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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/625

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THE FUTURE OF ALCHEMY.

And here we may ask: "Is the distinction between that which is living and that which is not between the organic and the inorganic worlds around us—properly drawn?" If the changes undergone by the forms of both are due to the same causes, wherein lies their difference? Both forms are capable of assimilating material from without; the organic by nourishment, the inorganic directly, as when a crystal grows by the assimilation of material from a solution in which it is placed. Both also are capable of producing offspring—at least by division if not by sexual genesis. Are we then justified in assuming the gap of distinction between these two orders of existence to be as wide and deep as it is generally considered? Life is the gradual modification of material forms by the action of physical forces; the continuity in time of the changes thus wrought; the competition of the forms thus evolved. It is the projection of the past into the future. It is the persistence of history.

And we may well question whether it were not better to extend our idea of life. Even if that wide gap which we imagine to open between the organic and the inorganic does exist, we may still ask: "Is the organic form the only living one, and the inorganic form so absolutely dead; or do they not rather both constitute forms of life radically and polarily opposed—vast alternate generations of existence, majestic in their mystery?" The power which fashioned this earth wrote not only upon the bark of the tree and the brow of man, but also upon the cold and passionless rock and the wide expanse of the deep, blue sea, their history. That which is seemingly so inanimate, as well as that which throbs with a warm consciousness of being, obeys the commanding influences of the past, and transmits them to the future. The biologist and the geologist have read the story; where they have not—the letters await but the riper wisdom of the yet unborn sage.

But the chemist has not yet acquired a knowledge of his historic alphabet. To him specific forms of matter are still immutable, unvarying, constant. He knows naught of differences wrought by the influences of the past, or of their transmission to the future. He is not aware of a competition or struggle for existence taking place between individual and specific forms of matter. The idea that substances, as we find them, are the result of a process of natural selection has been expressed, but it is as yet unsupported by experiment or interpretation of facts observed.

But, where a natural selection takes place, artificial selection is also possible; and, when chemistry shall develop before us the spectrum of the law of inorganic creation, the artistic spirit will seize upon the individual colors of truth, and once more-endeavor to paint the image of the chemical ideal. The recognition of the law of evolution compels the acceptance of the inexorable conclusion that the competition of races must, in the course of infinite ages, inevitably lead to the ab-