Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/515

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499
EDITOR'S TABLE.

it. But this negative evidence is worth nothing, except to correct the error of those who supposed Bathybius to be universally distributed over the sea bottom. It does not touch the question of its existence. Sir Wyville Thomson, in charge of the Challenger expedition, wrote to Huxley that they had not only failed to discover Bathybius, but that it was seriously suspected that the thing to which the name had been given is little more than sulphate of lime, precipitated in a flocculent state from sea-water by spirits of wine. Prof. Huxley immediately communicated this report of Sir Wyville Thomson to Nature,[1] and he adds: "Prof. Thomson speaks very guardedly, and does not consider the fate of Bathybius to be as yet absolutely decided. But, since I am mainly responsible for the mistake, if it be one, of introducing this singular substance into the list of living things, I think I shall err on the right side in attaching even greater weight than he does to the view which he suggests."

Let it be remembered that the sole question here is as to the interpretation to be given to observations on sea-slime. But such observations had been made elsewhere over and over again, in many places, and by numerous microscopists. The flocculent gypsum precipitate in sea-water had been, moreover, known to everybody who had preserved marine animals in alcohol. It was, of course, a proper question to raise, how-far such an effect might not be mistaken for reactions of protoplasm; but to suppose that anything was here finally decided is simply preposterous—much more so, that all previous observations on sea-bottom protoplasm were proved worthless. The "suspicion" was quite legitimate, but it was only a suspicion, and was offered as nothing more. Huxley expressed himself simply in the terms of courtesy that were suitable to the occasion. Sir Wyville Thomson spoke cautiously; and Huxley accorded to his statement all possible weight. If he had been disposed to contest the matter, this would not have been the appropriate time, as his object was nothing more than to communicate to the public what had been sent to him for that purpose. Mr. Cook makes a great ado about Huxley's "recantation," but, so far from recanting, he does not even admit that he had been mistaken. He gave Sir Wyville Thomson the fullest benefit of his doubt, and there left the matter for further investigation. The Rev. Mr. Cook, however, returns to the subject in his third lecture, and edifies his intelligent Boston audience by closing with the following whoop: "That Bathybius has been discovered in 1875 by the ship Challenger, to be—hear O heavens! and give ear, earth!—sulphate of lime. (Applause.)"

We may here note the contrast between the theological biology which so evoked the plaudits of Boston orthodoxy and biology of the common scientific kind. It was evidently a part of Mr. Cook's polemical tactics to open his course of lectures by a sensational dash that should make a breach in the scientific ranks which it was the object of the "Monday lectureship" to rout, and for this purpose nothing could be more telling than to discredit Prof. Huxley at the outset. So much had been said, and so little was really known, about "Huxley's Bathybius," that this seemed to offer the most vulnerable point of attack. But had Mr. Cook not been talking to people who know nothing about the difficulties of arriving at the truths of Nature—nothing of the inexorable disciplines of science—and who pride themselves on never giving up a dogma once professed; had he not, in short, been catering to the "closed, dogmatic" mind of a locality proverbial for pride of opinion, his effort would hardly have been greeted with the reported applause. Had Prof. Huxley been in error, would it not

  1. See Popular Science Monthly, October, 1877, p. 648.