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Huxley, Thomas Henry / Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews
E-text prepared by Clare Boothby, Martin Pettit, and the Project
Online Distributed Proofreading Team (/)




MacMillan and Co.
R. Clay, Sons, and Taylor, Printers,
Bread Street Hill.




I should have liked to provide this collection of "Lay Sermons,
Addresses, and Reviews," with a Dedication and a Preface. In the former,
I should have asked you to allow me to associate your name with the
book, chiefly on the ground that the oldest of the papers in it is a
good deal younger than our friendship. In the latter, I intended to
comment upon certain criticisms with which some of these Essays have
been met.

But, on turning the matter over in my mind, I began to fear that a
formal dedication at the beginning of such a volume would look like a
grand lodge in front of a set of cottages; while a complete defence of
any of my old papers would simply amount to writing a new one--a labour
for which I am, at present, by no means fit.

The book must go forth, therefore, without any better substitute for
either Dedication, or Preface, than this letter; before concluding which
it is necessary for me to notify you, and any other reader, of two or
three matters.

The first is, that the oldest Essay of the whole, that "On the
Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences," contains a view of
the nature of the differences between living and not-living bodies out
of which I have long since grown.

Secondly, in the same paper, there is a statement concerning the method
of the mathematical sciences, which, repeated and expanded elsewhere,
brought upon me, during the meeting of the British Association at
Exeter, the artillery of our eminent friend Professor Sylvester.

No one knows better than you do, how readily I should defer to the
opinion of so great a mathematician if the question at issue were
really, as he seems to think it is, a mathematical one. But I submit,
that the dictum of a mathematical athlete upon a difficult problem which
mathematics offers to philosophy, has no more special weight, than the
verdict of that great pedestrian Captain Barclay would have had, in
settling a disputed point in the physiology of locomotion.

The genius which sighs for new worlds to conquer beyond that surprising
region in which "geometry, algebra, and the theory of numbers melt into
one another like sunset tints, or the colours of a dying dolphin," may
be of comparatively little service in the cold domain (mostly lighted by
the moon, some say) of philosophy. And the more I think of it, the more
does our friend seem to me to fall into the position of one of those
"verständige Leute," about whom he makes so apt a quotation from Goethe.
Surely he has not duly considered two points. The first, that I am in no
way answerable for the origination of the doctrine he criticises: and
the second, that if we are to employ the terms observation, induction,
and experiment, in the sense in which he uses them, logic is as much an
observational, inductive, and experimental science as mathematics; and
that, I confess, appears to me to be a _reductio ad absurdum_ of his

Thirdly, the essay "On the Physical Basis of Life" was intended to
contain a plain and untechnical statement of one of the great tendencies
of modern biological thought, accompanied by a protest, from the
philosophical side, against what is commonly called Materialism. The
result of my well-meant efforts I find to be, that I am generally
credited with having invented "protoplasm" in the interests of
"materialism." My unlucky "Lay Sermon" has been attacked by
microscopists, ignorant alike of Biology and Philosophy; by
philosophers, not very learned in either Biology or Microscopy; by
clergymen of several denominations; and by some few writers who have
taken the trouble to understand the subject. I trust that these last
will believe that I leave the essay unaltered from no want of respectful
attention to all they have said.

Fourthly, I wish to refer all who are interested in the topics discussed
in my address on "Geological Reform," to the reply with which Sir
William Thomson has honoured me.

And, lastly, let me say that I reprint the review of "The Origin of
Species" simply because it has been cited as mine by a late President of
the Geological Society. If you find its phraseology, in some places, to
be more vigorous than seems needful, recollect that it was written in
the heat of our first battles over the Novum Organon of biology; that we
were all ten years younger in those days; and last, but not least, that
it was not published until it had been submitted to the revision of a
friend for whose judgment I had then, as I have now, the greatest

Ever, my dear TYNDALL,

Yours very faithfully,


LONDON, _June 1870_.


(A Lay Sermon delivered in St. Martin's Hall, on the evening
of Sunday, the 7th of January, 1866, and subsequently published
in the _Fortnightly Review_) 3


(The _Reader_, May 20th, 1865) 23


to the South London Working Men's College, delivered on the
4th of January, 1868, and subsequently published in _Macmillan's
Magazine_) 31


before the Liverpool Philomathic Society in April 1869,
and subsequently published in _Macmillan's Magazine_) 60


(An Address delivered at St. Martin's Hall, on the 22d July,
1854, and published as a pamphlet in that year) 80


ON THE STUDY OF ZOOLOGY. (A Lecture delivered at the South
Kensington Museum, in 1861, and subsequently published by the
Department of Science and Art) 104


ON THE PHYSICAL BASIS OF LIFE. (A Lay Sermon delivered in
Edinburgh, on Sunday, the 8th of November, 1868, at the request
of the late Rev. James Cranbrook; subsequently published in the
_Fortnightly Review_) 132


Attack upon the preceding Paper. Published in the _Fortnightly
Review._ 1869) 162


ON A PIECE OF CHALK. (A Lecture delivered to the Working Men of
Norwich, during the Meeting of the British Association, in 1868.
Subsequently published in _Macmillan's Magazine_) 192


Anniversary Address to the Geological Society for 1862) 223


GEOLOGICAL REFORM. (The Anniversary Address to the Geological
Society for 1869) 251


THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. (The _Westminster Review_, April 1860) 280


Review_, 1864) 328


the Cambridge Young Men's Christian Society, delivered on the
24th of March, 1870, and subsequently published in
_Macmillan's Magazine_) 351




This time two hundred years ago--in the beginning of January,
1666--those of our forefathers who inhabited this great and ancient
city, took breath between the shocks of two fearful calamities, one not
quite past, although its fury had abated; the other to come.

Within a few yards of the very spot on which we are assembled, so the
tradition runs, that painful and deadly malady, the plague, appeared in
the latter months of 1664; and, though no new visitor, smote the people
of England, and especially of her capital, with a violence unknown
before, in the course of the following year. The hand of a master has
pictured what happened in those dismal months; and in that truest of
fictions, "The History of the Plague Year," Defoe shows death, with
every accompaniment of pain and terror, stalking through the narrow
streets of old London, and changing their busy hum into a silence broken
only by the wailing of the mourners of fifty thousand dead; by the woful
denunciations and mad prayers of fanatics; and by the madder yells of
despairing profligates.

But, about this time in 1666, the death-rate had sunk to nearly its
ordinary amount; a case of plague occurred only here and there, and the
richer citizens who had flown from the pest had returned to their
dwellings. The remnant of the people began to toil at the accustomed
round of duty, or of pleasure; and the stream of city life bid fair to
flow back along its old bed, with renewed and uninterrupted vigour.

The newly kindled hope was deceitful. The great plague, indeed, returned
no more; but what it had done for the Londoners, the great fire, which
broke out in the autumn of 1666, did for London; and, in September of
that year, a heap of ashes and the indestructible energy of the people
were all that remained of the glory of five-sixths of the city within
the walls.

Our forefathers had their own ways of accounting for each of these
calamities. They submitted to the plague in humility and in penitence,
for they believed it to be the judgment of God. But, towards the fire
they were furiously indignant, interpreting it as the effect of the
malice of man,--as the work of the Republicans, or of the Papists,
according as their prepossessions ran in favour of loyalty or of

It would, I fancy, have fared but ill with one who, standing where I now
stand, in what was then a thickly peopled and fashionable part of
London, should have broached to our ancestors the doctrine which I now
propound to you--that all their hypotheses were alike wrong; that the
plague was no more, in their sense, Divine judgment, than the fire was
the work of any political, or of any religious, sect; but that they were
themselves the authors of both plague and fire, and that they must look
to themselves to prevent the recurrence of calamities, to all appearance
so peculiarly beyond the reach of human control--so evidently the result
of the wrath of God, or of the craft and subtlety of an enemy.

And one may picture to oneself how harmoniously the holy cursing of the
Puritan of that day would have chimed in with the unholy cursing and the
crackling wit of the Rochesters and Sedleys, and with the revilings of
the political fanatics, if my imaginary plain dealer had gone on to say
that, if the return of such misfortunes were ever rendered impossible,
it would not be in virtue of the victory of the faith of Laud, or of
that of Milton; and, as little, by the triumph of republicanism, as by
that of monarchy. But that the one thing needful for compassing this end
was, that the people of England should second the efforts of an
insignificant corporation, the establishment of which, a few years
before the epoch of the great plague and the great fire, had been as
little noticed, as they were conspicuous.

Some twenty years before the outbreak of the plague a few calm and
thoughtful students banded themselves together for the purpose, as they
phrased it, of "improving natural knowledge." The ends they proposed to
attain cannot be stated more clearly than in the words of one of the
founders of the organization:--

"Our business was (precluding matters of theology and state affairs) to
discourse and consider of philosophical enquiries, and such as related
thereunto:--as Physick, Anatomy, Geometry, Astronomy, Navigation,
Staticks, Magneticks, Chymicks, Mechanicks, and Natural Experiments;
with the state of these studies and their cultivation at home and
abroad. We then discoursed of the circulation of the blood, the valves
in the veins, the venĉ lacteĉ, the lymphatic vessels, the Copernican
hypothesis, the nature of comets and new stars, the satellites of
Jupiter, the oval shape (as it then appeared) of Saturn, the spots on
the sun and its turning on its own axis, the inequalities and
selenography of the moon, the several phases of Venus and Mercury, the
improvement of telescopes and grinding of glasses for that purpose, the
weight of air, the possibility or impossibility of vacuities and
nature's abhorrence thereof, the Torricellian experiment in quicksilver,
the descent of heavy bodies and the degree of acceleration therein, with
divers other things of like nature, some of which were then but new
discoveries, and others not so generally known and embraced as now they
are; with other things appertaining to what hath been called the New
Philosophy, which, from the times of Galileo at Florence, and Sir
Francis Bacon (Lord Verulam) in England, hath been much cultivated in
Italy, France, Germany, and other parts abroad, as well as with us in

The learned Dr. Wallis, writing in 1696, narrates, in these words, what
happened half a century before, or about 1645. The associates met at
Oxford, in the rooms of Dr. Wilkins, who was destined to become a
bishop; and subsequently coming together in London, they attracted the
notice of the king. And it is a strange evidence of the taste for
knowledge which the most obviously worthless of the Stuarts shared with
his father and grandfather, that Charles the Second was not content
with saying witty things about his philosophers, but did wise things
with regard to them. For he not only bestowed upon them such attention
as he could spare from his poodles and his mistresses, but, being in his
usual state of impecuniosity, begged for them of the Duke of Ormond;
and, that step being without effect, gave them Chelsea College, a
charter, and a mace: crowning his favours in the best way they could be
crowned, by burdening them no further with royal patronage or state

Thus it was that the half-dozen young men, studious of the "New
Philosophy," who met in one another's lodgings in Oxford or in London,
in the middle of the seventeenth century, grew in numerical and in real
strength, until, in its latter part, the "Royal Society for the
Improvement of Natural Knowledge" had already become famous, and had
acquired a claim upon the veneration of Englishmen, which it has ever
since retained, as the principal focus of scientific activity in our
islands, and the chief champion of the cause it was formed to support.

It was by the aid of the Royal Society that Newton published his
"Principia." If all the books in the world, except the Philosophical
Transactions, were destroyed, it is safe to say that the foundations of
physical science would remain unshaken, and that the vast intellectual
progress of the last two centuries would be largely, though
incompletely, recorded. Nor have any signs of halting or of decrepitude
manifested themselves in our own times. As in Dr. Wallis's days, so in
these, "our business is, precluding theology and state affairs, to
discourse and consider of philosophical enquiries." But our
"Mathematick" is one which Newton would have to go to school to learn;
our "Staticks, Mechanicks, Magneticks, Chymicks, and Natural
Experiments" constitute a mass of physical and chemical knowledge, a
glimpse at which would compensate Galileo for the doings of a score of
inquisitorial cardinals; our "Physick" and "Anatomy" have embraced such
infinite varieties of being, have laid open such new worlds in time and
space, have grappled, not unsuccessfully, with such complex problems,
that the eyes of Vesalius and of Harvey might be dazzled by the sight of
the tree that has grown out of their grain of mustard seed.

The fact is perhaps rather too much, than too little, forced upon one's
notice, nowadays, that all this marvellous intellectual growth has a no
less wonderful expression in practical life; and that, in this respect,
if in no other, the movement symbolized by the progress of the Royal
Society stands without a parallel in the history of mankind.

A series of volumes as bulky as the Transactions of the Royal Society
might possibly be filled with the subtle speculations of the schoolmen;
not improbably, the obtaining a mastery over the products of mediĉval
thought might necessitate an even greater expenditure of time and of
energy than the acquirement of the "New Philosophy;" but though such
work engrossed the best intellects of Europe for a longer time than has
elapsed since the great fire, its effects were "writ in water," so far
as our social state is concerned.

On the other hand, if the noble first President of the Royal Society
could revisit the upper air and once more gladden his eyes with a sight
of the familiar mace, he would find himself in the midst of a material
civilization more different from that of his day, than that of the
seventeenth, was from that of the first, century. And if Lord
Brouncker's native sagacity had not deserted his ghost, he would need no
long reflection to discover that all these great ships, these railways,
these telegraphs, these factories, these printing presses, without which
the whole fabric of modern English society would collapse into a mass of
stagnant and starving pauperism,--that all these pillars of our State
are but the ripples and the bubbles upon the surface of that great
spiritual stream, the springs of which, only, he and his fellows were
privileged to see; and seeing, to recognise as that which it behoved
them above all things to keep pure and undefiled.

It may not be too great a flight of imagination to conceive our noble
_revenant_ not forgetful of the great troubles of his own day, and
anxious to know how often London had been burned down since his time,
and how often the plague had carried off its thousands. He would have to
learn that, although London contains tenfold the inflammable matter that
it did in 1666; though, not content with filling our rooms with woodwork
and light draperies, we must needs lead inflammable and explosive gases
into every corner of our streets and houses, we never allow even a
street to burn down. And if he asked how this had come about, we should
have to explain that the improvement of natural knowledge has furnished
us with dozens of machines for throwing water upon fires, anyone of
which would have furnished the ingenious Mr. Hooke, the first "curator
and experimenter" of the Royal Society, with ample materials for
discourse before half a dozen meetings of that body; and that, to say
truth, except for the progress of natural knowledge, we should not have
been able to make even the tools by which these machines are
constructed. And, further, it would be necessary to add, that although
severe fires sometimes occur and inflict great damage, the loss is very
generally compensated by societies, the operations of which have been
rendered possible only by the progress of natural knowledge in the
direction of mathematics, and the accumulation of wealth in virtue of
other natural knowledge.

But the plague? My Lord Brouncker's observation would not, I fear, lead
him to think that Englishmen of the nineteenth century are purer in
life, or more fervent in religious faith, than the generation which
could produce a Boyle, an Evelyn, and a Milton. He might find the mud of
society at the bottom, instead of at the top, but I fear that the sum
total would be as deserving of swift judgment as at the time of the
Restoration. And it would be our duty to explain once more, and this
time not without shame, that we have no reason to believe that it is the
improvement of our faith, nor that of our morals, which keeps the plague
from our city; but, again, that it is the improvement of our natural

We have learned that pestilences will only take up their abode among
those who have prepared unswept and ungarnished residences for them.
Their cities must have narrow, unwatered streets, foul with accumulated
garbage. Their houses must be ill-drained, ill-lighted, ill-ventilated.
Their subjects must be ill-washed, ill-fed, ill-clothed. The London of
1665 was such a city. The cities of the East, where plague has an
enduring dwelling, are such cities. We, in later times, have learned
somewhat of Nature, and partly obey her. Because of this partial
improvement of our natural knowledge and of that fractional obedience,
we have no plague; because that knowledge is still very imperfect and
that obedience yet incomplete, typhus is our companion and cholera our
visitor. But it is not presumptuous to express the belief that, when our
knowledge is more complete and our obedience the expression of our
knowledge, London will count her centuries of freedom from typhus and
cholera, as she now gratefully reckons her two hundred years of
ignorance of that plague which swooped upon her thrice in the first half
of the seventeenth century.

Surely, there is nothing in these explanations which is not fully borne
out by the facts? Surely, the principles involved in them are now
admitted among the fixed beliefs of all thinking men? Surely, it is true
that our countrymen are less subject to fire, famine, pestilence, and
all the evils which result from a want of command over and due
anticipation of the course of Nature, than were the countrymen of
Milton; and health, wealth, and well-being are more abundant with us
than with them? But no less certainly is the difference due to the
improvement of our knowledge of Nature, and the extent to which that
improved knowledge has been incorporated with the household words of
men, and has supplied the springs of their daily actions.

Granting for a moment, then, the truth of that which the depreciators of
natural knowledge are so fond of urging, that its improvement can only
add to the resources of our material civilization; admitting it to be
possible that the founders of the Royal Society themselves looked for no
other reward than this, I cannot confess that I was guilty of
exaggeration when I hinted, that to him who had the gift of
distinguishing between prominent events and important events, the origin
of a combined effort on the part of mankind to improve natural knowledge
might have loomed larger than the Plague and have outshone the glare of
the Fire; as a something fraught with a wealth of beneficence to
mankind, in comparison with which the damage done by those ghastly evils
would shrink into insignificance.

It is very certain that for every victim slain by the plague, hundreds
of mankind exist and find a fair share of happiness in the world, by the
aid of the spinning jenny. And the great fire, at its worst, could not
have burned the supply of coal, the daily working of which, in the
bowels of the earth, made possible by the steam pump, gives rise to an
amount of wealth to which the millions lost in old London are but as an
old song.

But spinning jenny and steam pump are, after all, but toys, possessing
an accidental value; and natural knowledge creates multitudes of more
subtle contrivances, the praises of which do not happen to be sung
because they are not directly convertible into instruments for creating
wealth. When I contemplate natural knowledge squandering such gifts
among men, the only appropriate comparison I can find for her is, to
liken her to such a peasant woman as one sees in the Alps, striding ever
upward, heavily burdened, and with mind bent only on her home; but yet,
without effort and without thought, knitting for her children. Now
stockings are good and comfortable things, and the children will
undoubtedly be much the better for them; but surely it would be
short-sighted, to say the least of it, to depreciate this toiling mother
as a mere stocking-machine--a mere provider of physical comforts?

However, there are blind leaders of the blind, and not a few of them,
who take this view of natural knowledge, and can see nothing in the
bountiful mother of humanity but a sort of comfort-grinding machine.
According to them, the improvement of natural knowledge always has been,
and always must be, synonymous with no more than the improvement of the
material resources and the increase of the gratifications of men.

Natural knowledge is, in their eyes, no real mother of mankind, bringing
them up with kindness, and, if need be, with sternness, in the way they
should go, and instructing them in all things needful for their welfare;
but a sort of fairy godmother, ready to furnish her pets with shoes of
swiftness, swords of sharpness, and omnipotent Aladdin's lamps, so that
they may have telegraphs to Saturn, and see the other side of the moon,
and thank God they are better than their benighted ancestors.

If this talk were true, I, for one, should not greatly care to toil in
the service of natural knowledge. I think I would just as soon be
quietly chipping my own flint axe, after the manner of my forefathers a
few thousand years back, as be troubled with the endless malady of
thought which now infests us all, for such reward. But I venture to say
that such views are contrary alike to reason and to fact. Those who
discourse in such fashion seem to me to be so intent upon trying to see
what is above Nature, or what is behind her, that they are blind to what
stares them in the face, in her.

I should not venture to speak thus strongly if my justification were not
to be found in the simplest and most obvious facts,--if it needed more
than an appeal to the most notorious truths to justify my assertion,
that the improvement of natural knowledge, whatever direction it has
taken, and however low the aims of those who may have commenced it--has
not only conferred practical benefits on men, but, in so doing, has
effected a revolution in their conceptions of the universe and of
themselves, and has profoundly altered their modes of thinking and their
views of right and wrong. I say that natural knowledge, seeking to
satisfy natural wants, has found the ideas which can alone still
spiritual cravings. I say that natural knowledge, in desiring to
ascertain the laws of comfort, has been driven to discover those of
conduct; and to lay the foundations of a new morality.

Let us take these points separately; and, first, what great ideas has
natural knowledge introduced into men's minds?

I cannot but think that the foundations of all natural knowledge were
laid when the reason of man first came face to face with the facts of
Nature: when the savage first learned that the fingers of one hand are
fewer than those of both; that it is shorter to cross a stream than to
head it; that a stone stops where it is unless it be moved, and that it
drops from the hand which lets it go; that light and heat come and go
with the sun; that sticks burn away in a fire; that plants and animals
grow and die; that if he struck his fellow-savage a blow he would make
him angry, and perhaps get a blow in return, while if he offered him a
fruit he would please him, and perhaps receive a fish in exchange. When
men had acquired this much knowledge, the outlines, rude though they
were, of mathematics, of physics, of chemistry, of biology, of moral,
economical, and political science, were sketched. Nor did the germ of
religion fail when science began to bud. Listen to words which, though
new, are yet three thousand years old:--

"...When in heaven the stars about the moon
Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
And every height comes out, and jutting peak
And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
Break open to their highest, and all the stars
Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his heart."[1]

If the half-savage Greek could share our feelings thus far, it is
irrational to doubt that he went further, to find, as we do, that upon
that brief gladness there follows a certain sorrow,--the little light of
awakened human intelligence shines so mere a spark amidst the abyss of
the unknown and unknowable; seems so insufficient to do more than
illuminate the imperfections that cannot be remedied, the aspirations
that cannot be realized, of man's own nature. But in this sadness, this
consciousness of the limitation of man, this sense of an open secret
which he cannot penetrate, lies the essence of all religion; and the
attempt to embody it in the forms furnished by the intellect is the
origin of the higher theologies.

Thus it seems impossible to imagine but that the foundations of all
knowledge--secular or sacred--were laid when intelligence dawned, though
the superstructure remained for long ages so slight and feeble as to be
compatible with the existence of almost any general view respecting the
mode of governance of the universe. No doubt, from the first, there were
certain phenomena which, to the rudest mind, presented a constancy of
occurrence, and suggested that a fixed order ruled, at any rate, among
them. I doubt if the grossest of Fetish worshippers ever imagined that a
stone must have a god within it to make it fall, or that a fruit had a
god within it to make it taste sweet. With regard to such matters as
these, it is hardly questionable that mankind from the first took
strictly positive and scientific views.

But, with respect to all the less familiar occurrences which present
themselves, uncultured man, no doubt, has always taken himself as the
standard of comparison, as the centre and measure of the world; nor
could he well avoid doing so. And finding that his apparently uncaused
will has a powerful effect in giving rise to many occurrences, he
naturally enough ascribed other and greater events to other and greater
volitions, and came to look upon the world and all that therein is, as
the product of the volitions of persons like himself, but stronger, and
capable of being appeased or angered, as he himself might be soothed or
irritated. Through such conceptions of the plan and working of the
universe all mankind have passed, or are passing. And we may now
consider, what has been the effect of the improvement of natural
knowledge on the views of men who have reached this stage, and who have
begun to cultivate natural knowledge with no desire but that of
"increasing God's honour and bettering man's estate."

For example: what could seem wiser, from a mere material point of view,
more innocent, from a theological one, to an ancient people, than that
they should learn the exact succession of the seasons, as warnings for
their husbandmen; or the position of the stars, as guides to their rude
navigators? But what has grown out of this search for natural knowledge
of so merely useful a character? You all know the reply.
Astronomy,--which of all sciences has filled men's minds with general
ideas of a character most foreign to their daily experience, and has,
more than any other, rendered it impossible for them to accept the
beliefs of their fathers. Astronomy,--which tells them that this so vast
and seemingly solid earth is but an atom among atoms, whirling, no man
knows whither, through illimitable space; which demonstrates that what
we call the peaceful heaven above us, is but that space, filled by an
infinitely subtle matter whose particles are seething and surging, like
the waves of an angry sea; which opens up to us infinite regions where
nothing is known, or ever seems to have been known, but matter and
force, operating according to rigid rules; which leads us to contemplate
phenomena the very nature of which demonstrates that they must have had
a beginning, and that they must have an end, but the very nature of
which also proves that the beginning was, to our conceptions of time,
infinitely remote, and that the end is as immeasurably distant.

But it is not alone those who pursue astronomy who ask for bread and
receive ideas. What more harmless than the attempt to lift and
distribute water by pumping it; what more absolutely and grossly
utilitarian? But out of pumps grew the discussions about Nature's
abhorrence of a vacuum; and then it was discovered that Nature does not
abhor a vacuum, but that air has weight; and that notion paved the way
for the doctrine that all matter has weight, and that the force which
produces weight is co-extensive with the universe,--in short, to the
theory of universal gravitation and endless force. While learning how to
handle gases led to the discovery of oxygen, and to modern chemistry,
and to the notion of the indestructibility of matter.

Again, what simpler, or more absolutely practical, than the attempt to
keep the axle of a wheel from heating when the wheel turns round very
fast? How useful for carters and gig drivers to know something about
this; and how good were it, if any ingenious person would find out the
cause of such phenomena, and thence educe a general remedy for them.
Such an ingenious person was Count Rumford; and he and his successors
have landed us in the theory of the persistence, or indestructibility,
of force. And in the infinitely minute, as in the infinitely great, the
seekers after natural knowledge, of the kinds called physical and
chemical, have everywhere found a definite order and succession of
events which seem never to be infringed.

And how has it fared with "Physick" and Anatomy? Have the anatomist, the
physiologist, or the physician, whose business it has been to devote
themselves assiduously to that eminently practical and direct end, the
alleviation of the sufferings of mankind,--have they been able to
confine their vision more absolutely to the strictly useful? I fear they
are worst offenders of all. For if the astronomer has set before us the
infinite magnitude of space, and the practical eternity of the duration
of the universe; if the physical and chemical philosophers have
demonstrated the infinite minuteness of its constituent parts, and the
practical eternity of matter and of force; and if both have alike
proclaimed the universality of a definite and predicable order and
succession of events, the workers in biology have not only accepted all
these, but have added more startling theses of their own. For, as the
astronomers discover in the earth no centre of the universe, but an
eccentric speck, so the naturalists find man to be no centre of the
living world, but one amidst endless modifications of life; and as the
astronomer observes the mark of practically endless time set upon the
arrangements of the solar system, so the student of life finds the
records of ancient forms of existence peopling the world for ages,
which, in relation to human experience, are infinite.

Furthermore, the physiologist finds life to be as dependent for its
manifestation on particular molecular arrangements as any physical or
chemical phenomenon; and, wherever he extends his researches, fixed
order and unchanging causation reveal themselves, as plainly as in the
rest of Nature.

Nor can I find that any other fate has awaited the germ of Religion.
Arising, like all other kinds of knowledge, out of the action and
interaction of man's mind, with that which is not man's mind, it has
taken the intellectual coverings of Fetishism or Polytheism; of Theism
or Atheism; of Superstition or Rationalism. With these, and their
relative merits and demerits, I have nothing to do; but this it is
needful for my purpose to say, that if the religion of the present
differs from that of the past, it is because the theology of the present
has become more scientific than that of the past; because it has not
only renounced idols of wood and idols of stone, but begins to see the
necessity of breaking in pieces the idols built up of books and
traditions and fine-spun ecclesiastical cobwebs: and of cherishing the
noblest and most human of man's emotions, by worship "for the most part
of the silent sort" at the altar of the Unknown and Unknowable.

Such are a few of the new conceptions implanted in our minds by the
improvement of natural knowledge. Men have acquired the ideas of the
practically infinite extent of the universe and of its practical
eternity; they are familiar with the conception that our earth is but an
infinitesimal fragment of that part of the universe which can be seen;
and that, nevertheless, its duration is, as compared with our standards
of time, infinite. They have further acquired the idea that man is but
one of innumerable forms of life now existing in the globe, and that the
present existences are but the last of an immeasurable series of
predecessors. Moreover, every step they have made in natural knowledge
has tended to extend and rivet in their minds the conception of a
definite order of the universe--which is embodied in what are called, by
an unhappy metaphor, the laws of Nature--and to narrow the range and
loosen the force of men's belief in spontaneity, or in changes other
than such as arise out of that definite order itself.

Whether these ideas are well or ill founded is not the question. No one
can deny that they exist, and have been the inevitable outgrowth of the
improvement of natural knowledge. And if so, it cannot be doubted that
they are changing the form of men's most cherished and most important

And as regards the second point--the extent to which the improvement of
natural knowledge has remodelled and altered what may be termed the
intellectual ethics of men,--what are among the moral convictions most
fondly held by barbarous and semi-barbarous people?

They are the convictions that authority is the soundest basis of belief;
that merit attaches to a readiness to believe; that the doubting
disposition is a bad one, and scepticism a sin; that when good authority
has pronounced what is to be believed, and faith has accepted it, reason
has no further duty. There are many excellent persons who yet hold by
these principles, and it is not my present business, or intention, to
discuss their views. All I wish to bring clearly before your minds is
the unquestionable fact, that the improvement of natural knowledge is
effected by methods which directly give the lie to all these
convictions, and assume the exact reverse of each to be true.

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge
authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind
faith the one unpardonable sin. And it cannot be otherwise, for every
great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection
of authority, the cherishing of the keenest scepticism, the annihilation
of the spirit of blind faith: and the most ardent votary of science
holds his firmest convictions, not because the men he most venerates
hold them; not because their verity is testified by portents and
wonders; but because his experience teaches him that whenever he chooses
to bring these convictions into contact with their primary source,
Nature--whenever he thinks fit to test them by appealing to experiment
and to observation--Nature will confirm them. The man of science has
learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.

Thus, without for a moment pretending to despise the practical results
of the improvement of natural knowledge, and its beneficial influence on
material civilization, it must, I think, be admitted that the great
ideas, some of which I have indicated, and the ethical spirit which I
have endeavoured to sketch, in the few moments which remained at my
disposal, constitute the real and permanent significance of natural

If these ideas be destined, as I believe they are, to be more and more
firmly established as the world grows older; if that spirit be fated, as
I believe it is, to extend itself into all departments of human thought,
and to become co-extensive with the range of knowledge; if, as our race
approaches its maturity, it discovers, as I believe it will, that there
is but one kind of knowledge and but one method of acquiring it; then
we, who are still children, may justly feel it our highest duty to
recognise the advisableness of improving natural knowledge, and so to
aid ourselves and our successors in their course towards the noble goal
which lies before mankind.


[1] Need it be said that this is Tennyson's English for Homer's Greek?



Quashie's plaintive inquiry, "Am I not a man and a brother?" seems at
last to have received its final reply--the recent decision of the fierce
trial by battle on the other side of the Atlantic fully concurring with
that long since delivered here in a more peaceful way.

The question is settled; but even those who are most thoroughly
convinced that the doom is just, must see good grounds for repudiating
half the arguments which have been employed by the winning side; and for
doubting whether its ultimate results will embody the hopes of the
victors, though they may more than realize the fears of the vanquished.
It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men;
but no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average
negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man.
And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his
disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field
and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete
successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller-jawed rival, in a
contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites.

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