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Art. I.–Vestiges of the Natural llistory of Creation.
London : 1845.
favour. A fourth edition has just appeared; but our last perusal having been bestowed upon the third, we shall refer to it in all our extracts, except where the first may demand some passing notice. The book treats of Cosmogonies in the largest sense in which that high-sounding word was ever used by man; and the author, after soaring with us among the clouds, and giving us a bold outline of the Nebular hypothesis,'comes down to the lower world, and tells us of the wonders of the earth, and of the marvellous organic forms, in successive generations, which geologists have brought up from regions of darkness, and put before us in the light of day. He then unfolds his theory of Animal Development, in which we learn that the humblest organic structures began first, and were produced by Electricity, or some like
power of common nature, That to begin living structures any other way, would be an inconceivably paltry exercise
of creative power'. That nature having thus made a start, all difficulties are over; for, by progressive breeding, the first monads will work their way, without any external help, through all the ascending scale of things, up to Monkeys; and that Monkeys will, in like manner, become at length the parents of Men. He then appeals, in confirmation of his views, to the successive
VOL. LXXXII. NO. CLXV.
organic forms found in the old strata of the earth, and to the feetal forms of men and beasts ; and so builds up a scale of nature which is to be an index of a universal creative law.
The work is systematic and well got up for its purpose, so far as regards its outer form; and in the latter part of this article we mean to track the vestiges in their own natural order. But in the concluding chapters of the work, many subjects (such as the circular system of natural history, phrenology, animal instincts in comparison with human reason, the origin of language, and the diffusion of the various families of the human race) pass under review. All of them we cannot notice, but some we are compelled to glance at; and we do so in the first instance, that our more general views may be less interrupted, and hoping in this introductory matter to make our readers comprehend the peculiar qualities of our author's mind, and his mode of dealing with great physical questions.
It follows of necessity, that in the progress of such a work, subjects must be brought under review which bear upon almost every question belonging to natural science; and we find that every thing is touched upon, while nothing is firmly grasped. We have not the strong master-hand of an independent labourer, either in the field or closet, shown for a single instant. All in the book is shallow; and all is at second-hand. The surface may be beautiful; but it is the glitter of gold-leaf without the solidity of the precious metal. The style is agreeable-sometimes charming; and noble sentiments are scattered here and there; but these harmonies are never lasting. Sober truth and solemn nonsense, strangely blended, and offered to us in a new material jargon, break discordantly on our ears, and hurt our better feelings.
The author is intensely hypothetical, and builds his castles in the air, misconceiving the principles of science, or misunderstanding the facts with which it has to deal; or, what is worse still, distorting them to serve his purpose.
He does all this, apparently, without having any just conception of the methods by which men, after the toil of many generations, have ascended, step by step, to the higher elevations of physical knowledge without any even glimmering conception of what men mean when they tell us of Inductive Science and its sober truths.
But if this be so, how, it may be asked, are we to account for the popularity of the work, and the sudden sale of edition after edition ? Men who are fed on nothing better than the trash of literature, and who have never waded beyond the surface of the things they pretend to know, must needs delight in the trashy skimmings of philosophy; and we venture to affirm that no man who has any name in science, properly so called, whether derived from profound study, or original labour in the field, has spo. ken well of the book, or regarded it with any feelings but those of deep aversion. We say this advisedly, after exchanging thoughts with some of the best informed men in Britain. The public who are not able to judge from their own knowledge, must therefore be plainly told, that the philosophy of the anthor is borrowed from a false and shallow School; and that the consequences he dares to draw from it, so far as they are new in the scientific literature of our country, are nothing better than mischievous, and sometimes antisocial, nonsense.
The book tells us of things new to many of us—and all of us delight in novelties. It lifts up the curtain of the dissecting-room, and publishes its secrets in rounded sentences of seeming reverence, and in the conventional language of good society. Things useful, and good, and excellent in one place, may be foul and mischievous in another. The world cannot bear to be turned upside down; and we are ready to wage an internecine war with any violation of our modest principles and social manners. Hercules, when he took the distaff in hand, made only a sorry thread ; and we presume that Omphalé found her hero's club but a clumsy spindle. It is our maxim, that things must keep their proper places if they are to work together for any good. If our glorious maidens and matrons may not soil their fingers with the dirty knife of the anatomist, neither may they poison the springs of joyous thought and modest feeling, by listening to the seductions of this author; who comes before them with a bright, polished, and manycoloured surface, and the serpent coils of a false philosophy, and asks them again to stretch out their hands and pluck forbidden fruit—to talk familiarly with him of things which cannot be so much as named without raising a blush upon a modest cheek ;who tells them--that their Bible is a fable when it teaches them that they were made in the image of God—that they are the children of apes and the breeders of monsters—that he has annulled all distinction between physical and moral, (p. 315)—and that all the phenomena of the universe, dead and living, are to be put before the mind in a new jargon, and as the progression and development of a rank, unbending, and degrading materialism.
But who is the author ? We thought, when we began to • The Vestiges,' that we could trace therein the markings of a woman's foot. We now confess our error; and for having entertained it, we crave pardon of the sex. We were led to this delusion by certain charms of writing—by the popularity of the workby its ready boundings over the fences of the tree of knowledge, and its utter neglect of the narrow and thorny entrance by which we may lawfully approach it; above all, by the sincerity of faith and love with which the author devotes himself to any system he has taken to his bosom. We thought that no man could write so much about natural science without having dipped below the surface, at least in some department of it. In thinking this, we now believe we were mistaken.
But let us not be misunderstood. Within all the becoming bounds of homage, we would do honour to the softer sex little short of adoration. In taste, and sentiment, and instinctive knowledge of what is right and good—in discrimination of human character, and what is most befitting in all the moral duties of common life-in every thing which forms, not merely the grace and ornament, but is the cementing principle and bond of all that is most exalted and delightful in society, we would place our highest trust in woman. But we know, by long experience, that the ascent up the hill of science is rugged and thorny, and ill-fitted for the drapery of a petticoat; and ways must be passed over which are toilsome to the body, and sometimes loathsome to the senses. And every one who has ventured on these ways, has learned a lesson of humility from his own repeated failures. He has learned to appreciate the enormous and continued labour by which every new position has been won; and, above all, he has learned the immeasurable depth of his own ignorance, when he applies his faculties to any higher order of material causation beyond the known truths he derives from others, or from his own observations and experiments. No man living, who has not partaken of this kind of labour, or, to say the very least, who has not thoroughly mastered the knowledge put before his senses by the labours of other men, has any right to toss out his fantastical crudities before the public, and give himself the airs of a legislator over the material world.
If we know not the author personally, we may well rejoice in our ignorance; for our criticisms have not the semblance of personal hostility. It is an imperious sense of duty, and an unflinching love of truth, which dictate the language of this article ; and in writing it we are moved by ill-will to no one. however, dissect the author's mind from the character of his book; and we believe him to be an accomplished, and, in a certain sense, a well-informed but superficial person. He exhibits a not uncommon union of scepticism and credulity. The combination is not by any means unnatural; for it often requires good and long training to cure a man of subtle doubts, and the first advances of knowledge often lead men of ardent minds into rash and incongruous conclusions. Again, the author is a man of imagination, and delights in resemblances-sometimes real,