« PreviousContinue »
thought he belonged. His literary reputation was chiefly due to his translation of Tasso's 'Jerusalem Delivered,' published in 1724. He was perpetual secretary of the French Academy from 1742 until his death. There is an account of him by D'Alembert in the first volume of the 'Histoire des membres de 1'Academic francaise.'
Von Holbach was at least the chief author of the 'System of Nature.' He was a diligent and ready writer, and must have done some good service by his French translations of German scientific works. The anti-religious publications of which he was in whole or in part the author are very numerous. Most of them were published by Michael Rey of Amsterdam. They all appeared either without name or under false names. A list of them is given in Barbier's 'Dictionary of Anonymous Works.'
Lange's account of the 'System of Nature' is elaborate and laudatory. Mr Morley's, in his 'Diderot,' is of a very similar character. N. S. Bergier^ 'Examen du MateYialisme, 2 torn., 1771, is a good refutation.
Note XIV., page 101.
English Materialism In The First Half Of The Nineteenth Century.
Dr Erasmus Darwin's 'Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life,' 2 vols., does not strictly fall to be mentioned here, as it was published in 1794-96; but, along with the 'Botanic Garden' and 'Phytologia,' it did much to keep materialism in existence during the earlier part of the century. Its fundamental idea was that vegetables and animals originated in living filaments, susceptible of irritation. Irritability develops, so argued Dr Darwin, into sensibility, and sensibility into perception, memory, and reason. The theory was annihilated by Dr Thomas Brown in his 'Observations on the Zoonomia,' Edinb., 1798.
Dr Erasmus Darwin was very famous in his day, although he never attained, of course, the height of reputation which has been reached by his grandson, Dr Charles Darwin. His mind was in many respects similar in character, the chief difference being that his fancy was even more fertile and bold, and that he was less patient and methodical in the investigation of facts.
Dr Joseph Cook, in his 'Monday Lectures' (second series, p. 103), quotes from the 'Daily Tribune,' the following, as a "fireside" utterance of Mr Carlyle: "Socalled literary and scientific classes in England now proudly give themselves to protoplasm, origin of species, and the like, to prove that God did not build the universe. I have known three generations of the Darwins—grandfather, father, and son: atheists all. The brother of the present famous naturalist, a quiet man, who lives not far from here, told me that among his grandfather's effects he found a seal engraven with this legend, 'Omnia ex conchis' (everything from a clamshell)! I saw the naturalist not many months ago; told him that I had read his 'Origin of Species' and other books; that he had by no means satisfied me that men were descended from monkeys, but had gone far towards persuading me that he and his so-called scientific brethren had brought the present generation of Englishmen very near to monkeys. A good sort of man is this Darwin, and well meaning, but with very little intellect Ah! it is a sad and terrible thing to see nigh a whole generation of men and women professing to be cultivated, looking around in a purblind fashion, and finding no God in this universe! I suppose it is a reaction from the reign of cant and hollow pretence, professing to believe what in fact they do not believe. And this is what we have got: All things from frog-spawn; the gospel of dirt the order of the day. The older I grow—and I now stand upon the brink of eternity—the more comes back to me the sentence in the Catechism, which I learned when a child, and the fuller and deeper its meaning becomes: 'What is the chief end of man?' 'To glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.' No gospel of dirt, teaching that men have descended from frogs through monkeys, can ever set that aside."
We may by no means entirely assent to this estimate of the Darwins and Darwinism, and yet believe that in substance it is solemnly and profoundly true. It would be well for England if many of her little celebrities would lay to heart the lesson here taught by her greatest living author.
The 'Essay on the Origin and Prospects of Man' (3 vols., 1831), by Mr Thomas Hope, is an almost unreadable production. Its sentences often defy alike logical and grammatical analysis. How the author of 'Anastasius' could have written in so trailing, involved, and obscure a fashion is a mystery. The existence of God as the inconceivable primary cause, from which all other causes and effects proceed by way of radiation, emanation, or evolution, is affirmed; but, if there be some theism or pantheism in this, the work otherwise seems to be thoroughly materialistic. A single sentence will, perhaps, be a sufficient specimen both of its style and of its science. In answer to the fundamental question, "On what depends, between the bodies merely inorganic and lifeless and the bodies organic and living, the difference which leaves in the former a total absence of organisation, life, and growth, and to the latter first gives the possession of these new attributes?" Mr Hope writes thus: "It only depends on this, that in the former bodies, when their first molecules, from opposite sides driven together and meeting, are made to consolidate and cohere sufficiently to have of the new substances still fluid that enter and penetrate between them, by the pressure of electricity of a combining sort and of cold from without, and by the resistance or counter-pressure of the former solids from within, a portion again stopped, condensed, congealed, and made to combine and consolidate, of these new substances from without, during their consolidation the pressure on the former ones within already consolidated, so exceeds in these former ones from within their elasticity or power to yield to that pressure of these outer ones, without being by it broken, dispersed, and decombined, as not to be able themselves to remain solid and cohering, while these new ones are added to them;—as we see in stones which when humidity driven is there by combining electricity and cold congealed, it soon makes them burst and themselves again decombine; whereas in the latter bodies, when of the new fluids driven in them a portion is stopped, congealed, consolidated and made to cohere together, the extension which these new fluids experience in being consolidated in crystalline forms, disperses not by its pressure the former solids, nor decombines these entirely, but, by the elasticity these possess, only makes them also in their turn extend, till by their extension they again exert over the new ones consolidating a counter-pressure, sufficient to make these also cohere even with themselves, and thus gradually increase the general mass of substances solid and cohering, in so doing, make it exhibit the phenomena called of life and growth."—Vol. »', PP- 35. 36.
Shortly after the book appeared, Mr Carlyle justly described it as "a monstrous Anomaly, where all sciences are heaped and huddled together, and the principles of all are, with a childlike innocence, plied hither and thither, or wholly abolished in case of need; where the First Cause is figured as a huge Circle, with nothing to do but radiate 'gravitation' towards its centre; and so construct a Universe, wherein all, from the lowest cucumber with its coolness, up to the highest seraph with his love, were but 'gravitation,' direct or reflex, 'in more or less central globes;'" "a general agglomerate of all facts, notions, whims, and observations, as they lie in the brain of an English gentleman: all these thrown into the crucible, and if not fused, yet soldered or conglutinated with boundless patience; and now tumbled out here, heterogeneous, amorphous, unspeakable, a world's wonder."
Mr Hope's work is frequently referred to, and occasionally quoted, in the 'Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation' (1844). The existence of a personal Deity is distinctly recognised in this latter work, but all the forms of life and mind are taught to have been necessarily evolved from primary nebulous matter. The theory which it expounds is substantially the theory of evolution at present prevalent It was criticised by