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Chapter 16

GENERAL MISCONCEPTION CONCERNING LAMARCK--HIS PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION.


"If Cuvier," says M. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire,[186] "is the modern successor of Linnæus, so is Lamarck of Buffon. But Cuvier does not go so far as Linnæus, and Lamarck goes much farther than Buffon. Lamarck, moreover, took his own line, and his conjectures are not only much bolder, or rather more hazardous, but they are profoundly different from Buffon's.

"It is well known that the vast labours of Lamarck were divided between botany and physical science in the eighteenth century, and between zoology and natural philosophy in the nineteenth; it is, however, less generally known that Lamarck was long a partisan of the immutability of species. It was not till 1801, when he was already old, that he freed himself from the ideas then generally prevailing. But Lamarck, having once made up his mind, never changed it; in his ripe age he exhibits all the ardour of youth in propagating and defending his new convictions.

"In the three years, 1801, 1802, 1803, he enounced them twice in his lectures, and three times in his writings.[187] He returns to the subject and states his views precisely in 1806,[188] and in 1809 he devotes a great part of his principal work, the 'Philosophie Zoologique,' to their demonstration.[189] Here he might have rested and have quietly awaited the judgment of his peers; but he is too much convinced; he believes the future of science to depend so much upon his doctrine that to his dying day he feels compelled to explain it further and insist upon it. When already over seventy years of age he enounces it again, and maintains it as firmly as ever in 1815, in his 'Histoire des Animaux sans Vertèbres,' and in 1820 in his 'Système des Connaissances Positives.'[190]

"This doctrine, so dearly cherished by its author, and the conception, exposition, and defence of which so laboriously occupied the second half of his scientific career, has been assuredly too much admired by some, who have forgotten that Lamarck had a precursor, and that that precursor was Buffon. It has, on the other hand, been too severely condemned by others who have involved it in its entirety in broad and sweeping condemnation. As if it were possible that so great labour on the part of so great a naturalist should have led him to 'a fantastic conclusion' only--to a 'flighty error,' and, as has been often said, though not written, to 'one absurdity the more.' Such was the language which Lamarck heard during his protracted old age, saddened alike by the weight of years and blindness; this was what people did not hesitate to utter over his grave yet barely closed, and what, indeed, they are still saying--commonly, too, without any knowledge of what Lamarck maintained, but merely repeating at second hand bad caricatures of his teaching.

"When will the time come when we may see Lamarck's theory discussed--and, I may as well at once say, refuted in some important points--with at any rate the respect due to one of the most illustrious masters of our science? And when will this theory, the hardihood of which has been greatly exaggerated, become freed from the interpretations and commentaries by the false light of which so many naturalists have formed their opinion concerning it? If its author is to be condemned, let it be, at any rate, not before he has been heard."[191]

It is not necessary for me to give the extracts from Lamarck which M. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire quotes in order to show what he really maintained, inasmuch as they will be given at greater length in the following chapter; but I may perhaps say that I have not found M. Geoffroy refuting Lamarck in any essential point.

Professor Haeckel says that to Lamarck "will always belong the immortal glory of having for the first time worked out the theory of descent as an independent scientific theory of the first order, and as the philosophical foundation of the whole science of Biology."


"The 'Philosophie Zoologique,'" continues Professor Haeckel, "is the first connected exposition of the theory of descent carried out strictly into all its consequences; ... and with the exception of Darwin's work, which appeared exactly half a century later, we know of none which we could in this respect place by the side of the 'Philosophie Zoologique.' How far it was in advance of its time is perhaps best seen from the circumstance that it was not understood by most men, and for fifty years was not spoken of at all."[192]

This is an exaggeration, both as regards the originality of Lamarck's work and the reception it has met with. It is probably more accurate to say with M. Martins that Lamarck's theory has "never yet had the honour of being discussed seriously,"[193] not, at least, in connection with the name of its originators.

So completely has this been so that the author of the 'Vestiges of Creation,' even in the edition of 1860, in which he unreservedly acknowledges the adoption of Lamarck's views, not unfrequently speaks disparagingly of Lamarck himself, and never gives him his due meed of recognition. I am not, therefore, wholly displeased to find this author conceiving himself to have been treated by Mr. Charles Darwin with some of the injustice which he has himself inflicted on Lamarck.

In the 1859 edition of the 'Origin of Species,' and in a very prominent place, Mr. Darwin says:--"The author of the 'Vestiges of Creation' would I presume say, that after a certain number of unknown generations, some bird had given birth to a woodpecker, and some plant to a misseltoe, and that these had been produced perfect as we now see them."[194] This is the only allusion to the 'Vestiges' which I have found in the first edition of the 'Origin of Species.'

Those who have read the 1853 edition of the 'Vestiges' will not be surprised to find the author rejoining, in his edition of 1860, that it was to be regretted Mr. Darwin should have read the 'Vestiges' "nearly as much amiss as though, like its declared opponents, he had an interest in misunderstanding it." And a little lower he adds that Mr. Darwin's book in no essential respect contradicts the 'Vestiges'; "on the contrary, while adding to its explanations of nature, it expresses substantially the same general ideas."[195] It is right to say that the passage thus objected to is not to be found in later editions of the 'Origin of Species,' while in the historical sketch we now read as follows:--"In my opinion it (the 'Vestiges of Creation') has done excellent service in this country by calling attention to the subject, removing prejudice, and in thus preparing the ground for the reception of analogous views."

Mr. Darwin, the main part of whose work on the 'Origin of Species' is taken up with supporting the theory of descent with modification (which frequently in the recapitulation chapter of the 'Origin of Species' he seems to treat as synonymous with natural selection), has fallen into the common error of thinking that Lamarck can be ignored or passed over in a couple of sentences. I only find Lamarck's name twice in the 1859 edition of the 'Origin,' once on p. 242, where Mr. Darwin writes: "I am surprised that no one has advanced this demonstrative case of neuter insects, against the well-known doctrine of Lamarck;" and again, p. 427, where Lamarck is stated to have been the first to call attention to the "very important distinction between real affinities and analogical or adaptive resemblances." How far from demonstrative is the particular case which in 1859 Mr. Darwin considered so fatal to "the well-known doctrine of Lamarck"--which should surely, one would have thought, include the doctrine of descent with modification, which Mr. Darwin is himself supporting--I have attempted to show in 'Life and Habit,' but had perhaps better recapitulate briefly here.

Mr. Darwin writes: "In the simpler case of neuter insects all of one caste, which, as I believe, have been rendered different from the fertile males and females through natural selection...."[196] He thus attributes the sterility and peculiar characteristics, we will say, of the common hive working bees--"neuter insects all of one caste"--to natural selection. Now, nothing is more certain than that these characteristics--sterility, a cavity in the thigh for collecting wax, a proboscis for gathering honey, &c.--are due to the treatment which the eggs laid by the queen bee receive after they have left her body. Take an egg and treat it in a certain way, and it becomes a working bee; treat the same egg in a certain other way, and it becomes a queen. If the bees are in danger of becoming queenless they take eggs which were in the way of being developed into working bees, and change their food and cells, whereon they develop into queens instead. How Mr. Darwin could attribute the neutralization of the working bees--an act which is obviously one of abortion committed by the body politic of the hive on a balance of considerations--to the action of what he calls "natural selection," and how, again, he could suppose that what he was advancing had any but a confirmatory bearing upon Lamarck's position, is incomprehensible, unless the passage in question be taken as a mere slip. That attention has been called to it is plain, for the words "the well-known doctrine of Lamarck" have been changed in later editions into "the well-known doctrine of inherited habit as advanced by Lamarck,"[197] but this correction, though some apparent improvement on the original text, does little indeed in comparison with what is wanted.

Mr. Darwin has since introduced a paragraph concerning Lamarck into the "historical sketch," already more than once referred to in these pages. In this he summarises the theory which I am about to lay before the reader, by saying that Lamarck "upheld the doctrine that all species, including man, are descended from other species." If Lamarck had been alive he would probably have preferred to see Mr. Darwin write that he upheld "the doctrine of descent with modification as the explanation of all differentiations of structure and instinct." Mr. Darwin continues, that Lamarck "seems" to have been chiefly led to his conclusion on the gradual change of species, "by the difficulty of distinguishing species and varieties, by the almost perfect gradation of forms in certain groups, and by the analogy of domestic productions."

Lamarck would probably have said that though he did indeed turn--as Mr. Darwin has done, and as Buffon and Dr. Darwin had done before him--to animals and plants under domestication, in illustration and support of the theory of descent with modification; and that though he did also insist, as so many other writers have done, on the arbitrary and artificial nature of the distinction between species and varieties, he was mainly led to agree with Buffon and Dr. Darwin by a broad survey of the animal kingdom, with the details also of which few naturalists have ever been better acquainted.

"Great," says Mr. Darwin, "is the power of steady misrepresentation,"--and greatly indeed has the just fame of Lamarck been eclipsed in consequence; "but," as Mr. Darwin finely continues, "the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure."[198]

That Lamarck anticipated it, was prepared to face it, and even felt that things were thus, after all, as they should be, will appear from the shrewd and pleasant passage which is to be found near the close of his preface:--

"So great is the power of preconceived opinion, especially when any personal interest is enlisted on the same side as itself, that though it is hard to deduce new truths from the study of nature, it is still harder to get them recognized by other people.

"These difficulties, however, are on the whole more beneficial than hurtful to the cause of science; for it is through them that a number of eccentric, though perhaps plausible speculations, perish in their infancy, and are never again heard of. Sometimes, indeed, valuable ideas are thus lost; but it is better that a truth, when once caught sight of, should have to struggle for a long time without meeting the attention it deserves, than that every outcome of a heated imagination should be readily received.

"The more I reflect upon the numerous causes which affect our judgments, the more convinced I am that, with the exception of such physical and moral facts as no one can now throw doubt upon, all else is matter of opinion and argument; and we know well that there is hardly an argument to be found anywhere, against which another argument cannot plausibly be adduced. Hence, though it is plain that the various opinions of men differ greatly in probability and in the weight which should be attached to them, it seems to me that we are wrong when we blame those who differ from us.

"Are we then to recognize no opinions as well founded but those which are generally received? Nay--experience teaches us plainly that the highest and most cultivated minds must be at all times in an exceedingly small minority. No one can dispute this. Authority should be told by weight and not by number--but in good truth authority is a hard thing to weigh.

"Nor again--in spite of the many and severe conditions which a judgment must fulfil before it can be declared good--is it quite certain that those whom public opinion has declared to be authorities, are always right in the conclusions they arrive at.

"Positive facts are the only solid ground for man; the deductions he draws from them are a very different matter. Outside the facts of nature all is a question of probabilities, and the most that can be said is that some conclusions are more probable than others."

Lamarck's poverty was perhaps one main reason of the ease with which it was found possible to neglect his philosophical opinions. Science is not a kingdom into which a poor man can enter easily, if he happens to differ from a philosopher who gives good dinners, and has "his sisters and his cousins and his aunts" to play the part of chorus to him. Lamarck's two daughters do not appear to have been the kind of persons who could make effective sisters or cousins or aunts. Men of science are of like passions even with the other holy ones who have set themselves up in all ages as the pastors and prophets of mankind. The saint has commonly deemed it to be for the interests of saintliness that he should strain a point or two in his own favour--and the more so according as his reputation for an appearance of candour has been the better earned. If, then, Lamarck's opponents could keep choruses, while Lamarck had nothing to fall back upon but the merits of his case only, it is not surprising that he should have found himself neglected by the scientists of his own time. Moreover he was too old to have undertaken such an unequal contest. If he had been twenty years younger when he began it, he would probably have enjoyed his full measure of success before he died.

Not that Lamarck can claim, as a thinker, to stand on the same level with Dr. Darwin, and still less so with Buffon. He attempted to go too fast and too far. Seeing that if we accept descent with modification, the question arises whether what we call life and consciousness may not themselves be evolved from some thing or things which looked at one time so little living and conscious that we call them inanimate--and being anxious to see his theory reach, and to follow it, as far back as possible, he speculates about the origin of life; having formed a theory thereon, he is more inclined to interpret the phenomena of lower animal life so as to make them fit in with his theory, than as he would have interpreted them if there had been no theory at stake.

Thus his denial that sensation, and much more, intelligence and deliberate action, can exist without a brain and a nervous system, has led him to deny sensation, consciousness, and intelligence to many animals which act in such manner as would certainly have made him say that they feel and know what they are about, if he had formed no theory about brains and nervous systems.

Nothing can be more different than the manners in which Lamarck and Dr. Darwin wrote on this head. Lamarck over and over again maintains that where there is no nervous system there can be no sensation. Combating, for example, the assertion of Cabanis, that to live is to feel, he says that "the greater number of the polypi and all the infusoria, having no nervous system, it must be said of them as also of worms, that to live is still not to feel; and so again of plants."[199]

How different from this is the un-theory-ridden language of Dr. Darwin, quoted on p. 116 of this work.

Lamarck again writes:--

"The very imperfect animals of the lowest classes, having no nervous system, are simply irritable, have nothing but certain habits, experience no sensations, and never conceive ideas."

This, in the face of the performances of the amoeba--a minute jelly speck, without any special organ whatever--in making its tests, cannot be admitted. Is it possible that Lamarck was in some measure misled by believing Buffon to be in earnest when he advanced propositions little less monstrous?

"But," continues Lamarck, "the less imperfect animals which have a nervous system, though they have not the organ of intelligence, have instinct, habits, and proclivities; they feel sensations, and yet form no ideas whatever. I venture to say that where there is no organ for a faculty that faculty cannot exist."[200]

Who can tell what ideas a worm does or does not form? We can watch its actions, and see that they are such as involve what we call design and a perception of its own interest. Under these circumstances it seems better to call the worm a reasonable creature with Dr. Darwin than to say with Lamarck that because worms do not appear to have that organ which he assumes to be the sole means of causing sensation and ideas, therefore they can neither feel nor think. Doubtless they cannot feel and think as many sensations and thoughts as we can, but our ideas of what they can and cannot feel must be formed through consideration of what we see them do, and must be biassed by no theories of what they ought to be able to feel or not feel.

Again Lamarck, shortly after an excellent passage in which he points out that the lower animals gain by experience just as man does (and here probably he had in his mind the passage of Buffon referred to at p. 112 of this work), nevertheless writes:--

"If the facts and considerations put forward in this volume be held worthy of attention, it will follow necessarily that there are some animals which have neither reason nor instinct" (I should be glad to see one of these animals and to watch its movements), "such as those which have no power of feeling; that there are others which have instinct but no degree whatever of reason" (whereas from Dr. Darwin's premises it should follow, and would doubtless be readily admitted by him, that instinct is reason, but reason many times repeated made perfect, and finally repeated by rote; so that far from being prior to reason, as Lamarck here implies, it can only come long afterwards), "such as those which have a system enabling them to feel, but which still lack the organ of intelligence; and finally, that there are those which have not only instinct, but over and above this a certain degree of reasoning power, such as those creatures which have one system for sensations and another for acts involving intelligence. Instinct is with these last animals the motive power of almost all their actions, and they rarely use what little reason they have. Man, who comes next above them, is also possessed of instincts which inspire some of his actions, but he can acquire much reason, and can use it so as to direct the greater part of his actions."[201]

All this will be felt to be less satisfactory than the simple directness of Dr. Darwin. It comes in great measure from following Buffon without being en rapport with him. On the other hand, Lamarck must be admitted to have elaborated the theory of "descent with modification" with no less clearness than Dr. Darwin, and with much greater fulness of detail. There is no substantial difference between the points they wish to establish; Dr. Darwin has the advantage in that not content with maintaining that there will be a power of adaptation to the conditions of an animal's existence which will determine its organism, he goes on to say what the principal conditions are, and shows more lucidly than Lamarck has done (though Lamarck adopts the same three causes in a passage which will follow), that struggle, and consequently modification, will be chiefly conversant about the means of subsistence, of reproduction, and of self-protection. Nevertheless, though Dr. Darwin has said enough to show that he had the whole thing clearly before him, and could have elaborated it as finely as or better than Lamarck himself has done, if he had been so minded, yet the palm must be given to Lamarck on the score of what he actually did, and this I observe to be the verdict of history, for whereas Lamarck's name is still daily quoted, Dr. Darwin's is seldom mentioned, and never with the applause which it deserves.

The resemblance between the two writers--that is to say, the complete coincidence of their views--is so remarkable that the question is forced upon us how far Lamarck knew the substance of Dr. Darwin's theory. Lamarck knew Buffon personally; he had been tutor to Buffon's son, and Buffon had three of Lamarck's volumes on the French Flora printed at the royal printing press;--how can we account for Lamarck's having had Buffon's theory of descent with modification before him for so many years, and yet remaining a partisan of immutability till 1801? Before this year we find no trace of his having accepted evolution; thenceforward he is one of the most ardent and constant exponents which this doctrine has ever had. What was it that repelled him in Buffon's system? How is it that in the 'Philosophie Zoologique' there is not, so far as I can remember, a single reference to Buffon, from whom, however, as we shall see, many paragraphs are taken with but very little alteration?

I am inclined to think that the secret of this sudden conversion must be found in a French translation by M. Deleuze of Dr. Darwin's poem, 'The Loves of the Plants' which appeared in 1800. Lamarck--the most eminent botanist of his time--was sure to have heard of and seen this, and would probably know the translator, who would be able to give him a fair idea of the 'Zoonomia.'

I will give a few of the passages which Lamarck would find in this translation. Speaking of Dr. Darwin, M. Deleuze says:--"Il falloit encore qu'un nouvel observateur, entrant dans la route qui venoit de s'ouvrir, s'y frayât des sentiers ignorés; que liant la physique végétale à la botanique il nous montrât dans les plantes, non seulement des corps organisés soumis à des lois constantes, mais des êtres doués sinon de sensibilité, au moins d'une irritabilité particulière, d'un principe de vie qui leur fait exécuter des mouvements analogues à leurs besoins....[202]

"Il est des animaux et des plantes qui par le laps du tems paroissent avoir éprouvé des changemens dans leur organisation, pour s'accommoder à de nouveaux genres de nourriture et aux moyens de se la procurer. Peut-être les productions de la nature font elles des progrès vers la perfection. Cette idée appuyée par les observations modernes sur l'accroissement progressif des parties solides du globe, s'accorde avec la dignité et la providence du créateur de l'univers."[203]

"La nature semble s'être fait un jeu d'établir entre tous les êtres organisés une sorte de guerre qui entretient leur activité: si elle a donné aux uns des moyens de défense, elle a donné aux autres des moyens d'attaque."[204]

Turning to the 'Botanic Garden' itself, I find that this admirable sentence belongs to M. Deleuze, and not to Dr. Darwin, who, however, has said what comes to much the same thing,[205] as may be seen p. 227 of this volume. But the authorship is immaterial; whether the passage was by Dr. Darwin or M. Deleuze, it was, in all probability, known to Lamarck before his change of front.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

The note on Trapa Natans again[206] suggests itself as the source from which the passage in the 'Philosophie Zoologique' about the Ranunculus aquatilis is taken,[207] while one of the most important passages in the work, a summary, in fact, of the principal means of modification, seems to be taken, the first half of it from Buffon, and the second from Dr. Darwin. I have called attention to it on pp. 300, 301.

We may then suppose that Lamarck failed to understand Buffon, and conceived that he ought either to have gone much farther, or not so far; not being yet prepared to go the whole length himself, he opposed mutability till Dr. Darwin's additions to Buffon's ostensible theory reached him, whereon he at once adopted them, and having received nothing but a few notes and hints, felt himself at liberty to work the theory out independently and claim it. In so original a work as the 'Philosophie Zoologique' must always be considered, this may be legitimate, but I find in it, as Isidore Geoffroy seems also to have found, a little more claim to complete independence than is acceptable to one who is fresh from Buffon and Dr. Darwin.


FOOTNOTES:

[186] 'Hist. Nat. Gén.,' tom. ii. p. 404, 1859.

[187] 'Système des Animaux sans Vertèbres,' Paris, in-8, an. ix. (1801); 'Discours d'Ouverture,' p. 12, &c.; 'Recherches sur l'Organisation des Corps Vivants,' Paris, in-8, 1802, p. 50, &c.; 'Discours d'Ouverture d'un Cours de Zoologie pour l'an ix.,' Paris, in-8, 1803. This discourse is entirely devoted to the consideration of the question, "What is Species?"

[188] 'Discours d'Ouverture d'un Cours de Zoologie,' 1806, Paris, in-8, p. 8, &c.

[189] See following chapter.

[190] 'Hist, des Anim. sans Vertèb.,' tom, i., Introduction, 1^re ed., 1815; 'Syst. des Conn. Positives,' Paris, in-8, 1820, 1^re part, 2^me sect. ch. ii. p. 114, &c.

[191] 'Hist. Nat. Gén.,' tom. ii. p. 407.

[192] 'History of Creation,' English translation, vol. i. pp. 111, 112.

[193] M. Martins' edition of the 'Philosophie Zoologique,' Paris, 1873. Introd., p. vi.

[194] 'Origin of Species,' p. 3, 1859.

[195] 'Vestiges of Creation,' ed. 1860, Proofs, Illustrations, &c., p. lxiv.

[196] 'Origin of Species,' ed. 1, p. 239; ed. 6, p. 231.

[197] 'Origin of Species,' ed. 1, p. 242; ed. 6, 1876, p. 233.

[198] 'Origin of Species,' p. 421, ed. 1876.

[199] 'Phil. Zool.,' vol. i. p. 404.

[200] Ibid. vol. ii. p. 324.

[201] 'Phil. Zool.,' vol. ii. p. 410.

[202] 'Les Amours des Plantes,' Discours Prélim., p. 7. Paris, 1800.

[203] Ibid., Notes du chant i., p. 202.

[204] Ibid. p. 238.

[205] 'Zoonomia,' vol. i. p. 507.

[206] 'Les Amours des Plantes,' p. 360.

[207] Vol. i. p. 231, ed. M. Martins, 1873.


Samuel Butler

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