Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews
by Thomas Henry Huxley
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Now, so far as I am concerned, the most reverend prelate might dialectically hew M. Comte in pieces, as a modern Agag, and I should not attempt to stay his hand. In so far as my study of what specially characterises the Positive Philosophy has led me, I find therein little or nothing of any scientific value, and a great deal which is as thoroughly antagonistic to the very essence of science as anything in ultramontane Catholicism. In fact, M. Comte's philosophy in practice might be compendiously described as Catholicism minus Christianity.

But what has Comtism to do with the "New Philosophy," as the Archbishop defines it in the following passage?

"Let me briefly remind you of the leading principles of this new philosophy.

"All knowledge is experience of facts acquired by the senses. The traditions of older philosophies have obscured our experience by mixing with it much that the senses cannot observe, and until these additions are discarded our knowledge is impure. Thus metaphysics tell us that one fact which we observe is a cause, and another is the effect of that cause; but upon a rigid analysis, we find that our senses observe nothing of cause or effect: they observe, first, that one fact succeeds another, and, after some opportunity, that this fact has never failed to follow—that for cause and effect we should substitute invariable succession. An older philosophy teaches us to define an object by distinguishing its essential from its accidental qualities: but experience knows nothing of essential and accidental; she sees only that certain marks attach to an object, and, after many observations, that some of them attach invariably, whilst others may at times be absent.... As all knowledge is relative, the notion of anything being necessary must be banished with other traditions."[11]

There is much here that expresses the spirit of the "New Philosophy," if by that term be meant the spirit of modern science; but I cannot but marvel that the assembled wisdom and learning of Edinburgh should have uttered no sign of dissent, when Comte was declared to be the founder of these doctrines. No one will accuse Scotchmen of habitually forgetting their great countrymen; but it was enough to make David Hume turn in his grave, that here, almost within earshot of his house, an instructed audience should have listened, without a murmur, while his most characteristic doctrines were attributed to a French writer of fifty years later date, in whose dreary and verbose pages we miss alike the vigour of thought and the exquisite clearness of style of the man whom I make bold to term the most acute thinker of the eighteenth century—even though that century produced Kant.

But I did not come to Scotland to vindicate the honour of one of the greatest men she has ever produced. My business is to point out to you that the only way of escape out of the crass materialism in which we just now landed, is the adoption and strict working-out of the very principles which the Archbishop holds up to reprobation.

Let us suppose that knowledge is absolute, and not relative, and therefore, that our conception of matter represents that which it really is. Let us suppose, further, that we do know more of cause and effect than a certain definite order of succession among facts, and that we have a knowledge of the necessity of that succession—and hence, of necessary laws—and I, for my part, do not see what escape there is from utter materialism and necessarianism. For it is obvious that our knowledge of what we call the material world, is, to begin with, at least as certain and definite as that of the spiritual world, and that our acquaintance with law is of as old a date as our knowledge of spontaneity. Further, I take it to be demonstrable that it is utterly impossible to prove that anything whatever may not be the effect of a material and necessary cause, and that human logic is equally incompetent to prove that any act is really spontaneous. A really spontaneous act is one which, by the assumption, has no cause; and the attempt to prove such a negative as this is, on the face of the matter, absurd. And while it is thus a philosophical impossibility to demonstrate that any given phaenomenon is not the effect of a material cause, any one who is acquainted with the history of science will admit, that its progress has, in all ages, meant, and now, more than ever, means, the extension of the province of what we call matter and causation, and the concomitant gradual banishment from all regions of human thought of what we call spirit and spontaneity.

I have endeavoured, in the first part of this discourse, to give you a conception of the direction towards which modern physiology is tending; and I ask you, what is the difference between the conception of life as the product of a certain disposition of material molecules, and the old notion of an Archaeus governing and directing blind matter within each living body, except this—that here, as elsewhere, matter and law have devoured spirit and spontaneity? And as surely as every future grows out of past and present, so will the physiology of the future gradually extend the realm of matter and law until it is co-extensive with knowledge, with feeling, and with action.

The consciousness of this great truth weighs like a nightmare, I believe, upon many of the best minds of these days. They watch what they conceive to be the progress of materialism, in such fear and powerless anger as a savage feels, when, during an eclipse, the great shadow creeps over the face of the sun. The advancing tide of matter threatens to drown their souls; the tightening grasp of law impedes their freedom; they are alarmed lest man's moral nature be debased by the increase of his wisdom.

If the "New Philosophy" be worthy of the reprobation with which it is visited, I confess their fears seem to me, to be well founded. While, on the contrary, could David Hume be consulted, I think he would smile at their perplexities, and chide them for doing even as the heathen, and falling down in terror before the hideous idols their own hands have raised.

For, after all, what do we know of this terrible "matter," except as a name for the unknown and hypothetical cause of states of our own consciousness? And what do we know of that "spirit" over whose threatened extinction by matter a great lamentation is arising, like that which was heard at the death of Pan, except that it is also a name for an unknown and hypothetical cause, or condition, of states of consciousness? In other words, matter and spirit are but names for the imaginary substrata of groups of natural phaenomena.

And what is the dire necessity and "iron" law under which men groan? Truly, most gratuitously invented bugbears. I suppose if there be an "iron" law, it is that of gravitation; and if there be a physical necessity, it is that a stone, unsupported, must fall to the ground. But what is all we really know and can know about the latter phaenomenon? Simply, that, in all human experience, stones have fallen to the ground under these conditions; that we have not the smallest reason for believing that any stone so circumstanced will not fall to the ground; and that we have, on the contrary, every reason to believe that it will so fall. It is very convenient to indicate that all the conditions of belief have been fulfilled in this case, by calling the statement that unsupported stones will fall to the ground, "a law of nature." But when, as commonly happens, we change will into must, we introduce an idea of necessity which most assuredly does not lie in the observed facts, and has no warranty that I can discover elsewhere. For my part, I utterly repudiate and anathematize the intruder. Fact I know; and Law I know; but what is this Necessity, save an empty shadow of my own mind's throwing?

But, if it is certain that we can have no knowledge of the nature of either matter or spirit, and that the notion of necessity is something illegitimately thrust into the perfectly legitimate conception of law, the materialistic position that there is nothing in the world but matter, force, and necessity, is as utterly devoid of justification as the most baseless of theological dogmas. The fundamental doctrines of materialism, like those of spiritualism, and most other "isms," lie outside "the limits of philosophical inquiry," and David Hume's great service to humanity is his irrefragable demonstration of what these limits are. Hume called himself a sceptic, and therefore others cannot be blamed if they apply the same title to him; but that does not alter the fact that the name, with its existing implications, does him gross injustice.

If a man asks me what the politics of the inhabitants of the moon are, and I reply that I do not know; that neither I, nor any one else, have any means of knowing; and that, under these circumstances, I decline to trouble myself about the subject at all, I do not think he has any right to call me a sceptic. On the contrary, in replying thus, I conceive that I am simply honest and truthful, and show a proper regard for the economy of time. So Hume's strong and subtle intellect takes up a great many problems about which we are naturally curious, and shows us that they are essentially questions of lunar politics, in their essence incapable of being answered, and therefore not worth the attention of men who have work to do in the world. And he thus ends one of his essays:—

"If we take in hand any volume of Divinity, or school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."[12]

Permit me to enforce this most wise advice. Why trouble ourselves about matters of which, however important they may be, we do know nothing, and can know nothing? We live in a world which is full of misery and ignorance, and the plain duty of each and all of us is to try to make the little corner he can influence somewhat less miserable and somewhat less ignorant than it was before he entered it. To do this effectually it is necessary to be fully possessed of only two beliefs: the first, that the order of nature is ascertainable by our faculties to an extent which is practically unlimited; the second, that our volition counts for something as a condition of the course of events.

Each of these beliefs can be verified experimentally, as often as we like to try. Each, therefore, stands upon the strongest foundation upon which any belief can rest, and forms one of our highest truths. If we find that the ascertainment of the order of nature is facilitated by using one terminology, or one set of symbols, rather than another, it is our clear duty to use the former; and no harm can accrue, so long as we bear in mind, that we are dealing merely with terms and symbols.

In itself it is of little moment whether we express the phaenomena of matter in terms of spirit; or the phaenomena of spirit, in terms of matter: matter may be regarded as a form of thought, thought may be regarded as a property of matter—each statement has a certain relative truth. But with a view to the progress of science, the materialistic terminology is in every way to be preferred. For it connects thought with the other phaenomena of the universe, and suggests inquiry into the nature of those physical conditions, or concomitants of thought, which are more or less accessible to us, and a knowledge of which may, in future, help us to exercise the same kind of control over the world of thought, as we already possess in respect of the material world; whereas, the alternative, or spiritualistic, terminology is utterly barren, and leads to nothing but obscurity and confusion of ideas.

Thus there can be little doubt, that the further science advances, the more extensively and consistently will all the phaenomena of nature be represented by materialistic formulae and symbols.

But the man of science, who, forgetting the limits of philosophical inquiry, slides from these formulae and symbols into what is commonly understood by materialism, seems to me to place himself on a level with the mathematician, who should mistake the x's and y's, with which he works his problems, for real entities—and with this further disadvantage, as compared with the mathematician, that the blunders of the latter are of no practical consequence, while the errors of systematic materialism may paralyse the energies and destroy the beauty of a life.


[10] The substance of this paper was contained in a discourse which was delivered in Edinburgh on the evening of Sunday, the 8th of November, 1868—being the first of a series of Sunday evening addresses upon non-theological topics, instituted by the Rev. J. Cranbrook. Some phrases, which could possess only a transitory and local interest, have been omitted; instead of the newspaper report of the Archbishop of York's address, his Grace's subsequently-published pamphlet "On the Limits of Philosophical Inquiry" is quoted; and I have, here and there, endeavoured to express my meaning more fully and clearly than I seem to have done in speaking—if I may judge by sundry criticisms upon what I am supposed to have said, which have appeared. But in substance, and, so far as my recollection serves, in form, what is here written corresponds with what was there said.

[11] "The Limits of Philosophical Inquiry," pp. 4 and 5.

[12] Hume's Essay "Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy," in the "Inquiry concerning the Human Understanding."



It is now some sixteen or seventeen years since I became acquainted with the "Philosophic Positive," the "Discours sur l'Ensemble du Positivisme," and the "Politique Positive" of Auguste Comte. I was led to study these works partly by the allusions to them in Mr. Mill's "Logic," partly by the recommendation of a distinguished theologian, and partly by the urgency of a valued friend, the late Professor Henfrey, who looked upon M. Comte's bulky volumes as a mine of wisdom, and lent them to me that I might dig and be rich. After due perusal, I found myself in a position to echo my friend's words, though I may have laid more stress on the "mine" than on the "wisdom." For I found the veins of ore few and far between, and the rock so apt to run to mud, that one incurred the risk of being intellectually smothered in the working. Still, as I was glad to acknowledge, I did come to a nugget here and there; though not, so far as my experience went, in the discussions on the philosophy of the physical sciences, but in the chapters on speculative and practical sociology. In these there was indeed much to arouse the liveliest interest in one whose boat had broken away from the old moorings, and who had been content "to lay out an anchor by the stern" until daylight should break and the fog clear. Nothing could be more interesting to a student of biology than to see the study of the biological sciences laid down, as an essential part of the prolegomena of a new view of social phenomena. Nothing could be more satisfactory to a worshipper of the severe truthfulness of science than the attempt to dispense with all beliefs, save such as could brave the light, and seek, rather than fear, criticism; while, to a lover of courage and outspokenness, nothing could be more touching than the placid announcement on the title-page of the "Discours sur l'Ensemble du Positivisme," that its author proposed

"Reorganiser, sans Dieu ni roi, Par le culte systematique de l'Humanite,"

the shattered frame of modern society.

In those days I knew my "Faust" pretty well, and, after reading this word of might, I was minded to chant the well-known stanzas of the "Geisterchor"—

"Weh! Weh! Die schoene welt. Sie stuerzt, sie zerfaellt Wir tragen Die Truemmern ins Nichts hinueber. Maechtiger Der Erdensoehne, Praechtiger, Baue sie wieder In deinem Busen baue sie auf."

Great, however, was my perplexity, not to say disappointment, as I followed the progress of this "mighty son of earth" in his work of reconstruction. Undoubtedly "Dieu" disappeared, but the "Nouveau Grand-Etre Supreme," a gigantic fetish, turned out bran-new by M. Comte's own hands, reigned in his stead. "Roi" also was not heard of; but, in his place, I found a minutely-defined social organization, which, if it ever came into practice, would exert a despotic authority such as no sultan has rivalled, and no Puritan presbytery, in its palmiest days, could hope to excel. While, as for the "culte systematique de l'Humanite," I, in my blindness, could not distinguish it from sheer Popery, with M. Comte in the chair of St. Peter, and the names of most of the saints changed. To quote "Faust" again, I found myself saying with Gretchen,—

"Ungefaehr sagt das der Pfarrer auch Nur mit ein bischen andern Worten."

Rightly or wrongly, this was the impression which, all those years ago, the study of M. Comte's works left on my mind, combined with the conviction, which I shall always be thankful to him for awakening in me, that the organization of society upon a new and purely scientific basis is not only practicable, but is the only political object much worth fighting for.

As I have said, that part of M. Comte's writings which deals with the philosophy of physical science appeared to me to possess singularly little value, and to show that he had but the most superficial, and merely second-hand, knowledge of most branches of what is usually understood by science. I do not mean by this merely to say that Comte was behind our present knowledge, or that he was unacquainted with the details of the science of his own day. No one could justly make such defects cause of complaint in a philosophical writer of the past generation. What struck me was his want of apprehension of the great features of science; his strange mistakes as to the merits of his scientific contemporaries; and his ludicrously erroneous notions about the part which some of the scientific doctrines current in his time were destined to play in the future. With these impressions in my mind, no one will be surprised if I acknowledge that, for these sixteen years, it has been a periodical source of irritation to me to find M. Comte put forward as a representative of scientific thought; and to observe that writers whose philosophy had its legitimate parent in Hume, or in themselves, were labelled "Comtists" or "Positivists" by public writers, even in spite of vehement protests to the contrary. It has cost Mr. Mill hard rubbings to get that label off; and I watch Mr. Spencer, as one regards a good man struggling with adversity, still engaged in eluding its adhesiveness, and ready to tear away skin and all, rather than let it stick. My own turn might come next; and, therefore, when an eminent prelate the other day gave currency and authority to the popular confusion, I took an opportunity of incidentally revindicating Hume's property in the so-called "New Philosophy," and, at the same time, of repudiating Comtism on my own behalf.[13]

The few lines devoted to Comtism in my paper on the "Physical Basis of Life" were, in intention, strictly limited to these two purposes. But they seem to have given more umbrage than I intended they should, to the followers of M. Comte in this country, for some of whom, let me observe in passing, I entertain a most unfeigned respect; and Mr. Congreve's recent article gives expression to the displeasure which I have excited among the members of the Comtian body.

Mr. Congreve, in a peroration which seems especially intended to catch the attention of his readers, indignantly challenges me to admire M. Comte's life, "to deny that it has a marked character of grandeur about it;" and he uses some very strong language because I show no sign of veneration for his idol. I confess I do not care to occupy myself with the denigration of a man who, on the whole, deserves to be spoken of with respect. Therefore, I shall enter into no statement of the reasons which lead me unhesitatingly to accept Mr. Congreve's challenge, and to refuse to recognise anything which deserves the name of grandeur of character in M. Comte, unless it be his arrogance, which is undoubtedly sublime. All I have to observe is, that if Mr. Congreve is justified in saying that I speak with a tinge of contempt for his spiritual father, the reason for such colouring of my language is to be found in the fact, that, when I wrote, I had but just arisen from the perusal of a work with which he is doubtless well acquainted, M. Littre's "Auguste Comte et la Philosophic Positive."

Though there are tolerably fixed standards of right and wrong, and even of generosity and meanness, it may be said that the beauty, or grandeur, of a life is more or less a matter of taste; and Mr. Congreve's notions of literary excellence are so different from mine that, it may be, we should diverge as widely in our judgment of moral beauty or ugliness. Therefore, while retaining my own notions, I do not presume to quarrel with his. But when Mr. Congreve devotes a great deal of laboriously guarded insinuation to the endeavour to lead the public to believe that I have been guilty of the dishonesty of having criticised Comte without having read him, I must be permitted to remind him that he has neglected the well-known maxim of a diplomatic sage, "If you want to damage a man, you should say what is probable, as well as what is true."

And when Mr. Congreve speaks of my having an advantage over him in my introduction of "Christianity" into the phrase that "M. Comte's philosophy, in practice, might be described as Catholicism minus Christianity;" intending thereby to suggest that I have, by so doing, desired to profit by an appeal to the odium theologicum,—he lays himself open to a very unpleasant retort.

What if I were to suggest that Mr. Congreve had not read Comte's works; and that the phrase "the context shows that the view of the writer ranges—however superficially—over the whole works. This is obvious from the mention of Catholicism," demonstrates that Mr. Congreve has no acquaintance with the "Philosophie Positive"? I think the suggestion would be very unjust and unmannerly, and I shall not make it. But the fact remains, that this little epigram of mine, which has so greatly provoked Mr. Congreve, is neither more nor less than a condensed paraphrase of the following passage, which is to be found at page 344 of the fifth volume of the "Philosophie Positive:"[14]—

"La seule solution possible de ce grand probleme historique, qui n'a jamais pu etre philosophiquement pose jusqu'ici, consiste a concevoir, en sens radicalement inverse des notions habituelles, que ce qui devait necessairement perir ainsi, dans le catholicisme, c'etait la doctrine, et non l'organisation, qui n'a ete passagerement ruinee que par suite de son inevitable adherence elementaire a la philosophie theologique, destinee a succomber graduellement sous l'irresistible emancipation de la raison humaine; tandis qu'une telle constitution, convenablement reconstruite sur des bases intellectuelles a la fois plus etendues et plus stables, devra finalement presider a l'indispensable reorganisation spirituelle des societes modernes, sauf les differences essentielles spontanement correspondantes a l'extreme diversite des doctrines fondamentales; a moins de supposer, ce qui serait certainement contradictoire a l'ensemble des lois de notre nature, que les immenses efforts de tant de grands hommes, secondes par la perseverante sollicitude des nations civilisees, dans la fondation seculaire de ce chef-d'oeuvre politique de la sagesse humaine, doivent etre enfin irrevocablement perdus pour l'elite de l'humanite sauf les resultats, capitaux mais provisoires, qui s'y rapportaient immediatement. Cette explication generale, deja evidemment motivee par la suite des considerations propres a ce chapitre, sera de plus en plus confirmee par tout le reste de notre operation historique, dont elle constituera spontanement la principale conclusion politique."

Nothing can be clearer. Comte's ideal, as stated by himself, is Catholic organization without Catholic doctrine, or, in other words, Catholicism minus Christianity. Surely it is utterly unjustifiable to ascribe to me base motives for stating a man's doctrines, as nearly as may be, in his own words!

My readers would hardly be interested were I to follow Mr. Congreve any further, or I might point out that the fact of his not having heard me lecture is hardly a safe ground for his speculations as to what I do not teach. Nor do I feel called upon to give any opinion as to M. Comte's merits or demerits as regards sociology. Mr. Mill (whose competence to speak on these matters I suppose will not be questioned, even by Mr. Congreve) has dealt with M. Comte's philosophy from this point of view, with a vigour and authority to which I cannot for a moment aspire; and with a severity, not unfrequently amounting to contempt, which I have not the wish, if I had the power, to surpass. I, as a mere student in these questions, am content to abide by Mr. Mill's judgment until some one shows cause for its reversal, and I decline to enter into a discussion which I have not provoked.

The sole obligation which lies upon me is to justify so much as still remains without justification of what I have written respecting Positivism—namely, the opinion expressed in the following paragraph:—

"In so far as my study of what specially characterises the Positive Philosophy has led me, I find therein little or nothing of any scientific value, and a great deal which is as thoroughly antagonistic to the very essence of science as any thing in ultramontane Catholicism."

Here are two propositions: the first, that the "Philosophie Positive" contains little or nothing of any scientific value; the second, that Comtism is, in spirit, anti-scientific. I shall endeavour to bring forward ample evidence in support of both.

I. No one who possesses even a superficial acquaintance with physical science can read Comte's "Lecons" without becoming aware that he was at once singularly devoid of real knowledge on these subjects, and singularly unlucky. What is to be thought of the contemporary of Young and of Fresnel, who never misses an opportunity of casting scorn upon the hypothesis of an ether—the fundamental basis not only of the undulatory theory of light, but of so much else in modern physics—and whose contempt for the intellects of some of the strongest men of his generation was such, that he puts forward the mere existence of night as a refutation of the undulatory theory?[15] What a wonderful gauge of his own value as a scientific critic does he afford, by whom we are informed that phrenology is a great science, and psychology a chimaera; that Gall was one of the great men of his age, and that Cuvier was "brilliant but superficial"![16] How unlucky must one consider the bold speculator who, just before the dawn of modern histology—which is simply the application of the microscope to anatomy—reproves what he calls "the abuse of microscopic investigations," and "the exaggerated credit" attached to them; who, when the morphological uniformity of the tissues of the great majority of plants and animals was on the eve of being demonstrated, treated with ridicule those who attempt to refer all tissues to a "tissu generateur," formed by "le chimerique et inintelligible assemblage d'une sorte de monades organiques, qui seraient des lors les vrais elements primordiaux de tout corps vivant;"[17] and who finally tells us, that all the objections against a linear arrangement of the species of living beings are in their essence foolish, and that the order of the animal series is "necessarily linear,"[18] when the exact contrary is one of the best-established and the most important truths of zoology. Appeal to mathematicians, astronomers, physicists,[19] chemists, biologists, about the "Philosophie Positive," and they all, with one consent, begin to make protestation that, whatever M. Comte's other merits, he has shed no light upon the philosophy of their particular studies.

To be just, however, it must be admitted that even M. Comte's most ardent disciples are content to be judiciously silent about his knowledge or appreciation of the sciences themselves, and prefer to base their master's claims to scientific authority upon his "law of the three states," and his "classification of the sciences." But here, also, I must join issue with them as completely as others—notably Mr. Herbert Spencer—have done before me. A critical examination of what M. Comte has to say about the "law of the three states" brings out nothing but a series of more or less contradictory statements of an imperfectly apprehended truth; and his "classification of the sciences," whether regarded historically or logically, is, in my judgment, absolutely worthless.

Let us consider the law of "the three states" as it is put before us in the opening of the first Lecon of the "Philosophie Positive:"—

"En etudiant ainsi le developpement total de l'intelligence humaine dans ses diverses spheres d'activite, depuis son premier essor le plus simple jusqu'a nos jours, je crois avoir decouvert une grande loi fondamentale, a laquelle il est assujetti par une necessite invariable, et qui me semble pouvoir etre solidement etablie, soit sur les preuves rationelles fournies par la connaissance de notre organisation, soit sur les verifications historiques resultant d'un examen attentif du passe. Cette loi consiste en ce que chacune de nos conceptions principales, chaque branche de nos connaissances, passe successivement par trois etats theoriques differents; l'etat theologique, ou fictif; l'etat metaphysique, ou abstrait; l'etat scientifique, ou positif. En d'autres termes, l'esprit humain, par sa nature, emploie successivement dans chacune de ses recherches trois methodes de philosopher, dont le caractere est essentiellement different et meme radicalement oppose; d'abord la methode theologique, ensuite la methode metaphysique, et enfin la methode positive. De la, trois sortes de philosophie, ou de systemes generaux de conceptions sur l'ensemble des phenomenes qui s'excluent mutuellement; la premiere est le point de depart necessaire de l'intelligence humaine; la troisieme, son etat fixe et definitif; la seconde est uniquement destinee a servir de transition."[20]

Nothing can be more precise than these statements, which may be put into the following propositions:—

(a) The human intellect is subjected to the law by an invariable necessity, which is demonstrable, a priori, from the nature and constitution of the intellect; while, as a matter of historical fact, the human intellect has been subjected to the law.

(b) Every branch of human knowledge passes through the three states, necessarily beginning with the first stage.

(c) The three states mutually exclude one another, being essentially different, and even radically opposed.

Two questions present themselves. Is M. Comte consistent with himself in making these assertions? And is he consistent with fact? I reply to both questions in the negative; and, as regards the first, I bring forward as my witness a remarkable passage which is to be found in the fourth volume of the "Philosophic Positive" (p. 491), when M. Comte had had time to think out, a little more fully, the notions crudely stated in the first volume:—

"A proprement parler, la philosophie theologique, meme dans notre premiere enfance, individuelle ou sociale, n'a jamais pu etre rigoureusement universelle, c'est-a-dire que, pour les ordres quelconques de phenomenes, les faits les plus simples et les plus communs ont toujours ete regardes comme essentiellement assujettis a des lois naturelles, au lieu d'etre attribues a l'arbitraire volonte des agents surnaturels. L'illustre Adam Smith a, par example, tres-heureusement remarque dans ses essais philosophiques, qu'on ne trouvait, en aucun temps ni en aucun pays, un dieu pour la pesanteur. Il en est ainsi, en general, meme a l'egard des sujets les plus compliques, envers tous les phenomenes assez elementaires et assez familiers pour que la parfaite invariabilite de leurs relations effectives ait toujours du frapper spontanement l'observateur le moins prepare. Dans l'ordre moral et social, qu'une vaine opposition voudrait aujourd'hui systematiquement interdire a la philosophie positive, il y a eu necessairement, en tout temps, la pensee des lois naturelles, relativement aux plus simples phenomenes de la vie journaliere, comme l'exige evidemment la conduite generale de notre existence reelle, individuelle ou sociale, qui n'aurait pu jamais comporter aucune prevoyance quelconque, si tous les phenomenes humains avaient ete rigoureusement attribues a des agents surnaturels, puisque des lors la priere aurait logiquement constitue la seule ressource imaginable pour influer sur le cours habituel des actions humaines. On doit meme remarquer, a ce sujet, que c'est, au contraire, l'ebauche spontanee des premieres lois naturelles propres aux actes individuels ou sociaux qui, fictivement transportee a tous les phenomenes du monde exterieur, a d'abord fourni, d'apres nos explications precedentes, le vrai principe fondamental de la philosophie theologique. Ainsi, le germe elementaire de la philosophie positive est certainement tout aussi primitif au fond que celui de la philosophie theologique elle-meme, quoi qu'il n'ait pu se developper que beaucoup plus tard. Une telle notion importe extremement a la parfaite rationalite de notre theorie sociologique, puisque la vie humaine ne pouvant jamais offrir aucune veritable creation quelconque, mais toujours une simple evolution graduelle, l'essor final de l'esprit positif deviendrait scientifiquement incomprehensible, si, des l'origine, on n'en concevait, a tous egards, les premiers rudiments necessaires. Depuis cette situation primitive, a mesure que nos observations se sont spontanement etendues et generalisees, cet essor, d'abord a peine appreciable, a constamment suivi, sans cesser longtemps d'etre subalterne, une progression tres-lente, mais continue, la philosophie theologique restant toujours reservee pour les phenomenes, de moins en moins nombreux, dont les lois naturelles ne pouvaient encore etre aucunement connues."

Compare the propositions implicitly laid down here with those contained in the earlier volume. (a) As a matter of fact, the human intellect has not been invariably subjected to the law of the three states, and therefore the necessity of the law cannot be demonstrable a priori. (b) Much of our knowledge of all kinds has not passed through the three states, and more particularly, as M. Comte is careful to point out, not through the first, (c) The positive state has more or less co-existed with the theological, from the dawn of human intelligence. And, by way of completing the series of contradictions, the assertion that the three states are "essentially different and even radically opposed," is met a little lower on the same page by the declaration that "the metaphysical state is, at bottom, nothing but a simple general modification of the first;" while, in the fortieth Lecon, as also in the interesting early essay entitled "Considerations philosophiques sur les Sciences et les Savants (1825)," the three states are practically reduced to two. "Le veritable esprit general de toute philosophie theologique ou metaphysique consiste a prendre pour principe, dans l'explication des phenomenes du monde exterieur, notre sentiment immediat des phenomenes humains; tandis que au contraire, la philosophie positive est toujours caracterisee, non moins profondement, par la subordination necessaire et rationnelle de la conception de l'homme a celle du monde."[21]

I leave M. Cointe's disciples to settle which of these contradictory statements expresses their master's real meaning. All I beg leave to remark is, that men of science are not in the habit of paying much attention to "laws" stated in this fashion.

The second statement is undoubtedly far more rational and consistent with fact than the first; but I cannot think it is a just or adequate account of the growth of intelligence, either in the individual man, or in the human species. Any one who will carefully watch the development of the intellect of a child will perceive that, from the first, its mind is mirroring nature in two different ways. On the one hand, it is merely drinking in sensations and building up associations, while it forms conceptions of things and their relations which are more thoroughly "positive," or devoid of entanglement with hypotheses of any kind, than they will ever be in after-life. No child has recourse to imaginary personifications in order to account for the ordinary properties of objects which are not alive, or do not represent living things. It does not imagine that the taste of sugar is brought about by a god of sweetness, or that a spirit of jumping causes a ball to bound. Such phaenomena, which form the basis of a very large part of its ideas, are taken as matters of course—as ultimate facts which suggest no difficulty and need no explanation. So far as all these common, though important, phaenomena are concerned, the child's mind is in what M. Comte would call the "positive" state.

But, side by side with this mental condition, there rises another. The child becomes aware of itself as a source of action and a subject of passion and of thought. The acts which follow upon its own desires are among the most interesting and prominent of surrounding occurrences; and these acts, again, plainly arise either out of affections caused by surrounding things, or of other changes in itself. Among these surrounding things, the most interesting and important are mother and father, brethren and nurses. The hypothesis that these wonderful creatures are of like nature to itself is speedily forced upon the child's mind; and this primitive piece of anthropomorphism turns out to be a highly successful speculation, which finds its justification at every turn. No wonder, then, that it is extended to other similarly interesting objects which are not too unlike these—to the dog, the cat, and the canary, the doll, the toy, and the picture-book—that these are endowed with wills and affections, and with capacities for being "good" and "naughty." But surely it would be a mere perversion of language to call this a "theological" state of mind, either in the proper sense of the word "theological," or as contrasted with "scientific" or "positive." The child does not worship either father or mother, dog or doll. On the contrary, nothing is more curious than the absolute irreverence, if I may so say, of a kindly-treated young child; its tendency to believe in itself as the centre of the universe, and its disposition to exercise despotic tyranny over those who could crush it with a finger.

Still less is there anything unscientific, or anti-scientific, in this infantile anthropomorphism. The child observes that many phaenomena are the consequences of affections of itself; it soon has excellent reasons for the belief that many other phaenomena are consequences of the affections of other beings, more or less like itself. And having thus good evidence for believing that many of the most interesting occurrences about it are explicable on the hypothesis that they are the work of intelligences like itself—having discovered a vera causa for many phaenomena—why should the child limit the application of so fruitful an hypothesis? The dog has a sort of intelligence, so has the cat; why should not the doll and the picture-book also have a share, proportioned to their likeness to intelligent things?

The only limit which does arise is exactly that which, as a matter of science, should arise; that is to say, the anthropomorphic interpretation is applied only to those phaenomena which, in their general nature, or their apparent capriciousness, resemble those which the child observes to be caused by itself, or by beings like itself. All the rest are regarded as things which explain themselves, or are inexplicable.

It is only at a later stage of intellectual development that the intelligence of man awakes to the apparent conflict between the anthropomorphic, and what I may call the physical,[22] aspect of nature, and either endeavours to extend the anthropomorphic view over the whole of nature—which is the tendency of theology; or to give the same exclusive predominance to the physical view—which is the tendency of science; or adopts a middle course, and taking from the anthropomorphic view its tendency to personify, and from the physical view its tendency to exclude volition and affection, ends in what M. Comte calls the "metaphysical" state—"metaphysical," in M. Comte's writings, being a general term of abuse for anything he does not like.

What is true of the individual is, mutatis mutandis, true of the intellectual development of the species. It is absurd to say of men in a state of primitive savagery, that all their conceptions are in a theological state. Nine-tenths of them are eminently realistic, and as "positive" as ignorance and narrowness can make them. It no more occurs to a savage than it does to a child, to ask the why of the daily and ordinary occurrences which form the greater part of his mental life. But in regard to the more striking, or out-of-the-way, events, which force him to speculate, he is highly anthropomorphic; and, as compared with a child, his anthropomorphism is complicated by the intense impression which the death of his own kind makes upon him, as indeed it well may. The warrior, full of ferocious energy, perhaps the despotic chief of his tribe, is suddenly struck down. A child may insult the man a moment before so awful; a fly rests, undisturbed, on the lips from which undisputed command issued. And yet the bodily aspect of the man seems hardly more altered than when he slept, and, sleeping, seemed to himself to leave his body and wander through dreamland. What then if that something, which is the essence of the man, has really been made to wander by the violence done to it, and is unable, or has forgotten, to come back to its shell? Will it not retain somewhat of the powers it possessed during life? May it not help us if it be pleased, or (as seems to be by far the more general impression) hurt us if it be angered? Will it not be well to do towards it those things which would have soothed the man and put him in good humour during his life? It is impossible to study trustworthy accounts of savage thought without seeing, that some such train of ideas as this, lies at the bottom of their speculative beliefs.

There are savages without God, in any proper sense of the word, but none without ghosts. And the Fetishism, Ancestor-worship, Hero-worship, and Demonology of primitive savages, are all, I believe, different manners of expression of their belief in ghosts, and of the anthropomorphic interpretation of out-of-the-way events, which is its concomitant. Witchcraft and sorcery are the practical expressions of these beliefs; and they stand in the same relation to religious worship as the simple anthropomorphism of children, or savages, does to theology.

In the progress of the species from savagery to advanced civilization, anthropomorphism grows into theology, while physicism (if I may so call it) develops into science; but the development of the two is contemporaneous, not successive. For each, there long exists an assured province which is not invaded by the other; while, between the two, lies a debateable land, ruled by a sort of bastards, who owe their complexion to physicism and their substance to anthropomorphism, and are M. Comte's particular aversions—metaphysical entities.

But, as the ages lengthen, the borders of Physicism increase. The territories of the bastards are all annexed to science; and even Theology, in her purer forms, has ceased to be anthropomorphic, however she may talk. Anthropomorphism has taken stand in its last fortress—man himself. But science closely invests the walls; and Philosophers gird themselves for battle upon the last and greatest of all speculative problems—Does human nature possess any free, volitional, or truly anthropomorphic element, or is it only the cunningest of all Nature's clocks? Some, among whom I count myself, think that the battle will for ever remain a drawn one, and that, for all practical purposes, this result is as good as anthropomorphism winning the day.

The classification of the sciences, which, in the eyes of M. Comte's adherents, constitutes his second great claim to the dignity of a scientific philosopher, appears to me to be open to just the same objections as the law of the three states. It is inconsistent in itself, and it is inconsistent with fact. Let us consider the main points of this classification successively:—

"Il faut distinguer par rapport a tous les ordres des phenomenes, deux genres de sciences naturelles; les unes abstraites, generales, ont pour objet la decouverte des lois qui regissent les diverses classes de phenomenes, en considerant tous les cas qu'on peut concevoir; les autres concretes, particulieres, descriptives, et qu'on designe quelquefois sous le nom des sciences naturelles proprement dites, consistent dans l'application de ces lois a l'histoire effective des differents etres existants."[23]

The "abstract" sciences are subsequently said to be mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, physiology, and social physics—the titles of the two latter being subsequently changed to biology and sociology. M. Comte exemplifies the distinction between his abstract and his concrete sciences as follows:—

"On pourra d'abord l'apercevoir tres-nettement en comparant, d'une part, la physiologie generale, et d'une autre part la zoologie et la botanique proprement dites. Ce sont evidemment, en effet, deux travaux d'un caractere fort distinct, que d'etudier, en general, les lois de la vie, ou de determiner le mode d'existence de chaque corps vivant, en particulier. Cette seconde etude, en outre, est necessairememt fondee sur la premiere."—P. 57.

All the unreality and mere bookishness of M. Comte's knowledge of physical science comes out in the passage I have italicised. "The special study of living beings is based upon a general study of the laws of life!" What little I know about the matter leads me to think, that, if M. Comte had possessed the slightest practical acquaintance with biological science, he would have turned his phraseology upside down, and have perceived that we can have no knowledge of the general laws of life, except that which is based upon the study of particular living beings.

The illustration is surely unluckily chosen; but the language in which these so-called abstract sciences are defined seems to me to be still more open to criticism. With what propriety can astronomy, or physics, or chemistry, or biology, be said to occupy themselves with the consideration of "all conceivable cases" which fall within their respective provinces? Does the astronomer occupy himself with any other system of the universe than that which is visible to him? Does he speculate upon the possible movements of bodies which may attract one another in the inverse proportion of the cube of their distances, say? Does biology, whether "abstract" or "concrete," occupy itself with any other form of life than those which exist, or have existed? And, if the abstract sciences embrace all conceivable cases of the operation of the laws with which they are concerned, would not they, necessarily, embrace the subjects of the concrete sciences, which, inasmuch as they exist, must needs be conceivable? In fact, no such distinction as that which M. Comte draws is tenable. The first stage of his classification breaks by its own weight.

But granting M. Comte his six abstract sciences, he proceeds to arrange them according to what he calls their natural order or hierarchy, their places in this hierarchy being determined by the degree of generality and simplicity of the conceptions with which they deal. Mathematics occupies the first, astronomy the second, physics the third, chemistry the fourth, biology the fifth, and sociology the sixth and last place in the series. M. Comte's arguments in favour of this classification are first—

"Sa conformite essentielle avec la co-ordination, en quelque sorte spontanee, qui se trouve en effet implicitement admise par les savants livres a l'etude des diverse branches de la philosophie naturelle."

But I absolutely deny the existence of this conformity. If there is one thing clear about the progress of modern science, it is the tendency to reduce all scientific problems, except those which are purely mathematical, to questions of molecular physics—that is to, say, to the attractions, repulsions, motions, and co-ordination of the ultimate particles of matter. Social phaenomena are the result of the interaction of the components of society, or men, with one another and the surrounding universe. But, in the language of physical science, which, by the nature of the case, is materialistic, the actions of men, so far as they are recognisable by science, are the results of molecular changes in the matter of which they are composed; and, in the long run, these must come into the hands of the physicist. A fortiori, the phaenomena of biology and of chemistry are, in their ultimate analysis, questions of molecular physics. Indeed, the fact is acknowledged by all chemists and biologists who look beyond their immediate occupations. And it is to be observed, that the phaenomena of biology are as directly and immediately connected with molecular physics as are those of chemistry. Molar physics, chemistry, and biology are not three successive steps in the ladder of knowledge, as M. Comte would have us believe, but three branches springing from the common stem of molecular physics.

As to astronomy, I am at a loss to understand how any one who will give a moment's attention to the nature of the science can fail to see that it consists of two parts: first, of a description of the phaenomena, which is as much entitled as descriptive zoology, or botany, is, to the name of natural history; and, secondly, of an explanation of the phaenomena, furnished by the laws of a force—gravitation—the study of which is as much a part of physics, as is that of heat, or electricity. It would be just as reasonable to make the study of the heat of the sun a science preliminary to the rest of thermotics, as to place the study of the attraction of the bodies, which compose the universe in general, before that of the particular terrestrial bodies, which alone we can experimentally know. Astronomy, in fact, owes its perfection to the circumstance that it is the only branch of natural history, the phaenomena of which are largely expressible by mathematical conceptions, and which can be, to a great extent, explained by the application of very simple physical laws.

With regard to mathematics, it is to be observed, in the first place, that M. Comte mixes up under that head the pure relations of space and of quantity, which are properly included under the name, with rational mechanics and statics, which are mathematical developments of the most general conceptions of physics, namely, the notions of force and of motion. Relegating these to their proper place in physics, we have left pure mathematics, which can stand neither at the head, nor at the tail, of any hierarchy of the sciences, since, like logic, it is equally related to all; though the enormous practical difficulty of applying mathematics to the more complex phaenomena of nature removes them, for the present, out of its sphere.

On this subject of mathematics, again, M. Comte indulges in assertions which can only be accounted for by his total ignorance of physical science practically. As for example:—

"C'est donc par l'etude des mathematiques, et seulement par elle, que l'on peut se faire une idee juste et approfondie de ce que c'est qu'une science. C'est la uniquement qu'on doit chercher a connaitre avec precision la methode generale que l'esprit humain emploie constamment dans toutes ses recherches positives, parce que nulle part ailleurs les questions ne sont resolues d'une maniere aussi complete et les deductions prolongees aussi loin avec une severite rigoureuse. C'est la egalement que notre entendement a donne les plus grandes preuves de sa force, parce que les idees qu'il y considere sont du plus haut degre d'abstraction possible dans l'ordre positif. Toute education scientifique qui ne commence point par une telle etude peche donc necessairement par sa base."[24]

That is to say, the only study which can confer "a just and comprehensive idea of what is meant by science," and, at the same time, furnish an exact conception of the general method of scientific investigation, is that which knows nothing of observation, nothing of experiment, nothing of induction, nothing of causation! And education, the whole secret of which consists in proceeding from the easy to the difficult, the concrete to the abstract, ought to be turned the other way, and pass from the abstract to the concrete.

M. Comte puts a second argument in favour of his hierarchy of the sciences thus:—

"Un second caractere tres-essentiel de notre classification, c'est d'etre necessairement conforme a l'ordre effectif du developpement de la philosophie naturelle. C'est ce que verifie tout ce qu'on sait de l'histoire des sciences."[25]

But Mr. Spencer has so thoroughly and completely demonstrated the absence of any correspondence between the historical development of the sciences, and their position in the Comtean hierarchy, in his essay on the "Genesis of Science," that I shall not waste time in repeating his refutation.

A third proposition in support of the Comtean classification of the sciences stands as follows:—

"En troisieme lieu cette classification presente la propriete tres-remarquable de marquer exactement la perfection relative des differentes sciences, laquelle consiste essentiellement dans le degre de precision des connaissances et dans leur co-ordination plus ou moins intime."[26]

I am quite unable to understand the distinction which M. Comte endeavours to draw in this passage in spite of his amplifications further on. Every science must consist of precise knowledge, and that knowledge must be co-ordinated into general proportions, or it is not science. When M. Comte, in exemplification of the statement I have cited, says that "les phenomenes organiques ne comportent qu'une etude a la fois moins exacte et moins systematique que les phenomenes des corps bruts," I am at a loss to comprehend what he means. If I affirm that "when a motor nerve is irritated, the muscle connected with it becomes simultaneously shorter and thicker, without changing its volume," it appears to me that the statement is as precise or exact (and not merely as true) as that of the physicist who should say, that "when a piece of iron is heated, it becomes simultaneously longer and thicker and increases in volume;" nor can I discover any difference, in point of precision, between the statement of the morphological law that "animals which suckle their young have two occipital condyles," and the enunciation of the physical law that "water subjected to electrolysis is replaced by an equal weight of the gases, oxygen and hydrogen." As for anatomical or physiological investigation being less "systematic" than that of the physicist or chemist, the assertion is simply unaccountable. The methods of physical science are everywhere the same in principle, and the physiological investigator who was not "systematic" would, on the whole, break down rather sooner than the inquirer into simpler subjects.

Thus M. Comte's classification of the sciences, under all its aspects, appears to me to be a complete failure. It is impossible, in an article which is already too long, to inquire how it may be replaced by a better; and it is the less necessary to do so, as a second edition of Mr. Spencer's remarkable essay on this subject has just been published. After wading through pages of the long-winded confusion and second-hand information of the "Philosophic Positive," at the risk of a crise cerebrale—it is as good as a shower-bath to turn to the "Classification of the Sciences," and refresh oneself with Mr. Spencer's profound thought, precise knowledge, and clear language.

II. The second proposition to which I have committed myself, in the paper to which I have been obliged to refer so often, is, that the "Positive Philosophy" contains "a great deal which is as thoroughly antagonistic to the very essence of science as is anything in ultramontane Catholicism."

What I refer to in these words, is, on the one hand, the dogmatism and narrowness which so often mark M. Comte's discussion of doctrines which he does not like, and reduce his expressions of opinion to mere passionate puerilities; as, for example, when he is arguing against the assumption of an ether, or when he is talking (I cannot call it arguing) against psychology, or political economy. On the other hand, I allude to the spirit of meddling systematization and regulation which animates even the "Philosophic Positive," and breaks out, in the latter volumes of that work, into no uncertain foreshadowing of the anti-scientific monstrosities of Comte's later writings.

Those who try to draw a line of demarcation between the spirit of the "Philosophic Positive," and that of the "Politique" and its successors, (if I may express an opinion from fragmentary knowledge of these last,) must have overlooked, or forgotten, what Comte himself labours to show, and indeed succeeds in proving, in the "Appendice General" of the "Politique Positive." "Des mon debut," he writes, "je tentai de fonder le nouveau pouvoir spirituel que j'institue aujourd'hui." "Ma politique, loin d'etre aucunement opposee a ma philosophie, en constitue tellement la suite naturelle que celle-ci fut directement instituee pour servir de base a celle-la, comme le prouve cet appendice."[27]

This is quite true. In the remarkable essay entitled "Considerations sur le Pouvoir spirituel," published in March 1826, Comte advocates the establishment of a "modern spiritual power," which, he anticipates, may exercise an even greater influence over temporal affairs, than did the Catholic clergy, at the height of their vigour and independence, in the twelfth century. This spiritual power is, in fact, to govern opinion, and to have the supreme control over education, in each nation of the West; and the spiritual powers of the several European peoples are to be associated together and placed under a common direction or "souverainete spirituelle."

A system of "Catholicism minus Christianity" was therefore completely organized in Comte's mind, four years before the first volume of the "Philosophie Positive" was written; and, naturally, the papal spirit shows itself in that work, not only in the ways I have already mentioned, but, notably, in the attack on liberty of conscience which breaks out in the fourth volume:—

"Il n'y a point de liberte de conscience en astronomie, en physique, en chimie, en physiologie meme, en ce sens que chacun trouverait absurde de ne pas croire de confiance aux principes etablis dans les sciences par les hommes competents."

"Nothing in ultramontane Catholicism" can, in my judgment, be more completely sacerdotal, more entirely anti-scientific, than this dictum. All the great steps in the advancement of science have been made by just those men who have not hesitated to doubt the "principles established in the sciences by competent persons;" and the great teaching of science—the great use of it as an instrument of mental discipline—is its constant inculcation of the maxim, that the sole ground on which any statement has a right to be believed is the impossibility of refuting it.

Thus, without travelling beyond the limits of the "Philosophie Positive," we find its author contemplating the establishment of a system of society, in which an organized spiritual power shall over-ride and direct the temporal power, as completely as the Innocents and Gregorys tried to govern Europe in the middle ages; and repudiating the exercise of liberty of conscience against the "hommes competents", of whom, by the assumption, the new priesthood would be composed. Was Mr. Congreve as forgetful of this, as he seems to have been of some other parts of the "Philosophie Positive," when he wrote, that "in any limited, careful use of the term, no candid man could say that the Positive Philosophy contained a great deal as thoroughly antagonistic to [the very essence of[28]] science as Catholicism"?

M. Comte, it will have been observed, desires to retain the whole of Catholic organization; and the logical practical result of this part of his doctrine would be the establishment of something corresponding with that eminently Catholic, but admittedly anti-scientific, institution—the Holy Office.

I hope I have said enough to show that I wrote the few lines I devoted to M. Comte and his philosophy, neither unguardedly, nor ignorantly, still less maliciously. I shall be sorry if what I have now added, in my own justification, should lead any to suppose that I think M. Comte's works worthless; or that I do not heartily respect, and sympathise with, those who have been impelled by him to think deeply upon social problems, and to strive nobly for social regeneration. It is the virtue of that impulse, I believe, which will save the name and fame of Auguste Comte from oblivion. As for his philosophy, I part with it by quoting his own words, reported to me by a quondam Comtist, now an eminent member of the Institute of France, M. Charles Robin:—

"La Philosophie est une tentative incessante de l'esprit humain pour arriver au repos: mais elle se trouve incessamment aussi derangee par les progres continus de la science. De la vient pour le philosophe l'obligation de refaire chaque soir la synthese de ses conceptions; et un jour viendra ou l'homme raisonnable ne fera plus d'autre priere du soir."


[13] I am glad to observe that Mr. Congreve, in the criticism with which he has favoured me in the number of the Fortnightly Review for April 1869, does not venture to challenge the justice of the claim I make for Hume. He merely suggests that I have been wanting in candour in not mentioning Comte's high opinion of Hume. After mature reflection I am unable to discern my fault. If I had suggested that Comte had borrowed from Hume without acknowledgment; or if, instead of trying to express my own sense of Hume's merits with the modesty which becomes a writer who has no authority in matters of philosophy, I had affirmed that no one had properly appreciated him, Mr. Congreve's remarks would apply: but as I did neither of these things, they appear to me to be irrelevant, if not unjustifiable. And even had it occurred to me to quote M. Comte's expressions about Hume, I do not know that I should have cited them, inasmuch as, on his own showing, M. Comte occasionally speaks very decidedly touching writers of whose works he has not read a line. Thus, in Tome VI. of the "Philosophie Positive," p. 619, M. Comte writes: "Le plus grand des metaphysiciens modernes, l'illustre Kant, a noblement merite une eternelle admiration en tentant, le premier, d'echapper directement a l'absolu philosophique par sa celebre conception de la double realite, a la fois objective et subjective, qui indique un si juste sentiment de la saine philosophie."

But in the "Preface Personnelle" in the same volume, p. 35, M. Comte tells us:—"Je n'ai jamais lu, en aucune langue, ni Vico, ni Kant, ni Herder, ni Hegel, &c.; je ne connais leurs divers ouvrages que d'apres quelques relations indirectes et certains extraits fort insuffisants."

Who knows but that the "&c." may include Hume? And in that case what is the value of M. Comte's praise of him?

[14] Now and always I quote the second edition, by Littre.

[15] "Philosophie Positive," ii. p. 440.

[16] "Le brillant mais superficiel Cuvier."—Philosophie Positive, vi. p. 383.

[17] "Philosophie Positive," iii. p. 369.

[18] Ibid. p. 387.

[19] Hear the late Dr. Whewell, who calls Comte "a shallow pretender," so far as all the modern sciences, except astronomy, are concerned; and tells us that "his pretensions to discoveries are, as Sir John Herschel has shown, absurdly fallacious."—"Comte and Positivism," Macmillan's Magazine, March 1866.

[20] "Philosophie Positive," i. pp. 8, 9.

[21] "Philosophie Positive," iii. p. 188.

[22] The word "positive" is in every way objectionable. In one sense it suggests that mental quality which was undoubtedly largely developed in M. Comte, but can best be dispensed with in a philosopher; in another, it is unfortunate in its application to a system which starts with enormous negations; in its third, and specially philosophical sense, as implying a system of thought which assumes nothing beyond the content of observed facts, it implies that which never did exist, and never will.

[23] "Philosophie Positive," i. p. 56.

[24] "Philosophie Positive," i. p. 99.

[25] Ibid., i. p. 77.

[26] "Philosophie Positive," i. p. 78.

[27] Loc. cit., Preface Speciale, pp. i. ii.

[28] Mr. Congreve leaves out these important words, which show that I refer to the spirit, and not to the details of science.




If a well were to be sunk at our feet in the midst of the city of Norwich, the diggers would very soon find themselves at work in that white substance almost too soft to be called rock, with which we are all familiar as "chalk."

Not only here, but over the whole county of Norfolk, the well-sinker might carry his shaft down many hundred feet without coming to the end of the chalk; and, on the sea-coast, where the waves have pared away the face of the land which breasts them, the scarped faces of the high cliffs are often wholly formed of the same material. Northward, the chalk may be followed as far as Yorkshire; on the south coast it appears abruptly in the picturesque western bays of Dorset, and breaks into the Needles of the Isle of Wight; while on the shores of Kent it supplies that long line of white cliffs to which England owes her name of Albion.

Were the thin soil which covers it all washed away, a curved band of white chalk, here broader, and there narrower, might be followed diagonally across England from Lulworth in Dorset, to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire—a distance of over 280 miles as the crow flies.

From this band to the North Sea, on the east, and the Channel, on the south, the chalk is largely hidden by other deposits; but, except in the Weald of Kent and Sussex, it enters into the very foundation of all the south-eastern counties.

Attaining, as it does in some places, a thickness of more than a thousand feet, the English chalk must be admitted to be a mass of considerable magnitude. Nevertheless, it covers but an insignificant portion of the whole area occupied by the chalk formation of the globe, which has precisely the same general characters as ours, and is found in detached patches, some less, and others more extensive, than the English.

Chalk occurs in north-west Ireland; it stretches over a large part of France,—the chalk which underlies Paris being, in fact, a continuation of that of the London basin; it runs through Denmark and Central Europe, and extends southward to North Africa; while, eastward, it appears in the Crimea and in Syria, and may be traced as far as the shores of the Sea of Aral, in Central Asia.

If all the points at which true chalk occurs were circumscribed, they would lie within an irregular oval about 3,000 miles in long diameter—the area of which would be as great as that of Europe, and would many times exceed that of the largest existing inland sea—the Mediterranean.

Thus the chalk is no unimportant element in the masonry of the earth's crust, and it impresses a peculiar stamp, varying with the conditions to which it is exposed, on the scenery of the districts in which it occurs. The undulating downs and rounded coombs, covered with sweet-grassed turf, of our inland chalk country, have a peacefully domestic and mutton-suggesting prettiness, but can hardly be called either grand or beautiful. But, on our southern coasts, the wall-sided cliffs, many hundred feet high, with vast needles and pinnacles standing out in the sea, sharp and solitary enough to serve as perches for the wary cormorant, confer a wonderful beauty and grandeur upon the chalk headlands. And, in the East, chalk has its share in the formation of some of the most venerable of mountain ranges, such as the Lebanon.

What is this wide-spread component of the surface of the earth? and whence did it come?

You may think this no very hopeful inquiry. You may not unnaturally suppose that the attempt to solve such problems as these can lead to no result, save that of entangling the inquirer in vague speculations, incapable of refutation and of verification.

If such were really the case, I should have selected some other subject than a "piece of chalk" for my discourse. But, in truth, after much deliberation, I have been unable to think of any topic which would so well enable me to lead you to see how solid is the foundation upon which some of the most startling conclusions of physical science rest.

A great chapter of the history of the world is written in the chalk. Few passages in the history of man can be supported by such an overwhelming mass of direct and indirect evidence as that which testifies to the truth of the fragment of the history of the globe, which I hope to enable you to read, with your own eyes, to-night.

Let me add, that few chapters of human history have a more profound significance for ourselves. I weigh my words well when I assert, that the man who should know the true history of the bit of chalk which every carpenter carries about in his breeches-pocket, though ignorant of all other history, is likely, if he will think his knowledge out to its ultimate results, to have a truer, and therefore a better, conception of this wonderful universe, and of man's relation to it, than the most learned student who is deep-read in the records of humanity and ignorant of those of Nature.

The language of the chalk is not hard to learn, not nearly so hard as Latin, if you only want to get at the broad features of the story it has to tell; and I propose that we now set to work to spell that story out together.

We all know that if we "burn" chalk the result is quicklime. Chalk, in fact, is a compound of carbonic acid gas and lime, and when you make it very hot the carbonic acid flies away and the lime is left.

By this method of procedure we see the lime, but we do not see the carbonic acid. If, on the other hand, you were to powder a little chalk, and drop it into a good deal of strong vinegar, there would be a great bubbling and fizzing, and, finally, a clear liquid, in which no sign of chalk would appear. Here you see the carbonic acid in the bubbles; the lime, dissolved in the vinegar, vanishes from sight. There are a great many other ways of showing that chalk is essentially nothing but carbonic acid and quicklime. Chemists enunciate the result of all the experiments which prove this, by stating that chalk is almost wholly composed of "carbonate of lime."

It is desirable for us to start from the knowledge of this fact, though it may not seem to help us very far towards what we seek. For carbonate of lime is a widely-spread substance, and is met with under very various conditions. All sorts of limestones are composed of more or less pure carbonate of lime. The crust which is often deposited by waters which have drained through limestone rocks, in the form of what are called stalagmites and stalactites, is carbonate of lime. Or, to take a more familiar example, the fur on the inside of a tea-kettle is carbonate of lime; and, for anything chemistry tells us to the contrary, the chalk might be a kind of gigantic fur upon the bottom of the earth-kettle, which is kept pretty hot below.

Let us try another method of making the chalk tell us its own history. To the unassisted eye chalk looks simply like a very loose and open kind of stone. But it is possible to grind a slice of chalk down so thin that you can see through it—until it is thin enough, in fact, to be examined with any magnifying power that may be thought desirable. A thin slice of the fur of a kettle might be made in the same way. If it were examined microscopically, it would show itself to be a more or less distinctly laminated mineral substance, and nothing more.

But the slice of chalk presents a totally different appearance when placed under the microscope. The general mass of it is made up of very minute granules; but imbedded in this matrix, are innumerable bodies, some smaller and some larger, but, on a rough average, not more than a hundredth of an inch in diameter, having a well-defined shape and structure. A cubic inch of some specimens of chalk may contain hundreds of thousands of these bodies, compacted together with incalculable millions of the granules.

The examination of a transparent slice gives a good notion of the manner in which the components of the chalk are arranged, and of their relative proportions. But, by rubbing up some chalk with a brush in water and then pouring off the milky fluid, so as to obtain sediments of different degrees of fineness, the granules and the minute rounded bodies may be pretty well separated from one another, and submitted to microscopic examination, either as opaque or as transparent objects. By combining the views obtained in these various methods, each of the rounded bodies may be proved to be a beautifully-constructed calcareous fabric, made up of a number of chambers, communicating freely with one another. The chambered bodies are of various forms. One of the commonest is something like a badly-grown raspberry, being formed of a number of nearly globular chambers of different sizes congregated together. It is called Globigerina, and some specimens of chalk consist of little else than Globigerinae and granules.

Let us fix our attention upon the Globigerina. It is the spoor of the game we are tracking. If we can learn what it is and what are the conditions of its existence, we shall see our way to the origin and past history of the chalk.

A suggestion which may naturally enough present itself is, that these curious bodies are the result of some process of aggregation which has taken place in the carbonate of lime; that, just as in winter, the rime on our windows simulates the most delicate and elegantly arborescent foliage—proving that the mere mineral water may, under certain conditions, assume the outward form of organic bodies—so this mineral substance, carbonate of lime, hidden away in the bowels of the earth, has taken the shape of these chambered bodies. I am not raising a merely fanciful and unreal objection. Very learned men, in former days, have even entertained the notion that all the formed things found in rocks are of this nature; and if no such conception is at present held to be admissible, it is because long and varied experience has now shown that mineral matter never does assume the form and structure we find in fossils. If any one were to try to persuade you that an oyster-shell (which is also chiefly composed of carbonate of lime) had crystallized out of sea-water, I suppose you would laugh at the absurdity. Your laughter would be justified by the fact that all experience tends to show that oyster-shells are formed by the agency of oysters, and in no other way. And if there were no better reasons, we should be justified, on like grounds, in believing that Globigerina is not the product of anything but vital activity.

Happily, however, better evidence in proof of the organic nature of the Globigerinae than that of analogy is forthcoming. It so happens that calcareous skeletons, exactly similar to the Globigerinae of the chalk, are being formed, at the present moment, by minute living creatures, which flourish in multitudes, literally more numerous than the sands of the sea-shore, over a large extent of that part of the earth's surface which is covered by the ocean.

The history of the discovery of these living Globigerinae, and of the part which they play in rock-building, is singular enough. It is a discovery which, like others of no less scientific importance, has arisen, incidentally, out of work devoted to very different and exceedingly practical interests.

When men first took to the sea, they speedily learned to look out for shoals and rocks; and the more the burthen of their ships increased, the more imperatively necessary it became for sailors to ascertain with precision the depth of the waters they traversed. Out of this necessity grew the use of the lead and sounding-line; and, ultimately, marine-surveying, which is the recording of the form of coasts and of the depth of the sea, as ascertained by the sounding-lead, upon charts.

At the same time, it became desirable to ascertain and to indicate the nature of the sea-bottom, since this circumstance greatly affects its goodness as holding ground for anchors. Some ingenious tar, whose name deserves a better fate than the oblivion into which it has fallen, attained this object by "arming" the bottom of the lead with a lump of grease, to which more or less of the sand or mud, or broken shells, as the case might be, adhered, and was brought to the surface. But, however well adapted such an apparatus might be for rough nautical purposes, scientific accuracy could not be expected from the armed lead, and to remedy its defects (especially when applied to sounding in great depths) Lieut. Brooke, of the American Navy, some years ago invented a most ingenious machine, by which a considerable portion of the superficial layer of the sea-bottom can be scooped out and brought up, from any depth to which the lead descends.

In 1853, Lieut. Brooke obtained mud from the bottom of the North Atlantic, between Newfoundland and the Azores, at a depth of more than 10,000 feet, or two miles, by the help of this sounding apparatus. The specimens were sent for examination to Ehrenberg of Berlin, and to Bailey of West Point, and those able microscopists found that this deep-sea mud was almost entirely composed of the skeletons of living organisms—the greater proportion of these being just like the Globigerinae already known to occur in the chalk.

Thus far, the work had been carried on simply in the interests of science, but Lieut. Brooke's method of sounding acquired a high commercial value, when the enterprise of laying down the telegraph-cable between this country and the United States was undertaken. For it became a matter of immense importance to know, not only the depth of the sea over the whole line along which the cable was to be laid, but the exact nature of the bottom, so as to guard against chances of cutting or fraying the strands of that costly rope. The Admiralty consequently ordered Captain Dayman, an old friend and shipmate of mine, to ascertain the depth over the whole line of the cable, and to bring back specimens of the bottom. In former days, such a command as this might have sounded very much like one of the impossible things which the young prince in the Fairy Tales is ordered to do before he can obtain the hand of the Princess. However, in the months of June and July 1857, my friend performed the task assigned to him with great expedition and precision, without, so far as I know, having met with any reward of that kind. The specimens of Atlantic mud which he procured were sent to me to be examined and reported upon.[29]

The result of all these operations is, that we know the contours and the nature of the surface-soil covered by the North Atlantic, for a distance of 1,700 miles from east to west, as well as we know that of any part of the dry land.

It is a prodigious plain—one of the widest and most even plains in the world. If the sea were drained off, you might drive a wagon all the way from Valentia, on the west coast of Ireland, to Trinity Bay, in Newfoundland. And, except upon one sharp incline about 200 miles from Valentia, I am not quite sure that it would even be necessary to put the skid on, so gentle are the ascents and descents upon that long route. From Valentia the road would lie down hill for about 200 miles to the point at which the bottom is now covered by 1,700 fathoms of sea-water. Then would come the central plain, more than a thousand miles wide, the inequalities of the surface of which would be hardly perceptible, though the depth of water upon it now varies from 10,000 to 15,000 feet; and there are places in which Mont Blanc might be sunk without showing its peak above water. Beyond this, the ascent on the American side commences, and gradually leads, for about 300 miles, to the Newfoundland shore.

Almost the whole of the bottom of this central plain (which extends for many hundred miles in a north and south direction) is covered by a fine mud, which, when brought to the surface, dries into a greyish-white friable substance. You can write with this on a blackboard, if you are so inclined; and, to the eye, it is quite like very soft, greyish chalk. Examined chemically, it proves to be composed almost wholly of carbonate of lime; and if you make a section of it, in the same way as that of the piece of chalk was made, and view it with the microscope, it presents innumerable Globigerinae, embedded in a granular matrix.

Thus this deep-sea mud is substantially chalk. I say substantially, because there are a good many minor differences: but as these have no bearing on the question immediately before us,—which is the nature of the Globigerinae of the chalk,—it is unnecessary to speak of them.

Globigerinae of every size, from the smallest to the largest, are associated together in the Atlantic mud, and the chambers of many are filled by a soft animal matter. This soft substance is, in fact, the remains of the creature to which the Globigerina shell, or rather skeleton, owes its existence—and which is an animal of the simplest imaginable description. It is, in fact, a mere particle of living jelly, without defined parts of any kind—without a mouth, nerves, muscles, or distinct organs, and only manifesting its vitality to ordinary observation by thrusting out and retracting from all parts of its surface, long filamentous processes, which serve for arms and legs. Yet this amorphous particle, devoid of everything which, in the higher animals, we call organs, is capable of feeding, growing, and multiplying; of separating from the ocean the small proportion of carbonate of lime which is dissolved in sea-water; and of building up that substance into a skeleton for itself, according to a pattern which can be imitated by no other known agency.

The notion that animals can live and flourish in the sea, at the vast depths from which apparently living Globigerinae have been brought up, does not agree very well with our usual conceptions respecting the conditions of animal life; and it is not so absolutely impossible as it might at first sight appear to be, that the Globigerinae of the Atlantic sea-bottom do not live and die where they are found.

As I have mentioned, the soundings from the great Atlantic plain are almost entirely made up of Globigerinae, with the granules which have been mentioned, and some few other calcareous shells; but a small percentage of the chalky mud—perhaps at most some five per cent. of it—is of a different nature, and consists of shells and skeletons composed of silex, or pure flint. These silicious bodies belong partly to the lowly vegetable organisms which are called Diatomaceae, and partly to the minute, and extremely simple, animals, termed Radiolaria. It is quite certain that these creatures do not live at the bottom of the ocean, but at its surface—where they may be obtained in prodigious numbers by the use of a properly constructed net. Hence it follows that these silicious organisms, though they are not heavier than the lightest dust, must have fallen, in some cases, through fifteen thousand feet of water, before they reached their final resting-place on the ocean floor. And, considering how large a surface these bodies expose in proportion to their weight, it is probable that they occupy a great length of time in making their burial journey from the surface of the Atlantic to the bottom.

But if the Radiolaria and Diatoms are thus rained upon the bottom of the sea, from the superficial layer of its waters in which they pass their lives, it is obviously possible that the Globigerinae may be similarly derived; and if they were so, it would be much more easy to understand how they obtain their supply of food than it is at present. Nevertheless, the positive and negative evidence all points the other way. The skeletons of the full-grown, deep-sea Globigerinae are so remarkably solid and heavy in proportion to their surface as to seem little fitted for floating; and, as a matter of fact, they are not to be found along with the Diatoms and Radiolaria, in the uppermost stratum of the open ocean.

It has been observed, again, that the abundance of Globigerinae, in proportion to other organisms of like kind, increases with the depth of the sea; and that deep-water Globigerinae are larger than those which live in shallower parts of the sea; and such facts negative the supposition that these organisms have been swept by currents from the shallows into the deeps of the Atlantic.

It therefore seems to be hardly doubtful that these wonderful creatures live and die at the depths in which they are found.[30]

However, the important points for us are, that the living Globigerinae are exclusively marine animals, the skeletons of which abound at the bottom of deep seas; and that there is not a shadow of reason for believing that the habits of the Globigerinae of the chalk differed from those of the existing species. But if this be true, there is no escaping the conclusion that the chalk itself is the dried mud of an ancient deep sea.

In working over the soundings collected by Captain Dayman, I was surprised to find that many of what I have called the "granules" of that mud, were not, as one might have been tempted to think at first, the mere powder and waste of Globigerinae, but that they had a definite form and size, I termed these bodies "coccoliths," and doubted their organic nature. Dr. Wallich verified my observation, and added the interesting discovery that, not unfrequently, bodies similar to these "coccoliths" were aggregated together into spheroids, which he termed "coccospheres." So far as we knew, these bodies, the nature of which is extremely puzzling and problematical, were peculiar to the Atlantic soundings.

But, a few years ago, Mr. Sorby, in making a careful examination of the chalk by means of thin sections and otherwise, observed, as Ehrenberg had done before him, that much of its granular basis possesses a definite form. Comparing these formed particles with those in the Atlantic soundings, he found the two to be identical; and thus proved that the chalk, like the soundings, contains these mysterious coccoliths and coccospheres. Here was a further and a most interesting confirmation, from internal evidence, of the essential identity of the chalk with modern deep-sea mud. Globigerinae, coccoliths, and coccospheres are found as the chief constituents of both, and testify to the general similarity of the conditions under which both have been formed.[31]

The evidence furnished by the hewing, facing, and superposition of the stones of the Pyramids, that these structures were built by men, has no greater weight than the evidence that the chalk was built by Globigerinae; and the belief that those ancient pyramid-builders were terrestrial and air-breathing creatures like ourselves, is not better based than the conviction that the chalk-makers lived in the sea.

But as our belief in the building of the Pyramids by men is not only grounded on the internal evidence afforded by these structures, but gathers strength from multitudinous collateral proofs, and is clinched by the total absence of any reason for a contrary belief; so the evidence drawn from the Globigerinae that the chalk is an ancient sea-bottom, is fortified by innumerable independent lines of evidence; and our belief in the truth of the conclusion to which all positive testimony tends, receives the like negative justification from the fact that no other hypothesis has a shadow of foundation.

It may be worth while briefly to consider a few of these collateral proofs that the chalk was deposited at the bottom of the sea.

The great mass of the chalk is composed, as we have seen, of the skeletons of Globigerinae, and other simple organisms, imbedded in granular matter. Here and there, however, this hardened mud of the ancient sea reveals the remains of higher animals which have lived and died, and left their hard parts in the mud, just as the oysters die and leave their shells behind them, in the mud of the present seas.

There are, at the present day, certain groups of animals which are never found in fresh waters, being unable to live anywhere but in the sea. Such are the corals; those corallines which are called Polyzoa; those creatures which fabricate the lamp-shells, and are called Brachiopoda; the pearly Nautilus, and all animals allied to it; and all the forms of sea-urchins and star-fishes.

Not only are all these creatures confined to salt water at the present day; but, so far as our records of the past go, the conditions of their existence have been the same: hence, their occurrence in any deposit is as strong evidence as can be obtained, that that deposit was formed in the sea. Now the remains of animals of all the kinds which have been enumerated, occur in the chalk, in greater or less abundance; while not one of those forms of shell-fish which are characteristic of fresh water has yet been observed in it.

When we consider that the remains of more than three thousand distinct species of aquatic animals have been discovered among the fossils of the chalk, that the great majority of them are of such forms as are now met with only in the sea, and that there is no reason to believe that any one of them inhabited fresh water—the collateral evidence that the chalk represents an ancient sea-bottom acquires as great force as the proof derived from the nature of the chalk itself. I think you will now allow that I did not overstate my case when I asserted that we have as strong grounds for believing that all the vast area of dry land, at present occupied by the chalk, was once at the bottom of the sea, as we have for any matter of history whatever; while there is no justification for any other belief.

No less certain is it that the time during which the countries we now call south-east England, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Egypt, Arabia, Syria, were more or less completely covered by a deep sea, was of considerable duration.

We have already seen that the chalk is, in places, more than a thousand feet thick. I think you will agree with me, that it must have taken some time for the skeletons of animalcules of a hundredth of an inch in diameter to heap up such a mass as that. I have said that throughout the thickness of the chalk the remains of other animals are scattered. These remains are often in the most exquisite state of preservation. The valves of the shell-fishes are commonly adherent; the long spines of some of the sea-urchins, which would be detached by the smallest jar, often remain in their places. In a word, it is certain that these animals have lived and died when the place which they now occupy was the surface of as much of the chalk as had then been deposited; and that each has been covered up by the layer of Globigerinae mud, upon which the creatures imbedded a little higher up have, in like manner, lived and died. But some of these remains prove the existence of reptiles of vast size in the chalk sea. These lived their time, and had their ancestors and descendants, which assuredly implies time, reptiles being of slow growth.

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