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´╗┐Title: Criticisms on "The Origin of Species" - From 'The Natural History Review', 1864
Author: Huxley, Thomas Henry, 1825-1895
Language: English
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'The Natural History Review', 1864


By Thomas H. Huxley

In the course of the present year several foreign commentaries upon Mr.
Darwin's great work have made their appearance. Those who have perused
that remarkable chapter of the 'Antiquity of Man,' in which Sir Charles
Lyell draws a parallel between the development of species and that of
languages, will be glad to hear that one of the most eminent philologers
of Germany, Professor Schleicher, has, independently, published a most
instructive and philosophical pamphlet (an excellent notice of which is
to be found in the 'Reader', for February 27th of this year) supporting
similar views with all the weight of his special knowledge and
established authority as a linguist. Professor Haeckel, to whom
Schleicher addresses himself, previously took occasion, in his splendid
monograph on the 'Radiolaria' [2], to express his high appreciation of,
and general concordance with, Mr. Darwin's views.

But the most elaborate criticisms of the 'Origin of Species' which
have appeared are two works of very widely different merit, the one
by Professor Kolliker, the well-known anatomist and histologist of
Wurzburg; the other by M. Flourens, Perpetual Secretary of the French
Academy of Sciences.

Professor Kolliker's critical essay 'Upon the Darwinian Theory' is,
like all that proceeds from the pen of that thoughtful and accomplished
writer, worthy of the most careful consideration. It comprises a brief
but clear sketch of Darwin's views, followed by an enumeration of the
leading difficulties in the way of their acceptance; difficulties which
would appear to be insurmountable to Professor Kolliker, inasmuch as
he proposes to replace Mr. Darwin's Theory by one which he terms the
'Theory of Heterogeneous Generation.' We shall proceed to consider first
the destructive, and secondly, the constructive portion of the essay.

We regret to find ourselves compelled to dissent very widely from many
of Professor Kolliker's remarks; and from none more thoroughly than from
those in which he seeks to define what we may term the philosophical
position of Darwinism.

"Darwin," says Professor Kolliker, "is, in the fullest sense of the
word, a Teleologist. He says quite distinctly (First Edition, pp.
199, 200) that every particular in the structure of an animal has been
created for its benefit, and he regards the whole series of animal forms
only from this point of view."

And again:

"7. The teleological general conception adopted by Darwin is a mistaken

"Varieties arise irrespectively of the notion of purpose, or of utility,
according to general laws of Nature, and may be either useful, or
hurtful, or indifferent.

"The assumption that an organism exists only on account of some definite
end in view, and represents something more than the incorporation of a
general idea, or law, implies a one-sided conception of the universe.
Assuredly, every organ has, and every organism fulfils, its end, but its
purpose is not the condition of its existence. Every organism is also
sufficiently perfect for the purpose it serves, and in that, at least,
it is useless to seek for a cause of its improvement."

It is singular how differently one and the same book will impress
different minds. That which struck the present writer most forcibly on
his first perusal of the 'Origin of Species' was the conviction that
Teleology, as commonly understood, had received its deathblow at Mr.
Darwin's hands. For the teleological argument runs thus: an organ or
organism (A) is precisely fitted to perform a function or purpose (B);
therefore it was specially constructed to perform that function. In
Paley's famous illustration, the adaptation of all the parts of the
watch to the function, or purpose, of showing the time, is held to be
evidence that the watch was specially contrived to that end; on the
ground, that the only cause we know of, competent to produce such an
effect as a watch which shall keep time, is a contriving intelligence
adapting the means directly to that end.

Suppose, however, that any one had been able to show that the watch had
not been made directly by any person, but that it was the result of the
modification of another watch which kept time but poorly; and that this
again had proceeded from a structure which could hardly be called a
watch at all--seeing that it had no figures on the dial and the hands
were rudimentary; and that going back and back in time we came at last
to a revolving barrel as the earliest traceable rudiment of the whole
fabric. And imagine that it had been possible to show that all these
changes had resulted, first, from a tendency of the structure to vary
indefinitely; and secondly, from something in the surrounding world
which helped all variations in the direction of an accurate time-keeper,
and checked all those in other directions; then it is obvious that the
force of Paley's argument would be gone. For it would be demonstrated
that an apparatus thoroughly well adapted to a particular purpose might
be the result of a method of trial and error worked by unintelligent
agents, as well as of the direct application of the means appropriate to
that end, by an intelligent agent.

Now it appears to us that what we have here, for illustration's sake,
supposed to be done with the watch, is exactly what the establishment of
Darwin's Theory will do for the organic world. For the notion that every
organism has been created as it is and launched straight at a purpose,
Mr. Darwin substitutes the conception of something which may fairly be
termed a method of trial and error. Organisms vary incessantly; of these
variations the few meet with surrounding conditions which suit them and
thrive; the many are unsuited and become extinguished.

According to Teleology, each organism is like a rifle bullet fired
straight at a mark; according to Darwin, organisms are like grapeshot of
which one hits something and the rest fall wide.

For the teleologist an organism exists because it was made for the
conditions in which it is found; for the Darwinian an organism exists
because, out of many of its kind, it is the only one which has been able
to persist in the conditions in which it is found.

Teleology implies that the organs of every organism are perfect and
cannot be improved; the Darwinian theory simply affirms that they
work well enough to enable the organism to hold its own against such
competitors as it has met with, but admits the possibility of indefinite
improvement. But an example may bring into clearer light the profound
opposition between the ordinary teleological, and the Darwinian,

Cats catch mice, small birds and the like, very well. Teleology tells
us that they do so because they were expressly constructed for so
doing--that they are perfect mousing apparatuses, so perfect and so
delicately adjusted that no one of their organs could be altered,
without the change involving the alteration of all the rest. Darwinism
affirms on the contrary, that there was no express construction
concerned in the matter; but that among the multitudinous variations of
the Feline stock, many of which died out from want of power to resist
opposing influences, some, the cats, were better fitted to catch mice
than others, whence they throve and persisted, in proportion to the
advantage over their fellows thus offered to them.

Far from imagining that cats exist 'in order' to catch mice well,
Darwinism supposes that cats exist 'because' they catch mice
well--mousing being not the end, but the condition, of their existence.
And if the cat type has long persisted as we know it, the interpretation
of the fact upon Darwinian principles would be, not that the cats
have remained invariable, but that such varieties as have incessantly
occurred have been, on the whole, less fitted to get on in the world
than the existing stock.

If we apprehend the spirit of the 'Origin of Species' rightly, then,
nothing can be more entirely and absolutely opposed to Teleology, as it
is commonly understood, than the Darwinian Theory. So far from being a
"Teleologist in the fullest sense of the word," we would deny that he
is a Teleologist in the ordinary sense at all; and we should say that,
apart from his merits as a naturalist, he has rendered a most remarkable
service to philosophical thought by enabling the student of Nature to
recognise, to their fullest extent, those adaptations to purpose which
are so striking in the organic world, and which Teleology has done
good service in keeping before our minds, without being false to the
fundamental principles of a scientific conception of the universe.
The apparently diverging teachings of the Teleologist and of the
Morphologist are reconciled by the Darwinian hypothesis.

But leaving our own impressions of the 'Origin of Species,' and turning
to those passages especially cited by Professor Kolliker, we cannot
admit that they bear the interpretation he puts upon them. Darwin, if we
read him rightly, does 'not' affirm that every detail in the structure
of an animal has been created for its benefit. His words are (p. 199):--

"The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately
made by some naturalists against the utilitarian doctrine that every
detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor.
They believe that very many structures have been created for beauty in
the eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would be
absolutely fatal to my theory--yet I fully admit that many structures
are of no direct use to their possessor."

And after sundry illustrations and qualifications, he concludes (p.

"Hence every detail of structure in every living creature (making some
little allowance for the direct action of physical conditions) may be
viewed either as having been of special use to some ancestral form,
or as being now of special use to the descendants of this form--either
directly, or indirectly, through the complex laws of growth."

But it is one thing to say, Darwinically, that every detail observed
in an animal's structure is of use to it, or has been of use to its
ancestors; and quite another to affirm, teleologically, that every
detail of an animal's structure has been created for its benefit. On the
former hypothesis, for example, the teeth of the foetal Balaena have
a meaning; on the latter, none. So far as we are aware, there is not
a phrase in the 'Origin of Species', inconsistent with Professor
Kolliker's position, that "varieties arise irrespectively of the notion
of purpose, or of utility, according to general laws of Nature, and may
be either useful, or hurtful, or indifferent."

On the contrary, Mr. Darwin writes (Summary of Chap. V.):--

"Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound. Not in one case out
of a hundred can we pretend to assign any reason why this or that part
varies more or less from the same part in the parents.... The external
conditions of life, as climate and food, etc., seem to have induced some
slight modifications. Habit, in producing constitutional differences,
and use, in strengthening, and disuse, in weakening and diminishing
organs, seem to have been more potent in their effects."

And finally, as if to prevent all possible misconception, Mr. Darwin
concludes his Chapter on Variation with these pregnant words:--

"Whatever the cause may be of each slight difference in the offspring
from their parents--and a cause for each must exist--it is the steady
accumulation, through natural selection of such differences, when
beneficial to the individual, that gives rise to all the more important
modifications of structure which the innumerable beings on the face of
the earth are enabled to struggle with each other, and the best adapted
to survive."

We have dwelt at length upon this subject, because of its great general
importance, and because we believe that Professor Kolliker's criticisms
on this head are based upon a misapprehension of Mr. Darwin's
views--substantially they appear to us to coincide with his own. The
other objections which Professor Kolliker enumerates and discusses are
the following [3]:--

"1. No transitional forms between existing species are known; and
known varieties, whether selected or spontaneous, never go so far as to
establish new species."

To this Professor Kolliker appears to attach some weight. He makes the
suggestion that the short-faced tumbler pigeon may be a pathological

"2. No transitional forms of animals are met with among the organic
remains of earlier epochs."

Upon this, Professor Kolliker remarks that the absence of transitional
forms in the fossil world, though not necessarily fatal to Darwin's
views, weakens his case.

"3. The struggle for existence does not take place."

To this objection, urged by Pelzeln, Kolliker, very justly, attaches no

"4. A tendency of organisms to give rise to useful varieties, and a
natural selection, do not exist.

"The varieties which are found arise in consequence of manifold external
influences, and it is not obvious why they all, or partially, should be
particularly useful. Each animal suffices for its own ends, is perfect
of its kind, and needs no further development. Should, however, a
variety be useful and even maintain itself, there is no obvious
reason why it should change any further. The whole conception of the
imperfection of organisms and the necessity of their becoming perfected
is plainly the weakest side of Darwin's Theory, and a 'pis aller'
(Nothbehelf) because Darwin could think of no other principle by which
to explain the metamorphoses which, as I also believe, have occurred."

Here again we must venture to dissent completely from Professor
Kolliker's conception of Mr. Darwin's hypothesis. It appears to us to be
one of the many peculiar merits of that hypothesis that it involves no
belief in a necessary and continual progress of organisms.

Again, Mr. Darwin, if we read him aright, assumes no special tendency of
organisms to give rise to useful varieties, and knows nothing of
needs of development, or necessity of perfection. What he says is, in
substance: All organisms vary. It is in the highest degree improbable
that any given variety should have exactly the same relations to
surrounding conditions as the parent stock. In that case it is either
better fitted (when the variation may be called useful), or worse
fitted, to cope with them. If better, it will tend to supplant the
parent stock; if worse, it will tend to be extinguished by the parent

If (as is hardly conceivable) the new variety is so perfectly adapted
to the conditions that no improvement upon it is possible,--it will
persist, because, though it does not cease to vary, the varieties will
be inferior to itself.

If, as is more probable, the new variety is by no means perfectly
adapted to its conditions, but only fairly well adapted to them, it will
persist, so long as none of the varieties which it throws off are better
adapted than itself.

On the other hand, as soon as it varies in a useful way, i.e. when the
variation is such as to adapt it more perfectly to its conditions, the
fresh variety will tend to supplant the former.

So far from a gradual progress towards perfection forming any necessary
part of the Darwinian creed, it appears to us that it is perfectly
consistent with indefinite persistence in one estate, or with a gradual
retrogression. Suppose, for example, a return of the glacial epoch and a
spread of polar climatal conditions over the whole globe. The operation
of natural selection under these circumstances would tend, on the whole,
to the weeding out of the higher organisms and the cherishing of the
lower forms of life. Cryptogamic vegetation would have the advantage
over Phanerogamic; Hydrozoa over Corals; Crustacea over Insecta, and
Amphipoda and Isopoda over the higher Crustacea; Cetaceans and Seals
over the Primates; the civilization of the Esquimaux over that of the

"5. Pelzeln has also objected that if the later organisms have proceeded
from the earlier, the whole developmental series, from the simplest to
the highest, could not now exist; in such a case the simpler organisms
must have disappeared."

To this Professor Kolliker replies, with perfect justice, that the
conclusion drawn by Pelzeln does not really follow from Darwin's
premisses, and that, if we take the facts of Palaeontology as they
stand, they rather support than oppose Darwin's theory.

"6. Great weight must be attached to the objection brought forward by
Huxley, otherwise a warm supporter of Darwin's hypothesis, that we know
of no varieties which are sterile with one another, as is the rule among
sharply distinguished animal forms.

"If Darwin is right, it must be demonstrated that forms may be produced
by selection, which, like the present sharply distinguished animal
forms, are infertile, when coupled with one another, and this has not
been done."

The weight of this objection is obvious; but our ignorance of the
conditions of fertility and sterility, the want of carefully conducted
experiments extending over long series of years, and the strange
anomalies presented by the results of the cross-fertilization of many
plants, should all, as Mr. Darwin has urged, be taken into account in
considering it.

The seventh objection is that we have already discussed ('supra', p.

The eighth and last stands as follows:--

"8. The developmental theory of Darwin is not needed to enable us to
understand the regular harmonious progress of the complete series of
organic forms from the simpler to the more perfect.

"The existence of general laws of Nature explains this harmony, even if
we assume that all beings have arisen separately and independent of one
another. Darwin forgets that inorganic nature, in which there can be no
thought of genetic connexion of forms, exhibits the same regular plan,
the same harmony, as the organic world; and that, to cite only one
example, there is as much a natural system of minerals as of plants and

We do not feel quite sure that we seize Professor Kolliker's meaning
here, but he appears to suggest that the observation of the general
order and harmony which pervade inorganic nature, would lead us to
anticipate a similar order and harmony in the organic world. And this is
no doubt true, but it by no means follows that the particular order
and harmony observed among them should be that which we see. Surely the
stripes of dun horses, and the teeth of the foetal 'Balaena', are not
explained by the "existence of general laws of Nature." Mr. Darwin
endeavours to explain the exact order of organic nature which exists;
not the mere fact that there is some order.

And with regard to the existence of a natural system of minerals; the
obvious reply is that there may be a natural classification of any
objects--of stones on a sea-beach, or of works of art; a natural
classification being simply an assemblage of objects in groups, so as
to express their most important and fundamental resemblances and
differences. No doubt Mr. Darwin believes that those resemblances and
differences upon which our natural systems or classifications of animals
and plants are based, are resemblances and differences which have been
produced genetically, but we can discover no reason for supposing that
he denies the existence of natural classifications of other kinds.

And, after all, is it quite so certain that a genetic relation may not
underlie the classification of minerals? The inorganic world has not
always been what we see it. It has certainly had its metamorphoses,
and, very probably, a long "Entwickelungsgeschichte" out of a nebular
blastema. Who knows how far that amount of likeness among sets of
minerals, in virtue of which they are now grouped into families and
orders, may not be the expression of the common conditions to which that
particular patch of nebulous fog, which may have been constituted by
their atoms, and of which they may be, in the strictest sense, the
descendants, was subjected?

It will be obvious from what has preceded, that we do not agree with
Professor Kolliker in thinking the objections which he brings forward
so weighty as to be fatal to Darwin's view. But even if the case were
otherwise, we should be unable to accept the "Theory of Heterogeneous
Generation" which is offered as a substitute. That theory is thus

"The fundamental conception of this hypothesis is, that, under the
influence of a general law of development, the germs of organisms
produce others different from themselves. This might happen (1) by
the fecundated ova passing, in the course of their development, under
particular circumstances, into higher forms; (2) by the primitive and
later organisms producing other organisms without fecundation, out of
germs or eggs (Parthenogenesis)."

In favour of this hypothesis, Professor Kolliker adduces the well-known
facts of Agamogenesis, or "alternate generation"; the extreme
dissimilarity of the males and females of many animals; and of the
males, females, and neuters of those insects which live in colonies: and
he defines its relations to the Darwinian theory as follows:--

"It is obvious that my hypothesis is apparently very similar to
Darwin's, inasmuch as I also consider that the various forms of animals
have proceeded directly from one another. My hypothesis of the creation
of organisms by heterogeneous generation, however, is distinguished
very essentially from Darwin's by the entire absence of the principle
of useful variations and their natural selection: and my fundamental
conception is this, that a great plan of development lies at the
foundation of the origin of the whole organic world, impelling the
simpler forms to more and more complex developments. How this law
operates, what influences determine the development of the eggs and
germs, and impel them to assume constantly new forms, I naturally cannot
pretend to say; but I can at least adduce the great analogy of the
alternation of generations. If a 'Bipinnaria', a 'Brachialaria', a
'Pluteus', is competent to produce the Echinoderm, which is so widely
different from it; if a hydroid polype can produce the higher Medusa;
if the vermiform Trematode 'nurse' can develop within itself the very
unlike 'Cercaria', it will not appear impossible that the egg, or
ciliated embryo, of a sponge, for once, under special conditions, might
become a hydroid polype, or the embryo of a Medusa, an Echinoderm."

It is obvious, from these extracts, that Professor Kolliker's hypothesis
is based upon the supposed existence of a close analogy between the
phenomena of Agamogenesis and the production of new species from
pre-existing ones. But is the analogy a real one? We think that it is
not, and, by the hypothesis, cannot be.

For what are the phenomena of Agamogenesis, stated generally? An
impregnated egg develops into an asexual form, A; this gives rise,
asexually, to a second form or forms, B, more or less different from A.
B may multiply asexually again; in the simpler cases, however, it does
not, but, acquiring sexual characters, produces impregnated eggs from
whence A, once more, arises.

No case of Agamogenesis is known in which, 'when A differs widely from
B', it is itself capable of sexual propagation. No case whatever is
known in which the progeny of B, by sexual generation, is other than a
reproduction of A.

But if this be a true statement of the nature of the process of
Agamogenesis, how can it enable us to comprehend the production of
new species from already existing ones? Let us suppose Hyaenas to have
preceded Dogs, and to have produced the latter in this way. Then the
Hyena will represent A, and the Dog, B. The first difficulty that
presents itself is that the Hyena must be asexual, or the process will
be wholly without analogy in the world of Agamogenesis. But passing over
this difficulty, and supposing a male and female Dog to be produced at
the same time from the Hyaena stock, the progeny of the pair, if the
analogy of the simpler kinds of Agamogenesis [4] is to be followed,
should be a litter, not of puppies, but of young Hyenas. For the
Agamogenetic series is always, as we have seen, A: B: A: B, etc.;
whereas, for the production of a new species, the series must be A:
B: B: B, etc. The production of new species, or genera, is the extreme
permanent divergence from the primitive stock. All known Agamogenetic
processes, on the other hand, end in a complete return to the primitive
stock. How then is the production of new species to be rendered
intelligible by the analogy of Agamogenesis?

The other alternative put by Professor Kolliker--the passage of
fecundated ova in the course of their development into higher
forms--would, if it occurred, be merely an extreme case of variation in
the Darwinian sense, greater in degree than, but perfectly similar in
kind to, that which occurred when the well-known Ancon Ram was developed
from an ordinary Ewe's ovum. Indeed we have always thought that Mr.
Darwin has unnecessarily hampered himself by adhering so strictly to his
favourite "Natura non facit saltum." We greatly suspect that she does
make considerable jumps in the way of variation now and then, and that
these saltations give rise to some of the gaps which appear to exist in
the series of known forms.

Strongly and freely as we have ventured to disagree with Professor
Kolliker, we have always done so with regret, and we trust without
violating that respect which is due, not only to his scientific eminence
and to the careful study which he has devoted to the subject, but to the
perfect fairness of his argumentation, and the generous appreciation of
the worth of Mr. Darwin's labours which he always displays. It would be
satisfactory to be able to say as much for M. Flourens.

But the Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences deals with
Mr. Darwin as the first Napoleon would have treated an "ideologue;"
and while displaying a painful weakness of logic and shallowness of
information, assumes a tone of authority, which always touches upon the
ludicrous, and sometimes passes the limits of good breeding.

For example (p. 56):--

"M. Darwin continue: 'Aucune distinction absolue n'a ete et ne pout etre
etablie entre les especes et les varietes.' Je vous ai deja dit que vous
vous trompiez; une distinction absolue separe les varietes d'avec les

"Je vous ai deja dit; moi, M. le Secretaire perpetuel de l'Academie des
Sciences: et vous

'Qui n'etes rien, Pas meme Academicien;'

what do you mean by asserting the contrary?' Being devoid of the
blessings of an Academy in England, we are unaccustomed to see our
ablest men treated in this fashion, even by a "Perpetual Secretary."

Or again, considering that if there is any one quality of Mr. Darwin's
work to which friends and foes have alike borne witness, it is his
candour and fairness in admitting and discussing objections, what is to
be thought of M. Flourens' assertion, that

"M. Darwin ne cite que les auteurs qui partagent ses opinions." (P. 40.)

Once more (p. 65):--

"Enfin l'ouvrage de M. Darwin a paru. On ne peut qu'etre frappe du
talent de l'auteur. Mais que d'idees obscures, que d'idees fausses! Quel
jargon metaphysique jete mal a propos dans l'histoire naturelle, qui
tombe dans le galimatias des qu'elle sort des idees claires, des idees
justes! Quel langage pretentieux et vide! Quelles personifications
pueriles et surannees! O lucidite! O solidite de l'esprit Francais, que

"Obscure ideas," "metaphysical jargon," "pretentious and empty
language," "puerile and superannuated personifications." Mr. Darwin has
many and hot opponents on this side of the Channel and in Germany,
but we do not recollect to have found precisely these sins in the long
catalogue of those hitherto laid to his charge. It is worth while,
therefore, to examine into these discoveries effected solely by the aid
of the "lucidity and solidity" of the mind of M. Flourens.

According to M. Flourens, Mr. Darwin's great error is that he has
personified Nature (p. 10), and further that he has

"imagined a natural selection: he imagines afterwards that this power of
selection (pouvoir d'lire) which he gives to Nature is similar to the
power of man. These two suppositions admitted, nothing stops him: he
plays with Nature as he likes, and makes her do all he pleases." (P. 6.)

And this is the way M. Flourens extinguishes natural selection:

"Voyons donc encore une fois, ce qu'il peut y avoir de fonde dans ce
qu'on nomme election naturelle.

"L'election naturelle n'est sous un autre nom que la nature. Pour un
etre organise, la nature n'est que l'organisation, ni plus ni moins.

"Il faudra donc aussi personnifier l'organisation, et dire que
l'organisation choisit l'organisation. L'election naturelle est cette
forme substantielle dont on jouait autrefois avec tant de facilite.
Aristote disait que 'Si l'art de batir etait dans le bois, cet art
agirait comme la nature.' A la place de l'art de batir M. Darwin met
l'election naturelle, et c'est tout un: l'un n'est pas plus chimerique
que l'autre." (P.31.)

And this is really all that M. Flourens can make of Natural Selection.
We have given the original, in fear lest a translation should be
regarded as a travesty; but with the original before the reader, we
may try to analyse the passage. "For an organized being, Nature is only
organization, neither more nor less."

Organized beings then have absolutely no relation to inorganic nature: a
plant does not, depend on soil or sunshine, climate, depth in the
ocean, height above it; the quantity of saline matters in water have no
influence upon animal life; the substitution of carbonic acid for oxygen
in our atmosphere would hurt nobody! That these are absurdities no one
should know better than M. Flourens; but they are logical deductions
from the assertion just quoted, and from the further statement that
natural selection means only that "organization chooses and selects

For if it be once admitted (what no sane man denies) that the chances of
life of any given organism are increased by certain conditions (A) and
diminished by their opposites (B), then it is mathematically certain
that any change of conditions in the direction of (A) will exercise a
selective influence in favour of that organism, tending to its increase
and multiplication, while any change in the direction of (B) will
exercise a selective influence against that organism, tending to its
decrease and extinction.

Or, on the other hand, conditions remaining the same, let a given
organism vary (and no one doubts that they do vary) in two directions:
into one form (a) better fitted to cope with these conditions than the
original stock, and a second (b) less well adapted to them. Then it
is no less certain that the conditions in question must exercise a
selective influence in favour of (a) and against ( b), so that (a) will
tend to predominance, and (b) to extirpation.

That M. Flourens should be unable to perceive the logical necessity of
these simple arguments, which lie at the foundation of all Mr. Darwin's
reasoning; that he should confound an irrefragable deduction from the
observed relations of organisms to the conditions which lie around
them, with a metaphysical "forme substantielle," or a chimerical
personification of the powers of Nature, would be incredible, were it
not that other passages of his work leave no room for doubt upon the

"On imagine une 'election naturelle' que, pour plus de menagement, on me
dit etre inconsciente, sans s'apercevoir que le contre-sens litteral est
precisement la: 'election inconsciente'." (P. 52.)

"J'ai deja dit ce qu'il faut penser de 'l'election naturelle'. Ou
'l'election naturelle' n'est rien, ou c'est la nature: mais la nature
douee 'd'election', mais la nature personnifiee: derniere erreur du
dernier siecle: Le xixe fait plus de personnifications." (P. 53.)

M. Flourens cannot imagine an unconscious selection--it is for him a
contradiction in terms. Did M. Flourens ever visit one of the prettiest
watering-places of "la belle France," the Baie d'Arcachon? If so, he
will probably have passed through the district of the Landes, and will
have had an opportunity of observing the formation of "dunes" on a grand
scale. What are these "dunes"? The winds and waves of the Bay of
Biscay have not much consciousness, and yet they have with great care
"selected," from among an infinity of masses of silex of all shapes and
sizes, which have been submitted to their action, all the grains of sand
below a certain size, and have heaped them by themselves over a great
area. This sand has been "unconsciously selected" from amidst the gravel
in which it first lay with as much precision as if man had "consciously
selected" it by the aid of a sieve. Physical Geology is full of such
selections--of the picking out of the soft from the hard, of the soluble
from the insoluble, of the fusible from the infusible, by natural
agencies to which we are certainly not in the habit of ascribing

But that which wind and sea are to a sandy beach, the sum of influences,
which we term the "conditions of existence," is to living organisms. The
weak are sifted out from the strong. A frosty night "selects" the hardy
plants in a plantation from among the tender ones as effectually as if
it were the wind, and they, the sand and pebbles, of our illustration;
or, on the other hand, as if the intelligence of a gardener had been
operative in cutting the weaker organisms down. The thistle, which has
spread over the Pampas, to the destruction of native plants, has been
more effectually "selected" by the unconscious operation of natural
conditions than if a thousand agriculturists had spent their time in
sowing it.

It is one of Mr. Darwin's many great services to Biological science
that he has demonstrated the significance of these facts. He has shown
that--given variation and given change of conditions--the inevitable
result is the exercise of such an influence upon organisms that one
is helped and another is impeded; one tends to predominate, another
to disappear; and thus the living world bears within itself, and is
surrounded by, impulses towards incessant change.

But the truths just stated are as certain as any other physical laws,
quite independently of the truth, or falsehood, of the hypothesis
which Mr. Darwin has based upon them; and that M. Flourens, missing the
substance and grasping at a shadow, should be blind to the admirable
exposition of them, which Mr. Darwin has given, and see nothing there
but a "derniere erreur du dernier siecle "--a personification of
Nature--leads us indeed to cry with him: "O lucidite! O solidite de
l'esprit Francais, que devenez-vous?"

M. Flourens has, in fact, utterly failed to comprehend the first
principles of the doctrine which he assails so rudely. His objections to
details are of the old sort, so battered and hackneyed on this side of
the Channel, that not even a Quarterly Reviewer could be induced to pick
them up for the purpose of pelting Mr. Darwin over again. We have Cuvier
and the mummies; M. Roulin and the domesticated animals of America; the
difficulties presented by hybridism and by Palaeontology; Darwinism a
'rifacciamento' of De Maillet and Lamarck; Darwinism a system without a
commencement, and its author bound to believe in M. Pouchet, etc. etc.
How one knows it all by heart, and with what relief one reads at p. 65--

"Je laisse M. Darwin!"

But we cannot leave M. Flourens without calling our readers' attention
to his wonderful tenth chapter, "De la Preexistence des Germes et de
l'Epigenese," which opens thus:--

"Spontaneous generation is only a chimaera. This point established, two
hypotheses remain: that of 'pre-existence' and that of 'epigenesis'.
The one of these hypotheses has as little foundation as the other." (P.

"The doctrine of 'epigenesis' is derived from Harvey: following by
ocular inspection the development of the new being in the Windsor
does, he saw each part appear successively, and taking the moment of
'appearance' for the moment of 'formation' he imagined 'epigenesis'."
(P. 165.)

On the contrary, says M. Flourens (p. 167),

"The new being is formed at a stroke ('tout d'un coup') as a whole,
instantaneously; it is not formed part by part, and at different times.
It is formed at once at the single 'individual' moment at which the
conjunction of the male and female elements takes place."

It will be observed that M. Flourens uses language which cannot be
mistaken. For him, the labours of von Baer, of Rathke, of Coste, and
their contemporaries and successors in Germany, France, and England, are
non-existent: and, as Darwin "imagina" natural selection, so Harvey
"imagina" that doctrine which gives him an even greater claim to
the veneration of posterity than his better known discovery of the
circulation of the blood.

Language such as that we have quoted is, in fact, so preposterous, so
utterly incompatible with anything but absolute ignorance of some of the
best established facts, that we should have passed it over in silence
had it not appeared to afford some clue to M. Flourens' unhesitating,
'a priori', repudiation of all forms of the doctrine of progressive
modification of living beings. He whose mind remains uninfluenced by an
acquaintance with the phenomena of development, must indeed lack one
of the chief motives towards the endeavour to trace a genetic relation
between the different existing forms of life. Those who are ignorant of
Geology, find no difficulty in believing that the world was made as it
is; and the shepherd, untutored in history, sees no reason to regard the
green mounds which indicate the site of a Roman camp, as aught but part
and parcel of the primeval hill-side. So M. Flourens, who believes that
embryos are formed "tout d'un coup," naturally finds no difficulty in
conceiving that species came into existence in the same way.

[Footnote 1: The Natural History Review', 1864.
LLIKER. Leipzig, 1864.
FLOURENS. Paris, 1864.]

[Footnote 2: 'Die Radiolarien: eine Monographie', p. 231.]

[Footnote 3: Space will not allow us to give Professor Kolliker's
arguments in detail; our readers will find a full and accurate version
of them in the 'Reader' for August 13th and 20th, 1864.]

[Footnote 4: If, on the contrary, we follow the analogy of the
more complex forms of Agamogenesis, such as that exhibited by some
'Trematoda' and by the 'Aphides', the Hyaena must produce, asexually,
a brood of asexual Dogs, from which other sexless Dogs must proceed.
At the end of a certain number of terms of the series, the Dogs would
acquire sexes and generate young; but these young would be, not Dogs,
but Hyaenas. In fact, we have 'demonstrated', in Agamogenetic phenomena,
that inevitable recurrence to the original type, which is 'asserted' to
be true of variations in general, by Mr. Darwin's opponents; and which,
if the assertion could be changed into a demonstration would, in fact,
be fatal to his hypothesis.]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Criticisms on "The Origin of Species" - From 'The Natural History Review', 1864" ***

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