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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/514

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ly poured forth. The following passage from an elaborate article on Prof. Agassiz, in one of our leading morning papers, is a fair example of a good deal of the talk that has been latterly indulged in by the press: "His views of the development of animal species, opposed entirely to the gloomy theory of Darwin, which has fallen so oppressively upon the world, while they neglect no fact and break no link in the chain of progress, are marked by a recognition of a distinct humanity and a high creative purpose in the Divine origin of all things which elevate and cheer and relieve us of the sickening consciousness that man, 'the paragon of animals,' is merely a growth from some shapeless, loathsome jelly."

We have here a moral estimate of "jelly," and a vehement denial of its fitness to be the material from which the "paragon of animals" originates; the bare idea being declared sufficient to shroud the universe in gloom, and fairly to make one sick. But perplexing questions here arise. Omnes vivum ex ovo, and the substance of all eggs is jelly; but, if this substance was not fit to use at the primal start of life, why is it so extensively employed now? If not fit for the elaboration of the lowest creatures, how came it to be employed in unfolding the "paragon?" and, if not always used, pray when and why was it introduced? One would think, from the writer's horror of "jelly," that he regarded it as a diabolical invention of Darwin; threatening a kind of gelatinous "fall of man," from which Prof. Agassiz has had the happiness of rescuing the world, and restoring it to cheerfulness. But really Mr. Darwin is responsible for neither the existence nor the office nor the extent of "jelly" in Nature; and of all men Prof. Agassiz is the last to lead a crusade against it. As an eminent embryologist, he might properly be called the high-priest of "jelly." He was never weary of explaining that all living things—each man, as well as every inferior animal—is actually evolved from a little mass of "jelly;" and, while he would probably have agreed as to its shapelessness, he would certainly have protested against its "loathsomeness." He who said that "our philosophers and theologians" (and, he might have added, our editors) require to be taught that "a physical fact is as sacred as a moral principle," would hardly have sickened over the "loathsomeness" of that plastic material which we know to be the starting-point of all organic development.

Agassiz held that Nature is to be regarded as the material embodiment of divine ideas, and, after dwelling with delight upon the curious forms and constitutions of creatures composed almost wholly of "jelly," he would say, "These are the thoughts of the Almighty," On his view, "jelly" was the chosen and specially honored material for the expression of the divine conceptions. Prof. Agassiz would certainly have considered the little protoplasmic speck, which, in the course of natural operations, can evolve in a few years into a Newton, a Shakespeare, or even a President of the United States, as an exceedingly interesting portion of the divine order. If the germ contains potentially the future being, and if a highly-developed race transmits its aptitudes and capacities from generation to generation, then is "jelly" an institution of God for the conservation of perfected man, and the civilization that he carries with him.

With such evidences as this of the prevailing state of mind, no wonder that the great naturalist was vehement almost to fanaticism in his advocacy of scientific education. In old prescientific times, Nature was held accursed; and that such stuff as we have here quoted could find entrance into a widely-circulated organ of public opinion, is proof to how great an extent we are still dominated by middle-age ideas.