The Mystic Number
a glance at the System of Nature


Thomas Worthington Barlow

First published in 1852.

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Preface.

THE following Essay contains the substance of a Lecture, delivered some five years ago to the members of a Provincial Natural History Society,—a society which, to its honour be it mentioned, was instrumental in founding the first Public Museum and Library in this country, under the Act of Parliament passed for that purpose.

The subject of the Essay is undoubtedly full of interest; and if it has not been skilfully treated, the materials have at all events been drawn from the best sources.

To cumber every page of so trifling a work with notes would have been absurd; in short, my memory would not at all times serve me as to the original depositaries of the facts adduced. Suffice it to say, that to the Works of Sharon Turner, Herschel, and Swainson, I have been much indebted; and to any one who may honour this Essay with a perusal, and afterwards wish to extend their inquiries into the subject, I would strongly recommend the works I have mentioned, as containing an immense fund of information. “Bucke’s Harmonies of Nature” may also be consulted with advantage. This work contains a most laborious compilation of facts, though, unfortunately, there is a total absence of philosophic generalization.

As I scarcely expect that this Pamphlet will be read beyond the circle of my own friends, I say nothing to court the leniency of the Critics; but, should it obtain a more extended notice, I shall offer no apology for attempting to draw attention to a subject so sublimely interesting and instructive as that of which I have endeavoured to treat.

On perusal, the significance of the title will be, I think, abundantly clear.

The Mystic Number:

a glance at the system of nature.

THE “System of Nature,” or, in other words, the plan of creation, has proved an attractive subject to Speculative Philosophers and Theorists of all ages, and world-making hypotheses, ranging at all distances between the ridiculous and the sublime, have been put forth from various quarters. In the present day, the increased amount of scientific knowledge which we enjoy seems to open a brighter path, but we can only yet consider any theory of which we are possessed as provisional or temporary, and which a succeeding and more enlightened age may regard as equally visionary and frivolous as any of its predecessors. Unsatisfactory, however, as the results of these investigations may have been, as regarded the ultimate question, their effect has been to establish a conviction in the minds of all thinking men, that a common principle pervades the world of Nature by which all things are linked together in one. Goethe, the poet-philosopher of Germany, was one of the first of modern times to enunciate this idea, though it is also manifested in the writings of some of the earliest naturalists, and is supposed to be embodied in the fable of Proteus.1

Let us see whether we can discover any evidence of this doctrine in the several provinces of Nature, as preliminary to the inquiry, whether the variations of structure which they exhibit can be referred to a general law.

To every contemplative mind, one of the most striking facts in the natural world is the mysterious connection which exists between its various parts. Both in a moral and physical sense, no creature “lives for itself alone.” It is impossible to discover anything, animate or inanimate, which is not closely connected with others around it; and the annihilation of one would, in some cases, prove the destruction of thousands. In the organic kingdoms, so complete is the blending of form with form, that even the term “Species,” which we have hitherto considered as conveying the idea of something most definite and unchangeable, is become a term of doubtful import. Nowhere can we take an isolated position. Light and darkness, heat and cold, fluid and solid, are all relative terms: each merges in the other. Take a familiar illustration:—Water, in in its ordinary condition, is a fluid, but reduce its temperature to 32 degrees and it becomes a solid, and again, increase it to a certain point and it assumes the form of vapour,—three states so utterly dissimilar, that, were it not a fact of common observation, we should be loath to admit it. In the laboratory of the chemist, the various gases are made to assume a palpable form. Solid carbonic acid is obtained from the gas by intense pressure, and sulphuretted hydrogen gas is condensed into a solid at 122° below zero.

Still more astonishing, however, is it to learn that from the different combinations of a few primary elements, (probably not much exceeding fifty in number) the earth and every thing it contains were formed.

Let me endeavour to detail some of the facts illustrative of this unity of design, and of the common origin of things, so to speak, as also of the affinities and analogies presenting themselves in organic nature, shewing that to certain primary types (which types may, again, be only modifications of one grand fundamental type) all the varied forms of structure are referrible, and in this inquiry (necessarily short) I will steer clear, as far as possible, of all speculative conjecture, and deal only with facts universally recognized, and so become the common property of the scientific world.

The Mosaic account of the creation itself suggests the idea of a common principle in nature. The production of light is, appropriately, the first recorded exercise of creative power. Now the word which has been translated light, conveys the idea also of heat, so that we may presume that light and heat, two most important agents in the development and sustentation of organic life, began their operations at one and the same moment. So important was their agency that, as M. de Luc observes,—“Nothing of all that we see on the globe could begin to be operated without the union of a certain quantity of light to all the other elements of which it was composed,—elements which, without it, would have exercised no chemical action on each other.”2

Light, too, appears to have a close affinity to the electrical fluid, to which may be traced “Crystallization,” or that law by which the constituent particles of bodies unite together in certain definite forms; forms which, under a similarity of conditions, the same substances always exhibit,—a process which, it has been observed, “presents to us a near approach in inorganic nature to some of the peculiar functions of organized creation.” To light, in short, are mainly attributable the many beautiful forms and colours assumed by the various objects in nature. It is, also, the Author of the atmosphere or “firmament” which “divides the waters” on the earth “from the waters” which, by evaporation, have assumed the form of clouds and vapour. By the process of evaporation, it has been calculated that upwards of seventy thousand tons of water are annually taken up from the surface of our own country alone, which immense quantity of fluid is again returned to us in the form of rain and dew.3 By the action of Light only could this stupendous operation be performed; and, were it to cease, the earth and everything it contains would perish. The land would, in such case, become dried up—vegetables would wither and die; (the destructive influence would, as a natural consequence, extend to animals, and man himself must inevitably be included in the general ruin. It seems even probable that, as all the waters must be again collected in the ocean, a second general deluge would be the result.4

Such are the benefits we derive from light, and such are the evils we should experience were we deprived of its influence.

After the creation of light and an atmosphere, the creative energy was directed into a new course. Hitherto it had been brought to bear only upon inorganic or inanimate matter; but at the period to which we refer a new order of creation commences, and the Vegetable Races, comprising beings possessed of a wonderfully organized structure, and endowed with a principle of vitality, self-reproduction, and progressive growth, are called into existence. Chemical affinity gives place to vital action. “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind whose seed is in itself upon the earth; and it was so.”

Thus we have a perfectly natural order preserved. First, light commences its agency (and it may be here observed, as illustrative of our views, that the various imponderable agencies, light, heat, electricity, and the rest appear to be only modifications of one power); this is followed by the creation of an atmosphere; afterwards dry land appears, and this is subsequently adorned by the hand of Omnipotence with the vegetable races, which, from the infinite variety and beauty of their forms, as well as the important uses to which they are subservient, abundantly testify, both to the richness of the imagination, as well as the power and goodness of their Creator.

But to glance at the peculiar objects and uses of plants.

The Vegetable Kingdom has been most appropriately described as a vast “Laboratory,” in which the atmosphere is purified of noxious products, and inorganic matter elaborated and assimilated so as to form a nutriment fitted for the sustenance of animals. All the animals with which we are acquainted would soon die were vegetables wanting. Plants feed partly on inorganic and partly on decomposed organic matter, and it is part of the economy of Nature’s scheme that they should prepare the food on which animals can subsist. They are principally composed of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, carbon being the most abundant. Oxygen is absorbed in great quantity, an admixture of it being necessary for the due reception of the other elements, and, in this way, plants absorb much more of this gas than they require. By a complicated apparatus, however, in the leaves, somewhat analogous to the lungs of animals, decomposition of the carbonic acid and other gases is effected, and the superfluous oxygen is exhaled, the carbon being retained to add to the growth of the plant. Now animals, by the process of respiration, are continually exhaling carbonic acid gas, and taking in oxygen, so that it is by the agency of vegetables that a proper balance is preserved in the atmosphere, suitable for both branches of organic life,—a process which is thus eloquently and poetically described by a writer in one of our periodicals:—“It is only the girdling and encircling air, which flows above and around all that makes the ‘whole world kin.’ The carbonic acid with which our breathing fills the air, tomorrow will be spreading north and south, and striving to make the tour of the world. The date trees that grow round the fountains of the Nile will drink it in by their leaves; the cedars of Lebanon will take of it to add to their stature; the cocoa nuts of Tahiti will grow riper upon it; and the palms and bananas of Japan will change it into flowers. The oxygen we are breathing was distilled for us, some short time ago, by the magnolias of the Susquehanna and the great trees that skirt the Orinoco and the Amazon. The giant rhododendrons of the Himalayas contributed to it, the roses and myrtles of Cashmere, the cinnamon trees of Ceylon, and forests older than the flood, buried deep in the heart of Africa, far beyond the mountains of the Moon. The rain which we see descending was thawed for us out of icebergs which have watched the polar star for ages, and lotus lilies have sucked up from the Nile and exhaled as vapour snows that are lying at the foot of the Alps.”

By this beautiful system of cooperation not a particle of matter has been lost since the foundation of the world. Plants and animals both die, decompose, and become resolved into their constituent elements; but although these elements become for a time invisible, they are none of them lost. “Animals and vegetables are continually passing from one condition, from one kingdom of Nature, to another. The animal, perishing and dwindling by decomposition into the most simple forms of matter, mingling with the atmosphere as mere gas, gradually becomes part of the growing plant, and by like changes vegetable organism progresses onwards to form a portion of the animal structure.” “Our dependency on the atmosphere is evident-we derive our substance from it—we are, after death, resolved again into it—we are really but fleeting shadows.”5

So far Revelation would favour the idea of unity in nature. We will see how fur it is seconded by science by ascertaining the extent of the relationship between Plants and Animals. Much more attention is paid to such matters now-a—days than was the case some years ago; but I doubt not that even yet many would laugh at the idea that there was any danger of confounding animals and vegetables, or mistaking a member of one class for a member of the other. Still it is familiar knowledge to the merest tyro in science that these two classes approximate so closely that it is impossible to draw any positive line of demarcation between them. There are many organized beings whose character cannot be determined with certainty, viz.: whether it is animal or vegetable. Some, indeed, are said to be vegetables at one period of their existence and animals at another. The class of sponges includes a number of forms of this doubtful kind. The members of this group lack the “definiteness of form” observable in the higher classes, and there is an entire absence of locomotive organs. Totally devoid, to all appearance, of sensibility, they may be torn or cut without pain or substantial injury to the animal. Fixed also to one place during the whole of their existence, they are incapable of anything like voluntary motion; and the nearest approach to vital action which they exhibit, is the constant circulation of water which is kept up through their mass. Add to this that the mode of reproduction of the porifera is by means of gemmae or buds, minute gelatinous bodies distributed over the substance of the parent sponge, and which are detached from it when arrived at the proper stage of development, and we can then appreciate the difficulty of determining their character. Mr. Rymer Jones confesses that it is quite impossible for the physiologist to determine, at present, where vegetable life ceases and animal life begins; but he considers that microscopic examination of the tissues that enter into the composition of organized substances may do much towards a solution of the difficulty. No doubt the frail and perishable nature of the sponge (for the substance to which we give the name is nothing more than the horny skeleton which supports the living mass, the animal itself being a thin gelatinous film, without perceptible organs of any kind) renders the examination of its structure extremely difficult. It seems, nevertheless, to combine within itself the animal and vegetable characteristics in so striking a manner that it can only be regarded as a transition link, connecting the two. That no distinct line of demarcation can be drawn between these groups is at all events universally admitted.

A further examination of the affinity and analogies existing between them will be interesting. First, then, there is a striking analogy between the seed of a plant and the ovum, or egg, of an animal. In each the living principle has its origin and is developed by the same agency, and in both ‘groups each species has its own specific term of germination and gestation. Again, plants have an upright skeleton composed of woody fibres, and an intricate system of vessels, penetrating and ramifying through every part of their substance, through which a circulation of sap is maintained. In this there is a close analogy to the bony skeleton and circulatory apparatus of animals. Further, the skin of animals is represented by the bark or rind of plants, and the brain and spinal chord, which are the seat of sensation and intelligence in the animal, by the medulla or pith in plants, which Linnaeus has declared to be the “seat of life and source of vegetation.” Sir James Smith, also, speaking of the pith, says—“I cannot but incline to the opinion that it is a reservoir of vital energy, even in the bulbous grasses.” Again, the leaves are the lungs by which plants breathe, for they, like animals, cannot exist without a due proportion of air. The difference between the respiration of the two consists in this, that plants retain the carbon and exhale oxygen, the opposite being the case with animals; but it is in consequence of this difference, as I have elsewhere stated, that the atmosphere maintains a proper equilibrium suitable for the requirements of both classes.

Plants also have their secretions, and all superfluous matter, unnecessary for their support, is thrown off in the shape of perspiration. Nor can it be said that power of locomotion is sufficient to distinguish animals from plants; for whilst many of the lowest animals are fixed to one place for the whole, or nearly the whole, of their existence, we find rootless plants among the fuci and confervae which are drifted about by the waves, without any fixed place of settlement.

A striking resemblance to the animal nature is also shown in what Linnaeus has been pleased to call the sleep of plants. It is an interesting and well ascertained fact that many flowers contract and close their petals at sunset, unfolding them again under the genial influence of the returning sunbeams. It has been even noted that this peculiar movement is more observable in young plants, and hence inferred that they, like young animals, require a longer period of repose than those of older growth. The idiosyncracy or peculiar constitution and temperament exhibited by individuals in the animal world, is also to be found among plants; that is, functions which are generally performed by allied species in a similar way, are considerably modified in particular individuals. This is a fact abundantly proved by observers of periodical natural phenomena.

Furthermore, plants are in the habit of exhibiting a sort of instinct or judgment in searching for and selecting their food, which is very like the instinct displayed by the lowest animals. The roots invariably shoot out in that direction in which nourishment is to be obtained in the greatest abundance, and they easily overcome any stone or other obstacle to their progress by twisting round it. Of the pertinacity of plants, in this respect, many singular instances are recorded, and none, perhaps, more so than that mentioned by Sir I. E. Smith, in which an ash tree, growing on a wall, having exhausted all the nutriment within its reach, sent a root down to the ground, which established itself in the soil, when the tree again flourished, and grew to a large size. Sir James Smith inquires whether the exercise of the vital functions may not “be attended with some share of sensation, however low, and some consequent share of happiness;” and Darwin, after stating that plants have organs of sense somewhat analogous to those of animals, to which must be added, as he observes, “indubitable evidence of their passion of love,” goes on to say that we may conclude “that they are furnished with a common sensorium to each bud; and that they must occasionally repeat these perceptions, either in their dreams or waking hours, and consequently possess ideas of so many properties of the external world and of their own existence.”

That sensation, though probably much inferior to that possessed by animals, is an attribute of plants, no one, I think, can doubt. Some the passing cloud affects, and they immediately close the corolla; others contract their petals at the approach of night. The diomea mvucipula is a regular fly-trap: the leaves are so irritable and sensitive that if an insect, tempted by their viscid secretions, alight upon them, they directly close upon and kill it. The same thing may be observed in the common species of drosera which grows on our own moors. The leaves of the sensitive plant fold and recoil on being touched; and a large aquatic plant of the Isle of St. Lucia presents the same phenomena when the hand is extended towards it.

The analogy further extends to the mode of growth, decay, death, and decomposition in these two classes; both totter under the effect’s of age, and both wither and die. They also prey upon each other; vegetables forming a most important part of the sustenance of animals during their life, and animal matter, when decomposed, being absorbed by plants, to add to their growth and substance.

Lastly, it may be suggested that the exogenous plants, as forest trees, are represented by the vertebrated animals, the hard parts of the structure of both being internal; the endogenous, or those in which the growth and soft parts are internal, by the annulosa; whilst the acotyledonous plants, which are of the humblest organization, and comprise the mosses, ferns, and fungi, have their respective analogues in the radiata, mollusca, and acrita, the three lowest groups of the animal kingdom.

We shall see a further affinity between the Animal and Vegetable natures, when we remember that many parasitic plants attach themselves to, and derive their nutriment from animals.

Cryptogamic vegetation of this kind has been frequently observed on wasps and other insects; and in the stomachs of living fishes-the same phenomenon has been noticed.

A singular instance of vegetable fibres issuing from an ulcer on the back of a goldfish, accompanied by a figure, is recorded in “The Zoologist” by Professor Drummond of Belfast. “A few years ago,” says he, “a friend of mine had a goldfish kept living (as usual) in a glass vase. From some unknown cause it became affected with an ulcer on the back, and from the ulcerated surface a very delicate tuft of vegetable fibres protruded to the length of an inch or more. The fish at length died, and, at my request, my friend, Dr. James Moore, of Belfast, made the drawing which I now enclose. The appearance of the tuft of vegetable filaments is drawn with critical correctness. I examined these filaments repeatedly in the microscope, but could make nothing more of them than that they were simple delicate threads, unarticulated and unbranched.”

It seems probable also, that even the hairs of the head are of vegetable nature, deriving nutriment from the body, though distinct from it; and the same remark seems also applicable to horns, scales, and feathers, and not less so to the nails and teeth.

A further relationship may be established even with the Mineral Kingdom; for science teaches us that minerals enter largely into the composition of many plants. Many are found to contain particles of silex, sulphur, oxide of iron, copper, and also gold; and it is a very well known fact that glass may be produced from wheaten straw by the aid of the blowpipe.

Tournefort fancifully suggested that minerals emanated, like plants, from seed; and others, more visionary still, have chosen to extend sensation even to them. According to these, “earths have a less perfect sensation than bitumen and sulphur; these yield to metals, metals to vitriols, vitriols to lower salts; these to lower species of crystallizations, and those to what are called stones.” The mineral is connected, they say, with vegetables by the amianthes and lithophites, in which a new sensation, compounded of the mineral and vegetable qualities, is manifested, though the former in by far the greatest proportion.6

It is also a curious fact, that although crystals are not necessarily liable to decomposition, being the result of a constantly acting force, “it is nevertheless found in nature that crystals, after arriving at what may be regarded as, in some sort, their maturity, are, owing to a change in the conditions under which they were formed, gradually decomposed. In our mines are found skeletons of crystals.”7

Again, to some animals nature has given a plant-like form, so as to render recognition somewhat difficult. There is a group of Brazilian insects, popularly called the walking-leaf insects, a name derived from their close resemblance to the leaves and twigs of plants. Some of them resemble a dead twig, covered with brown bark, with wings of corresponding colour, and precisely like dry withered leaves. Others have the appearance of live twigs, with the bark and wings of a green colour.

The object of this singular provision of nature is for the purposes of concealment, as well as to enable the creature to approach its prey unobserved, inasmuch as the colour, in both cases, corresponds with that of the tree or shrub which they respectively frequent.

The same peculiarity is seen in certain moths, and the lappet moth of our own country is not a bad example. So complete is the deception in many cases, that it is not until the creature is taken up and handled that its real nature can be discovered. Others have wings of rich colours, and so disposed as to give them the appearance of beautiful flowers, and several have the closest resemblance to the seeds of plants.

A great number of Brazilian flycatchers have crests of a bright gold colour, which, when the bird is excited, expand and radiate almost in n-circle, so as to have all the appearance, according to the description of an eminent naturalist, of a marygold or other syngenesious flower. From the fact that most, if not all, of the birds possessing such crests are insectivorous in their habits, and catch their prey, not by pursuit, but by darting suddenly at such as come within their reach, it is supposed that “these flower-like ornaments are occasionally used as snares to attract the attention of insects, so as to bring them within reach of being captured by a sudden dart. This, at least, we know,—that insects are attracted by the bright colours of flowers, and turn out of their course to visit them. It is therefore not too much to suppose that seeing what, at a little distance, appears to them a bright yellow flower, they should fly towards it, discovering their mistake only when they are within the range of the sudden swoop of their treacherous enemy.”8 I might here go on to describe the singular forms of the Ophrys and Orchideae, if space would permit.

Many other anomalies of a similar kind might be noticed, but we will proceed to other facts equally interesting.

I allude, first, to the circumstance of many vegetables yielding animal products. In the vegetable world different individuals are so organized as to produce wool, wax, milk, and even butter. Of the first and second we have some instances in our own country, though it is only in hotter climates that they are produced in abundance. The butter-tree, which is a native of Africa, and is found in the kingdom of Ashantee, is described by the traveller Lander. This tree secretes a substance so like the animal product that the same name has been given to it; and who has not heard of the celebrated polo de vaca or cow-tree of the Caraccas, Whose appearance on the shores of the Cordilleras is described by Humboldt as follows:—“On the barren flank of a rock grows a tree with dry and leather-like leaves; its large woody roots can scarcely penetrate into the stony soil. For several months in the year not a. single shower moistens its foliage—its branches appear deed and dried; yet as soon as the trunk is pierced there flows from it a sweet and nourishing milk. It is at sunrise that this vegetable fountain is most abundant. The natives are then to be seen hastening from all quarters, furnished with large bowls to receive the milk, which grows yellow and thickens at the surface. Some employ their bowls under the tree, while others carry home the juice for their children. This fine tree rises like the broad-leafed star apple. The milk, obtained by incisions made in the trunk, is glutinous, tolerably thick, free from all acrimony, and of an agreeable and balmy smell. It was offered to us in the shell of the tutuno or calabash tree. We drank a considerable quantity of it in the evening before we went to bed, and very early in the morning, without experiencing the slightest injurious effects.”

These facts certainly go far to establish an affinity between the animal and vegetable natures.

 

Having ascertained this connection, let us touch upon a subject to which I have before cursorily alluded, which is the blending of species with species, and group with group, in the animal and vegetable kingdoms. In both this “blending” is equally apparent; but it will be more convenient, on the present occasion, to confine ourselves to zoological illustrations only.

Animals have been divided according to their structure into different groups, called respectively sub-kingdoms, classes, orders, and genera. The primary divisions are the vertebrate and the invertebrate; the distinguishing characteristic of the first being the possession of an internal bony skeleton and spinal column, clad with the muscles which give motion to it. Now the vertebrata are again very naturally divided into the several classes of mammalia, birds, reptiles, amphibia, and fishes: all of these possess an internal skeleton, and are otherwise of complicated organization; together, they form the highest group of their sub-kingdom, and, when zoologically considered, man takes his place at their head. If we compare the typical forms of any two of these classes together, or, in other words, those species that have the characteristics of their respective groups most completely developed, we shall at once say that there is a great difference between them. As we approach, however, towards the confines of each group, we perceive a gradual softening down of its own peculiar characters and an assimilation to those of the next adjoining. Thus the mammalia are connected with birds by the ornithorynchus or duck-billed platypus on the side of the first, and the apteryx or wingless bird of New Zealand on that of the last. The apteryx is almost entirely destitute of wings (the most characteristic part of a bird’s structure), for they are mere rudiments, which can only be discovered on close examination. Its nostrils, unlike those of birds generally, are situate at the tip of the bill, and its feathers in texture resemble coarse hair. The ornithorynchus, on the other hand, is furnished with a snout so like the bill of a duck, that the first specimens sent to Europe were supposed by naturalists to be a clever deception of some ingenious taxidermist. The bill is broad and flat, precisely like that of the bird from which it has been named. The feet also are webbed, and those of the male armed with a sharp spur like that of a cock. It is also ova-viviparous, that is, although the young are born alive, they are produced by means of eggs which are hatched in the oviduct.

The transition from birds to reptiles is easy, through the penguins, which, though they possess the “essential” characters of a bird, have a strong affinity both in structure and habits to the reptiles. Their wings are rudimentary, flapper-like, and quite unfit for the purposes of flight, and the feathers short and rigid, resembling scales. Their bones are hard and compact, not having the apertures common to the other members of the feathered race, and they live almost entirely in the water. Their connection is made complete on the part of the reptiles by the extinct fossil pterodactyl (and we may remark that no system can be natural which does not include fossil as well as recent species), a winged animal, uniting the characters of the reptile and the bird so closely that it would be almost difficult to say to which class it belonged. Its wings and legs resembled those of a hat, its jaws were elongated into the form of a hill, furnished, however, with a row of teeth, and the neck was almost as long as the body. Altogether it is the link requisite to complete the union of the classes of reptiles and birds.

In the case of reptiles and fishes, the union is effected by the axolotle on one side, and the lepidosiren on the other, both individuals comprising almost equally within themselves the fish and reptile characters. The siren lacertina, an eel-like creature, something less than a yard in length, is closely allied to the lepidosiren. In this animal, which inhabits the Carolina marshes, the pectoral fins assume the shape of feet, and although it is provided with gills on each side of the neck, it has also internal lungs suitable for an air-breathing creature.

In this way, the different classes of the vertebrata connect themselves together. The nature and extent of the affinities exhibited in each group I shall point out just now, when saying a word on Mr. Swainson’s System of Natural Classification.

Thus classes, orders, and genera blend and unite with each other, and the same principle extends also to species, and so strongly, that having been in the habit of considering and describing a species as something most definite and unchangeable, we cannot but be startled when we ascertain the many varieties and forms that one species will occasionally assume. Who, for instance, if it were not a well ascertained fact, would think of referring all the varieties of the dog, from the dhole of India, to our own diminutive spaniel, to one common origin? And further, who would say that the original stock was the wolf? Of the first, however, there can be no doubt, and the latter seems more than probable. In zoology many other equally familiar instances of the same kind occur, and among plants they are quite as numerous.

The different varieties of the cabbage—broccoli, cauliflower, savoy, and the rest, all spring from one common stock. The nectarine is descended from the common almond tree; plums from the sloe; and apples from the wild crab.9

Plants further exhibit a similarity of nature and constitution from the facility with which one species can be grafted upon another, the graft attaching itself to, and deriving its nutriment from, the stock to which it is affixed, and which acts the part of a foster-parent. This has been the origin of many curious experiments,— pears have been grown upon an oak; grapes, of different varieties, with apricots and peaches upon the same stem; and carnations have been grafted upon fennel.

Linnaeus suggested that all plants rose from “the conjunction and reproduction” of not more than 60 different original vegetables, and it has also been supposed that the different varieties of birds are the result of a comparatively limited number of original and distinct stocks.10

The sameness I have mentioned, also manifests itself in the different parts of an individual. If a tree be inverted, and the stem instead of the root enclosed in the soil, it will immediately accommodate itself to the change of circumstances. The branches will put forth roots, and the roots will disclose leaves. Hence it has been affirmed by Linnaeus that a tree is all root. Roots, indeed, may be produced both from the surface of the stem and branches of most plants when they are subjected to the proper conditions. Buds also occasionally present themselves on the leaves, which are soon developed, and become perfect plants themselves.

Plants can also put forth either leaves or flowers, as circumstances are most favourable to the one or the other, and well-authenticated instances of transformation of the floral organ into leaves are an record. Spines and tendrils, too, are mere modifications of the leaf, and it has been suggested by several of our most accomplished botanists, that all the organs—stamens, corolla, and calyx—are simply leaves metamorphosed.

The power of reproduction, also, by buds and slips, leads one to the conclusion that every shoot is distinct and complete in itself, and, therefore, that every tree is a compound of such, constituting together one great family, united in a common stem.

A similar mode of reproduction by shoots and offsets prevails among the polypes, one of the humblest groups of the animal kingdom. Most of these may be multiplied by artificial division to any extent, and if an individual be cut in pieces, each piece directly forms a new animal. There is something analogous to this in the way in which a crab or lobster can repair a wounded part.

Hear, also, what Mr. Johnson, the accomplished writer on horticulture, says with reference to the propagation of plants by means of leaves:—“Among those whose numbers are thus most commonly increased are the cacti, gesnerae, gloxiniae, and other fleshy-leaved plants. Lately the suggestion has been revived—a suggestion first made by Agricola, at the commencement of the last century. He states that M. Manderola had raised a lemon tree in this mode; and thence concludes, rather too rashly, that all exotic leaves may at any time be converted into trees. Since that was written, in 1721, it is certain that plants have been raised from leaves that previously had been considered totally incapable of such extension. Thus Mr. Neumann has succeeded with the theophrasta latifolia; and, going on a step further, he has even bisected a leaf, and raised a leaf from each half.” And then come the researches of Mr. Payne Knight, as recorded in the Horticultural Transactions, by which it appears that leaves of the common peppermint, deprived of every portion of stem, “lived for more than twelve months, increased in size, nearly assumed the character of evergreen trees, and emitted a mass of roots.” “That leaves may be made almost universally to emit roots there appears little reason to doubt,” says Mr. Johnson, but then he asks, “Will they produce buds?” At present this question cannot be satisfactorily answered, at all events not in the affirmative; but it is the opinion of Mr. Johnson, seconded by Professor Lindley, that by the combined action of rich food and intense light it may be accomplished.

Some carry this idea of sameness of parts further, and suppose, that because some of the humblest plants are ascertained to consist of a single vesicle, therefore every vesicle which enters into the composition of plants more highly organised has a distinct existence of its own, and, consequently, that every such plant is a compound individual; an idea supported by the fact I have before mentioned, that buds, capable of being separated and maintaining an independent existence, may be developed from any part of the cellular tissue.

From the individuality of buds and elementary organs, if we come to speak of the individuality of plants, a curious point is at once raised, both startling and perplexing, and which may be mentioned en passant, as it suggests a curious train of thought, although it has but little connection in reality with our present subject. Professor Henslow, after stating that any cutting, layer, or bud, when detached from the parent stock and nurtured into a separate existence, “always retains the exact peculiarities of the individual plant from which it was obtained, but that a seedling, raised from the same plant, will frequently deviate more or less from the original type, and present us with certain peculiarities of its own;” goes on to say, that this circumstance would suggest the hypothesis that the “vegetable individual” is an entire plant, which has originated from the development of a single seed. “But,” says he, “this definition of an individual involves the seeming absurdity that an organised being may consist of several detached portions, each of which may exist apart from the others. Thus a cutting from a tree is a part of the individual from whence it was taken, and though it may also become a tree, it is no more than a developed state of a portion of the former. Since all the weeping willows in Europe, for instance, are said to have originated from cuttings taken from a single tree, according to this hypothesis there is no more than one weeping willow in Europe, and that also can only be a portion of one which may be still growing in Asia.”

A unity of sex is also exhibited in plants, of which Nature sometimes avails herself for the preservation of species, namely, by the development, in some cases, of flowers of the contrary sex to those which ordinarily characterise the separate individual; for it is well ascertained that plants, which for a considerable time had only borne flowers of one sex, have suddenly changed their character and produced those only of the opposite sex.

A few scientific facts may also be enumerated, tending to show that all animals in their anatomical structure are mere modifications of a common type.

The progressive development of different organs observable in every group is one argument in favour of the idea I have mentioned. Take, for instance, the class of reptiles to which I have before had occasion to advert with reference to this point. In the majority of these creatures the locomotive extremities may be said to be entirely wanting. In others, as in the anguis fragilis, which is a native of our own country, they are found in a rudimentary state, but concealed beneath the skin. Then they exhibit the humblest form of external development, as shown in the lepidosiren, being fin-like and undivided. The siren lacertina, again, has only two feet, but they are more highly developed than in the last instance, and provided with four fingers; and, lastly, in the proteus anguinus we find the feet, though still scarcely more than rudimentary, of the ordinary number, and also divided and furnished with toes.

Again, if we compare the leg of a horse, the wing of a bird, the flapper or fin (so-called) of the whale, the wing of the bat, the leg of a lion, and the arm of a man together, can we hesitate for one moment to refer them to one model? Though the bones of the horse’s foot appear, externally, to be united in one solid mass, (a provision of Nature necessary to insure the strength of foot required by this useful animal,) yet, on dissection, the toes are found encased in the horny hoof, though only partially developed. In the bat, the anterior extremities assume the form of wings, so complete that they can almost vie with the feathered race in the vigour and gracefulness of their flight. Here, too, we find the arm and hand composed of the usual bones, the humerus, the fore-arm, and the wrist, together with the thumb and four fingers. In the wing of the bird and the flapper of the whale, though externally modified to meet the wants of each, we can with ease trace the same anatomical arrangement.

The bones of the skull present a similar arrangement throughout the vertebrata. With reference to this fact, it is interesting to observe, as an instance of mysterious adherence to a common type, that although in birds of mature age the individual bones composing the cranium cannot be distinguished, the seams being obliterated, yet in the skull of a young bird they may be traced with little difficulty, together with the modifications they have undergone.

Further, I think that the progressive metamorphoses which certain individuals pass through, is another indication of the unity of form I have mentioned. No better example of this kind can be adduced than the common frog. While in the tadpole state, the frog is in all its essential characters a fish, living in the water exclusively, and breathing by means of gills. From this condition it emerges by gradual but well-marked advances to that of a perfect reptile, divested of its gills, and furnished with lungs adapted for aerial respiration. In other species of the reptilia the same metamorphoses present themselves. In other classes these changes are not so marked, though we are told that in all, from the highest to the lowest, though they may not be detected otherwise, they are to be traced in the foetal state. “It is undoubted respecting nearly all animals, that they pass in embryo through phases resembling the general as well as the particular characters of those of lower grade. Thus the insect is in the larva state an annelid, or worm, the annelides being the lowest in the same class,” and so on through every group until we reach the mammalia, where we find the same rule also prevails. A highly organised mammal is in its first form an animalcule, and from that form it gradually passes through conditions generally resembling a fish, a reptile, a bird, and the lower mammalia, before it attains its specific maturity. I mention these facts without further comment, inasmuch as I know they have been employed to establish theories by many deemed irreligious and profane.

An examination of the internal anatomy of the cephalopoda, or cuttle-fish tribe, the highest group of the molluscous class, and forming a connecting link between them and the vertebrata, shows that a bony skeleton is not exclusively confined to the latter. The cephalopods belong to a group whose members are generally characterised by the possession of a soft, fleshy body, unsupported by any internal framework, bony or cartilaginous. As we approach, however, towards the confines of the group we discover, as in every other, a softening down of its own peculiar characters, and an assimilation to those of the neighbouring circle. In the cuttle-fish may be distinctly traced the first rudiments of an internal skeleton, and thus an immediate relation manifests itself between the cephalopoda and the cartilaginous fishes, such as the rays, the former being the most highly organised of the mollusca, the latter constituting the humblest group of the vertebrated class.

Here it may be also incidentally mentioned, and it is a fact illustrative of the validity of our arguments, that the extraordinary formation of the flat—fishes, although apparently so anomalous, is merely a modification of the skeleton of in ordinary fish, adapted for a peculiar mode of existence. “On examining the skeleton of a flat-fish, we at once see that what we supposed to be the dorsal and ventral regions, are in reality the two sides, and that the great peculiarity of their structure is the want of symmetry between the lateral halves of the body, arising from the anomalous circumstance that both the eyes are placed upon the same side of the head. Their cranium, indeed, is composed of the same bones as that of an ordinary fish, but the two lateral halves are not equally developed; and the result is such a distortion of the whole frame-work of the face, that both the orbits are transferred to the same side of the mesial line of the back. The position of the pectoral and ventral fins slightly participates in this want of symmetry, but in other respects the skeleton precisely corresponds with that of the generality of osseous fishes. The superior and inferior spinous processes of the vertebrae are amazingly developed, and the interspinous bones of inordinate length, so that the vertical diameter of the body is disproportionately increased, and the animal is obliged to swim and rest upon one side.”11

The relationship pointed out between the cuttle-fish and the ray, is a direct affinity between the two groups, inasmuch as they actually unite with each other. It is a mere progressive stage in the development of structure, whose meaning is at once obvious. If we travel over the whole animal world, however, we here and there Find indications of a particular type of structure manifesting themselves, strangely modified, it is true, and so remote as to be often with great difficulty recognized, but still unmistakable, and to a reflecting mind they will also have a meaning obvious and intelligible. They tell us that there is a definite plan in creation,—that order and harmony are the characteristics of nature, and will lead almost irresistibly to the conclusion that all her productions are constructed after certain ‘primary types which stand out in bold relief among the rest. The subject of these types, and of their analogical representation throughout all the groups of nature, we will touch upon presently. For a further elucidation of our views we will here take a glance at the “Natural system,” keeping specially in view the labours of Mr. Swainson.

But, first, it may be as well to explain what is meant by a “natural system,” and in what respects it differs from an “artificial” one.

Both natural and artificial systems have one object in common, namely, to classify animals so as to facilitate search after species, and by the condensation of knowledge to afford the inquiring naturalist a key to the labours of his predecessors.

The object of an artificial system is simple classification, that is (supposing it is some group or class of the animal kingdom that is to be arranged), by laying hold of some points of structure supposed to be especially characteristic of the group or class in question, to divide and subdivide it into subordinate groups according to the various modifications of these characters, exclusively, to the neglect of all others. Such a system is useful in facilitating search after species, and appears, indeed, almost better calculated to answer this end than any other. Its object is, “to make things known by their names in the easiest manner.” In short, it may be compared in some measure to a dictionary of words: “both are solely intended to explain the names of things, but with this difference, that in the dictionary of words we are led from the name of the thing to its definition, whereas, in a system of natural history, we are led from the definition to find out the name.”12

It is evident that a system strictly carried out on such principles can do nothing towards the development of the system of nature; indeed, it must be perpetually violating the natural series, and placing animals of a totally different organization in close propinquity, merely because they happen to agree in one or two selected characters, the absence of which may separate others which essentially exhibit the nearest relationship.

A natural system, on the other hand, has been truly said to be alone “conducive to the advancement of natural history as a physical science.” It has two objects in view,——first, to classify different objects according to their respective position in the scale of nature; and, secondly, to discover the principles or laws by which the different modifications of structure are regulated.

To the perfecting of the natural system, it is requisite that we should be acquainted with the structure of every living creature on the globe, and not only so, but an equally extensive acquaintance with fossil species is also necessary, or our system cannot be complete.

The idea of a simple progressive scale of organization, according to which, by commencing at the lowest form, you would gradually ascend to the highest, is now obsolete, for, “although you can select from the animal world a series which will answer to such a theory, we should still be obliged to omit nearly one-third of the animals already known, which will not, by any possible contrivance, fall into a linear series, and which consequently demonstrates its fallacy.”13 It is well established and allowed on all hands, that the animal kingdom (and it applies equally to plants), consists of a series of circular groups uniting and blending with each other at certain points, according to which theory, if the naturalist start from a given point in any group, and trace his way on through intermediate forms, he must ultimately arrive at the place from which he set off, or, if he do not, it will be because some link is wanting in the chain, Such link remaining either undiscovered, or else having been destroyed in some of the revolutions by which the globe has been disturbed. Geologists have furnished many such desiderata in fossil species. I cannot give a better illustration of the mode in which the several groups of the animal kingdom are connected with each other, than by quoting the words of Dr. Carpenter:—“Every natural group or assemblage of species united by certain characters common to all, is connected not with two groups merely, one above and the other below it, but with several; and of the different modifications which these characters present, a large part are such as to form the transitions from one to another. In every natural assemblage there is some one which presents the characters that are common to them, in a more remarkable and complete manner, and this is called the type of the group. Thus each genus has its typical species, each family its typical genus, each order its typical family, and each class its typical order. We may regard the type of each genus as forming its centre, and the other species as having their places at a greater or less distance from it, according as they differ from it more or less in their respective characters. Some do not depart widely from the type; whilst there are others that differ from it to such a degree, that we might have failed to recognize the connection if it were not completely shown by intermediate links. Now we will suppose the centres or types of these groups to be spread out over a surface, so that each should be surrounded by a number of others most nearly allied to it; we should then find that we might arrange the different species round these centres respectively, so as to form groups, of which every one shall come into contact with others by species that blend more or less completely the characters of both. The following illustration will, it is hoped, make this matter plain. We will suppose a large territory, occupied by a number of distinct tribes of people whose possessions are not separated by any very distinct hounds, but of which every one is characterized by possessing a dialect peculiar to itself. We will, further, imagine that the principal residence of each tribe is in the centre of the district, and it will, of course, be there that we should expect to find the peculiar dialect of the tribe in the greatest perfection. For those members of the tribe which live near the borders of the territory naturally acquire from intermixture with the borderers of the several other tribes which surround them, some combination of other dialects, whilst their own is spoken with less purity; so that however easy it might be to recognize, by their difference of speech, the inhabitants of the central portions of the respective districts, those that reside near the line which divides one from another, do not present the distinctive peculiarity of either in a sufficient degree to enable us to determine to which they belong.”

The circular theory was first broached by Lamarck, and shortly afterwards noticed by Fischer, a Russian naturalist. The fact of the vegetable kingdom exhibiting the same circular disposition was, also, about the same time discovered by Fries, a German botanist of celebrity.14 It was at the hands of Mr. McLeay, however, that it first received anything like analytical demonstration. This theory has since been much strengthened by the labours of Mr. Swainson, who after a minute and laborious analysis of facts, forming the occupation of years, has applied it, with some modifications, to the entire animal world.

It cannot but be expected that the results of so great an undertaking should be alloyed with much that is exceptionable. Mr. Swainson is an enthusiast, and, like most men of that class, occasionally rides his hobby:1 little too hard. His works, nevertheless, are the productions of a great mind, and where we cannot give our assent to his dicta, it is impossible to withhold respect.

He sets out in his system, with the proposition, That every natural series of beings, in its progress from a given point, either actually returns, or evinces a tendency to return again to that point, thereby forming a circle. 15 This is a fact which I have before hinted at, and it is easily demonstrable both in Zoology and Botany. We may adduce the circle of the animal kingdom, as a familiar illustration. Here, if we start with the polypes, we pass on to the mollusca;—from these we are led, through the cuttle-fish tribe to the vertebrata, on to the insects and radiata, and so back to the polypes. Again, in the circle of vertebrated animals, if we commence with reptiles, we shall pass on successively to birds, quadrupeds, fishes, amphibian, and so back to the reptiles. On careful examination, we shall find that in every group, no matter its value, from the highest to the lowest, this circular disposition manifests itself. Gaps and chasms will occasionally present themselves in the series, but we may be satisfied, when this is the case, that it is either in consequence of species remaining undiscovered, or else having become extinct. Geology is continually filling up these gaps, and such additions have never yet, I believe, been found to militate against the “circular theory.”

Affinities or relationships in nature, it will be understood from what has been previously said, are of two kinds,—internal and external. The first is that by which an object is connected with another of the same group immediately preceding or following it. The second is A relationship existing between two individuals of different circles, and so forming a connection between two groups. The relationship between the fox and the dog is an example of the first kind of affinity, and that between the apteryx and the ornithorynchus, of the second.

Mr. Swainson, secondly, contends that the contents of every circle may be resolved into three secondary circles, which are respectively called, according to the degree of perfection in which they exhibit the peculiar characters of their common circle, the typical, the sub-typical, and the aberrant. The aberrant circle, however, probably from the diversified nature of the objects it contains, forms within itself three other circles, which unite together in the larger one.

This gives rise to a second proposition, therefore,— That the primary circular divisions of every group are THREE actually, but FIVE apparently.16 As an example. —The vertebrata have been divided into mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibia, and fishes. Now the mammalia are, as we well know, the most highly organized of the vertebrata, and form the typical group of the circle. Birds come next, and constitute the sub-typical, and the aberrant circle is formed of the three secondary ones, of the fishes, amphibia, and reptiles; each of these forming a circle of their own, and again being united in one common circle which is further connected with the typical and sub-typical groups.

Birds, again, are divided into several orders, called, respectively, the insessorial, the raptorial, the grallatorial (such as the herons), and the natatorial, which comprises swimming birds. Of these the first and second are the typical and sub-typical, and the three last form the aberrant circle.

A third and most important proposition is offered as a further test of the natural character of a group; and upon this I shall principally dwell, as it is a key to all the others.

It is, That the contents of each group are analogically represented by the contents of all other groups.

The theory of analogical representation is a most interesting one, highly illustrative of the existence of a common principle or plan in nature, and, I think, almost fully established by the labours of Mr. Swainson.

As soon as we enter upon the study of animals, we perceive that every creature has relationships or connections of different degrees with others. When this relationship is immediate, as between two animals of the same or neighbouring groups, it is termed an affinity. Relationships, however, present themselves between animals of different groups, and, from their remote character, these are termed relationships of analogy. Investigation shows that the analogies in nature are not casual or occasional, but that they are universal, occur in a definite succession, and are all governed by one general law, which law may be explained by saying, That the primary divisions of every group are characterised by definite peculiarities of form, structure, and economy, which, under diversified modifications, are uniform throughout the animal world, and are therefore to be regarded as the primary types of nature.17

Thus we find the different tribes of the mammalia analogically represented by those of birds, and equally by all other tribes of their own sub-kingdom. We have the quadrumana, or monkeys, the typical group of the mammalia, representing the insessores or perchers, the typical order of birds; both in structure and habits there is the closest analogy between them;—the analogy between the ferae, or beasts of prey, and the raptorial birds, each of which constitutes the sub-typical group of their respective circles, will scarcely need pointing out; and, lastly, in the aberrant circles we have the cetacea or whale kind, represented by the swimming birds,—the glires or long—snouted quadrupeds, by the grallatorial or heron kind, whilst the rasores or gallinaceous birds are represented by the ungulata among quadrupeds.

It may be mentioned, that docility is universally characteristic of the rasorial type, and to it are referrible the whole, or nearly the whole, of our domesticated animals.

Further, let us place the circle of the vertebrata in juxta-position with the circle of the animal kingdom, and the same analogies will present themselves. We must be blind, if we do not at once recognize, in the vertebrata, the analogues of the mammalia. As clearly do the annulosa, or insects, represent the birds, whilst the molluscs, acrita, and radiate have the same indubitable relationship to the reptiles, amphibia, and fishes. The analogies between these groups are strong and marked. Of course they are difficult to trace, when the circles compared differ much in value, but in all cases careful investigation will prove their existence. This is indeed a beautiful and forcible illustration of a common principle of design in nature, and We are left to deduce the fact “almost by observation, rather than by reasoning from that which is brought before us.”

Now, if we discover that variations of structure and the relative connection of different objects in any one department of nature, are governed by a law, we may be sure that that law is universal, and has equal reference to every other group, not only of the some sub-kingdom or kingdom, but to every other branch of the natural world.

Accordingly, if we compare the vertebrated group carefully with every other circle of the animal world, we shall find that in all, from the lowest upwards, it has its representative, occupying, too, the same relative position in each. Not only so, but analogical reasoning would lead to the idea that the same thing will manifest itself if we compare one kingdom of nature with another, as animals with vegetables, or even minerals. This is a theory which, if it could be substantiated, would furnish a key to all the mysteries of the system of nature; would enable us not only to assign to every object in nature its true relative position, but even to form a most accurate idea of the nature of those which are extinct or undiscovered, but which, nevertheless, are necessary to the completion of the scheme of nature.

To illustrate the truth of my last assertion, we will turn to the history of the extinct dodo, about which much has been said and much written, but apparently without any satisfactory conclusion as to its real nature or position in the class to which it belongs. After careful examination of the few remains of the animal which we possess (no complete specimen being now in existence), naturalists seemed to be almost equally divided in opinion,—some affirming that it belonged to the gallinaceous birds, and others, that its habits were raptorial. Both, it seems, saw only half the truth, and confounding or not understanding the difference between relationships of analogy and affinity, were both partly right and partly wrong. First, let us see what were the structure and habits of the dodo. Its massive round body, and almost rudimentary wings (quite useless for the purposes of flight), and short, strong legs, combined with the tameness of its disposition, would suggest the idea that it was of the gallinaceous circle; but then the hooked form and sharp points of the mandibles, with other peculiarities of structure, seemed to point almost equally to the birds of prey; and hence arose the difficulty which I have mentioned,——a difficulty which, admitting the theory of analogical representation in nature to be sound, vanishes at once. Examine the circle of the raptores, and you find, with indications of the other types, there is none of rasorial structure. Here, then, will the dodo find a place, and careful analysis of facts will prove most naturally, being essentially by affinity a member of the raptorial group, though the representative, analogically, of the rasorial circle.

I think I have omitted to enumerate the several types laid down by Mr. Swainson as belonging to the aberrant circle, though, from what has been said, a fair idea of their general character would be gathered. Before proceeding further, however, it may be as well to mention them:—they are called respectively the natatorial, or aquatic; the suctorial, which is represented among mammals by long-snouted quadrupeds, such as the anteaters, and among birds by the waders; and the rusorial, which, as I have elsewhere remarked, seems to include all those animals most easily domesticated, and most serviceable to man. Animals of this type are usually characterised by considerable bulk, by great strength of the leg and foot, and often by appendages to the head. The chief peculiarity of the suctorial type, on the other hand, is a considerable elongation of the snout or bill, with a slender physical conformation, and a disinclination to associate with man. Often their general weakness of structure is compensated for by the addition of scales or armour. Lastly, the natatorial or swimming type, comprises animals generally remarkable for their great bulk, large size of the head, and imperfect development of the feet. This group invariably unites with the rasorial, and so completes the aberrant circle. To describe in popular and attractive language a theory like the one we have been considering, requires considerable tact and talent, more, I fear, than I can lay claim to, and if I have unfortunately thrown a mist over it, or rendered it unintelligible, it is no fault of the subject itself, for it is preeminently distinguished, like all great natural laws, by graceful and winning simplicity. One moment’s consideration will show that what sounds formidable when dignified with the name of analogical representation, is nothing more than what constantly excites the attention of the commonest observer. We have flying fish and swimming birds, that spend almost their whole time in the water, with fin-like Wings, and scale-like feathers, as the penguins. Then there are flying quadrupeds, and quadrupeds that live like fish, entirely in the water. The whale, as far as its external characters are concerned, as well as in its made of life, appears to have much greater affinity to fish than to the mammalia; in fact, by many old Naturalists it was considered and described as one. Yet the whale, with the exception of its somewhat fish-like form, the conversion of the anterior extremities into flappers, and its inhabiting the water, has nothing in common with fish. Its respiration is aérial, carried on by lungs instead of gills; it is warm-blooded, and its young are produced alive, and suckled, as among the rest of the mammalia. It is, in fact, the representative of the swimming type among the vertebrata. So in every group, after passing through the typical circle (which contains the most excellent and highly organised individuals of the group), to the sub-typical, which is occupied invariably by such as are most noxious to man, we enter the aberrant circle, and this we find resolving itself into three subordinate circles, in which the swimming, the rasorial, and the suctorial types appear to be severally predominant.

To compare great things with small, we will step at once from the vertebrata, the most highly organised group of the animal kingdom, to the acrita, which constitute the humblest, and see whether among these any symptom of the vertebrated type of structure manifests itself. As it has been before stated, sponge in its commonest form consists of a horny skeleton, which forms a support to the gelatinous film which constitutes the animal. In some species, however, symptoms of an adherence to the vertebrated type manifest themselves. Throughout the mass, silicious spicula are dispersed, which, on being carefully examined, have the closest resemblance to the vertebrae of some of the humblest representatives of that form of structure. For another proof of this fact, and at the same time to illustrate another truth, namely, that fossil as well as recent species fall naturally into the scheme, we will invade the realms of geology. Here we at once find the object we are in search of in the crinoidea, or lily-shaped animals, that flourished in such great abundance in the primeval seas. The term “lily-shaped” has been applied to these creatures from the peculiarity of their structure, which consisted of a long articulated stem, attached at the bottom to the bed of the ocean, and furnished at the top with a series of moveable rays, which the animal had the power of expanding, for the purpose of catching and holding its prey. Existing in immense numbers, and swayed about by the movement of the water, they must have had the appearance, as it has been observed, of a large bed of tulips disturbed by the wind. The stem of the erinoid, which supported the body and fleshy parts, consisted of a vast number of regularly shaped concentric rings, covered by the soft parts, and altogether formed a complete internal skeleton, as like the vertebral column of a highly organised mammal as could be expected, considering the very different conditions of life for which they were intended.

Specimens of limestone, containing the remains of the crinoidea, may be obtained without any difficulty; in fact, it is much used in the manufacture of mantel-pieces in this country, and is susceptible of a very high polish. It derives its popular name of “Derbyshire marble” from the circumstance of its being extensively quarried in that county.

In the more highly organized group of the mollusca we shall find another illustration in favour of our idea among the pteropoda, a tribe of very minute animals, of which the clio borealis, which constitutes the chief food of the whale of the Arctic Seas, is the best known. Among these the little hyalaea at once reminds us of the vertebrata, having an internal skeleton or shell clad with the soft parts. Let not the reader suppose, however, that in this I am contradicting what I before said with respect to the cuttle-fish,—the last animal I mentioned as connecting the molluscous and vertebrated groups. The hyalaea is only the representative of the vertebrata in its own class. In its own group, too, the hyalaea would seem to constitute, from the wing-like modifications of its locomotive organs, the analogue of the winged class of the vertebrata.18 In short, no matter where we turn, or what group we analyse, the same thing presents itself. Any circle we may select will prove, in the division of its contents, a counterpart of every other, from the highest to the lowest; and we cannot sum up this part of our subject better than in the words of the same accomplished writer, who has done more than any other towards the development of the theory. After pointing out the perfect analogy which exists between the natural and the moral world, he goes on to say, that “the greater the universality of any known law of nature is found to be, the more important does it become to the investigations of physical science.” And again,—“The power of analogy, thus so ably illustrated in the case of religion, is precisely as strong when applied to the elucidation and confirmation of a theory in physical science. When once what is supposed to be a general law of nature is discovered, its truth and certainty becomes more and more confirmed, in proportion to the variety and severity of the tests applied to it. And if after tracing it, as widely as possible, through the almost numberless groups of the animal world, it becomes also apparent both in the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, we have all the evidence that human research or human wisdom can conceive that our theory is sound.”

Turn we then to the mineral kingdom, to see whether, there, we can discover any indications of the evidence of a system of relationships between minerals, such as we venture to say manifests itself in the higher divisions of nature. The increased difficulty of applying the propositions before laid down in this instance will be easily understood. The attempt, nevertheless, has been made in one of the publications of the Wernerian Club, to the editing of which I must plead guilty myself to being a party, and I think that the results arrived at were at least very plausible.

In accordance with the views before advocated, the elements are primarily divided into Gaseous, Inflammable, and Fixed. The Fixed elements, again, resolve themselves into earthy minerals, which are allied “to both the fixed elements and gaseous elements, inasmuch as they are the products of the chemical action of the latter upon the fixed base (always a metal);”—Inflammable minerals, which “are allied to both fixed elements and inflammable elements, inasmuch as they are the products of an inflammable agent acting virulently on an inflammable element;”—and Metals, which “are allied to both of the first-named elements, as they are the products of the combination of either or both agents with a fixed metallic element, preserving their distinct metallic character under the change.” Metals thus forming the aberrant group, are to be subdivided again into the three secondary groups (tria juncta in uno); and these respectively present themselves in metals “mineralised by an ally of a gaseous elementary agent;” those mineralised “by an ally of an inflammable elementary agent;” and those mineralised “by another metal.” And so the classification proceeds until a clear series of analogies are worked out between gaseous elements, earthy minerals, oxides, &c.; between inflammable elements, fixed inflammable elements, sulphurets, &c.; and, lastly, between fixed elements, metallic elements, mineralising metals, &c.

The difficulty of tracing analogical relationships between minerals appears almost insuperable. If, however, it be demonstrable in the other two kingdoms of nature (kindred to this, as we before said), we are led perforce to the conclusion that in this instance also the theory must apply. I have hitherto said little as to the natural division of plants, though it will be remembered that I did point out in an early part of this Essay how closely these leading groups represented those of animals. I wish I could dwell longer upon this part of the subject, but, to use the language of Sir J. Herschel, “if we desist, it is not because the list is exhausted, but because a sample, not a catalogue is intended.”

The proposition laid down with reference to the primary divisions of natural groups, is strengthened by the fact that the best writers on the physical history of the human species unanimously concur in referring the different varieties of mankind to flee distinct stocks or types. These have been respectively denominated, the Caucasian, which comprehends those nations inhabiting southern Asia, the north of Africa, with Europe, and part of India; the Mongolian, represented by the inhabitants of Russia in Asia, Tartary, &c., a people principally remarkable for their attachment to a wandering and predacious life; the American, including the Aboriginal tribes of the North American continent, together with the Mexicans, Peruvians, &c.; the Negro, whose characteristics are extremely well defined, and which has its origin in and principally occupies, the African continent; and, lastly, the Malay, which comprehends, amongst others, the natives of New Zealand, Java, Sumatra, and various islands of the Indian archipelago. Thus we have the primary division into five apparently perfect groups. The stock most remarkable for intellectual endowments, and all other qualities which would be associated with the idea of excellence in man, is the Caucasian or European; it is, in fact, generally supposed that this, the most excellent variety of the species, had its origin in the very spot on which we are informed the creation of man took place. This, then, being in external form and mental endowments superior to all the rest, is to be considered as the type of the family. The Mongolian stock comes next in the series, and on the authority of Ethnologists generally, it may be described as comprehending a people who, presenting a high stage of physical development, and possessed also of considerable intellectual vigour, are nevertheless, in their general habits, piratical and cruel. They appear to be the sub-typical variety. And how are the characteristics of a sub-type enumerated by Mr. Swainson?—“Sub-typical groups, as the name implies, are a degree lower in organisation than those last described [the typical]; and thus exhibit an intermediate character between typical and aberrant divisions. They do not comprise the largest individuals in bulk, but always those which are the most powerfully armed, either for inflicting injury on their own class, for exciting terror, producing injury or creating annoyance to man. Their dispositions are often sanguinary, since the forms must conspicuous among them live by rapine, and subsist on the blood of other animals. They are, in short, symbolically the types of evil.” And, lastly, with reference to the way in which the several stocks or types unite together, it is curious to find a clever Naturalist,19 in his remarks on this subject, observing, entirely irrespective of theory, that we may contract “the five varieties into three—the European, Asiatic, and African—and regard the other as mere interesting shades of variety,” thus unconsciously establishing the proposition in full, that though the primary divisions in every group are five apparently, they are actually only three.

And what, then, do these facts teach us? They shew clearly that order and harmony are the attributes of nature, and reduce to one beautiful system, what might otherwise appear disjointed and fragmentary. Many, it is true, effect to speak contemptuously of such attempts to systematise the works of nature, and think it derogatory to the Creator to suppose that he would be governed by any such rules or trammels as they affirm such a system must necessarily imply. The only idea suggested, however, is one of order; and we might as well find fault with the hi-lateral symmetry of man‘s figure, or anything else in nature which manifests harmony and regularity. The frequent reference to numbers may be objected to, but Pythagoras employed them as symbols to convey ideas, considering forms and numbers as the same things; “as the models or archetypes after which the world, in all its parts, is framed, as the cause of entity to visible beings.” Music also was regarded by him as a mere appropriation of the science of numbers to a specific purpose. In the writings of Plato the same idea manifests itself, and figures have also been employed by modern chemists to represent the different combinations of elementary matter.

The infallible rule of faith and practice which has been vouchsafed to us, enjoins every man to search and examine for himself, that he may be able to give a “reason” for the faith he professes. The practice of the world, on the contrary, says, in effect, Don’t trouble yourself about it; and a blind belief too often usurps the place of sound conviction. It is related of that great and learned man, Dr. Samuel Johnson, that in discussing some questions of religions doctrine with his friend Goldsmith, he made use of the remarkable expression, that as he took his coat from his tailor and his shoes from the cobbler, so he took his religion from the priest.20 Would that the reputation of this otherwise great man had never been sullied by the utterance of anything so irrational and absurd; and would that it had never been recorded, to bolster up the evil arguments of other and more weak-minded persons. It is astonishing how men, who, in the ordinary affairs of life, are the shrewdest and most vigilant, shut their eyes and take every thing “for granted,” when matters of the most vital importance are concerned. They fall back even upon the teachings of the nursery or the village pedagogue, and permit early prejudices to assume the place of reason, and to deaden the arguments of philosophy. They bury their heads in the sand, and because they see nothing, they fancy that all is right and secure.

Some may occasionally give the wonders and beauties of the natural world a passing glance, but it is only a temporary amusement, adopted to wile away an idle hour. Others, again, stop at the threshold, and are afraid to push their inquiries to any extent, lest they should encounter any obstacles to the faith that has been instilled into them. What a fearful insult to the Creator are such fears, for as he is the origin of all truth, so can he never contradict Himself in his works. It is only the arrogant and self-sufficient inquirer that incurs these dangers. Pursued in a right spirit, Science, instead of weakening, must strengthen our faith to the utmost, and will ever prove herself, as she has been beautifully called, “the handmaid of religion.”

Sublime and valuable as the Mosaic Record is, it assumes a tenfold interest when the light of science is brought to bear upon it. When faith and reason are united in the work, then, and not until then, can we adequately appreciate this venerable History. The grand truths it contains are the “foundation of all religion, whether popular or philosophical.” But we should hear in mind this important fact, that the object of the Hebrew Patriarch was not to acquaint mankind with the scientific details of the great work of creation. His object, as Dr. Buckland remarks, was not to tell us “how” but “by whom” the world was made.

Before closing the subject, we may mention one single instance in which Revelation has been rescued from doubt by science. It was long put forth as an objection to the Mosaic Record, that an interval of three days occurs between the creation of light and that of the sun, the former being popularly considered as the production of the latter; and it is a curious fact that in the Zend or Zendavesta, the sacred book whose authorship is ascribed to Zoroaster, the founder of the Magian Religion, and which contains an account of the creation almost literally transcribed from the Book of Genesis, the creation of light is recorded as subsequent to that of the sun, an attempt, no doubt, to correct what was considered an error in the original history. All misapprehension, however, on this point has been since happily set at rest by the discovery that light is a fluid existing independently of the sun, and consequently might have commenced its action before the formation of that body. Such a reconciliation of an apparent and long-standing discrepancy between Divine Revelation and the dicta of human science should prove a great encouragement to the sincere inquirer after truth.

Finally, let us, whilst contemplating the works of Omnipotence, remember that they are the productions of One who has no sympathy with human prejudices, and who knows nothing of human distinctions; to whom “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” When Reason is at fault, then let Faith do its “perfect war.” Let us “believe and tremble!”


The following passage, extracted from Dr. C. B. Radcliffe‘s work on “The Law of Nature,” will explain the reference to the fable of Proteus (p. 2.):—

“This fabulous being is represented by the Poets as an old man of divine parentage, who had his home in a cavern near the sea. He had the core of the herd of Neptune; and over this he presided as a keeper, whose duty was to tend and provide for its increase and welfare; while in return for this service he received from his patron the knowledge of past, present, and future, together with the office of interpreting mysteries to man. Each noon it was his duty to count his wards, and then to rest; and at this time he would exercise his oracular powers, and reply to those who were able to prevail with him. The victory, however, was extremely difficult, for the mystical herdsman would disguise himself as beast, or water, or flame, and vanish away without granting any answer, unless he were matched by a power which could compel him to return to the human form. The principal design of this fable is to convey a knowledge of the mysteries of nature, and to explain the relation of man to subordinate creatures and things; and this will be seen if we study it with care and patience. The identity of Proteus with nature is seen in the strange power of transformation which he possesses. He is capable of changing into my existing object, and is perfectly embodied upon every occasion; and, therefore, he may be regarded as the personification of each individual part, and of the entire system of terrestrial things. He is said to reside in a cave, in order to fix the attention upon the connection with inanimate creation, lost, in studying the story, we might think merely of the passage into organic structures, and neglect the other and not less important changes into earth, and water, and air. The care of the herd of Neptune would seem to imply the presence of a preservative power in nature, by virtue of which the existence of things is sustained and perpetuated; while the daily duty of counting his charge may be said to indicate the absence of any process of evolution, and to show that there is a certain and fixed number of created forms, which must be complete in order be the harmony of the whole. In favour of this view also are to be remarked the age and sleep of Proteus, for the one evidences maturity, and not infancy or youth, and the other, which moreover is said to supervene when the wards are numbered, argues the existence of a definitive boundary to his power and energy. The servitude and the fatigue involved in the discharge of his duties clearly indicate dependency, and teach us that this changeful being is the personification of a law, and not the revelation of a Law-giver. His attributes, indeed, are determined and fixed by a creative power, and this is what is meant when it is said that they were the gift of Neptune. It is to be inferred, therefore, that this fable is not intended to convey pantheistic nations, but to enunciate the statutes of nature, and to teach their character; and hence the lesson that we learn from Proteus is, that there is a common and universal law which, without loss or impairment, is embodied under varying outward aspects in every created form. The wisdom and prophetic gifts of Proteus would seem to indicate that creation and revelation are associated in a common bond of union. Nature is incomprehensible and mysterious; and that she is ordained to the communication of religious truths may be argued from the Scripture, which says, that ‘the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.’ It is evident also, on the some authority, that all knowledge is connected with nature; for if she can explain the mystery of Deity, we may conclude that he who understands her aright, will know the present, and at the same time be able to look into the Womb and um of time, so as to recall the memory of the past, and anticipate the decrees of futurity. The rest of the fable signifies the innate power of man and his possible supremacy over subordinate creation, by which he is to attain to this high dignity. It was necessary to seize the demi-god in the daytime, and to struggle with him through all his changes, until he again appeared in the form of man, and then the mastery was gained; and this is told in order that we may understand our true position in the universe. The story implies that it is in nature living and moving, actuated by continual change, and illuminated by the light of day, and not in midnight porings over books, or in lonely musings upon death, that the ruling law is to be found. It implies also, in the manner in which the metamorphoses terminate when the contest had been successful, that the true essence of no single thing can he understood unless the embodiment of unity is pursued through all its windings, until it culminates in man. And, finally, the exertions necessary for victory indicate that something more is required than the mere passive reception of truth, and that man must have a long struggle with himself before he can win the dominion over nature.”

1 Vide “Proteus, or the Law of Nature,” by Dr. Radcliffe.

2 Turner’s “Sacred History of the World.”

3 Ibid.

4 “Sacred History of the World.”

5 Hunt’s “Poetry of Science.”

6 Bucks’s “Harmonies of Nature.”

7 Hunt.

8 Swainson.

9 “Sacred History of the World.”

10 This has no foundation in fact.

11 Professor Rymer Jones‘s “Comparative Anatomy.”

12 Goldsmith’s “Animated Nature.”

13 Swainson’s “Preliminary Discourse.”

14 “Preliminary Discourse.”

15 “Geography and Classification of Animals.”

16 “Classification of Animals.”

17 “Classification of Animals.”

18 Carpenter—“Cyclopaedia of Natural Science.”

19 Dr. Mason Good.

20 I quote from memory. Goldsmith was the author of the saying attributed to Dr. Johnson.

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