framed in common and for common purposes by the
social intercourse of men. Conscience and reason form
an inner core in the human mind, having an origin and
a nature distinct from the merely animal passions and
perceptions ; they constitute the soul or spirit of man,
the universal part in every one of us. In these are
bound up, embalmed and embodied, all the struggles

1 Whitman, Leaves of Grass, p. 363.


and searchings of spirit of the countless generations
which have made us what we are. Action which arises
out of that inner core, which is prompted by conscience
and guided by reason, is free in the highest sense of all ;
this at last is good in the ethical sense. And yet, when
we act with this most perfect freedom, it may be said
that it is not we that act, but Man that worketh in us.
He whose life is habitually governed by reason and
conscience is the free and wise man of the philosophers
of all ages. The highest freedom, then, is identical with
the Spirit of Man

The earth-god Freedom, the lonely

Face lightening, the footprint unshod,

Not as one man crucified only

Nor scourged with but one life's rod ;

The soul that is substance of nations,

Reincarnate with fresh generations ;
The great god Man, which is God. 1

The social organism itself is but a part of the univer-
sal cosmos, and like all else is subject to the uniformity
of nature. The production and distribution of wealth,
the growth and effect of administrative machinery,
the education of the race, these are cases of general
laws which constitute the science of sociology. The
discovery of exact laws has only one purpose the
guidance of conduct by means of them. The laws of
political economy are as rigid as those of gravitation ;
wealth distributes itself as surely as water finds its level.
But the use we have to make of the laws of gravitation
is not to sit down and cry ' Kismet ! ' to the flowing
stream, but to construct irrigation works. And the use
which the Kepublic must make of the laws of sociology

1 Swinburne, Sonys before Sunrise.


is to rationally organize society for the training of the
best citizens. Much patient practice of comradeship is
necessary before society will be qualified to organize
itself in accordance with reason. But those who can
read the signs of the times read in them that the king-
dom of Man is at hand.



THE jubilee meeting of German naturalists and phy-
sicians at Munich last year (1877) was marked by an
incident which has deservedly attracted attention in this
country. Addresses were delivered to the Association,
among others, by three very eminent men, and, as was
natural on such an occasion, each of them took the form
of a review of the situation of science at this moment.
Hackel, of Jena, led the way by a discourse on the pre-
sent position of the evolution theory ; on the nature of
the evidence for various parts of it ; the bearing of it
upon mental science or psychology, upon education, and
upon morals. He was followed by Nageli, of Munich,
' On the Limits of Natural Knowledge,' who pointed out
that we have a limited number of senses, and that we
cannot deal with things which are too large, or too small,
or too far away, or with events which happened too
long ago ; but that if we will be satisfied with such
kind of knowledge as we can get, we do really know
something, and may come to know a great deal more.

But the words most listened to and most repeated
were undoubtedly those of Virchow, of Berlin, ' On the
Liberty of Science in the Modern State.' He recalled
the early days of the Association, when it had to meet
in secret for fear of the authorities ; and he warned his

1 Nineteenth Century, April 1878.


colleagues that their present liberty was not a secure
possession, that a reaction was possible, and that they
should endeavour to make sure of the ground by a wise
moderation, by a putting forward of those things which
are established in the sight of all men, rather than of
individual opinions. He divided scientific doctrines
into those which are actually proved and perfectly de-
termined, which we may give out as real science in the
strictest sense of the word ; and those which are still to
be proved, but which, in the meantime, may be taught
with a certain amount of probability, in order to fill up
gaps in our knowledge. Doctrines of the former class
must be completely admitted into the scientific treasure
of the nation, and must become part of the nation itself ;
they must modify the whole method of thinking. For
an example of such a doctrine he took the great in-
crease in our knowledge of the eye and its working
which has come to us in recent times, and the doctrine
of perception founded upon it. Things so well known
as this, he said, must be taught to children in the
schools. ' If the theory of descent is as certain as Pro-
fessor Hackel thinks it is, then we must demand its ad-
mission into the school, and this demand is a necessary
one.' And this, even although there is danger of an
alliance between socialism and the doctrine of evolu-

But, he went on to say, there are parts of the evo-
lution theory which are not yet established scientific
doctrines in the sense that they ought to be taught dog-
matically in schools. Of these he specially named two :
the spontaneous generation of li ving matter out of inor-
ganic bodies, without the presence of previously living


matter ; and the descent of man from some non-human
vertebrate animal. These, he said, are problems ; we
may think it ever so probable that living matter has
been formed out of non-living matter, and that man has
descended from an ape-like ancestor ; we may fully
expect that evidence will shortly be forthcoming to
establish these statements ; but meanwhile we must not
teach them as known and established scientific facts.
We ought to say, ' Do not take this for established truth,
be prepared to find that it is otherwise ; only for the
moment we are of opinion that it may be true'

There is something, I think, very natural and very
charming in this scene. The young apostle is full of
faith and hope, he has fought his way, undaunted by
little stumbles and disappointments, through great mo-
rasses of difficulty, and always he has seen his gospel
steadily marching on to its triumphant subjugation of
the ideal world ; and before this gospel accordingly he
summons the practical world to bow down. / Not so
fast,' -says the veteran, who, in his time, indeed, has been
bold enough, and taken sober men's breath away ; but
who now marches with careful steps, and is conscious of
his balance. ' Don't be quite so sure about it ; you will
turn everything upside down.' One is glad that on a
great occasion both sides had their say, and that the
word of caution came last, being prompted by the
word of courage ; and one hopes that on all similar oc-
casions there may be courage enough to justify a like
word of caution.

It is also very natural that this speech should have
been a source of great relief and comfort to many who
did not want to believe in the doctrine of descent, and


who feared that, somehow, they were going to be made
to believe in it. It seemed to them, in Dr. Tyndall's
words, that ' the world even the clerical world had
for the most part settled down in the belief that Mr.
Darwin's book (The Origin of Species) simply reflects
the truth of nature ; ' and that, on the penalty of
appearing somewhat singular, they would have to settle
down in the same belief themselves. But here is a very
eminent scientific man who says he is not quite sure
about it ; so the world, having only settled down under
the supposed weight of an authority which it is not yet
very fond of, begins to unsettle itself again ; and one
need not be at all singular in saying that there is really
nothing in the doctrine of evolution, because it is not
yet supported by facts.^ Indeed, the world has become
so much impressed with the importance of the rule that
you should not teach as a known fact that which is not
a known fact, that we may almost expect to hear a
bishop declare from his cathedral pulpit that the author-
ship of the Fourth Gospel is a doubtful question, and
that a man would be rash who fully made up his mind
to ascribe it to the apostle John.

It may therefore not seem amiss in one who is no
biologist, who is therefore a layman in regard to this
question of organic evolution, if he should endeavour
to lay to heart the warnings of Yirchow, and inquire
what practical bearing they have on the state of things
in our own country. This is what I now propose to
do ; but I shall . confine myself in the main to the
question of school teaching. I speak as a householder
to householders, on this matter of grave and common
concern : what shall we have taught to our children?



Of all the questions discussed in Virchow's speech, this
seems to me the most practical, and the most interesting
to us as a people.

For I do not think that we in England have much
cause to fear either a reaction which shall stop the
mouth of the scientific teacher, or a socialist revolution
founded on the doctrine of descent. It is true that
there are some among us who seriously dislike ' science,'
and who look with dread and suspicion on the teachers
of it. I am not attaching importance to the person-
alities of orthodox polemic, which, having ' no case,'
is compelled to ' abuse the plaintiff's attorney.' This
symptom is of weight only as a symptom, and as such
is understood by the intelligent public. ^But there are
men high in literature, in statesmanship, and in art,
whose good opinion, founded on knowledge, every man
of sense must count desirable, who yet withhold that
good opinion from the scientific teacher and the work
that he is doing. Notwithstanding this fact, I have
no fear that the attitude of mind of these men will be
intensified, or will become more general ; because it
seems to me to be clearly traceable to two circum-
stances, both of which are disappearing. I mean that
there are faults on both sides, and that both faults are
being mended.

The first fault is on the side of the scientific student ;
and yet it is not altogether his fault, because it comes
of the great change which is passing over our educa-
tional system. We have all been learning science that
is, organized common sense at school for some cen-
turies, and did not know what it was. But of recent
times our science has received enormous additions,


partly new sense, partly fresh organized ; and these
have now to be taught. The first generation of teachers
of the new science could naturally not learn it in places
where the old science, which we called a liberal educa-
tion, was to be learned. Some of them learned both,
with much labour, and searching, and picking up out of
stray corners ; but some went without a liberal educa-
tion altogether. And perhaps a few of these, when
they found what a demand there was for them and how
important they were, may have fallen into a mistake,
and taken their half- or quarter-culture for a whole
culture. Now when a man not only mistakes his half-
or quarter-culture for a whole culture, but thinks that
the culture which he does not possess is silly and worth-
less, then people who have received a liberal education
are apt to think him a bore. And it would be a hard
matter to prove them altogether in the wrong.

But this race, which bores a few and educates the
many, is patiently and surely exterminating itself. As
the new science makes itself at home in the school-house
of the old, as it is more taught and in a more civilized
manner, the mind of the student balances itself, and
recovers its sense of proportion. Exact observation
goes naturally enough with justice and simplicity of
statement ; the great inductions of human life and
feeling lighten up by resemblance and contrast the
great inductions of physics. Dynamics and Prose
Composition have met together ; Literature and Biology
have kissed each other. Perhaps not yet, but the good
time is coming. And in that time every scientific teacher
will have received such a many-sided culture, and will
be no longer a bore to anybody. Above all, he will

u 2


have studied that History of Culture itself, which is
the great unifier and justifier and purifier of all our

The other fault is on the side of those who dislike
the new science ; it is the fault of being profoundly
ignorant of it. No public school boy thinks a man
uncanny because he knows a great deal of Greek ;
no member of Parliament imagines that a careful study of
ancient history, or even a revolutionary view about the
Iliad, might become a dangerous ally of socialism. It
is because he has learned a little Greek himself, and
knows what it is like. But if a man has morphology at
his fingers' ends, or is profound about organic radicles,
that is a man to beware of. There is no knowing what
theories he does not secretly foster. Or else he is a
mere impostor, and gets a great reputation for pottering
away at some silly trifles, being really no better than
an official in the Herald's Office : so hinted some
irreverent young scapegrace in the prologue to the
Westminster Play. Now it is clear that a statesman
who thinks a decimal coinage means the keeping of
shilling and pence accounts in terms of decimal fractions,
or a musician who really sees no difference between
Graham Bell's telephone and Wheatstone's telephonic
concert, may well be expected to misjudge exact
students, and their studies, and their aims. But in the
good time coming, when ' there shall be no Member of
Parliament who does not know as much of science as a
scholar in one of our elementary schools,' when also
benevolent old ladies may be expected to know one end
of a guinea-pig from the other, all this will be changed.
The man of science will be no more uncanny than the



Greek scholar is now. And we may be quite sure tfiatfc
the average Englishman is not going to see a man
bullied for merely knowing a little more of what he
himself learned a little of at school. When he has
learned a little science himself, and knows what it is
like, he will have, it is true, a less superstitious reverence
for the authority of the investigator ; but then also he
will regard him as a citizen, having as good a right to
be trusted and respected, and to say his say upon matters
of common interest, as anybody else.

Such distrust or dislike of science, then, as is to be
found among us, is due to circumstances which are
rapidly disappearing, to misunderstandings and imper-
fect training, and not to that which alarmed our
Prussian colleague, a tendency in the expounders of
scientific doctrine to make too sure of things, to put
forward as known fact that which is not yet known
fact, but only conjecture. Indeed, our own scientific
teachers, notably Huxley and Tyndall, have for years
been impressing upon us this very thing, by example
and precept, in season and out of season if indeed it is
possible for such warning to be out of season. And to
their testimony I shall hope to return presently, ^-

As to that other fear of Virchow's, that some cari-
cature of the true doctrine of evolution may become a
dangerous weapon in the hands of the socialist, it is a
thing somewhat difficult for us to understand. We
have a way of suspecting that when socialism is
dangerous, somebody or other is being badly treated.
We can conceive that it should cause uneasiness to a
repressive and meddling protectionist Government. But
in this country, where it would probably mean a kind


of alliance between co-operative stores and that very
respectable institution, the Metropolitan Board of Works,
we cannot undertake to be much alarmed about it.
Before any socialist measure could enter into practical
politics at all, it would have so far to commend itself
to the country as to be supported by a considerable
number of votes in the House of Commons ; and a
measure which can do that is a thing not to be shud-
dered at, but to be calmly discussed.

What really remains for us to consider, then, as of
English interest, is, as I said before, that question about
the teaching of our children. The principle laid down
by Virchow I shall assume as the basis of the discussion :
we ought not to teach to little children, as a known fact,
that which is not a known fact And the questions to be
discussed are, in what respects this canon is disobeyed
or in danger of being disobeyed : and what means we
should adopt that our system of teaching may be more
perfectly conformed to it. It seems to me that the second
question answers itself in the process of considering the
first one. I shall therefore now proceed to those doctrines
which, in Virchow's view, are in danger of being taught
with an assurance which is in advance of the actual
evidence for them.

And first, let us consider that very important
doctrine of the descent of man from some non-human
ancestor. ' There are, at this time, few students of
nature who are not of opinion that man stands in some
connexion with the rest of the animal world, and that
such a connexion may possibly be discovered, if not with
the apes, yet perhaps, as Dr. Yogt now supposes, at
some other point.' Notwithstanding this, Virchow says :


' We cannot teach, we cannot pronounce it to be a con-
quest of science, that man descends from the ape or any
other animal.' He bases this decision upon the absence of
such evidence from palaeontology in the case of man as
is found in the case of the horse. The horse (asses and
zebras being included under this name) is a one-toed
beast, thereby differing from all other mammals ; but,
as he has many points showing relationship with them,
it is probable that he is descended from a five-toed
ancestor. The problem is to find this ancestor. There
is no trace of him in the quaternary strata. If the
naturalist were confined to the evidence of those strata,
and were not particularly careful of his logic, he might
' declare that every positive advance which we have
made in the domain of prehistoric hippology has actually
removed us further from the proof of such a connexion.'
The doctrine of the descent of the horse from a five-toed
ancestor would, in fact, rest upon other grounds than
the actual discovery of the ancestral form. But the
ancestor of the horse has been found in the tertiary

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Online LibraryWilliam Kingdon CliffordLectures and essays by William Kingdon Clifford (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 22)