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Title: Hints towards the formation of a more comprehensive theory of life.
Author: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 1772-1834
Language: English
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   *Hints Towards the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory Of Life*

                           *by S. T. Coleridge*

                     *Edited by Seth B. Watson, M.D.*

                          Of St. John’s College,

       And Formerly One of the Physicians to the Hospital at Oxford

       Magna sunt opera Domini exquisita in omnes voluntates ejus.

               London: John Churchill, Princes Street, Soho


             *C. and J. Adlard, Printers, Bartholomew Close*


Physiology Of Life.
The Nature Of Life.


The Editor takes this opportunity of returning his best acknowledgments to
Sir JOHN STODDART, LL.D., to the Rev. JAMES GILLMAN, Incumbent of Trinity,
Lambeth, and to HENRY LEE, Esq., Assistant Surgeon to King’s College
Hospital, for their great kindness, in regard to this publication.

_16, Norfolk Street, Park Lane._


The accompanying pages contain the unfinished Sketch of a Theory of Life
by S. T. Coleridge. Everything that fell from the pen of that
extraordinary man bore latent, as well as more obvious indications of
genius, and of its inseparable concomitant—originality. To this general
remark the present Essay is far from forming an exception. No one can
peruse it, without admiring the author’s comprehensive research and
profound meditation; but at the same time, partly from the exuberance of
his imagination, and partly from an apparent want of method (though, in
truth, he had a method of his own, by which he marshalled his thoughts in
an order perfectly intelligible to himself), a first perusal will, to many
readers, prove unsatisfactory, unless they are prepared for it by an
introduction of a more popular character. This purpose, therefore, I shall
endeavour to accomplish; it being to be understood that I by no means make
myself responsible either for Mr. Coleridge’s speculations, or for the
manner in which they are enunciated; and that, on the contrary, I shall
occasionally indicate views from which I dissent, and expressions which
perhaps the author himself, on revision, would have seen reason to

It is clear that Mr. Coleridge considers the unity of human nature to
result from two combined elements, Body and Soul; that he regards the
latter as the principle of Reason and of Conscience (both which he has
largely treated in his published works), and that the “Life,” which he
here investigates, concerns, in relation to mankind, only the Body. He is
far, however, from confining the term “Life” to its action on the human
body; on the contrary, he disclaims the division of all that surrounds us
into things with life, and things without life; and contends, that the
term Life is no less applicable to the irreducible _bases_ of chemistry,
such as sodium, potassium, &c., or to the various forms of crystals, or
the geological strata which compose the crust of our globe, than it is to
the human body itself, the acme and perfection of animal organization. I
admit that there are certain great powers, such as magnetism, electricity,
and chemistry, whose action may be traced, even by the limited means which
science at present possesses, in admirable gradation, from purely
unorganized to the most highly organized matter: and, I think, that Mr.
Coleridge has done this with great ingenuity and striking effect; but what
I object to is, that he applies to the combined operation of these powers,
in all cases, the term _Life_. If we look back to the early history of
language, we shall probably find that this word, and its synonymes in
other tongues, were first employed to denote _human_ life, that is, the
duration of a human being’s existence from birth to the grave. As this
existence was marked by actions, many of which were common to man with
other animals, those animals also were said to “live;” but the extension
of the notion of Life to the vegetable creation is comparatively a recent
usage,—and hitherto (in this country at least) no writer before Mr.
Coleridge, so far as I know, has maintained that rocks and mountains, nay,
“the great globe itself,” share with mankind the gift of Life. On the
other hand, there are well known and energetic uses of the word “Life,” to
which Mr. Coleridge’s speculations, as contained in the accompanying
pages, are wholly inapplicable. Almost all nations, even the most savage,
agree in the belief that individuals of the human race, after they have
ceased to exist in this mortal life, will exist in another state, to which
also the word Life is universally applied; but to this latter Mr.
Coleridge’s views of magnetism, electricity, &c., can hardly be thought
applicable. Still less can they apply to “Life” in its spiritual sense;
as, when Moses says to the Jews, “the words of the law are your _life_,”
(Deut. xxxii, 47,) and when our Saviour says, “the words that I speak unto
you, they are spirit, and they are _life_;” (John, vi, 63;) and again, “I
am the resurrection and the life,” (John, xi, 25.) Upon the whole,
therefore, I think it would have been advisable in Mr. Coleridge to have
adopted a different phraseology, in tracing the operation of certain
natural agencies first on unorganized, and then on organized bodies.

Another word, of which I consider an improper use to be made in this
Essay, is “Nature.” I find this imaginary being introduced on all
occasions, and invested with attributes of personality, which may be
extremely apt to make a false impression on young or thoughtless minds. At
one time, “the life of Nature” is spoken of; then we are informed that
“Nature has succeeded. _She_ has created the intermediate link between the
vegetable world and the animal.” Again, it is said that “Nature seems to
fall back, and to reexert _herself_ on the lower ground, which _she_ had
before occupied;”—and elsewhere we are told that “Nature never loses what
_she_ has once learnt; though in the acquirement of each new power _she_
intermits or performs less energetically the act immediately preceding.
_She_ often drops a faculty, but never fails to pick it up again. _She_
may seem forgetful and absent; but it is only to recollect _herself_ with
additional as well as recruited vigour in some after and higher state.”
Now the word “Nature,” in any intelligible sense, means nothing but that
method and order by which the Almighty regulates the common course of
things. Nature is not a person; it is not active; it neither creates nor
performs actions more or less energetically, nor learns, nor forgets, nor
reexerts itself, nor recruits its vigour. Perhaps it will be said that all
this is merely figurative language. Figurative language is very much
misplaced in strict philosophical investigations; and these particular
figures, which might be quite consistent with the atheistical philosophy
of Lucretius, sound ill in the mouth of a pious Christian, which Mr.
Coleridge undoubtedly was. He probably adopted them unconsciously from
Bacon; but Bacon’s use of the word Nature ought rather to have served as a
warning than an example; for it has contributed, in no small degree, to
the atheistical philosophy of recent times.

The prevalent natural philosophy of the present day is that which is
called _corpuscular_, because it assumes the existence of a first matter,
consisting of _corpuscula_ or atoms, which are supposed to be definite,
though extremely small, _quantities_, invested with the _qualities_ of
extension, impenetrability, and the like; and from certain combinations of
these qualities, Life is considered, by some persons, to be a necessary
result. This philosophy Mr. Coleridge combats. The supposed atoms, he
says, are mere abstractions of the mind; and Life is not a thing, the
result of atomic arrangement or action, but is itself an act, or process.
He refutes various definitions of Life, such as, that it is the sum of all
the functions by which death is resisted; or, that it depends on the
faculty of nutrition, or of anti-putrescence. His own definition he
proposes merely as an hypothesis. Life, he says, is “the principle of
Individuation,” that is to say, it is a power which discloses itself from
within, combining many qualities into one individual thing. This
individualising principle unites, as he conceives, with the cooperating
action of magnetism, electricity, and chemistry. At least, such is the
inference to be drawn from the present state of science; though it is
easily conceivable that future discoveries may bring us acquainted with
powers more directly connected with Life. The most general law governing
the action of Life, as a tendency to individuation, is here designated
_polarity_; for instance, the power termed magnetism (not meaning that
there is necessarily an actual tangible magnet in the case) has two poles,
the negative, answering to attraction, rest, carbon, &c., and the
positive, answering to repulsion, mobility, azote, &c.; and as the
magnetic needle which points to the north necessarily indicates thereby
the south, so the power disposing to rest has necessarily a counteracting
influence disposing to mobility, between which lies the point of
indifference. Now this quality, to which Mr. Coleridge gives the name of
polarity, is in truth nothing more than an exemplification of the doctrine
of opposites, the πρός ἂλληλα ἀντικειμένω ἀντίθεσις, which the Eleatic
Philosopher, in Plato’s “Sophist,” applies to the idea of existence and
non-existence, and which accompanies every other idea as its shadow,
whether in physics, in intellect, or in morals; for the finite is opposed
to the infinite, the false to the true, the evil to the good, and so
forth; which we say, not to derogate from the value of Mr. Coleridge’s
application of the doctrine, of which he has very ably availed himself;
but merely to explain the term polarity, by referring it, as a species, to
a higher genus of intellectual conceptions.

Reverting to the three powers before mentioned, it is not to be
understood, that on Mr. Coleridge’s hypothesis of Life, they ever act
separately; but in the different modifications of Life, at one time the
power of magnetism predominates, at another that of electricity, and at
another that of chemistry. Magnetism is stated to act as a line,
electricity as a surface, and chemistry as a solid; for all which Mr.
Coleridge refers to certain physical experiments. The predominance of
magnetism is characterised by reproduction, that of electricity by
irritability; and irritability, which first appears as muscle, gradually
rises into sensibility as nerve. The limits of a mere introduction will
not permit me to examine Mr. Coleridge’s first principles more in detail;
and I can but briefly notice their application to the successive stages of
ascent, from the first rudiments of individualised Life, in the lowest
classes of the mineral, vegetable, and animal creation, to its crown and
consummation in the human body. Beginning with magnetism, by which, in its
widest sense, he means what he improperly calls the first and simplest
differential act of _Nature_ (he should rather have said the first and
simplest conception that we can form of a differential act of God, in the
work of creation), he supposes the pre-existence of chaos, not, indeed, in
the Miltonic sense—

“For hot, cold, moist, and dry, four champions fierce,
Strive _there_ for mast’ry, and to battle bring
Their embryon atoms,—”

but rather as one vast homogeneous fluid, and even _that_ he suggests not
as a historical fact, but as the appropriate symbol of a great fundamental
truth. The first effort of magnetic power, the first step from
indifference to difference, from formless homogeneity to independent
existence, is seen in the tranquil deposition of crystals; and an
increasing tendency to difference is observable in the increasing
multitude of strata, till we come to organic life; of which the vegetable
and animal worlds may be regarded as opposite poles; carbon prevailing in
the former and azote in the latter; and vegetation being characterised by
the predominance of magnetism in its highest power, as reproduction;
whilst the animal tribes evince the power of electricity, as shown in
irritability and sensibility. Passing over the forms of vegetation, we
come to the polypi, corallines, &c., in which individuality appears in its
first dawn; for a multitude of animals form, as it were, a common animal,
and different genera pass into each other, almost indistinguishably. The
tubipora of the corals connects with the serpula of the conchylia. In the
_mollusca_ the separation of organs becomes more observable; in the higher
species there are rudiments of nerves, and an exponent, though scarcely
distinguishable, of sensibility. In the snail, and muscle, the separation
of the fluid from the solid is more marked, yet the prevalence of the
carbonic principle connects these and the preceding classes, in a certain
degree, with the vegetable creation. “But the _insect_ world, taken at
large (says Mr. Coleridge) appears as an intense _Life_, that has
struggled itself loose, and become emancipated from vegetation—_Floræ
liberti, et libertini_!” In insects we first find the distinct
commencement of a separation between the muscular system, that is, organs
of irritability, and the nervous system, that is, organs of sensibility;
the former, however, maintaining a pre-eminence throughout, and the nerves
themselves being probably subservient to the motory power. With the fishes
begins an internal system of bones, but these are the results of a
comparatively imperfect formation, being in general little more than mere
gristle. In birds we find a sort of synthesis of the powers of fish and
insects. In all three, the powers are under the predominance of
irritability; but sensibility, which is dormant in the insect, begins to
awaken in the fish, and, though still subordinate, is quite awake in the
bird, of which no better proof can be given than its power of sound, with
the rudiments of modulation, in the large class of singing birds, and in
some others a tendency to acquire and to imitate articulate speech. The
next step of ascent brings us to the _mammalia_; and in these, including
beasts and men, the complete and universal presence of a nervous system
raises sensibility to its due place and rank among the animal powers.
Finally, in Man the whole force of organic power attains an inward and
centripetal direction, and the “apex of the living pyramid”becomes a fit
receptacle for Reason and Conscience.

                                * * * * *

It is much to be regretted, that the estimable Author did not live to put
a finishing hand to this Essay; but the part completed involves
speculations of so interesting a nature, and presents such striking marks
of deep and original thought, that the Editor, to whose hands it was
committed, did not feel himself justified in withholding it from the
judgment of the public.



When we stand before the bust of John Hunter, or as we enter the
magnificent museum furnished by his labours, and pass slowly, with
meditative observation, through this august temple, which the genius of
one great man has raised and dedicated to the wisdom and uniform working
of the Creator, we perceive at every step the guidance, we had almost
said, the inspiration, of those profound ideas concerning Life, which dawn
upon us, indeed, through his written works, but which he has here
presented to us in a more perfect language than that of words—the language
of God himself, as uttered by Nature.

That the true idea of Life existed in the mind of John Hunter I do not
entertain the least doubt; but it may, perhaps, be doubted whether his
incessant occupation, and his stupendous industry in the service, both of
his contemporaries and of posterity, added to his comparatively slight
acquaintance with the arts and aids of logical arrangement, permitted him
fully to unfold and arrange it in distinct, clear, and communicable
conceptions. Assuredly, however, I may, without incurring the charge of
arrogance or detraction, venture to assert that, in his writings the light
which occasionally flashes upon us seems at other times, and more
frequently, to struggle through an unfriendly medium, and even sometimes
to suffer a temporary occultation. At least, in order to dissipate the
undeniable obscurities, and to reconcile the apparent contradictions found
in his works,—to distinguish, in short, the numerous passages in which
without, perhaps, losing sight internally of his own peculiar belief, he
yet falls into the phraseology and mechanical solutions of his age,—we
must distinguish such passages from those in which the form corresponds to
the substance, and in which, therefore, the nature and essential laws of
vital action are expressed, as far as his researches had unveiled them to
his own mind, without disguise. To effect this, we must, as it were, climb
up on his shoulders, and look at the same objects in a distincter form,
because seen from the more commanding point of view furnished by himself.
This has, indeed, been more than once attempted already, and, in one
instance, with so evident a display of power and insight as announces in
the assertor and vindicator of the Hunterian Theory a congenial intellect,
and a disciple in whom Hunter himself would have exulted. Would that this
attempt had been made on a larger scale, that the writer to whom I
refer(1) had in consequence developed his opinions systematically, and
carried them yet further back, even to their ultimate principle!

But this the scientific world has yet to expect; or it is more than
probable that the present humble endeavour would have been superseded, or
confined, at least, to the task of restating the opinion of my predecessor
with such modifications as the differences that will always exist between
men who have thought independently, and each for himself, have never
failed to introduce, even on problems of far easier and more obvious

Without further preface or apology, therefore, I shall state at once my
objections to all the definitions that have hitherto been given of Life,
as meaning too much or too little, with an exception, however, in favour
of those which mean nothing at all; and even these last must, in certain
cases, receive an honour they do not merit, and be confuted, or rather
detected, on account of their too general acceptance, and the incalculable
power of words over the minds of men in proportion to the remoteness of
the subject from the cognizance of the senses.

It would be equally presumptuous and unreasonable should I, with a late
writer on this subject, “exhort the reader to be particularly on his guard
against loose and indefinite expressions;” but I perfectly agree that they
are the bane of all science, and have been remarkably injurious in the
different departments of physiology.


    On The Definitions Of Life Hitherto Received. Hints Towards A More
                          Comprehensive Theory.

The attempts to explain the nature of Life, which have fallen within my
knowledge, presuppose the arbitrary division of all that surrounds us into
things with life, and things without life—a division grounded on a mere
assumption. At the best, it can be regarded only as a hasty deduction from
the first superficial notices of the objects that surround us, sufficient,
perhaps, for the purpose of ordinary discrimination, but far too
indeterminate and diffluent to be taken unexamined by the philosophic
inquirer. The positions of science must be tried in the jeweller’s scales,
not like the mixed commodities of the market, on the weigh-bridge of
common opinion and vulgar usage. Such, however, has been the procedure in
the present instance, and the result has been answerable to the coarseness
of the process. By a comprisal of the _petitio principii_ with the
_argumentum in circulo_,—in plain English, by an easy logic, which begins
with begging the question, and then moving in a circle, comes round to the
point where it began,—each of the two divisions has been made to define
the other by a mere reassertion of their assumed contrariety. The
physiologist has luminously explained Y plus X by informing us that it is
a somewhat that is the antithesis of Y minus X; and if we ask, what then
is Y-X? the answer is, the antithesis of Y+X,—a reciprocation of great
service, that may remind us of the twin sisters in the fable of the Lamiæ,
with but one eye between them both, which each borrowed from the other as
either happened to want it; but with this additional disadvantage, that in
the present case it is after all but an eye of glass. The definitions
themselves will best illustrate our meaning. I will begin with that given
by Bichat. “Life is the sum of all the functions by which death is
resisted,” in which I have in vain endeavoured to discover any other
meaning than that life consists in being able to live. This author, with a
whimsical gravity, prefaces his definition with the remark, that the
nature of life has hitherto been sought for in _abstract_ considerations;
as if it were possible that four more inveterate abstractions could be
brought together in one sentence than are here assembled in the words,
life, death, function, and resistance. Similar instances might be cited
from Richerand and others. The word Life is translated into other more
learned words; and this _paraphrase_ of the _term_ is substituted for the
_definition_ of the _thing_, and therefore (as is always the case in every
_real_ definition as contra-distinguished from a _verbal_ definition,) for
at least a partial _solution_ of the _fact_. Such as these form the
_first_ class.—The second class takes some one particular function of Life
common to all living objects,—nutrition, for instance; or, to adopt the
phrase most in vogue at present, assimilation, for the purposes of
reproduction and growth. Now this, it is evident, can be an appropriate
definition only of the very lowest species, as of a Fungus or a Mollusca;
and just as comprehensive an idea of the mystery of Life, as a Mollusca
might give, can this definition afford. But this is not the only
objection. For, _first_, it is not pretended that we begin with seeking
for an organ evidently appropriated to nutrition, and then infer that the
substance in which such an organ is found _lives_. On the contrary, in a
number of cases among the obscurer animals and vegetables we infer the
organ from the pre-established fact of its life. _Secondly_, it identifies
the process itself with a certain range of its forms, those, namely, by
which it is manifested in animals and vegetables. For this, too, no less
than the former, presupposes the arbitrary division of all things into not
living and lifeless, on which, as I before observed, all these definitions
are grounded. But it is sorry logic to take the proof of an affirmative in
one thing as the proof of the negative in another. All animals that have
lungs breathe, but it would be a childish oversight to deduce the
converse, viz. all animals that breathe have lungs. The theory in which
the French chemists organized the discoveries of Black, Cavendish,
Priestly, Scheele, and other English and German philosophers, is still,
indeed, the reigning theory, but rather, it should seem, from the absence
of a rival sufficiently popular to fill the throne in its stead, than from
the continuance of an implicit belief in its own stability. We no longer
at least cherish that intensity of faith which, before Davy commenced his
brilliant career, had not only identified it with chemistry itself, but
had substituted its nomenclature, even in common conversation, for the far
more philosophic language which the human race had abstracted from the
laboratory of Nature. I may venture to prophecy that no future Beddoes
will make it the corival of the mathematical sciences in demonstrative
evidence. I think it a matter of doubt whether, during the period of its
supposed infallibility, physiology derived more benefit from the
extension, or injury from the misdirection, of its views. Enough of the
latter is fresh in recollection to make it but an equivocal compliment to
a physiological position, that it must stand or fall with the corpuscular
philosophy, as modified by the French theory of chemistry. Yet should it
happen (and the event is not impossible, nor the supposition altogether
absurd,) that more and more decisive facts should present themselves in
confirmation of the metamorphosis of elements, the position that life
consists in assimilation would either cease to be distinctive, or fall
back into the former class as an identical proposition, namely, that Life,
meaning by the word that sort of growth which takes place by means of a
peculiar organization, consists in that sort of growth which is peculiar
to organized life. _Thirdly_, the definition involves a still more
egregious flaw in the reasoning, namely, that of _cum hoc, ergo propter
hoc_ (or the assumption of causation from mere coexistence); and this,
too, in its very worst form. For it is not _cum hoc solo, ergo propter
hoc_, which would in many cases supply a presumptive proof by induction,
but _cum hoc, et plurimis aliis, ergo propter hoc_! Shell, of some kind or
other, is common to the whole order of testacea, but it would be absurd to
define the _vis vitæ_ of testaceous animals as existing in the shell,
though we know it to be the constant accompaniment, and have every reason
to believe the constant effect, of the specific life that acts in those
animals. Were we (_argumenti __ causá_) to imagine shell coextensive with
the organized creation, this would produce no abatement in the falsity of
the reasoning. Nor does the flaw stop here; for a physiological, that is a
real, definition, as distinguished from the verbal definitions of
lexicography, must consist neither in any single property or function of
the thing to be defined, nor yet in all collectively, which latter,
indeed, would be a history, not a definition. It must consist, therefore,
in the _law_ of the thing, or in such an _idea_ of it, as, being admitted,
all the properties and functions are admitted by implication. It must
likewise be so far _causal_, that a full insight having been obtained of
the law, we derive from it a progressive insight into the necessity and
_generation_ of the phenomena of which it is the law. Suppose a disease in
question, which appeared always accompanied with certain symptoms in
certain stages, and with some one or more symptoms in all stages—say
deranged digestion, capricious alternation of vivacity and languor,
headache, dilated pupil, diminished sensibility to light, &c.—Neither the
man who selected the one constant symptom, nor he who enumerated all the
symptoms, would give the scientific definition _talem scilicet, quali
scientia fit vel datur_, but the man who at once named and defined the
disease hydrocephalus, producing pressure on the brain. For it is the
essence of a scientific definition to be causative, not by introduction of
imaginary somewhats, natural or supernatural under the name of causes, but
by announcing the law of action in the particular case, in subordination
to the common law of which all the phenomena are modifications or results.

Now in the definition on which, as the representative of a whole class, we
are _now_ animadverting, a single effect is given as constituting the
cause. For nutrition by digestion is certainly necessary to life, only
under certain circumstances, but that life is previously necessary to
digestion is absolutely certain under all circumstances. Besides, what
other phenomenon of Life would the conception of assimilation, _per se_,
or as it exists in the lowest order of animals, involve or explain? How,
for instance, does it include sensation, locomotion, or habit? or if the
two former should be taken as distinct from life, _toto genere_, and
supervenient to it, we then ask what conception is given of _vital_
assimilation as contradistinguished from that of the nucleus of a crystal?

_Lastly_, this definition confounds the Law of Life, or the primary and
universal form of vital agency, with the conception, Animals. For the
kind, it substitutes the representative of its degrees and modifications.
But the first and most important office of science, physical or
physiological, is to contemplate the power in kind, abstracted from the
degree. The ideas of caloric, whether as substance or property, and the
conceptions of latent heat, the heat in ice, &c., that excite the wonder
or the laughter of the vulgar, though susceptible of the most important
practical applications, are the result of this abstraction; while the only
purpose to which a definition like the preceding could become subservient,
would be in supplying a nomenclature with the character of the most common
species of a genus—its _genus generalissimum_, and even this would be
useless in the present instance, inasmuch as it presupposes the knowledge
of the things characterised.

The third class, and far superior to the two former, selects some property
characteristic of all living bodies, not merely found in all _animals_
alike, but existing equally in all parts of all living things, both
animals and plants. Such, for instance, is the definition of Life, as
consisting in anti-putrescence, or the power of resisting putrefaction.
Like all the others, however, even this confines the idea of Life to those
degrees or concentrations of it, which manifest themselves in organized
beings, or rather in those the organization of which is apparent to us.
Consequently, it substitutes an abstract term, or generalization of
effects, for the idea, or superior form of causative agency. At best, it
describes the _vis vitá_ by one only of its many influences. It is
however, as we have said before, preferable to the former, because it is
not, as they are, altogether unfruitful, inasmuch as it attests, less
equivocally than any other sign, the presence or absence of that degree of
the _vis vitá_ which is the necessary condition of organic or
self-renewing power. It throws no light, however, on the law or principle
of action; it does not increase our insight into the other phenomena; it
presents to us no _inclusive_ form, out of which the other forms may be
developed, and finally, its defect as a definition may be detected by
generalizing it into a higher formula, as a power which, during its
continuance, resists or subordinates heterogeneous and adverse powers. Now
this holds equally true of chemical relatively to the mechanical powers;
and really affirms no more of Life than may be equally affirmed of every
form of being, namely, that it tends to preserve itself, and resists, to a
certain extent, whatever is incompatible with the laws that constitute its
particular state for the time being. For it is not true only of the great
divisions or classes into which we have found it expedient to distinguish,
while we generalize, the powers acting in nature, as into intellectual,
vital, chemical, mechanical; but it holds equally true of the degrees, or
species of each of these genera relatively to each other: as in the
decomposition of the alkalies by heat, or the galvanic spark. Like the
combining power of Life, the copula here resists for awhile the attempts
to dissolve it, and then yields, to reappear in new phenomena.

It is a wonderful property of the human mind, that when once a momentum
has been given to it in a fresh direction, it pursues the new path with
obstinate perseverance, in all conceivable bearings, to its utmost
extremes. And by the startling consequences which arise out of these
extremes, it is first awakened to its error, and either recalled to some
former track, or receives some fresh impulse, which it follows with the
same eagerness, and admits to the same monopoly. Thus in the 13th century
the first science which roused the intellects of men from the torpor of
barbarism, was, as in all countries ever has been, and ever must be the
case, the science of _Metaphysics_ and _Ontology_. We first seek what can
be found at home, and what wonder if truths, that appeared to reveal the
secret depths of our own souls, should take possession of the whole mind,
and all truths appear trivial which could not either be evolved out of
similar principles, by the same process, or at least brought under the
same forms of thought, by perceived or imagined analogies? And so it was.
For more than a century men continued to invoke the oracle of their own
spirits, not only concerning its own forms and modes of being, but
likewise concerning the laws of external nature. All attempts at
philosophical explication were commenced by a mere effort of the
understanding, as the power of abstraction; or by the imagination,
transferring its own experiences to every object presented from without.
By the former, a class of phenomena were in the first place abstracted,
and fixed in some general term: of course this could designate only the
impressions made by the outward objects, and so far, therefore, having
been thus metamorphosed, they were effects of these objects; but then made
to supply the place of their own causes, under the name of occult
qualities. Thus the properties peculiar to gold, were abstracted from
those it possessed in common with other bodies, and then generalized in
the term _Aureity_: and the inquirer was instructed that the Essence of
Gold, or the cause which constituted the peculiar modification of matter
called gold, was the power of aureity. By the latter, _i.e._ by the
imagination, thought and will were superadded to the occult quality, and
every form of nature had its appropriate Spirit, to be controlled or
conciliated by an appropriate ceremonial. This was entitled its
SUBSTANTIAL FORM. Thus, physic became a sort of dull poetry, and the art
of medicine (for physiology could scarcely be said to exist) was a system
of magic, blended with traditional empiricism. Thus the forms of thought
proceeded to act in their own emptiness, with no attempt to fill or
substantiate them by the information of the senses, and all the branches
of science formed so many sections of logic and metaphysics. And so it
continued, even to the time that the Reformation sounded the second
trumpet, and the authority of the schools sank with that of the hierarchy,
under the intellectual courage and activity which this great revolution
had inspired. Power, once awakened, cannot rest in one object. All the
sciences partook of the new influences. The world of experimental
philosophy was soon mapped out for posterity by the comprehensive and
enterprising genius of Bacon, and the laws explained by which experiment
could be dignified into experience.(2) But no sooner was the impulse
given, than the same propensity was made manifest of looking at all things
in the one point of view which chanced to be of predominant attraction.
Our Gilbert, a man of genuine philosophical genius, had no sooner
multiplied the facts of magnetism, and extended our knowledge concerning
the property of magnetic bodies, but all things in heaven, and earth, and
in the waters beneath the earth, were resolved into magnetic influences.

Shortly after a new light was struck by Harriott and Descartes, with their
contemporaries, or immediate predecessors, and the restoration of ancient
geometry, aided by the modern invention of algebra, placed the science of
mechanism on the philosophic throne. How widely this domination spread,
and how long it continued, if, indeed, even now it can be said to have
abdicated its pretensions, the reader need not be reminded. The sublime
discoveries of Newton, and, together with these, his not less fruitful
than wonderful application, of the higher mathesis to the movements of the
celestial bodies, and to the laws of light, gave almost a religious
sanction to the corpuscular system and mechanical theory. It became
synonymous with philosophy itself. It was the sole portal at which truth
was permitted to enter. The human body was treated of as an hydraulic
machine, the operations of medicine were solved, and alas! even directed
by reference partly to gravitation and the laws of motion, and partly by
chemistry, which itself, however, as far as its theory was concerned, was
but a branch of mechanics working exclusively by imaginary wedges, angles,
and spheres. Should the reader chance to put his hand on the “Principles
of Philosophy,” by La Forge, an immediate disciple of Descartes, he may
see the phenomena of sleep solved in a copper-plate engraving, with all
the figures into which the globules of the blood shaped themselves, and
the results demonstrated by mathematical calculations. In short, from the
time of Kepler(3) to that of Newton, and from Newton to Hartley, not only
all things in external nature, but the subtlest mysteries of life and
organization, and even of the intellect and moral being, were conjured
within the magic circle of mathematical formulæ. And now a new light was
struck by the discovery of electricity, and, in every sense of the word,
both playful and serious, both for good and for evil, it may be affirmed
to have electrified the whole frame of natural philosophy. Close on its
heels followed the momentous discovery of the principal gases by Scheele
and Priestly, the composition of water by Cavendish, and the doctrine of
latent heat by Black. The scientific world was prepared for a new dynasty;
accordingly, as soon as Lavoisier had reduced the infinite variety of
chemical phenomena to the actions, reactions, and interchanges of a few
elementary substances, or at least excited the expectation that this would
speedily be effected, the hope shot up, almost instantly, into full faith,
that it had been effected. Henceforward the new path, thus brilliantly
opened, became the common road to all departments of knowledge: and, to
this moment, it has been pursued with an eagerness and almost epidemic
enthusiasm which, scarcely less than its political revolutions,
characterise the spirit of the age. Many and inauspicious have been the
invasions and inroads of this new conqueror into the rightful territories
of other sciences; and strange alterations have been made in less harmless
points than those of terminology, in homage to an art unsettled, in the
very ferment of imperfect discoveries, and either without a theory, or
with a theory maintained only by composition and compromise. Yet this very
circumstance has favoured its encroachments, by the gratifications which
its novelty affords to our curiosity, and by the keener interest and
higher excitement which an unsettled and revolutionary state is sure to
inspire. He who supposes that science possesses an immunity from such
influences knows little of human nature. How, otherwise, could men of
strong minds and sound judgments have attempted to penetrate by the clue
of chemical experiment the secret recesses, the sacred adyta of organic
life, without being aware that chemistry must needs be at its extreme
limits, when it has approached the threshold of a higher power? Its own
transgressions, however, and the failure of its enterprises will become
the means of defining its absolute boundary, and we shall have to guard
against the opposite error of rejecting its aid altogether as analogy,
because we have repelled its ambitious claims to an identity with the
vital powers.

                                * * * * *

Previously to the submitting my own ideas on the subject of life, and the
powers into which it resolves itself, or rather in which it is manifested
to us, I have hazarded this apparent digression from the anxiety to
_preclude certain suspicions_, which the subject itself is so fitted to
awaken, and while I anticipate the charges, to plead in answer to each a
full and unequivocal—not guilty!

In the first place, therefore, I distinctly disclaim all intention of
explaining life into an occult quality; and retort the charge on those who
can satisfy themselves with defining it as the peculiar power by which
death is resisted.

Secondly. Convinced—by revelation, by the consenting authority of all
countries, and of all ages, by the imperative voice of my own conscience,
and by that wide chasm between man and the noblest animals of the brute
creation, which no perceivable or conceivable difference of organization
is sufficient to overbridge—that I have a rational and responsible soul, I
think far too reverentially of the same to degrade it into an hypothesis,
and cannot be blind to the contradiction I must incur, if I assign that
soul which I believe to constitute the peculiar nature of man as the cause
of functions and properties, which man possesses in common with the oyster
and the mushroom.(4)

Thirdly, while I disclaim the error of Stahl in deriving the phenomena of
life from the unconscious actions of the rational soul, I repel with still
greater earnestness the assertion and even the supposition that the
functions are the offspring of the structure, and “Life(5) the result of
organization,” connected with it as effect with cause. Nay, the position
seems to me little less strange, than as if a man should say, that
building with all the included handicraft, of plastering, sawing, planing,
&c. were the offspring of the house; and that the mason and carpenter were
the result of a suite of chambers, with the passages and staircases that
lead to them. To make A the offspring of B, when the very existence of B
as B presupposes the existence of A, is preposterous in the _literal_
sense of the word, and a consummate instance of the _hysteron proteron_ in
logic. But if I reject the organ as the cause of that, of which it is the
organ, though I might admit it among the _conditions_ of its actual
functions; for the same reason, I must reject _fluids_ and _ethers_ of all
kinds, magnetical, electrical, and universal, to whatever quintessential
thinness they may be treble distilled, and (as it were)
super-substantiated. With these, I abjure likewise all _chemical_
agencies, compositions, and decompositions, were it only that as
stimulants they suppose a stimulability _sui generis_, which is but
another paraphrase for life. Or if they are themselves at once both the
excitant and the excitability, I miss the connecting link between this
imaginary ether and the visible body, which then becomes no otherwise
distinguished from inanimate matter, than by its juxtaposition in mere
space, with an heterogeneous inmate, the cycle of whose actions revolves
within itself. Besides which I should think that I was confounding
metaphors and realities most absurdly, if I imagined that I had a greater
insight into the meaning and possibility of a living alcohol, than of a
living quicksilver. In short, visible _surface_ and _power_ of any kind,
much more the _power_ of life, are ideas which the very forms of the human
understanding make it impossible to identify. But whether the powers which
manifest themselves to us under certain conditions in the forms of
electricity, or chemical attraction, have any analogy to the power which
manifests itself in growth and organization, is altogether a different
question, and demands altogether a different chain of reasoning: if it be
indeed a tree of knowledge, it will be known by its fruits, and these will
depends not on the mere assertion, but on the inductions by which the
position is supported, and by the additions which it makes to our insight
into the nature of the facts it is meant to illustrate.

To _account_ for Life is one thing; to explain Life another. In the first
we are supposed to state something prior (if not in time, yet in the order
of Nature) to the thing accounted for, as the ground or cause of that
thing, or (which comprises the meaning and force of both words) as its
_sufficient cause, quae et facit, et subest_. And to this, in the question
of Life, I know no possible answer, but GOD. To account for a thing is to
see into the principle of its possibility, and from that principle to
evolve its being. Thus the mathematician demonstrates the truths of
geometry by constructing them. It is an admirable remark of Joh. Bapt. a
Vico, in a Tract published at Naples, 1710,(6) “Geometrica ideò
demonstramus, quia facimus; physica si demonstrare possimus, faceremus.
Metaphysici veri claritas eadem ac lucis, quam non nisi per opaca
cognoscimus; nam non lucem sed lucidas res videmus. Physica sunt opaca,
nempe formata et finita, in quibus Metaphysici veri lumen videmus.” The
reasoner who assigns structure or organization as the antecedent of Life,
who names the former a cause, and the _latter_ its effect, _he_ it is who
pretends to account for life. Now Euclid would, with great right, demand
of such a philosopher to _make_ Life; in the same sense, I mean, in which
Euclid makes an Icosahedron, or a figure of twenty sides, namely, in the
understanding or by an intellectual construction. An argument which, of
itself, is sufficient to prove the untenable nature of Materialism.

To explain a power, on the other hand, is (the power itself being assumed,
though not comprehended, _ut qui datur, non intelligitur_) to unfold or
spread it out: _ex implicito planum facere_. In the present instance, such
an explanation would consist in the reduction of the idea of Life to its
simplest and most comprehensive form or mode of action; that is, to some
characteristic _instinct_ or _tendency_, evident in all its
manifestations, and involved in the idea itself. This assumed as existing
in _kind_, it will be required to present an ascending series of
corresponding phenomena as involved _in_, proceeding _from_, and so far
therefore explained _by_, the supposition of its progressive intensity and
of the gradual enlargement of its sphere, the necessity of which again
must be contained in the idea of the tendency itself. In other words, the
tendency having been given in _kind_, it is required to render the
phenomena intelligible as its different degrees and modifications. Still
more perfect will the explanation be, should the necessity of this
progression and of these ascending gradations be contained in the assumed
idea of life, as thus defined by the general form and common purport of
all its various tendencies. This done, we have only to add the conditions
common to all its phenomena, and, those appropriate to each place and
rank, in the scale of ascent, and then proceed to determine the primary
and constitutive forms, _i.e._ the elementary powers in which this
tendency realizes itself under different degrees and conditions.(7)

What is Life? Were such a question proposed, we should be tempted to
answer, what is _not_ Life that really _is_? Our reason convinces us that
the quantities of things, taken abstractedly as quantity, exist only in
the relations they bear to the percipient; in plainer words, they exist
only in our minds, _ut quorum esse est percipi_. For if the definite
quantities have a ground, and therefore a reality, in the external world,
and independent of the mind that perceives them, this ground is _ipso
facto_ a quality; the very etymon of this world showing that a quality,
not taken in its own nature but in relation to another thing, is to be
defined _causa sufficiens, entia, de quibus loquimur; esse talia, qualia
sunt_. Either the quantities perceived exist only in the perception, or
they have likewise a real existence. In the former case, the quality (the
word is here used in an active sense) that determines them belongs to
Life, _per ipsam hypothesin_; and in the other case, since by the
agreement of all parties Life may exist in other forms than those of
consciousness, or even of sensibility, the _onus probandi_ falls on those
who assert of any quality that it is _not_ Life. For the analogy of all
that we know is clearly in favour of the contrary supposition, and if a
man would analyse the meaning of his own words, and carefully distinguish
his perceptions and sensations from the external cause exciting them, and
at the same time from the quantity or superficies under which that cause
is acting, he would instantly find himself, if we mistake not,
involuntarily identifying the ideas of Quality and Life. Life, it is
admitted on all hands, does not necessarily imply consciousness or
sensibility; and we, for our parts, cannot see that the irritability which
metals manifest to galvanism, can be more remote from that which may be
supposed to exist in the tribe of lichens, or in the helvellæ, pezizee,
&c., than the latter is from the phenomena of excitability in the human
body, whatever name it may be called by, or in whatever way it may modify
itself.(8) That the mere act of growth does not constitute the idea of
Life, or the absence of that act exclude it, we have a proof in every egg
before it is placed under the hen, and in every grain of corn before it is
put into the soil. All that could be deduced by fair reasoning would
amount to this only, that the life of metals, as the power which effects
and determines their comparative cohesion, ductility, &c., was yet lower
on the scale than the Life which produces the first attempts of
organization, in the almost shapeless tremella, or in such fungi as grow
in the dark recesses of the mine.

                                * * * * *

If it were asked, to what purpose or with what view we should generalize
the idea of Life thus broadly, I should not hesitate to reply that, were
there no other use conceivable, there would be _some_ advantage in merely
destroying an arbitrary assumption in natural philosophy, and in reminding
the physiologists that they could not hear the life of metals asserted
with a more contemptuous surprise than they themselves incur from the
vulgar, when they speak of the Life in mould or mucor. But this is not the
case. This wider view not only precludes a groundless assumption, it
likewise fills up the arbitrary chasm between physics and physiology, and
justifies us in using the former as means of insight into the latter,
which would be contrary to all sound rules of ratiocination if the powers
working in the objects of the two sciences were absolutely and essentially
diverse. For as to abstract the idea of _kind_ from that of _degrees_,
which are alone designated in the language of common use, is the first and
indispensable step in philosophy, so are we the better enabled to form a
notion of the _kind_, the lower the _degree_, and the simpler the form is
in which it appears to us. We study the complex in the simple; and only
from the intuition of the lower can we safely proceed to the intellection
of the higher degrees. The only danger lies in the leaping from low to
high, with the neglect of the intervening gradations. But the same error
would introduce discord into the gamut, _et ab abusu contra usum non valet
consequentia_. That these degrees will themselves bring forth secondary
kinds sufficiently distinct for all the purposes of science, and even for
common sense, will be seen in the course of this inquisition: for this is
one proof of the essential vitality of nature, that she does not ascend as
links in a suspended chain, but as the steps in a ladder; or rather she at
one and the same time _ascends_ as by a climax, and expands as the
concentric circles on the lake from the point to which the stone in its
fall had given the first impulse. At all events, a contemptuous rejection
of this mode of reasoning would come with an ill grace from a medical
philosopher, who cannot combine any three phenomena of health or of
disease without the assumption of powers, which he is compelled to deduce
without being able to demonstrate; nay, even of material substances as the
_vehicles_ of these powers, which he can never expect to exhibit before
the senses.

From the preceding it should appear, that the most comprehensive formula
to which life is reducible, would be that of the internal copula of
bodies, or (if we may venture to borrow a phrase from the Platonic school)
the _power_ which discloses itself from within as a principle of _unity_
in the _many_. But that there is a physiognomy in words, which, without
reference to their fitness or necessity, make unfavorable as well as
favorable impressions, and that every unusual term in an abstruse research
incurs the risk of being denominated jargon, I should at the same time
have borrowed a scholastic _term_, and defined life _absolutely_, as the
principle of unity in _multeity_, as far as the former, the unity to wit,
is produced _ab intra_; but _eminently_ (_sensu eminenti_), I define life
as _the principle of individuation_, or the power which unites a given
_all_ into a _whole_ that is presupposed by all its parts. The link that
combines the two, and acts throughout both, will, of course, be defined by
the _tendency_ to _individuation_. Thus, from its utmost _latency_, in
which life is one with the elementary powers of mechanism, that is, with
the powers of mechanism considered as qualitative and actually synthetic,
to its highest manifestation, (in which, as the _vis vitæ vivida_, or life
_as_ life, it subordinates and modifies these powers, becoming
contra-distinguished from mechanism,(9) _ab extra_, under the form of
organization,) there is an ascending series of intermediate classes, and
of analogous gradations in each class. To a reflecting mind, indeed, the
very fact that the powers peculiar to life in living animals _include_
cohesion, elasticity, &c. (or, in the words of a late publication, “that
living matter exhibits these physical properties,”(10)) would demonstrate
that, in the truth of things, they are homogeneous, and that both the
classes are but degrees and different dignities of one and the same
tendency. For the latter are not subjected to the former as a lever, or
walking-stick to the muscles; the more intense the life is, the less does
_elasticity_, for instance, appear _as_ elasticity. It sinks down into the
nearest approach to its _physical_ form by a series of degrees from the
contraction and elongation of the irritable muscle to the physical
hardness of the insensitive nail. The lower powers are _assimilated_, not
merely _employed_, and assimilation presupposes the homogeneous nature of
the thing assimilated; else it is a miracle, only not the same as that of
a _creation_, because it would imply that additional and equal miracle of
annihilation. In short, all the impossibilities which the acutest of the
reformed Divines have detected in the hypothesis of transubstantiation
would apply, _totidem verbis et syllabis_, to that of assimilation, if the
objects and the agents were really heterogeneous. Unless, therefore, a
thing can exhibit properties which do not belong to it, the very admission
that living matter exhibits physical properties, includes the further
admission, that those _physical_ or dead properties are themselves vital
in essence, really _distinct_ but in appearance only _different_; or in
absolute contrast with each other.

In all cases that which, _abstractly_ taken, is the definition of the
_kind_, will, when applied _absolutely_, or in its fullest sense, be the
definition of the highest _degree_ of that kind. If life, in general, be
defined _vis ab intra, cujus proprium est coadunare plura in rem unicam,
quantùm est res unica_; the unity will be more intense in proportion as it
constitutes each particular thing a whole of itself; and yet more, again,
in proportion to the number and interdependence of the parts, which it
unites as a whole. But a whole composed, _ab intra_, of different parts,
so far interdependent that each is reciprocally means and end, is an
individual, and the individuality is most intense where the greatest
dependence of the parts on the whole is combined with the greatest
dependence of the whole on its parts; the first (namely, the dependence of
the parts on the whole) being absolute; the second (namely, the dependence
of the whole on its parts) being proportional to the importance of the
relation which the parts have to the whole, that is, as their action
extends more or less beyond themselves. For this spirit of the whole is
most expressed in that part which derives its importance as an End from
its importance as a Mean, relatively to all the parts under the same

Finally, of individuals, the living power will be most intense in that
individual which, as a whole, has the greatest number of integral parts
presupposed in it; when, moreover, these integral parts, together with a
proportional increase of their interdependence, as _parts_, have
themselves most the character of wholes in the sphere occupied by them. A
mathematical point, line, or surface, is an _ens rationis_, for it
expresses an intellectual act; but a physical atom is _ens fictitium_,
which may be made subservient, as ciphers are in arithmetic, to the
purposes of hypothetical construction, _per regulam falsi_; but
transferred to _Nature_, it is in the strictest sense an _absurd_
quantity; for extension, and consequently divisibility, or _multeity_,(11)
(for space cannot be divided,) is the indispensable condition, under which
alone anything can _appear_ to us, or even be _thought_ of, as a _thing_.
But if it should be replied, that the elementary particles are atoms not
positively, but by such a hardness communicated to them as is relatively
invincible, I should remind the assertor that _temeraria citatio
supernaturalium est pulvinar intellectús pigri_, and that he who requires
me to believe a miracle of his own dreaming, must first work a miracle to
convince me that he had dreamt by inspiration. Add, too, the gross
inconsistency of resorting to an immaterial influence in order to complete
a system of materialism, by the exclusion of all modes of existence which
the theorist cannot in imagination, at least, _finger_ and _peep_ at! Each
of the preceding gradations, as above defined, might be represented as
they exist, and are realised in Nature. But each would require a work for
itself, co-extensive with the science of metals, and that of fossils (both
as geologically applied); of crystallization; and of vegetable and animal
physiology, in all its distinct branches. The nature of the present essay
scarcely permits the space sufficient to illustrate our meaning. The proof
of its probability (for to that only can we arrive by so partial an
application of the hypothesis), is to be found in its powers of solving
the particular class of phenomena, that form the subjects of the present
inquisition, more satisfactorily and profitably than has been done, or
even attempted before.

Exclusively, therefore, for the purposes of _illustration_, I would take
as an instance of the first step, the metals, those, namely, that are
capable of permanent reduction. For, by the established laws of
nomenclature, the others (as sodium, potassium, calcium, silicium, &c.)
would be entitled to a class of their own, under the name of _bases_. It
is long since the chemists have despaired of decomposing this class of
bodies. They still remain, one and all, as elements or simple bodies,
though, on the principles of the corpuscularian philosophy, nothing can be
more improbable than that they really are such; and no reason has or can
be assigned on the grounds of that system, why, in no one instance, the
contrary has not been proved. But this is at once explained, if we assume
them as the simplest form of unity, namely, the unity of powers and
properties. For these, it is evident, may be endlessly modified, but can
never be decomposed. If I were asked by a philosopher who had previously
extended the attribute of Life to the _Byssus speciosa_, and even to the
crustaceous matter, or outward bones of a lobster, &c., whether the ingot
of gold expressed _life_, I should answer without hesitation, as the
_ingot_ of gold assuredly not, for its form is accidental and _ab extra_.
It may be added to or detracted from without in the least affecting the
nature, state, or properties in the specific matter of which the ingot
consists. But as _gold_, as that special union of absolute and of relative
gravity, ductility, and hardness, which, wherever they are found,
constitute _gold_, I should answer no less fearlessly, in the affirmative.
But I should further add, that of the two counteracting tendencies of
nature, namely, that of _detachment_ from the universal life, which
universality is represented to us by gravitation, and that of _attachment_
or reduction into it, this and the other noble metals represented the
units in which the latter tendency, namely, that of identity with the life
of nature, subsisted in the greatest overbalance over the former. It is
the form of unity with the least degree of tendency to individuation.

Rising in the ascent, I should take, as illustrative of the second step,
the various forms of crystals as a union, not of powers only, but of
parts, and as the simplest forms of composition in the next narrowest
sphere of affinity. Here the form, or apparent _quantity_, is manifestly
the result of the _quality_, and the chemist himself not seldom admits
them as infallible characters of the substances united in the whole of a
given crystal.

In the first step, we had Life, as the mere _unity_ of powers; in the
second we have the simplest forms of _totality_ evolved. The third step is
presented to us in those vast formations, the tracing of which generically
would form the science of Geology, or its history in the strict sense of
the word, even as their description and diagnostics constitute its

Their claim to this rank I cannot here even attempt to support. It will be
sufficient to explain my reason for having assigned it to them, by the
avowal, that I regard them in a twofold point of view: 1st, as the residue
and product of vegetable and animal life; 2d, as manifesting the
tendencies of the Life of Nature to vegetation or animalization. And this
process I believe—in one instance by the peat morasses of the northern,
and in the other instance by the coral banks of the southern hemisphere—to
be still connected with the present order of vegetable and animal Life,
which constitute the fourth and last step in these wide and comprehensive

In the lowest forms of the vegetable and animal world we perceive totality
dawning into _individuation_, while in man, as the highest of the class,
the individuality is not only perfected in its corporeal sense, but begins
a new series beyond the appropriate limits of physiology. The tendency to
individuation, more or less obscure, more or less obvious, constitutes the
common character of all classes, as far as they maintain for themselves a
distinction from the universal life of the planet; while the degrees, both
of intensity and extension, to which this tendency is realized, form the
species, and their ranks in the great scale of ascent and expansion.

In the treatment of a subject so vast and complex, within the limits
prescribed for an essay like the present, where it is impossible not to
say either too much or too little (and too much because too little), an
author is entitled to make large claims on the candour of his judges. Many
things he must express inaccurately, not from ignorance or oversight, but
because the more precise expression would have involved the necessity of a
further explanation, and this another, even to the first elements of the
science. This is an inconvenience which presses on the analytic method, on
however large a scale it may be conducted, compared with the synthetic;
and it must bear with a tenfold weight in the present instance, where we
are not permitted to avail ourselves of its usual advantages as a
counterbalance to its inherent defects. I shall have done all that I dared
propose to myself, or that can be justly demanded of me by others, if I
have succeeded in conveying a sufficiently clear, though indistinct and
inadequate notion, so as of its many results to render intelligible that
one which I am to apply to my particular subject, not as a truth already
demonstrated, but as an hypothesis, which pretends to no higher merit than
that of explaining the particular class of phenomena to which it is
applied, and asks no other reward than a presumption in favour of the
general system of which it affirms itself to be a dependent though
integral part. By Life I everywhere mean the true Idea of Life, or that
most general form under which Life manifests itself to us, which includes
all its other forms. This I have stated to be the _tendency to
individuation_, and the degrees or intensities of Life to consist in the
progressive realization of this tendency. The power which is acknowledged
to exist, wherever the realization is found, must subsist wherever the
tendency is manifested. The power which comes forth and stirs abroad in
the bird, must be latent in the egg. I have shown, moreover, that this
tendency to individuate cannot be conceived without the opposite tendency
to connect, even as the centrifugal power supposes the centripetal, or as
the two opposite poles constitute each other, and are the constituent acts
of one and the same power in the magnet. We might say that the life of the
magnet subsists in their union, but that it lives (acts or manifests
itself) in their strife. Again, if the tendency be at once to individuate
and to connect, to detach, but so as either to retain or to reproduce
attachment, the individuation itself must be a tendency to the ultimate
production of the highest and most comprehensive individuality. This must
be the one great end of Nature, her ultimate object, or by whatever other
word we may designate that something which bears to a final cause the same
relation that Nature herself bears to the Supreme Intelligence.

                                * * * * *

According to the plan I have prescribed for this inquisition, we are now
to seek for the highest law, or most general form, under which this
tendency acts, and then to pursue the same process with this, as we have
already done with the tendency itself, namely, having stated the law in
its highest abstraction, to present it in the different forms in which it
appears and reappears in higher and higher dignities. I restate the
question. The tendency having been ascertained, what is its most general
law? I answer—_polarity_, or the essential dualism of Nature, arising out
of its productive unity, and still tending to reaffirm it, either as
equilibrium, indifference, or identity. In its _productive power_, of
which the product is the only measure, consists its incompatibility with
mathematical calculus. For the full applicability of an abstract science
ceases, the moment reality begins.(12) Life, then, we consider as the
copula, or the unity of thesis and antithesis, position and
counterposition,—Life itself being the positive of both; as, on the other
hand, the two counterpoints are the necessary conditions of the
_manifestations_ of Life. These, by the same necessity, unite in a
synthesis; which again, by the law of dualism, essential to all actual
existence, expands, or _produces_ itself, from the point into the _line_,
in order again to converge, as the initiation of the same productive
process in some intenser form of reality. Thus, in the identity of the two
counter-powers, Life _sub_sists; in their strife it _con_sists: and in
their reconciliation it at once dies and is born again into a new form,
either falling back into the life of the whole, or starting anew in the
process of individuation.

Whence shall we take our beginning? From Space, _istud litigium
philosophorum_, which leaves the mind equally dissatisfied, whether we
deny or assert its real existence. To make it wholly ideal, would be at
the same time to idealize all phenomena, and to undermine the very
conception of an external world. To make it real, would be to assert the
existence of something, with the properties of nothing. It would far
transcend the height to which a physiologist must confine his flights,
should we attempt to reconcile this apparent contradiction. It is the duty
and the privilege of the theologian to demonstrate, that _space_ is the
ideal organ by which the soul of man perceives the _omnipresence_ of the
Supreme Reality, as distinct from the works, which in him move, and live,
and have their being; while the equal mystery of _Time_ bears the same
relation to his _Eternity_, or what is fully equivalent, his Unity.

Physiologically contemplated, Nature begins, proceeds, and ends in a
contradiction; for the moment of absolute solution would be that in which
Nature would cease to be Nature, _i.e._ a scheme of ever-varying
relations; and physiology, in the ambitious attempt to solve phenomena
into absolute realities, would itself become a mere web of verbal

But it is in strict connexion with our subject, that we should make the
universal FORMS as well as the not less universal LAW of Life, clear and
intelligible in the example of _Time_ and _Space_, these being both the
first specification of the principle, and ever after its indispensable
symbols. First, a single act of self-inquiry will show the impossibility
of distinctly conceiving the one without some involution of the other;
either time expressed in space, in the form of the mathematical line, or
space within time, as in the circle. But to form the first conception of a
_real_ thing, we state both as one in the idea, _duration_. The formula
is: (A=B+B=A)=(A=A) or the oneness of space and time, is the predicate of
all _real_ being.

But as little can we conceive the oneness, except as the mid-point
producing itself on each side; that is, manifesting itself on two opposite
poles. Thus, from identity we derive duality, and from both together we
obtain polarity, synthesis, indifference, predominance. The line is Time +
Space, under the predominance of Time: Surface is Space + Time, under the
predominance of Space, while Line + Surface as the synthesis of units, is
the circle in the first dignity; to the sphere in the second; and to the
globe in the third. In short, neither can the antagonists appear but as
two forces of one power, nor can the power be conceived by us but as the
equatorial point of the two counteracting forces; of which the
_hypomochlion_ of the lever is as good an illustration as anything can be
that is thought of _mechanically_ only, and exclusively of life. To make
it adequate, we must substitute the idea of positive production for that
of rest, or mere neutralization. To the fancy alone it is the null-point,
or zero, but to the reason it is the _punctum saliens_, and the power
itself in its eminence. Even in these, the most abstract and universal
forms of all thought and perception—even in the ideas of time and space,
we slip under them, as it were, a _substratum_; for we cannot think of
them but as far as they are co-inherent, and therefore as reciprocally the
measures of each other. Nor, again, can we finish the process without
having the idea of _motion_ as its immediate product. Thus we say, that
time has one dimension, and imagine it to ourselves as a line. But the
line we have already proved to be the productive synthesis of time, with
space under the predominance of time. If we exclude space by an abstract
assumption, the time remains as a spaceless point, and represents the
concentered power of unity and active negation, _i.e._ retraction,
determination, and limit, _ab intra_. But if we assume the time as
excluded, the line vanishes, and we leave space dimensionless, an
indistinguishable ALL, and therefore the representative of absolute
weakness and formlessness, but, for that very reason, of infinite capacity
and formability.

We have been thus full and express on this subject, because these simple
ideas of time, space, and motion, of length, breadth, and depth, are not
only the simplest and universal, but the necessary symbols of all
philosophic construction. They will be found the primary factors and
elementary forms of every calculus and of every diagram in the algebra and
geometry of a scientific physiology. Accordingly, we shall recognise the
same forms under other names; but at each return more specific and
intense; and the whole process repeated with ascending gradations of
reality, _exempli gratiâ_: Time + space = motion; T_m_ + space = line +
breadth = depth; depth + motion = force; L_f_ + B_f_ = D_f_; LD_f_ + BD_f_
= attraction + repulsion = gravitation; and so on, even till they pass
into outward phenomena, and form the intermediate link between productive
powers and fixed products in light, heat, and electricity. If we pass to
the construction of matter, we find it as the product, or _tertium aliud_,
of antagonist powers of repulsion and attraction. Remove these powers, and
the conception of matter vanishes into space—conceive repulsion only, and
you have the same result. For infinite repulsion, uncounteracted and
alone, is tantamount to infinite, dimensionless diffusion, and this again
to infinite weakness; viz., to space. Conceive attraction alone, and as an
infinite contraction, its product amounts to the absolute point, viz., to
time. Conceive the synthesis of both, and you have matter as a fluxional
antecedent, which, in the very act of formation, passes into body by its
gravity, and yet in all bodies it still remains as their mass, which,
being exclusively calculable under the law of gravitation, gives rise, as
we before observed, to the science of statics, most improperly called
celestial mechanics.

In strict consistence with the same philosophy which, instead of
considering the powers of bodies to have been miraculously stuck into a
prepared and pre-existing matter, as pins into a pin-cushion, conceives
the powers as the productive factors, and the body or phenomenon as the
fact, product, or fixture; we revert again to potentiated length in the
power of magnetism; to surface in the power of electricity; and to the
synthesis of both, or potentiated depth, in constructive, that is,
chemical affinity. But while the two factors are as poles to each other,
each factor has likewise its own poles, and thus in the simple cross—

With M M, the magnetic line, running from top to bottom, with _f f_ its
northern pole, or pole of attraction; and _m m_ its south, or pole of
repulsion, and E E, running from left to right, one of the lines that
spring from each point of M M, with its east, or pole of contraction, and
_d_ its west, or pole of diffluence and expansion—we have presented to us
the universal quadruplicity, or four elemental forms of power; in the
endless proportions and modifications of which, the innumerable offspring
of all-bearing Nature consist. Wisely docile to the suggestions of Nature
herself, the ancients significantly expressed these forces under the names
of earth, water, air, and fire; not meaning any tangible or visible
substance so generalized, but the powers predominant, and, as it were, the
living basis of each, which no chemical decomposition can ever present to
the senses, were it only that their interpenetration and co-inherence
first constitutes them sensible, and is the condition and meaning of
a—_thing_. Already our more truly philosophical naturalists (Ritter, for
instance) have begun to generalize the four great elements of chemical
nomenclature, carbon, azote, oxygen, and hydrogen: the two former as the
positive and negative pole of the magnetic axis, or as the power of fixity
and mobility; and the two latter as the opposite poles, or plus and minus
states of cosmical electricity, as the powers of contraction and
dilatation, or of comburence and combustibility. These powers are to each
other as longitude to latitude, and the poles of each relatively as north
to south, and as east to west. For surely the reader will find no distrust
in a system only because Nature, ever consistent with herself, presents us
everywhere with harmonious and accordant symbols of her consistent
doctrines. Nothing would be more easy than, by the ordinary principles of
sound logic and common sense, to demonstrate the impossibility and expose
the absurdity of the corpuscularian or mechanic system, or than to prove
the intenable nature of any intermediate system. But we cannot force any
man into an insight or intuitive possession of the true philosophy,
because we cannot give him abstraction, intellectual intuition, or
constructive imagination; because we cannot organize for him an eye that
can see, an ear that can listen to, or a heart that can feel, the
harmonies of Nature, or recognise in her endless forms, the thousand-fold
realization of those simple and majestic laws, which yet in their
absoluteness can be discovered only in the recesses of his own spirit,—not
by that man, therefore, whose imaginative powers have been _ossified_ by
the continual reaction and assimilating influences of mere _objects_ on
his mind, and who is a prisoner to his own eye and its reflex, the passive
fancy!—not by him in whom an unbroken familiarity with the organic world,
as if it were mechanical, with the sensitive, but as if it were insensate,
has engendered the coarse and hard spirit of a sorcerer. The former is
unable, the latter unwilling, to master the absolute pre-requisites. There
is neither hope nor occasion for him “to cudgel his brains about it, he
has no feeling of the business.” If he do not see the necessity from
without, if he have not learned the possibility from within, of
interpenetration, of total intussusception, of the existence of all in
each as the condition of Nature’s unity and substantiality, and of the
latency under the predominance of some one power, wherein subsists her
life and its endless variety, as he must be, by habitual slavery to the
eye, or its reflex, the passive fancy, under the influences of the
corpuscularian philosophy, he has so paralysed his imaginative powers as
to be unable—or by that hardness and heart-hardening spirit of contempt,
which is sure to result from a perpetual commune with the lifeless, he has
so far debased his inward being—as to be unwilling to comprehend the
pre-requisite, he must be content, while standing thus at the threshold of
philosophy, to receive the results, though he cannot be admitted to the
deliberation—in other words, to act upon _rules_ which he is incapable of
understanding as LAWS, and to reap the harvest with the sharpened iron for
which others have delved for him in the mine.

It is not improbable that there may exist, and even be discovered, higher
forms and more akin to Life than those of magnetism, electricity, and
constructive (or chemical) affinity appear to be, even in their finest
known influences. It is not improbable that we may hereafter find
ourselves justified in revoking certain of the latter, and unappropriating
them to a yet unnamed triplicity; or that, being thus assisted, we may
obtain a qualitative instead of a quantitative insight into vegetable
animation, as distinct from animal, and that of the insect world from
both. But in the present state of science, the magnetic, electric, and
chemical powers are the last and highest of inorganic nature. These,
therefore, we assume as presenting themselves again to us, in their next
metamorphosis, as reproduction (_i.e._ growth and identity of the whole,
amid the change or flux of all the parts), irritability and sensibility;
reproduction corresponding to magnetism, irritability to electricity, and
sensibility to constructive chemical affinity.

                                * * * * *

But before we proceed further, it behoves us to answer the objections
contained in the following passage, or withdraw ourselves in time from the
bitter contempt in which it would involve us. Acting under such a
necessity, we need not apologise for the length of the quotation.

1. “If,” says Mr. Lawrence, “the properties of living matter are to be
explained in this way, why should not we adopt the same plan with physical
properties, and account for gravitation, or chemical affinity, by the
supposition of appropriate subtile fluids? Why does the irritability of a
muscle need such an explanation, if explanation it can be called, more
than the elective attraction of a salt?”

2. “To make the matter more intelligible, this vital principle is compared
to magnetism, to electricity, and to galvanism; or it is roundly stated to
be oxygen. ’Tis like a camel, or like a whale, or like what you please.”

3. “You have only to grant that the phenomena of the sciences just alluded
to depend on extremely fine and invisible fluids, superadded to the
matters in which they are exhibited, and to allow further that Life, and
magnetic, galvanic, and electric phenomena correspond perfectly; the
existence of a subtile matter of Life will then be a very probable

4. “On this illustration you will naturally remark, that the existence of
the magnetic, electric, and galvanic fluids, which is offered as a proof
of the existence of a vital fluid, is as much a matter of doubt as that of
the vital fluid itself.”

5. “It is singular, also, that the vital principle should be like both
magnetism and electricity, when these two are not like each other.”

6. “It would have been interesting to have had this illustration
prosecuted a little further. We should have been pleased to learn whether
the human body is more like a loadstone, a voltaic pile, or an electrical
machine; whether the organs are to be regarded as Leyden jars, magnetic
needles, or batteries.”

7. “The truth is, there is no resemblance, no analogy, between Electricity
and Life; the two orders of phenomena are completely distinct; they are
incommensurable. Electricity illustrates life no more than life
illustrates electricity.”(13)

To avoid unnecessary description, I shall refer to the passages by the
numbers affixed to them, for that purpose, in the margin.

In reply to No. 1, I ask whether, in the nature of the mind, illustration
and explanation must not of necessity proceed from the lower to the
higher? or whether a boy is to be taught his addition, subtraction,
multiplication, and division, by the highest branches of algebraic
analysis? Is there any better way of systematic teaching, than that of
illustrating each new step, or having each new step illustrated to him by
its identity in kind with the step the next below it? though it be the
only mode in which this objection can be answered, yet it seems affronting
to remind the objector, of rules so simple as that the complex must even
be illustrated by the more simple, or the less scrutible by that which is
more subject to our examination.

In reply to No. 2, I first refer to the author’s eulogy on Mr. Hunter, p.
163, in which he is justly extolled for having “surveyed the whole
_system_ of organized beings, from plants to man:” of course, therefore,
_as_ a _system_; and therefore under some _one common law_. Now in the
very same sense, and no other, than that in which the writer himself by
implication compares himself as a man to the _dermestes typographicus_, or
the _fucus scorpioides_, do I compare the principle of Life to magnetism,
electricity, and constructive affinity,—or rather to that power to which
the two former are the thesis and antithesis, the latter the synthesis.
But if to compare involve the sense of its etymon, and involve the sense
of parity, I utterly deny that I do at all compare them; and, in truth, in
no conceivable sense of the word is it applicable, any more than a
geometrician can be affirmed to compare a polygon to a point, because he
generates the line out of the point. The writer attributes to a philosophy
essentially vital the barrenness of the mechanic system, with which alone
his imagination has been familiarised, and which, as hath been justly
observed by a contemporary writer, is contradistinguished from the former
principally in this respect; that demanding for every mode and act of
existence real or possible visibility, it knows only of distance and
nearness, composition (or rather compaction) and decomposition, in short,
the relations of unproductive particles to each other; so that in every
instance the result is the exact sum of the component qualities, as in
arithmetical addition. This is the philosophy of Death, and only of a dead
nature can it hold good. In Life, and in the view of a vital philosophy,
the two component counter-powers actually interpenetrate each other, and
generate a higher third, including both the former, “ita tamen ut sit alia
et major.”

As a complete answer to No. 3, I refer the reader to many passages in the
preceding and following pages, in which, on far higher and more
demonstrative grounds than the mechanic system can furnish, I have exposed
the unmeaningness and absurdity of these finer fluids, as applied even to
electricity itself; unless, indeed, they are assumed as its product. But
in addition I beg leave to remind the author, that it is incomparably more
agreeable to all experience to originate the formative process in the
_fluid_, whether fine or gross, than in corporeal _atoms_, in which we are
not only deserted by all experience, but contradicted by the primary
conception of body itself.

Equally inapplicable is No. 4: and of No. 5 I can only repeat, first, that
I do not make Life _like_ magnetism, or _like_ electricity; that the
difference between magnetism and electricity, and the powers illustrated
by them, is an essential part of my system, but that the animal Life of
man is the identity of all three. To whatever other system this objection
may apply, it is utterly irrelevant to that which I have here propounded:
though from the narrow limits prescribed to me, it has been propounded
with an inadequacy painful to my own feelings.

The ridicule in No. 6 might be easily retorted; but as it could prove
nothing, I will leave it where I found it, in a page where nothing is

A similar remark might be sufficient for the bold and blank assertion (No.
7) with which the extract concludes; but that I feel some curiosity to
discover what meaning the author attaches to the term analogy. Analogy
implies a difference in sort, and not merely in degree; and it is the
sameness of the end, with the difference of the means, which constitutes
analogy. No one would say the lungs of a man were analogous to the lungs
of a monkey, but any one might say that the gills of fish and the
spiracula of insects are analogous to lungs. Now if there be any
philosophers who have asserted that electricity as electricity is the
_same_ as Life, for that reason they cannot be _analogous_ to each other;
and as no man in his senses, philosopher or not, is capable of imagining
that the lightning which destroys a sheep, was a means to the same end
with the principle of its organization; for this reason, too, the two
powers cannot be represented as analogous. Indeed I know of no system in
which the word, as thus applied, would admit of an endurable meaning, but
that which teaches us, that a mass of marrow in the skull is analogous to
the rational soul, which Plato and Bacon, equally with the “poor Indian,”
believe themselves to have received from the Supreme Reason.

It would be blindness not to see, or affectation to pretend not to see,
the work at which these sarcasms were levelled. The author of that work is
abundantly able to defend his own opinions; yet I should be ambitious to
address _him_ at the close of the contest in the lines of the great Roman

“Et nos tela, Pater, ferrumque haud debile dextrâ
Spargimus, et nostro sequitur, de vulnere sanguis.”

In Mr. Abernethy’s Lecture on the Theory of Life, it is impossible not to
see a presentiment of a great truth. He has, if I may so express myself,
caught it in the breeze: and we seem to hear the first glad opening and
shout with which he springs forward to the pursuit. But it is equally
evident that the prey has not been followed through its doublings and
windings, or driven out from its brakes and covers into full and open
view. Many of the least tenable phrases may be fairly interpreted as
illustrations, rather than precise exponents of the author’s meaning; at
least, while they remain as a mere suggestion or annunciation of his
ideas, and till he has expanded them over a larger sphere, it would be
unjust to infer the contrary. But it is not with men, however strongly
their professional merits may entitle them to reverence, that my concern
is at present. If the opinions here supported are the same with those of
Mr. Abernethy, I rejoice in his authority. If they are different, I shall
wait with an anxious interest for an exposition of that difference.

Having reasserted that I no more confound magnetism with electricity, or
the chemical process, than the mathematician confounds length with
breadth, or either with depth; I think it sufficient to add that there are
two views of the subject, the former of which I do not believe
attributable to any philosopher, while both are alike disclaimed by me as
forming any part of my views. The first is that which is supposed to
consider electricity identical with life, as it subsists in organized
bodies. The other considers electricity as everywhere present, and
penetrating all bodies under the image of a subtile fluid or substance,
which, in Mr. Abernethy’s inquiry, I regard as little more than a mere
diagram on his slate, for the purpose of fixing the attention on the
intellectual conception, or as a possible _product_, (in which case
electricity must be a composite power,) or at worst, as words _quæ humana
incuria fudit_. This which, in inanimate Nature, is manifested now as
magnetism, now as electricity, and now as chemical agency, is supposed, on
entering an organized body, to constitute its vital _principle_, something
in the same manner as the steam becomes the _mechanic_ power of the
steam-engine, in _consequence_ of its compression by the steam-engine; or
as the breeze that murmurs indistinguishably in the forest becomes the
element, the substratum, of melody in the Æolian harp, and of consummate
harmony in the organ. Now this hypothesis is as directly opposed to my
view as supervention is to evolution, inasmuch as I hold the organized
body itself, in all its marvellous contexture, to be the PRODUCT and
representant of the power which is here supposed to have supervened to it.
So far from admitting a _transfer_, I do not admit it even in electricity
itself, or in the phenomena universally called electrical; among other
points I ground my explanation of remote sympathy on the directly contrary

But my opinions will be best explained by a rapid exemplification in the
processes of Nature, from the first rudiments of individualized life in
the lowest classes of its two great poles, the vegetable and animal
creation, to its crown and consummation in the human body; thus
illustrating at once the unceasing _polarity of life, as the form of its
process, and its tendency to progressive individuation as the law of its

Among the conceptions, of the mere ideal character of which the
philosopher is well aware, and which yet become necessary from the
necessity of assuming a beginning; the original fluidity of the planet is
the chief. Under some form or other it is expressed or implied in every
system of cosmogony and even of geology, from Moses to Thales, and from
Thales to Werner. This assumption originates in the same law of mind that
gave rise to the _prima materia_ of the Peripatetic school. In order to
_comprehend_ and _explain_ the _forms_ of things, we must imagine a state
_antecedent_ to form. A chaos of heterogeneous substances, such as our
Milton has described, is not only an _impossible_ state (for this may be
equally true of every other attempt), but it is _palpably_ impossible. It
presupposes, moreover, the thing it is intended to solve; and makes _that_
an _effect_ which had been called in as the explanatory _cause_. The
requisite and only serviceable fiction, therefore, is the representation
of CHAOS as one vast homogeneous drop! In this sense it may be even
justified, as an appropriate symbol of the great fundamental truth that
all things spring from, and subsist in, the endless strife between
indifference and difference. The whole history of Nature is comprised in
the specification of the transitional states from the one to the other.
The symbol only is fictitious: the thing signified is not only grounded in
truth—it is the law and actuating principle of all other truths, whether
physical or intellectual.

Now, by magnetism in its widest sense, I mean the first and simplest
_differential_ act of Nature, as the power which works in _length_, and
produces the first distinction between the indistinguishable by the
generation of a _line_. Relatively, therefore, to fluidity, that is, to
matter, the parts of which cannot be distinguished from each other by
figure, magnetism is the power of fixity; but, relatively to itself,
magnetism, like every other power in Nature, is designated by its opposite
poles, and must be represented as the magnetic axis, the northern pole of
which signifies rest, attraction, fixity, coherence, or hardness; the
element of EARTH in the nomenclature of _observation_ and the CARBONIC
principle in that of _experiment_; while the southern pole, as its
antithesis, represents mobility, repulsion, incoherence, and fusibility;
the element of air in the nomenclature of observation (that is, of Nature
as it appears to us when unquestioned by art), and azote or nitrogen in
the nomenclature of experiment (that is, of Nature in the state so
beautifully allegorized in the Homeric fable of Proteus bound down, and
forced to answer by Ulysses, after having been pursued through all his
metamorphoses into his ultimate form.(14)) That nothing real does or can
exist corresponding to either pole _exclusively_, is involved in the very
definition of a THING as the synthesis of opposing energies. That a thing
_is_, is owing to the co-inherence therein of any two powers; but that it
is _that_ particular thing arises from the proportions in which these
powers are co-present, either as predominance or as reciprocal
neutralization; but under the modification of twofold power to which
magnetism itself is, as the thesis to its antithesis.

The correspondent, in the world of the senses, to the magnetic axis,
exists in the series of metals. The metalleity, as the universal base of
the planet, is a necessary deduction from the principles of the system.
From the infusible, though evaporable, diamond to nitrogen itself, the
metallic nature of which has been long suspected by chemists, though still
under the mistaken notion of an oxyde, we trace a series of metals from
the maximum of coherence to positive fluidity, in all ordinary
temperatures, we mean. Though, in point of fact, cold itself is but a
superinduction of the one pole, or, what amounts to the same thing, the
subtraction of the other, under the modifications afore described; and
therefore are the metals indecomposible, because they are themselves the
decompositions of the metallic axis, in all its degrees of longitude and
latitude. Thus the substance of the planet from which it _is_, is
metallic; while that which is ever _becoming_, is in like manner produced
through the perpetual modification of the first by the opposite forces of
the second; that is, by the principle of contraction and difference at the
eastern extreme—the element of fire, or the oxygen of the chemists; and by
the elementary power of dilatation, or universality at its western
extreme—the ὑδωρ ἐν ὑδατι of the ancients, and the hydrogen of the

It has been before noticed that the progress of Nature is more truly
represented by the ladder, than by the suspended chain, and that she
expands as by concentric circles. This is, indeed, involved in the very
conception of individuation, whether it be applied to the different
species or to the individuals. In what manner the evident interspace is
reconciled with the equally evident continuity of the life of Nature, is a
problem that can be solved by those minds alone, which have intuitively
learnt that the whole _actual_ life of Nature originates in the existence,
and consists in the perpetual reconciliation, and as perpetual resurgency
of the primary contradiction, of which universal polarity is the result
and the exponent. From the first moment of the differential impulse—(the
primæval chemical epoch of the Wernerian school)—when Nature, by the
tranquil deposition of crystals, prepared, as it were, the fulcrum of her
after-efforts, from this, her first, and in part _irrevocable_,
self-contraction, we find, in each ensuing production, more and more
tendency to independent existence in the increasing multitude of strata,
and in the relics of the lowest orders, first of vegetable and then of
animal life. In the schistous formations, which we must here assume as in
great measure the residua of vegetable creations, that have sunk back into
the universal life, and in the later predominant calcareous masses, which
are the _caput mortuum_ of animalized existence, we ascend from the laws
of attraction and repulsion, as united in gravity, to magnetism,
electricity, and constructive power, till we arrive at the point
representative of a new and far higher intensity. For from this point
flow, as in opposite directions, the two streams of vegetation and
animalization, the former characterised by the predominance of magnetism
in its highest power, as reproduction, the other by electricity
intensified—as irritability, in like manner. The vegetable and animal
world are the thesis and antithesis, or the opposite poles of organic
life. We are not, therefore, to seek in either for analogies to the other,
but for counterpoints. On the same account, the nearer the common source,
the greater the likeness; the farther the remove, the greater the
opposition. At the extreme limits of inorganic Nature, we may detect a dim
and obscure prophecy of her ensuing process in the twigs and rude
semblances that occur in crystallization of some of the copper ores, and
in the well-known _arbor Dianæ_, and _arbor Veneris_. These latter Ritter
has already ably explained by considering the oblique branches and their
acute angles as the result of magnetic repulsion, from the presentation of
the same poles, &c. In the CORALS and CONCHYLIA, the whole act and purpose
of their existence seems to be that of connecting the animal with the
inorganic world by the perpetual formation of calcareous earth. For the
corals are nothing but polypi, which are characterised by still passing
away and dissolving into the earth, which they had previously excreted, as
if they were the first feeble effort of detachment. The power seems to
step forward from out the inorganic world only to fall back again upon it,
still, however, under a new form, and under the predominance of the more
active pole of magnetism. The product must have the same connexion,
therefore, with azote, which the first rudiments of vegetation have with
carbon: the one and the other exist not for their own sakes, but in order
to produce the conditions best fitted for the production of higher forms.
In the polypi, corallines, &c., individuality is in its first dawn; there
is the same shape in them all, and a multitude of animals form, as it
were, a common animal. And as the individuals run into each other, so do
the different genera. They likewise pass into each other so
indistinguishably, that the whole order forms a very network.

As the corals approach the conchylia, this interramification decreases.
The tubipora forms the transition to the serpula; for the characteristic
of all zoophytes, namely, the star shape of their openings, here
disappears, and the tubiporæ are distinguished from the rest of the corals
by this very circumstance, that the hollow calcareous pipes are placed
side by side, without interbranching. In the serpula they have already
become separate. How feeble this attempt is to individuate, is most
clearly shown in their mode of generation. Notwithstanding the report of
Professor Pallas, it still remains doubtful whether there exists any
actual copulation among the polypi. The mere existence of a polypus
suffices for its endless multiplication. They may be indefinitely
propagated by cuttings, so languid is the power of individuation, so
boundless that of reproduction. But the delicate jelly dissolves, as
lightly as it was formed, into its own product, and it is probable that
the Polynesia, as a future continent, will be the gigantic monument, not
so much of their life, as of the life of Nature in them. Here we may
observe the first instance of that general law, according to which Nature
still assimilates her extreme points. In these, her first and feeblest
attempts to animalize organization, it is latent, because undeveloped, and
merely potential; while, in the human brain, the last and most consummate
of her combined energies, it is again lost or disguised in the
subtlety(15) and multiplicity of its evolution.

In the class immediately above (Mollusca) we find the individuals
separate, a more determinate form, and in the higher species, the rudiment
of nerves, as the first scarce distinguishable impress and exponent of
sensibility; still, however, the vegetative reproduction is the
predominant form; and even the nerves “which float in the same cavity with
the other viscera,” are probably subservient to it, and extend their power
in the increased intensity of the reproductive force. Still prevails the
transitional state from the fluid to the solid; and the jelly, that
rudiment in which all animals, even the noblest, have their commencement;
constitutes the whole sphere of these rudimental animals.

In the snail and muscle, the residuum of the coral reappears, but refined
and ennobled into a part of the animal. The whole class is characterised
by the separation of the fluid from the solid. On the one side, a
gelatinous semi-fluid; on the other side, an entirely inorganic, though
often a most exquisitely mechanised, calcareous excretion.

Animalization in general is, we know, contra-distinguished from vegetables
in general by the predominance of azote in the chemical composition, and
of irritability in the organic process. But in this and the foregoing
classes, as being still near the common equator, or the punctum
indifferentiæ, the carbonic principle still asserts its claims, and the
force of reproduction struggles with that of irritability. In the
unreconciled strife of these two forces consists the character of the
_Vermes_, which appear to be the preparatory step for the next class.
Hence the difficulties which have embarrassed the naturalists, who adopt
the Linnæan classification, in their endeavours to discover determinate
characters of distinction between the vermes and the insecta.

But no sooner have we passed the borders, than endless variety of form and
the bold display of instincts announce, that Nature has succeeded. She has
created the intermediate link between the vegetable world, as the product
of the reproductive or magnetic power, and the animal as the exponent of
sensibility. Those that live and are nourished, on the bodies of other
animals, are comparatively few, with little diversity of shape, and almost
all of the same natural family. These we may pass by as exceptions. But
the insect world, taken at large, appears as an intenser life, that has
struggled itself loose and become emancipated from vegetation, _Floræ
liberti, et libertini!_ If for the sake of a moment’s relaxation we might
indulge a Darwinian flight, though at the risk of provoking a smile, (not,
I hope, a frown) from sober judgment, we might imagine the life of insects
an apotheosis of the petals, stamina, and nectaries, round which they
flutter, or of the stems and pedicles, to which they adhere. Beyond and
above this step, Nature seems to act with a sort of free agency, and to
have formed the classes from choice and bounty. Had she proceeded no
further, yet the whole vegetable, together with the whole insect creation,
would have formed within themselves an entire and independent system of
Life. All plants have insects, most commonly each genus of vegetables its
appropriate genera of insects; and so reciprocally interdependent and
necessary to each other are they, that we can almost as little think of
vegetation without insects, as of insects without vegetation. Though
probably the mere likeness of _shape_, in the _papilio_, and the
papilionaceous plants, suggested the idea of the former, as the latter in
a state of detachment, to our late poetical and theoretical brother; yet a
something, that approaches to a graver plausibility, is given to this
fancy of a flying blossom; when we reflect how many plants depend upon
insects for their fructification. Be it remembered, too, that with few and
very obscure exceptions, the irritable power and an analogon of voluntary
motion first dawn on us in the vegetable world, in the stamina, and
anthers, at the period of impregnation. Then, as if Nature had been
encouraged by the success of the first experiment, both the one and the
other appear as predominance and general character. THE INSECT WORLD IS

With the ascent in power, the intensity of individuation keeps even pace;
and from this we may explain all the characteristic distinctions between
this class and that of the vermes. The almost homogeneous jelly of the
animalcula infusoria became, by a vital oxydation, granular in the polypi.
This granulation formed itself into distinct organs in the molluscæ; while
for the snails, which are the next step, the animalized lime, that seemed
the sole final cause of the life of the polypi, assumes all the characters
of an ulterior purpose. Refined into a horn-like substance, it becomes to
the snails the substitute of an organ, and their outward skeleton. Yet how
much more manifold and definite, the organization of an insect, than that
of the preceding class, the patient researches of Swammerdam and Lyonnet
have evinced, to the delight and admiration of every reflecting mind.

In the insect, for the first time, we find the distinct commencement of a
separation between the exponents of sensibility and those of irritability;
_i.e._ between the _nervous_ and the _muscular_ system. The latter,
however, asserts its pre-eminence throughout. The prodigal provision of
organs for the purposes of respiration, and the marvellous powers which
numerous tribes of insects possess, of accommodating the most corrupted
airs, for a longer or shorter period, to the support of their
excitability, would of itself lead us to presume, that here the _vis
irritabilis_ is the reigning dynasty. There is here no confluence of
nerves into one reservoir, as evidence of the independent existence of
sensibility _as_ sensibility;—and therefore no counterpoise of a vascular
system, as a distinct exponent of the irritable pole. The whole
muscularity of these animals, is the organ of irritability; and the nerves
themselves are probably feeders of the motory power. The petty rills of
sensibility flow into the full expanse of irritability, and there lose
themselves. The nerves appertaining to the senses, on the other hand, are
indistinct, and comparatively unimportant. The multitude of immovable eyes
appear not so much conductors of light, as its ultimate recipient. We are
almost tempted to believe that they constitute, rather than subserve,
their sensorium.

These eye-facets form the sense of light, rather than organs of seeing.
Their almost paradoxical number at least, and the singularity of their
forms, render it probable that they impel the animal by some modification
of its irritability, herein likewise containing a striking analogy to the
known influence of light on plants, than as excitements of sensibility.
The sense that is nearest akin to irritability, and which alone resides in
the muscular system, is that of touch, or feeling. This, therefore, is the
first sense that emerges. Being confined to absolute contact, it occupies
the lowest rank; but for that very reason it is the ground of all the
other senses, which act, according to the ratio of their ascent, at still
increasing distances, and become more and more ideal, from the tentacles
of the polypus, to the human eye; which latter might be defined the
outward organ of the identity, or at least of the indifference, of the
real and ideal. But as the calcareous residuum of the lowest class
approaches to the nature of horn in the snail, so the cumbrous shell of
the snail has been transformed into polished and moveable plates of
defensive armour in the insect. Thus, too, the same power of progressive
individuation articulates the tentacula of the polypus and holothuria into
antennæ; thereby manifesting the full emersion and eminency of
irritability as a power which acts in, and gives its own character to,
that of reproduction. The least observant must have noticed the
lightning-like rapidity with which the insect tribes devour and eliminate
their food, as by an instinctive necessity, and in the least degree for
the purposes of the animal’s own growth or enlargement. The same
predominance of irritability, and at the same time a new start in
individuation, is shown in the reproductive power as generation. There is
now a regular projection, _ab intra ad extra_, for which neither sprouts
nor cuttings can any longer be the substitutes. We have not space for
further detail; but there is one point too strikingly illustrative and
even confirmative of the proposed system, to be omitted altogether. We
mean the curious fact, that the same characteristic tendency, _ad extra_,
which in the males and females of certain insect tribes is realized in the
functions of generation, conception, and parturiency, manifests and
expands itself in the _sexless_ individuals (which are always in this case
the great majority of the species), as instincts of art, and in the
construction of works completely detached and inorganic; while the
geometric regularity of these works, which bears an analogy to
crystallization, is demonstrably no more than the necessary result of
uniform action in a compressed multitude.

Again, as the insect world, averaging the whole, comes nearest to plants,
(whose very essence is reproduction,) in the multitude of their germs; so
does it resemble plants in the sufficiency of a single impregnation for
the evolution of myriads of detached lives. Even so, the metamorphoses of
insects, from the egg to the maggot and caterpillar, and from these,
through the nympha and aurelia into the perfect insect, are but a more
individuated and intenser form of a similar transformation of the plant
from the seed-leaflets, or cotyledons, through the stalk, the leaves, and
the calyx, into the perfect flower, the various colours of which seem made
for the reflection of light, as the antecedent grade to the burnished
scales, and scale-like eyes of the insect. Nevertheless, with all this
seeming prodigality of organic power, the whole tendency is _ad extra_,
and the life of insects, as electricity in the quadrate, acts chiefly on
the superficies of their bodies, to which we may add the negative proof
arising from the absence of sensibility. It is well known, that the two
halves of a divided insect have continued to perform, or attempt, each
their separate functions, the trunkless head feeding with its accustomed
voracity, while the headless trunk has exhibited its appropriate
excitability to the sexual influence.

The intropulsive force, that sends the ossification inward as to the
centre, is reserved for a yet higher step, and this we find embodied in
the class of _fishes_. Even here, however, the process still seems
imperfect, and (as it were) initiatory. The skeleton has left the surface,
indeed, but the bones approach to the nature of gristle. To feel the truth
of this, we need only compare the most perfect bone of a fish with the
thigh-bones of the mammalia, and the distinctness with which the latter
manifest the co-presence of the _magnetic_ power in its solid parietes, of
the _electrical_ in its branching arteries, and of the third greatest
power, viz., the _qualitative_ and interior, in its marrow. The senses of
fish are more distinct than those of insects. Thus, the intensity of its
sense of smell has been placed beyond doubt, and rises in the extent of
its sphere far beyond the irritable sense, or the feeling, in insects. I
say the _feeling_, not the touch; for the touch seems, as it were, a
supervention to the feeling, a perfection _given_ to it by the reaction of
the higher powers. As the feeling of the insect, in subtlety and virtual
distance, rises above the solitary sense of taste(16) in the mollusca, so
does the smell of the fish rise above the feeling of the insect. In the
fish, likewise, the eyes are single and moveable, while it is remarkable
that the only insect that possesses this latter privilege, is an
inhabitant of the waters. Finally, here first, unequivocally, and on a
_large_ scale, (for I pretend not to control the freedom, in which the
necessity of Nature is rooted, by the precise limits of a system,)—here
first, Nature exhibits, in the power of sensibility, the consummation of
those vital forms (the _nisus formativi_) the adequate and the sole
measure of which is to be sought for in their several organic products.
But as if a weakness of exhaustion had attended this advance in the same
moment it was made, Nature seems necessitated to fall back, and re-exert
herself on the lower ground which she had before occupied, that of the
vital magnetism, or the power of reproduction. The intensity of this
latter power in the fishes, is shown both in their voracity and in the
number of their eggs, which we are obliged to calculate by _weight_, not
by _tale_. There is an equal intensity both of the _immanent_ and the
_projective_ reproduction, in which, if we take in the comparative number
of individuals in each species, and likewise the different intervals
between the acts, the fish (it is probable) would be found to stand in a
similar relation to the insect, as the insect, in the latter point, stands
to the system of vegetation. Meantime, the fish sinks a step below the
insect, in the mode and circumstances of impregnation. To this we will
venture to add, the predominance of _length_, as the _form_ of growth in
so large a proportion of the known orders of fishes, and not less of their
rectilineal path of motion. In all other respects, the correspondence
combined with the progress in individuation, is striking in the whole
detail. Thus the eye, in addition to its moveability, has besides acquired
a saline moisture in its higher development, as accordant with the life of
its element. Add to these the glittering covering in both, the splendour
of the scales in the one answering to the brilliant plates in the
other,—the luminous reservoirs of the fire-flies,—the phosphorescence and
electricity of many fishes,—the same analogs of moral qualities, in their
rapacity, boldness, modes of seizing their prey by surprise,—their gills,
as presenting the intermediate state between the spiracula of the grade
next below, and the lungs of the step next above, both extremes of which
seem combined in the structure of birds and of their quill-feathers; but
above all, the convexity of the crystalline lens, so much greater than in
birds, quadrupeds, and man, and seeming to collect, in one powerful organ,
the hundred-fold microscopic facettes of the insect’s _light_ organs; and
it will not be easy to resist the conviction, that the same power is at
work in both, and reappears under higher auspices. The intention of Nature
is repeated; but, as was to have been expected, with two main differences.

First, that in the lower grade the reproductions themselves seem merged in
those of irritability, from the very circumstance that the latter
constitutes no pole, either to the former, or to sensibility. The force of
irritability acts, therefore, in the insect world, in full predominance;
while the emergence of sensibility in the fish calls forth the opposite
pole of reproduction, as a _distinct_ power, and causes therefore the
irritability to flow, in part, into the power of reproduction. The second
result of this ascent is the direction of the organizing power, _ad
intra_, with the consequent greater simplicity of the exterior form, and
the substitution of condensed and flexible force, with comparative unity
of implements, for that variety of tools, almost as numerous as the
several objects to which they are to be applied, which arises from, and
characterises, the superficial life of the insect creation. This grade of
ascension, however, like the former, is accompanied by an apparent
retrograde movement. For from this very accession of vital intensity we
must account for the absence in the fishes of all the formative, or rather
(if our language will permit it) _fabricative_ instincts. How could it be
otherwise? These instincts are the surplus and projection of the
organizing power in the direction _ad extra_, and could not, therefore,
have been expected in the class of animals that represent the first
intuitive effort of organization, and are themselves the product of its
first movement in the direction _ad intra_. But Nature never loses what
she has once learnt, though in the acquirement of each new power she
intermits, or performs less energetically, the act immediately preceding.
She often drops a faculty, but never fails to pick it up again. She may
seem forgetful and absent, but it is only to recollect herself with
_additional_, as well as _recruited_ vigour, in some after and higher
state; as if the sleep of powers, as well as of bodies, were the season
and condition of their growth. Accordingly, we find these instincts again,
and with them a wonderful synthesis of fish and insect, as a higher third,
in the feathered inhabitants of the air. Nay, she seems to have gone yet
further back, and having given B + C = D in the birds, so to have sported
with one solitary instance of B + D = A in that curious animal the dragon,
the anatomy of which has been recently given to the public by Tiedemann;
from whose work it appears, that this creature presents itself to us with
the wings of the insect, and with the nervous system, the brain, and the
cranium of the bird, in their several rudiments.

The synthesis of fish and insect in the birds, might be illustrated
equally in detail with the former; but it will be sufficient for our
purpose, that as in both the former cases, the insect and the fish, so
here in that of the birds, the powers are under the predominance of
irritability; the sensibility being dormant in the first, awakening in the
second, and awake, but still subordinate, in the third. Of this my limits
confine me to a single presumptive proof, viz., the superiority in
strength and courage of the female in the birds of prey. For herein,
indeed, does the difference of the sexes universally consist, wherever
both the forces are developed, that the female is characterised by quicker
irritability, and the male by deeper sensibility. How large a stride has
been now made by Nature in the progress of individuation, what
ornithologist does not know? From a multitude of instances we select the
most impressive, the power of sound, with the first rudiments of
modulation! That all languages designate the melody of birds as singing
(though according to Blumenbach man only sings, while birds do but
whistle), demonstrates that it has been felt as, what indeed it is, a
tentative and prophetic prelude of something yet to come. With this
conjoin the power and the tendency to acquire articulation, and to imitate
speech; conjoin the building instinct and the migratory, the monogamy of
several species, and the pairing of almost all; and we shall have
collected new instances of the usage (I dare not say law) according to
which Nature lets fall, in order to resume, and steps backward the
furthest, when she means to leap forwards with the greatest concentration
of energy.

For lo! in the next step of ascent the power of sensibility has assumed
her due place and rank: her minority is at an end, and the complete and
universal presence of a nervous system unites absolutely, by instanteity
of time what, with the due allowances for the transitional process, had
before been either lost in sameness, or perplexed by multiplicity, or
compacted by a finer mechanism. But with this, all the analogies with
which Nature had delighted us in the preceding step seem lost, and, with
the single exception of that more than valuable, that estimable
philanthropist, the dog, and, perhaps, of the horse and elephant, the
analogies to ourselves, which we can discover in the quadrupeds or
quadrumani, are of our vices, our follies, and our imperfections. The
facts in confirmation of both the propositions are so numerous and so
obvious, the advance of Nature, under the predominance of the third
synthetic power, both in the intensity of life and in the intenseness and
extension of individuality, is so undeniable, that we may leap forward at
once to the highest realization and reconciliation of both her tendencies,
that of the most perfect detachment with the greatest possible union, to
that last work, in which Nature did not assist as handmaid under the eye
of her sovereign Master, who made Man in his own image, by superadding
self-consciousness with self-government, and breathed into him a living

The class of _Vermes_ deposit a calcareous stuff, as if it had torn loose
from the earth a piece of the gross mass which it must still drag about
with it. In the insect class this residuum has refined itself. In the
fishes and amphibia it is driven back or inward, the organic power begins
to be intuitive, and sensibility appears. In the birds the bones have
become hollow; while, with apparent proportional recess, but, in truth, by
the excitement of the opposite pole, their exterior presents an actual
vegetation. The bones of the mammalia are filled up, and their coverings
have become more simple. Man possesses the most perfect osseous structure,
the least and most insignificant covering. The whole force of organic
power has attained an inward and centripetal direction. He has the whole
world in counterpoint to him, but he contains an entire world within
himself. Now, for the first time at the apex of the living pyramid, it is
Man and Nature, but Man himself is a syllepsis, a compendium of Nature—the
Microcosm! Naked and helpless cometh man into the world. Such has been the
complaint from eldest time; but we complain of our chief privilege, our
ornament, and the connate mark of our sovereignty. _Porphyrigeniti sumus_!
In Man the centripetal and individualizing tendency of all Nature is
itself concentred and individualized—he is a revelation of Nature!
Henceforward, he is referred to himself, delivered up to his own charge;
and he who stands the most on himself, and stands the firmest, is the
truest, because the most individual, Man. In social and political life
this acme is inter-dependence; in moral life it is independence; in
intellectual life it is genius. Nor does the form of polarity, which has
accompanied the law of individuation up its whole ascent, desert it here.
As the height, so the depth. The intensities must be at once opposite and
equal. As the liberty, so must be the reverence for law. As the
independence, so must be the service and the submission to the Supreme
Will! As the ideal genius and the originality, in the same proportion must
be the resignation to the real world, the sympathy and the inter-communion
with Nature. In the conciliating mid-point, or equator, does the Man live,
and only by its equal presence in both its poles can that life be

                                * * * * *

If it had been possible, within the prescribed limits of this essay, to
have deduced the philosophy of Life synthetically, the evidence would have
been carried over from section to section, and the _quod erat
demonstrandum_ at the conclusion of one section would reappear as the
principle of the succeeding—the goal of the one would be the starting-post
of the other. Positions arranged in my own mind, as intermediate and
organic links of administration, must be presented to the reader in the
first instance, at least, as a mere hypothesis.  Instead of demanding his
assent as a right, I must solicit a suspension of his judgment as a
courtesy; and, after all, however firmly the hypothesis may support the
phenomena piled upon it, we can deduce no more than a practical rule,
grounded on a strong presumption. The license of arithmetic, however,
furnishes instances that a rule may be usefully applied in practice, and
for the particular purpose may be sufficiently authenticated by the
result, before it has itself been duly demonstrated. It is enough, if only
it hath been rendered fully intelligible.

In a system where every position proceeds from a scientific
preconstruction, a power acting exclusively in length, would be magnetism
by virtue of our own definition of the term. In like manner, a surface
power would be electricity, as far as that system was concerned, whether
it accorded or not with the facts ordinarily so called. But it is
incumbent on us, who must treat the subject _analytically_, to show by
experiment that magnetism does in fact act longitudinally, and electricity
superficially; and that, consequently, the former is distinguished from,
and yet contained in, the latter, as a straight line is distinguished
from, yet contained in, a superficies.

First, that magnetism, in its conductors, seeks and follows length only,
and by the length is itself conducted, has been proved by Brugmans, in his
philosophical Essay on the Matter of Magnetism, where he relates that a
magnet capable of supporting a body four times heavier than itself, and
which acted as a magnetic needle at the distance of twenty inches, was so
weakened by the interposition of three cast-iron plates of considerable
thickness, as scarcely to move the magnetic needle from its place at a
distance of only three inches. A similar experiment had been made by
Descartes. I concluded, therefore, said Brugmans, that if the iron plates
were interposed between the magnet and the needle lengthways, instead of
breadthways or right across, the action of the magnet on the magnetic
needle would, in consequence of this great increase of resistance, become
still weaker, or perhaps evanescent. But not less to my surprise than my
admiration, I found that the power of the magnet was so far from being
_diminished_ by this change in the relative position of the iron-plates;
that, on the contrary, it now extended to a far greater distance than when
no iron at all was interposed. Some time after the same philosopher, out
of several iron bars, the sides of which were an inch broad each, composed
a single bar of the length of more than ten feet, and observed the
magnetism make its way through the whole mass. But, in order to try
whether the action could be propagated to any length indefinitely, after
several experiments with bars of intermediate lengths, in all of which he
had succeeded, he tried a four-cornered iron rod, more than twenty feet
long, and it was at this length that the magnetic power first began to be
diminished. So far Brugmans.

But the shortest way for any one to convince himself of this relation of
the magnetic power would be, in one and the same experiment, to interpose
the same piece of iron between the magnet and the compass needle first
_breadthways_; and in this case it will be found that the needle, which
had been previously deflected by the magnet from its natural position at
one of its poles, will instantly resume the same, either wholly or very
nearly so—then to interpose the same piece of iron _lengthways_; in which
case the position of the compass needle will be scarcely or not at all

The assertion of Bernoulli and others, that the absolute force of the
artificial magnet increases in the ratio of its superficies, stands
corrected in the far more accurate experiments of Coulomb (published in
his Treatise on Magnetism), which proves that the increase takes place (in
a far greater degree) in the ratio of its length. The same naturalist even
found means to determine that the directing powers of the needle, which he
had measured by help of his _balance de tortion_, stand to the length of
the needle in such a ratio as that, provided only the length of the needle
is from forty to fifty times its diameter, the momenta of these directing
powers will increase in the very same direct proportion as the length is
increased. Nor is this all that may be deduced from the experiment last
mentioned. If only the magnet be strong enough, it will show likewise that
magnetism _seeks_ the length. The proof is contained in the remarkable
fact, that the iron interposed between the magnet and the magnetic needle
_breadthways_ constantly acquires its two opposite poles at both ends
_lengthways_. Though the preceding experiments are abundantly sufficient
to prove the position, yet the following deserves mention for the
beautiful clearness of its evidence. If the magnetic power is determined
exclusively by length, it is to be expected that it will manifest no
force, where the piece of iron is of such a shape that no one dimension
predominates. Bring a _cube_ of iron near the magnetic needle and it will
not exert the slightest degree of power beyond what belongs to it as mere
iron. By the perfect equality of the dimensions, the magnetism of the
earth appears, as it were, perplexed and doubtful. Now, then attach a
second cube of iron to the first, and the instantaneous act of the iron on
the magnetic needle will make it manifest that with the length thus given,
the magnetic influence is given at the same moment.

That electricity, on the other hand, does not act in length merely, is
clear, from the fact that every electric body is electric over its whole
surface. But that electricity acts both in length and breadth, and _only_
in length and breadth, and not in depth; in short, that the (so-called)
electrical fluid in an electrified body spreads over the whole surface of
that body without penetrating it, or tending _ad intra_, may be proved by
direct experiment. Take a cylinder of wood, and bore an indefinite number
of holes in it, each of them four lines in depth and four in diameter.
Electrify this cylinder, and present to its superficies a small square of
gold-leaf, held to it by an insulating needle of gum lac, and bring this
square to an electrometer of great sensibility. The electrometer will
instantly show an electricity in the gold-leaf, similar to that of the
cylinder which had been brought into contact with it. The square of
gold-leaf having thus been discharged of its electricity, put it carefully
into one of the holes of the cylinder, _so_, namely, that it shall touch
only the bottom of the hole, and present it again to the electrometer. It
will be then found that the electrometer will exhibit no signs of
electricity whatsoever. From this it follows, that the electricity which
had been communicated to the cylinder had confined itself to the

If the time and the limit prescribed would admit, we could multiply
experiments, all tending to prove the same law; but we must be content
with the barely sufficient. But that the _chemical process_ acts in
_depth_, and first, therefore, _realizes_ and integrates the fluxional
power of magnetism and electricity, is involved in the _term_ composition;
and this will become still more convincing when we have learnt to regard
_decomposition_ as a mere co-relative, _i.e._ as decomposition relatively
to the body decomposed, but composition _actually_ and in respect of the
substances, _into_ which it was decomposed. The alteration in the specific
gravity of metals in their chemical amalgams, interesting as the fact is
in all points, is _decisive_ in the present; for gravity is the sole
_inward_ of inorganic bodies—it _constitutes_ their depth.

I can now, for the first time, give to my opinions that degree of
intelligibility, which is requisite for their introduction as hypotheses;
the experiments above related, understood as in the common mode of
thinking, prove that the magnetic influence flows in length, the electric
fluid by suffusion, and that chemical agency (whatever the main agent may
be) is qualitative and _in intimis_. Now my hypothesis demands the
converse of all this. I affirm that a power, acting exclusively in length,
is (wherever it be found) _magnetism_; that a power which acts _both_ in
length and in breadth, and _only_ in length and breadth, is (wherever it
be found) _electricity_; and finally, that a power which, together with
length and breadth, includes depth likewise, is (wherever it be found)
_constructive agency_. That is but _one_ phenomenon of magnetism, to which
we have appropriated and confined the term magnetism; because of all the
natural bodies at present known, iron, and one or two of its nearest
relatives in the family of hard yet coherent metals, are the only ones, in
which all the conditions are collected, under which alone the magnetic
agency can appear in and during the act itself. When, therefore, I affirm
the power of reproduction in organized bodies to be magnetism, I must be
understood to mean that this power, as it exists in the magnet, and which
we there (to use a strong phrase) catch in the very act, is to the same
kind of power, working as reproductive, what the root is to the cube of
that root. We no more confound the force in the compass needle with that
of reproduction, than a man can be said to confound his liver with a
lichen, because he affirms that both of them grow.

The same precautions are to be repeated in the identification of
electricity with irritability; and the power of depth, for which we have
yet no appropriated term, with sensibility. How great the distance is in
all, and that the lowest degrees are adopted as the exponent terms, not
for their own sakes, but merely because they may be used with less hazard
of diverting the attention from the _kind_ by peculiar properties arising
out of the degree, is evident from the third instance, unless the theorist
can be supposed insane enough to apply sensation in good earnest to the
effervescence of an acid or an alkali, or to sympathise with the
distresses of a vat of new beer when it is working. In whatever way the
subject could be treated, it must have remained unintelligible to men who,
if they think of space at all, abstract their notion of it from the
contents of an exhausted receiver. With this, and with an ether, such men
may work wonders; as what, indeed, cannot be done with a plenum and a
vacuum, when a theorist has privileged himself to assume the one, or the
other, _ad libitum_?—in all innocence of heart, and undisturbed by the
reflection that the two things cannot both be true. That both time and
space are mere abstractions I am well aware; but I know with equal
certainty that what is _expressed_ by them as the _identity_ of both is
the highest reality, and the root of all power, the power to suffer, as
well as the power to act. However mere an _ens logicum_ space may be, the
_dimensions_ of space are real, and the works of Galileo, in more than one
elegant passage, prove with what awe and amazement they fill the mind that
worthily contemplates them. Dismissing, therefore, all facts of degrees,
as introduced merely for the purposes of illustration, I would make as
little reference as possible to the magnet, the charged phial, or the
processes of the laboratory, and designate the three powers in the process
of our animal life, each by two co-relative terms, the one expressing the
_form_, and the other the _object_ and _product_ of the power. My
hypothesis will, therefore, be thus expressed, that the constituent forces
of life in the human living body are—first, the power of length, or
REPRODUCTION; second, the power of surface (that is, length and breadth),
or IRRITABILITY; third, the power of depth, or SENSIBILITY. With this
observation I may conclude these remarks, only reminding the reader that
Life itself is neither of these separately, but the copula of all
three—that Life, _as_ Life, supposes a positive or universal principle in
Nature, with a negative principle in every particular animal, the latter,
or limitative power, constantly acting to individualize, and, as it were,
_figure_ the former. _Thus_, then, Life itself is not a _thing_—a
self-subsistent _hypostasis_—but an _act_ and _process_; which, pitiable
as the prejudice will appear to the _forts esprits_, is a great deal more
than either my reason would authorise or my conscience allow me to
assert—concerning the Soul, as the principle both of Reason and


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    1 Mr. Abernethy.

    2 Experiment, as an organ of reason, not less distinguished from the
      blind or dreaming industry of the alchemists, than it was
      successfully opposed to the barren subtleties of the schoolmen.

    3 Whose own mind, however, was not comprehended in the vortex; where
      Kepler erred it was in the other extreme.

    4 But still less would I avail myself of its acknowledged
      inappropriateness to the purposes of physiology, in order to cast a
      self-complacent sneer on the soul itself, and on all who believe in
      its existence. First, because in my opinion it would be impertinent;
      secondly, because it would be imprudent and injurious to the
      character of my profession; and, lastly, because it would argue an
      irreverence to the feelings of mankind, which I deem scarcely
      compatible with a good heart, and a degree of arrogance and
      presumption which I have never found, except in company with a
      corrupt taste and a shallow capacity.

    5 Vide Lawrence’s Lecture.

    6 Joh. Bapt. a Vico, Neapol. Reg. eloq. Professor, de antiquissima
      Itallorum sapientia ex lingua Latina originibus aruendâ: libri tres.
      Neap., 1710.

    7 The object I have proposed to myself, and wherein its distinction
      exists, may be thus illustrated. A complex machine is presented to
      the common view, the moving power of which is hidden. Of those who
      are studying and examining it, one man fixes his attention on some
      one application of that power, on certain effects produced by that
      particular application, and on a certain part of the structure
      evidently appropriated to the production of these effects, neither
      the one or other of which he had discovered in a neighbouring
      machine, which he at the same time asserts to be quite distinct from
      the former, and to be moved by a power altogether different, though
      many of the works and operations are, he admits, common to both
      machines. In this supposed peculiarity he places the essential
      character of the former machine, and defines it by the presence of
      that which is, or which he supposes to be, absent in the latter.
      Supposing that a stranger to both were about to visit the two
      machines, this peculiarity would be so far useful as that it might
      enable him to distinguish the one from the other, and thus to look
      in the proper place for whatever else he had heard remarkable
      concerning either; not that he or his informant would understand the
      machine any better or otherwise, than the common character of a
      whole class in the nomenclature of botany would enable a person to
      understand all, or any one of the plants contained in that class.
      But if, on the other hand, the machine in question were such as no
      man was a stranger to, if even the supposed peculiarity, either by
      its effects, or by the construction of that portion of the works
      which produced them, were equally well known to all men, in this
      case we can conceive no use at all of such a definition; for at the
      best it could only be admitted as a definition for the purposes of
      nomenclature, which never adds to knowledge, although it may often
      facilitate its communication. But in this instance it would be
      nomenclature misplaced, and without an object. Such appears to me to
      be the case with all those definitions which place the essence of
      Life in nutrition, contractility, &c. As the second instance, I will
      take the inventor and maker of the machine himself, who knows its
      moving power, or perhaps himself constitutes it, who is, as it were,
      the soul of the work, and in whose mind all its parts, with all
      their bearings and relations, had pre-existed long before the
      machine itself had been put together. In him therefore there would
      reside, what it would be presumption to attempt to acquire, or to
      pretend to communicate, the most perfect insight not only of the
      machine itself, and of all its various operations, but of its
      ultimate principle and its essential causes. The mysterious ground,
      the efficient causes of vitality, and whether different lives differ
      absolutely or only in degree, He alone can know who not only said,
      “Let the earth bring forth the living creature, the beast of the
      earth after his kind, and it was so;” but who said, “Let us make man
      in our image, who himself breathed into his nostrils the breath of
      Life, and man became a living soul.”

      The third case which I would apply to my own attempt would be that
      of the inquirer, who, presuming to know nothing of the power that
      moves the whole machine, takes those parts of it which are presented
      to his view, seeks to reduce its various movements to as few and
      simple laws of motion as possible, and out of their separate and
      conjoint action proceeds to explain and appropriate the structure
      and relative positions of the works. In obedience to the
      canon,—“Principia non esse multiplicanda præter summam necessitatem
      cui suffragamur non ideo quia causalem in mundo unitatem vel ratione
      vel experientiâ perspiciamus, sed illam ipsam indagamus impulsu
      intellectûs, qui tantundem sibi in explicatione phænomenorum
      profecisse videtur quantum ab codem principio ad plurima rationata
      descendere ipsi concessum est.”

    8 The arborescent forms on a frosty morning, to be seen on the window
      and pavement, must have _some_ relation to the more perfect forms
      developed in the vegetable world.

    9 Thus we may say that whatever is organized from without, is a
      product of mechanism; whatever is mechanised from within, is a
      production of organization.

   10 “The matter that surrounds us is divided into two great classes,
      living and dead; the latter is governed by physical laws, such as
      attraction, gravitation, chemical affinity; and it exhibits physical
      properties, such as cohesion, elasticity, divisibility, &c. Living
      matter also exhibits these properties, and is subject, in great
      measure, to physical laws. But living bodies are endowed moreover
      with a set of properties altogether different from these, and
      contrasting with them very remarkably.” (Vide Lawrence’s Lectures,
      p. 121.)

   11 Much against my will I repeat this scholastic term, _multeity_, but
      I have sought in vain for an unequivocal word of a less repulsive
      character, that would convey the notion in a positive and not
      comparative sense in kind, as opposed to the _unum et simplex_, not
      in degree, as contracted with the _few_. We can conceive no reason
      that can be adduced in justification of the word _caloric_, as
      invented to distinguish the external cause of the sensation heat,
      which would not equally authorise the introduction of a technical
      term in this instance.

   12 For abstractions are the conditions and only subject of all abstract
      sciences. Thus the theorist (vide Dalton’s Theory), who reduces the
      chemical process to the positions of atoms, would doubtless thereby
      render chemistry calculable, but that he commences by destroying the
      chemical process itself, and substitutes for it a _mote dance_ of
      abstractions; for even the powers which he appears to leave real,
      those of attraction and repulsion, he immediately unrealizes by
      representing them as diverse and separable properties. We can
      abstract the quantities and the quantitative motion from masses,
      passing over or leaving for other sciences the question of what
      constitutes the masses, and thus apply not to the masses themselves,
      but to the abstractions therefrom,—the laws of geometry and
      universal arithmetic. And where the quantities are the infallible
      signs of real powers, and our chief concern with the masses is as
      SIGNS, sciences may be founded thereon of the highest use and
      dignity. Such, for instance, is the sublime science of astronomy,
      having for its objects the vast masses which “God placed in the
      firmament of the heaven to be for _signs_ and for seasons, for days
      and years.” For the whole doctrine of physics may be reduced to
      three great divisions: First, _quantitative motion_, which is
      proportioned to the quantity of matter exclusively. This is the
      science of weight or statics. Secondly, _relative motion_, as
      communicated to bodies externally by impact. This is the science of
      mechanics. Thirdly, _qualitative motion_, or that which is accordant
      to properties of matter. And this is chemistry. Now it is evident
      that the first two sciences presuppose that which forms the
      exclusive object of the third, namely, quality; for all quantity in
      nature is either itself derived, or at least derives its powers from
      some _quality_, as that of weight, specific cohesion, hardness, &c.;
      and therefore the attempt to reduce to the distances or impacts of
      atoms, under the assumptions of two powers, which are themselves
      declared to be no more than mere general terms for those quantities
      of motion and impact (the atom itself being a fiction formed by
      abstraction, and in truth a third occult quality for the purpose of
      explaining hardness and density), amounts to an attempt to destroy
      chemistry itself, and at the same time to exclude the sole reality
      and only positive contents of the very science into which that of
      chemistry is to be degraded. Now what qualities are to chemistry,
      _productiveness_ is to the science of Life; and this being excluded,
      physiology or zoonomy would sink into chemistry, chemistry by the
      same process into mechanics, while mechanics themselves would lose
      the substantial principle, which, bending the lower extreme towards
      its apex, produces the organic circle of the sciences, and elevates
      them all into different arcs or stations of the one absolute science
      of Life.

      This explanation, which in appearance only is a digression, was
      indispensably requisite to prevent the idea of polarity, which has
      been given as the universal law of Life, from being misunderstood as
      a mere refinement on those mechanical systems of physiology, which
      it has been my main object to explode.

   13 I apprehend that by men of a certain school it would be deemed no
      demerit, even though they should never have condescended to look
      into any system of Aristotelian logic. It is enough for these
      gentlemen that they are experimentalists! Let it not, however, be
      supposed that they make more experiments than their neighbours, who
      consider induction as a means and not an end; or have stronger
      motives for making them, unless it can be believed that Tycho Brähe
      must have been urged to repeat his sweeps of the heavens with
      greater accuracy and industry than Herschel, for no better reason
      than that the former flourished before the theory of gravitation was
      perfected. No, but they have the honour of being mere
      experimentalists! If, however, we may not refer to logic, we may to
      common sense and common experience. It is not improbable, however,
      that they have both read and studied a book of hypothetical
      psychology on the assumptions of the crudest materialism, stolen too
      without acknowledgment from our David Hartley’s essay on Man, which
      is well known under the whimsical name of Condillac’s Logic. But, as
      Mr. Brand has lately observed, “the French are a queer people,” and
      we should not be at all surprised to hear of a book of fresh
      importation from Paris, on determinate proportions in chemistry,
      announced by the author in his title-page as a new and improved
      system either of arithmetic or geometry.

   14 Such is the interpretation given by Lord Bacon. To which of the two
      gigantic intellects, the poet’s or philosophic commentator’s, the
      allegory belongs, I shall not presume to decide. Its extraordinary
      beauty and appropriateness remains the same in either case.

   15 The Anatomical Demonstrations of the Brain, by Dr. Spurzheim, which
      I have seen, presented to me the most satisfactory proof of this.

   16 The remark on the feeling of the antennæ, compared with the touch of
      man, or even of the half-reasoning elephant, is yet more applicable
      to the taste, which in these gelatinous animals might, perhaps not
      inappropriately, be entitled the gastric sense.

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