Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/September 1888/Editor's Table



THE "Contemporary Review" for June contains a timely article by Mr. Romanes in reply to recent attacks on Darwin and the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Mr. Romanes first applies himself to answering an anonymous writer in the "Edinburgh Review," who, not content with opposing Darwinism, assails the character of Darwin himself. Here Mr. Romanes has an easy task; for, if anything is obvious to an ordinarily candid mind, it is that the author of the theory of natural selection was a man of a rare elevation and disinterestedness of spirit—a man whom, so far as his personal attributes were concerned, any school of thought might be proud to call its chief. The "Edinburgh Reviewer" tries to prove from the "Life and Letters" that Darwin was a vain man, wedded to his own notions, greedy of flattery, and impatient of criticism. The record is there; he who runs may read, and no one save the reviewer has yet read what he professes to have done.

Mr. Romanes's more serious concern, however, is with the criticisms of the Duke of Argyll; and, to our mind, he deals in a very effectual manner with that writer's contention that natural selection can in no sense be a cause of the formation of species. Natural selection, it is urged, does not produce the variations that occur in Nature—ergo, it can not explain the origin of species. To this Mr. Romanes replies that natural selection is precisely the thing which gives vitality and perpetuity to certain variations, and which causes others to perish, and that, in that sense, it is as truly a cause of species as any one thing can be of another. If natural selection is not a cause of species, then neither is the intervention of the breeder a cause of the varieties which we know his art produces among domestic animals; for the breeder does not make the congenital variations upon which he works; he simply chooses among them those which he wishes to preserve and, if possible, establish and develop. If the reaction of the environment exercises a selective influence upon variations spontaneously produced, extinguishing most, favoring a few, we may with perfect propriety speak of that as "natural selection," and may regard it as a cause of species just as we regard any other necessary antecedent or condition of a given phenomenon as a cause of that phenomenon. We need not personify it in doing so, need not make a metaphysical entity of it; all we are called on to’ do is to attest the fact—if the facts appear to warrant it—that, by a process of natural selection, species are formed.

But Mr. Romanes makes a very true remark when he says that the Duke of Argyll's quarrel is really not with natural selection as a special theory, but with natural selection considered as one aspect of the general doctrine of evolution. What his Grace objects to is that idea of natural causation which the doctrine of evolution implies; for there would be absolutely no advantage, from the duke's point of view, in destroying the theory of natural selection if the scientific world were straightway to set about discovering some other natural hypothesis to take its place. What the duke, therefore, has to show is that nothing can be naturally explained, and therefore that all attempts of the nature of Darwin's are predoomed to failure. The moment we admit the efficacy of natural causes at all we start upon a career of explanation to which, in the very nature of things, there are no limits. If, therefore, the Duke of Argyll does not wish us to frame large hypotheses, he must prohibit and prevent our forming small ones. He must break us into seeing miracle everywhere. There is really no tenable middle ground between the reign of superstition, with all its blindness and terrors, and the reign of science, with its calm, undismayed survey of realities. The Duke of Argyll and other assailants of evolution may find many flatterers among the timid and the reactionary, but they will not persuade the world to return to the standpoint of the middle ages, nor will they ever succeed in appreciably retarding the march of science or the growth of a scientific philosophy.


The vicissitudes of the seasons give rise every year to more or less controversy as to the propriety and efficacy of petitions for changes in the weather; and we notice discussions of this character now in progress in different quarters. It is ill arguing against sentiments that have almost the force of instincts; and we have no wish to say or do anything calculated to check the exercise of a religious spirit. The number, however, is probably increasing from year to year of those who are disposed to regard the question referred to mainly as one of evidence, and in the few remarks we have now to make, it is this class exclusively that we have in view.

Among the things we know on this subject is the fact that, in all ages, the weather has been a frequent cause of anxiety to mankind, particularly to those immediately depending on the soil for the reward of their labor. In all ages there have been seasons of hurtful drought and seasons of excessive rain, seasons of deficient heat and seasons of undue heat, and men have been compelled to adapt themselves to these varying conditions as best they could. Occasionally the abnormities of the weather have been such as to produce famine on a wide scale; and it is to be remarked that the intensity of these visitations has been proportioned to the ignorance and general backwardness of the communities upon which they have fallen. In all ages prayer has been resorted to as a means of obtaining propitious seasons, and often it has been re-enforced by sacrifices, human or other; but history furnishes no evidence whatever that the weather has at any period, or under any religious dispensation, been governed or modified by such expedients. What has been the case in the past holds good to-day. We have, like the ancient Romans, Greeks, Indians, and Chinese, our favorable seasons and our unfavorable ones. The farmer has his battles to fight just as of old; and there is, perhaps, reason to believe that his more highly developed, or, at least, specialized strains of fruits, vegetables, and grains are more liable to the attacks of parasites, and more sensitive to atmospheric conditions, than were those of ancient times. On the other hand, the civilized farmer of our century has a greater command of scientific knowledge wherewith to combat his foes than was possessed by the agriculturist of two thousand or even of one hundred years ago, while the community as a whole possesses resources of capital and facilities both of communication and of transportation such as to put famine on a large scale almost out of the question. We may thus claim to have positive and conclusive evidence that the security of human life depends in the most direct manner on knowledge and social organization, while we are compelled to recognize a complete lack of evidence that it depends directly or indirectly on anything else. What is true of the vicissitudes of the seasons is true also of diseases and pestilences. Prayer has always been resorted to to ward them off; but history tells us that, in ages of ignorance, they were vastly more severe and destructive than they are to-day. We combat them successfully by knowledge: that is evident; and it is not evident, nor, indeed, is there a scintilla of proof, that we combat them successfully by anything else. Of course, if we choose, we may believe without evidence; but whether it is wise to force belief in this manner, or to allow it to be dominated by mere sentiment, each one must decide for himself. To us it seems the part not of wisdom only, but in a true sense—the truest sense—of piety also, to take the world as we find it; to acknowledge, with Matthew Arnold, that

"Limits we did not set
Condition all we do";

and then to apply ourselves with all the courage and energy we can command to making the best of the conditions we find prevailing. The more adverse those conditions, the more scope there is for the active brain and resolute will. The intellectual advancement of the civilized man of our day is a measure of the difficulties he has faced and overcome. The most wholesome view, therefore, to take of an unfavorable season is to regard it as an obstacle thrown by the constitution of nature in the way of human effort, but an obstacle which, by developing patience and stimulating reflection, may itself be productive of good results. It is doubtless hard to be philosophical when severe pecuniary loss is staring one in the face; but it may not be amiss to reflect that what to-day is a matter of not irremediable loss might, in days when faith was more active but knowledge more scanty and co-operation less developed, have meant actual death by starvation. It is something to live in an age and belong to a community in which industrious men do not starve, even in the worst of times. If, therefore, we can not command the weather, let us make the best of such weather as we can get, and strive by forethought, by energy, by co-operation with our fellows, to establish more and more effectual compensations for the inequality of the seasons and whatever other disadvantages may be inseparable from our existence on a globe which probably was not fashioned solely with a view to our comfort.


Our "Popular Miscellany" last month contained two paragraphs in which were embodied some excellent thoughts on the value and purpose of technical education, or "hand-training," in schools. The analysis of the real object of the instruction given by Prof. Le Conte so clearly indicates the direction which the teaching should take, and the tendencies it should encourage, that it may well be referred to again.

As drawing should be taught. Prof. Le Conte affirms, not for making artists, but for training the brain through eye and hand, so hand-work instruction should be given with a similar aim, rather than for making carpenters and blacksmiths. While in biology the training is mainly of the brain through the senses, in hand-work it is mainly of the brain through the hand. If the former is mainly observing and thinking, the other is mainly thinking and doing. It is impossible to doubt the importance of hand-training from this point of view. The absolute necessity of the use of the hand in the brain-culture of the child, and the importance of the use of instruments of research in the best scientific culture of the university, are now admitted by all. But in the wide space between these extremes of the educational course—viz., in the school and the college—this great agent of culture is wholly left out. Now, it may be assumed as certain that for every grade of culture, whether of the individual or of the race, there is a corresponding grade of hand-work necessary for the best brain-development. In the child of pre-school age, and in the savage, it is the simple use of the hand, or of the hand assisted by rude implements. In the school boy or girl, as also in the next grade of civilization above the savage, the object is furthered by the use of those finer instruments which we call tools. In the university, as in the most civilized races, it is by the use of scientific instruments and machines. The three grades of hand-work, then, in their adaptation to brain-culture, are the use of rude implements, tools, and finer instruments.

Mr. G. S. Ramsay has shown that the advantages which workmen of certain other countries are supposed to possess over British workmen in the same trades are due not so much to mere special skill in manipulation as to the superior general scientific knowledge possessed by them and those who have the directing of them. The German beet-sugar industry has attained its great proportions by making the technical part of the work subordinate to the scientific principles on which it is based. So American and Canadian butter and cheese have gained the predominant place in British markets through the makers having been wide-awake and having adopted all the scientific improvements in treatment and processes which the home makers neglected. In each of these and other cases cited by Mr, Ramsay we find the same state of things r the producer "fails to understand the importance of pure knowledge; he despises and disbelieves in principles, and imagines that the only thing he need know is what applies to his own particular work."

These views are wholesome, and it promises well for the future of technical education that they are gaining currency among the persons who are endeavoring to make this branch of instruction a living fact in schools.

Lord Armstrong, criticising, in the "Nineteenth Century," the English system of elementary education, charges it with being liable to the radical objection of "aiming at instruction in knowledge rather than in the training of the faculties," and adds that "cheapness of production and superiority of quality will decide the victory in the race of competition, and if by early training we develop the mental and bodily faculties of our people, we shall improve our chance of maintaining a foremost place; but not, I think, by any forced or indiscriminate system of imparting knowledge." This declaration was partly accepted and enlarged upon by Lord Hartington, in an address in behalf of the English National Association for the Promotion of Technical Training.

The same thought has been expressed by Lord Ripon, who gave as a reason for being specially interested in the school of handicraft, of which he is patron, that he hoped it might become a center of artistic education for the workingmen, and that they might derive from it not merely benefit in regard to their particular trades, but also in regard to their intellectual advancement and cultivation. By exciting the interest of workmen in their work, and by finding play for their imagination and other faculties, the institution might do something to solve some of the most difficult of existing social problems.

Such declarations, coming from different quarters and made from so many points of view, tend to strengthen the hope that technical education will be built up on the right grounds, firm and solid ones, and that when it has gained its place it will have come to stay. Removed from the narrow basis of merely imparting special knowledge in particular processes to the broader and comprehensive one of fitting those who apply themselves to it both mentally and bodily for pursuits requiring skill and intelligence, it will be brought into harmony with the controlling principle that education is good in proportion as it tends to develop capacities for useful action rather than to increase acquirements in knowledge, and will be destined to form an inseparable part of such education.