Page images
PDF
EPUB

shown to be a fallacy I hold by its main doctrine. I hope you will read it, and, if you see no fallacy in it, get Sir John Herschell to read it and tell us if there is a positive fallacy which destroys its whole value or no."

Some weeks later Sir Charles thanked me for recommending the book to him, which he had read with great pleasure, adding, “ It is as interesting as any novel I ever read.” The fundamental idea of the book is that the sun in its motion through space comes into contact with an excessively diffused space-atmosphere, which it collects and condenses by its gravitative force, thus forming the sun's photosphere. Then, on cooling, the outer portion of this gaseous envelope is left behind or expelled, so that the mass of the sun does not increase. The value of the explanation will of course depend upon whether this latter part of the theory, which the author explains at considerable length, is dynamically possible. In view of modern discoveries as to the nature of matter, it might be well for some competent physicist to re-examine this work, which is largely founded on the author's own observations and experiments as a metallurgical chemist.

In the latter part of 1872 I was assisting Sir Charles by reading over the completed MSS. and afterwards the proofs of Part III. of “The Antiquity of Man," dealing with "The Origin of Species as bearing on Man's Place in Nature." In one of the letters I wrote I made a suggestion (which he did not adopt, nor did I expect him to do so), but which I will here give as it is a subject on which I wrote afterwards, and which I still consider to be of very great importance. Readers of the “Antiquity” will see that part of his own MSS. has been omitted.

“ November 10, 1872. “DEAR SIR CHARLES,

"I have read the MSS. with very great interest. Two points of importance are, Milton's advocacy of scientific as against classical education (which I should think would be new to most persons), and freedom of thought as essential to intellectual progress. The latter point (occupying pp. 13-23 of your MSS.) is of such immense importance, and your opinion on it, clearly expressed, would have so much weight, that I should much wish it to be developed in a little more detail, though I cannot see how it can possibly be got into 'The Antiquity of Man. The points that may be more fully treated seem to me to be-Ist, to show in a little more detail that there was such practical freedom of thought in Greek schools and academies; and, to put forward strongly, the fact that, ever since the establishment of Christianity, the education of Europe has been wholly in the hands of men bound down by penalties to fixed dogmas, that philosophy and science have been taught largely under the same influences, and that, even at the present day and among the most civilized nations, it causes the greater part of the intellectual strength of the world to be wasted in endeavours to reconcile old dogmas with modern thought, while no step in advance can be made without the fiercest opposition by those whose vested interests are bound up in these dogmas.

"3rd. I should like to see (though, perhaps, you are not prepared to do it) a strong passage following up your concluding words, pointing out that it is a disgrace to civilization and a crime against posterity, that the great mass of the instructors of our youth should still be those who are fettered by creeds and dogmas which they are under a penalty to teach, and urging that it is the very first duty of the Government of a free people to take away all such restraints from the national church, and so allow the national teachers to represent the most advanced thought, the highest intellect, and the purest morality the age can produce. It is equally the duty of the State to disqualify as teachers, in all schools and colleges under its control, those whose interests are in any way bound up with the promulgation of fixed creeds or dogmas of whatever nature.

"I should be exceedingly glad if you could do something of this kind, because I look with great alarm on the movement for the disestablishment of the Church of England, a step which I fear would retard freedom of thought for centuries. This would inevitably be its effect if any similar proportion of its revenues, as in the case of the Irish Church, was handed over to the disestablished Church of England, which would then still retain much of its prestige and respectability, would have enormous wealth, which might be indefinitely increased by further private endowments, and might have a ruling episcopacy with absolute power, who would keep up creeds and dogmas, and repress all freedom of thought and action, and thus do irreparable injury to the nation. Besides this, we should lose a grand organization for education and a splendid endowment which might confer incalculable benefits on society if only its recipients were rendered absolutely free. What might have been the result if, during the last hundred years, the twenty thousand sermons which are preached every Sunday in Great Britain, instead of being rigidly confined to one monotonous subject, had been true lessons in civilization, morality, the laws of health, and other useful (or elevating) knowledge, and if the teachers had been the high class of men who, if unfettered, would have gladly entered this the noblest of professions ?

“I so much fear that Miall's premature agitation may force some future Government to (carry) disestablishment on any terms, that I think it of the greatest importance to point out what may be lost by such a step."

The passages referred to in the beginning of the above letter were both omitted by Sir Charles, being thought, apparently, rather out of place. The book did not appear till the following summer, and from that time till his death he undertook no more literary work. My remarks on the question of disestablishment, however, seemed to me so important that I elaborated my ideas into an article, which appeared in Macmillan's Magazine (April, 1873), and is reprinted in the second volume of my “ Studies,” under the title, “Disestablishment and Disendowment: with a proposal for a really National Church of England.” In putting this suggestion before the country I have done what was in my power to indicate a method by which, when the time for legislation comes, the present institution may be replaced by one that will be a great educational and moral power in every part of our land.

I do not remember when I first saw Sir Charles Lyell, but I probably met him at some of the evening meetings of the scientific societies. I first lunched with him in the summer of 1863, and then met, for the first time, Lady Lyell and Miss Arabella B. Buckley. Miss Buckley had become Sir Charles's private secretary early in that year, and she informs me that she remembers this visit because Lady Lyell gave her impressions of me afterwards—I am afraid not very favourable ones, as I was shy, awkward, and quite unused to good society. With Sir Charles I soon felt at home, owing to his refined and gentle manners, his fund of quiet humour, and his intense love and extensive knowledge of natural science. His great liberality of thought and wide general interests were also attractive to me; and although when he had once arrived at a definite conclusion he held by it very tenaciously until a considerable body of wellascertained facts could be adduced against it, yet he was always willing to listen to the arguments of his opponents, and to give them careful and repeated consideration. This was well shown in the time and trouble he gave to the discussion with myself as to the glacial origin of the larger alpine lake basins, writing me one letter of thirty pages on the subject. Considering his position as the greatest living authority on physical geology, it certainly showed remarkable open-mindedness that he should condescend to discuss the subject with such a mere amateur and tyro as I then was. The theory was, however, too new and too revolutionary for him to make up his mind at once, but he certainly was somewhat influenced by the facts and arguments I set before him, as shown by the expressions in his correspondence with Darwin, which I have quoted.

In the much vaster and more important problem of the development of man from the lower animals, though convinced

VOL. I.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of the general truth of Darwin's views, with which he had been generally acquainted for twenty years, he was yet loth to express himself definitely; and Darwin himself was as much disappointed with his pronouncement in the recently published “Antiquity of Man," as he was with my rejection of the sufficiency of natural selection to explain the origin of man's mental and moral nature. Sir Charles Lyell's character is well exhibited in what he wrote Darwin soon after its publication (March II, 1863). "I find myself, after reasoning through a whole chapter, in favour of man's coming from the animals, relapsing to my old views whenever I read again a few pages of the ‘Principles,' or yearn for fossil types of intermediate grade. Truly, I ought to be charitable to Sedgwick and others. Hundreds who have bought my book in the hope that I should demolish heresy will be awfully confounded and disappointed. ... What I am anxious to effect is to avoid positive inconsistencies in different parts of my book, owing probably to the old trains of thought, the old ruts, interfering with the new course. But you ought to be satisfied, as I shall bring hundreds towards you, who, if I treated the matter more dogmatically, would have rebelled. I have spoken out to the utmost extent of my tether, so far as my reason goes, and further than my imagination and sentiment can follow, which, I suppose, has caused occasional incongruities” (“Life of Sir Charles Lyell,” vol. ii. p. 363). These passages well exhibit the difficulties with which the writer had to contend, and serve to explain that careful setting forth of opposing facts and arguments without stating any definite conclusion, which is felt to be unsatisfactory in some portions of his great works.

During the ten years 1863–72, I saw a good deal of Sir Charles. If he had any special subject on which he wished for information, he would sometimes walk across the park to St. Mark's Crescent for an hour's conversation; at other times he would ask me to lunch with him, either to meet some interesting visitor or for friendly talk. After my

« EelmineJätka »