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Essays on Life, Art and Science by Samuel Butler

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general. Let a player be never so proficient on any instrument, he
will be put out if the normal conditions under which he plays are
too widely departed from, and will then do consciously, if indeed he
can do it at all, what he had hitherto been doing unconsciously. It
is an axiom as regards actions acquired after birth, that we never
do them automatically save as the result of long practice; the
stages in the case of any acquired facility, the inception of which
we have been able to watch, have invariably been from a nothingness
of ignorant impotence to a little somethingness of highly self-
conscious, arduous performance, and thence to the
unselfconsciousness of easy mastery. I saw one year a poor blind
lad of about eighteen sitting on a wall by the wayside at Varese,
playing the concertina with his whole body, and snorting like a
child. The next year the boy no longer snorted, and he played with
his fingers only; the year after that he seemed hardly to know
whether he was playing or not, it came so easily to him. I know no
exception to this rule. Where is the intricate and at one time
difficult art in which perfect automatic ease has been reached
except as the result of long practice? If, then, wherever we can
trace the development of automatism we find it to have taken this
course, is it not most reasonable to infer that it has taken the
same even when it has risen in regions that are beyond our ken?
Ought we not, whenever we see a difficult action performed,
automatically to suspect antecedent practice? Granted that without
the considerations in regard to identity presented above it would
not have been easy to see where a baby of a day old could have had
the practice which enables it to do as much as it does
unconsciously, but even without these considerations it would have
been more easy to suppose that the necessary opportunities had not
been wanting, than that the easy performance could have been gained
without practice and memory.

When I wrote "Life and Habit" (originally published in 1877) I said
in slightly different words:-

"Shall we say that a baby of a day old sucks (which involves the
whole principle of the pump and hence a profound practical knowledge
of the laws of pneumatics and hydrostatics), digests, oxygenises its
blood--millions of years before any one had discovered oxygen--sees
and hears, operations that involve an unconscious knowledge of the
facts concerning optics and acoustics compared with which the
conscious discoveries of Newton are insignificant--shall we say that
a baby can do all these things at once, doing them so well and so
regularly without being even able to give them attention, and yet
without mistake, and shall we also say at the same time that it has
not learnt to do them, and never did them before?

"Such an assertion would contradict the whole experience of

I have met with nothing during the thirteen years since the
foregoing was published that has given me any qualms about its
soundness. From the point of view of the law courts and everyday
life it is, of course, nonsense; but in the kingdom of thought, as
in that of heaven, there are many mansions, and what would be
extravagance in the cottage or farmhouse, as it were, of daily
practice, is but common decency in the palace of high philosophy,
wherein dwells evolution. If we leave evolution alone, we may stick
to common practice and the law courts; touch evolution and we are in
another world; not higher, not lower, but different as harmony from
counterpoint. As, however, in the most absolute counterpoint there
is still harmony, and in the most absolute harmony still
counterpoint, so high philosophy should be still in touch with
common sense, and common sense with high philosophy.

The common-sense view of the matter to people who are not over-
curious and to whom time is money, will be that a baby is not a baby
until it is born, and that when born it should be born in wedlock.
Nevertheless, as a sop to high philosophy, every baby is allowed to
be the offspring of its father and mother.

The high-philosophy view of the matter is that every human being is
still but a fresh edition of the primordial cell with the latest
additions and corrections; there has been no leap nor break in
continuity anywhere; the man of to-day is the primordial cell of
millions of years ago as truly as he is the himself of yesterday; he
can only be denied to be the one on grounds that will prove him not
to be the other. Every one is both himself and all his direct
ancestors and descendants as well; therefore, if we would be
logical, he is one also with all his cousins, no matter how distant,
for he and they are alike identical with the primordial cell, and we
have already noted it as an axiom that things which are identical
with the same are identical with one another. This is practically
making him one with all living things, whether animal or vegetable,
that ever have existed or ever will--something of all which may have
been in the mind of Sophocles when he wrote:-

"Nor seest thou yet the gathering hosts of ill
That shall en-one thee both with thine own self
And with thine offspring."

And all this has come of admitting that a man may be the same person
for two days running! As for sopping common sense it will be enough
to say that these remarks are to be taken in a strictly scientific
sense, and have no appreciable importance as regards life and
conduct. True they deal with the foundations on which all life and
conduct are based, but like other foundations they are hidden out of
sight, and the sounder they are, the less we trouble ourselves about

What other main common features between heredity and memory may we
note besides the fact that neither can exist without that kind of
physical continuity which we call personal identity? First, the
development of the embryo proceeds in an established order; so must
all habitual actions based on memory. Disturb the normal order and
the performance is arrested. The better we know "God save the
Queen," the less easily can we play or sing it backwards. The
return of memory again depends on the return of ideas associated
with the particular thing that is remembered--we remember nothing
but for the presence of these, and when enough of these are
presented to us we remember everything. So, if the development of
an embryo is due to memory, we should suppose the memory of the
impregnate ovum to revert not to yesterday, when it was in the
persons of its parents, but to the last occasion on which it was an
impregnate ovum. The return of the old environment and the presence
of old associations would at once involve recollection of the course
that should be next taken, and the same should happen throughout the
whole course of development. The actual course of development
presents precisely the phenomena agreeable with this. For fuller
treatment of this point I must refer the reader to the chapter on
the abeyance of memory in my book "Life and Habit," already referred

Secondly, we remember best our last few performances of any given
kind, so our present performance will probably resemble some one or
other of these; we remember our earlier performances by way of
residuum only, but every now and then we revert to an earlier habit.
This feature of memory is manifested in heredity by the way in which
offspring commonly resembles most its nearer ancestors, but
sometimes reverts to earlier ones. Brothers and sisters, each as it
were giving their own version of the same story, but in different
words, should generally resemble each other more closely than more
distant relations. And this is what actually we find.

Thirdly, the introduction of slightly new elements into a method
already established varies it beneficially; the new is soon fused
with the old, and the monotony ceases to be oppressive. But if the
new be too foreign, we cannot fuse the old and the new--nature
seeming to hate equally too wide a deviation from ordinary practice
and none at all. This fact reappears in heredity as the beneficial
effects of occasional crossing on the one hand, and on the other, in
the generally observed sterility of hybrids. If heredity be an
affair of memory, how can an embryo, say of a mule, be expected to
build up a mule on the strength of but two mule-memories? Hybridism
causes a fault in the chain of memory, and it is to this cause that
the usual sterility of hybrids must be referred.

Fourthly, it requires many repeated impressions to fix a method
firmly, but when it has been engrained into us we cease to have much
recollection of the manner in which it came to be so, or indeed of
any individual repetition, but sometimes a single impression, if
prolonged as well as profound, produces a lasting impression and is
liable to return with sudden force, and then to go on returning to
us at intervals. As a general rule, however, abnormal impressions
cannot long hold their own against the overwhelming preponderance of
normal authority. This appears in heredity as the normal non-
inheritance of mutilations on the one hand, and on the other as
their occasional inheritance in the case of injuries followed by

Fifthly, if heredity and memory are essentially the same, we should
expect that no animal would develop new structures of importance
after the age at which its species begins ordinarily to continue its
race; for we cannot suppose offspring to remember anything that
happens to the parent subsequently to the parent's ceasing to
contain the offspring within itself. From the average age,
therefore, of reproduction, offspring should cease to have any
farther steady, continuous memory to fall back upon; what memory
there is should be full of faults, and as such unreliable. An
organism ought to develop as long as it is backed by memory--that is
to say, until the average age at which reproduction begins; it
should then continue to go for a time on the impetus already
received, and should eventually decay through failure of any memory
to support it, and tell it what to do. This corresponds absolutely
with what we observe in organisms generally, and explains, on the
one hand, why the age of puberty marks the beginning of completed
development--a riddle hitherto not only unexplained but, so far as I
have seen, unasked; it explains, on the other hand, the phenomena of
old age--hitherto without even attempt at explanation.

Sixthly, those organisms that are the longest in reaching maturity
should on the average be the longest-lived, for they will have
received the most momentous impulse from the weight of memory behind
them. This harmonises with the latest opinion as to the facts. In
his article on Weismann in the Contemporary Review for May 1890, Mr.
Romanes writes: "Professor Weismann has shown that there is
throughout the metazoa a general correlation between the natural
lifetime of individuals composing any given species, and the age at
which they reach maturity or first become capable of procreation."
This, I believe, has been the conclusion generally arrived at by
biologists for some years past.

Lateness, then, in the average age of reproduction appears to be the
principle underlying longevity. There does not appear at first
sight to be much connection between such distinct and apparently
disconnected phenomena as 1, the orderly normal progress of
development; 2, atavism and the resumption of feral characteristics;
3, the more ordinary resemblance inter se of nearer relatives; 4,
the benefit of an occasional cross, and the usual sterility of
hybrids; 5, the unconsciousness with which alike bodily development
and ordinary physiological functions proceed, so long as they are
normal; 6, the ordinary non-inheritance, but occasional inheritance
of mutilations; 7, the fact that puberty indicates the approach of
maturity; 8, the phenomena of middle life and old age; 9, the
principle underlying longevity. These phenomena have no conceivable
bearing on one another until heredity and memory are regarded as
part of the same story. Identify these two things, and I know no
phenomenon of heredity that does not immediately become infinitely
more intelligible. Is it conceivable that a theory which harmonises
so many facts hitherto regarded as without either connection or
explanation should not deserve at any rate consideration from those
who profess to take an interest in biology?

It is not as though the theory were unknown, or had been condemned
by our leading men of science. Professor Ray Lankester introduced
it to English readers in an appreciative notice of Professor
Hering's address, which appeared in Nature, July 18, 1876. He wrote
to the Athenaeum, March 24, 1884, and claimed credit for having done
so, but I do not believe he has ever said more in public about it
than what I have here referred to. Mr. Romanes did indeed try to
crush it in Nature, January 27, 1881, but in 1883, in his "Mental
Evolution in Animals," he adopted its main conclusion without
acknowledgment. The Athenaeum, to my unbounded surprise, called him
to task for this (March 1, 1884), and since that time he has given
the Heringian theory a sufficiently wide berth. Mr. Wallace showed
himself favourably enough disposed towards the view that heredity
and memory are part of the same story when he reviewed my book "Life
and Habit" in Nature, March 27, 1879, but he has never since
betrayed any sign of being aware that such a theory existed. Mr.
Herbert Spencer wrote to the Athenaeum (April 5, 1884), and claimed
the theory for himself, but, in spite of his doing this, he has
never, that I have seen, referred to the matter again. I have dealt
sufficiently with his claim in my book, "Luck or Cunning." {43}
Lastly, Professor Hering himself has never that I know of touched
his own theory since the single short address read in 1870, and
translated by me in 1881. Every one, even its originator, except
myself, seems afraid to open his mouth about it. Of course the
inference suggests itself that other people have more sense than I
have. I readily admit it; but why have so many of our leaders shown
such a strong hankering after the theory, if there is nothing in it?

The deadlock that I have pointed out as existing in Darwinism will,
I doubt not, lead ere long to a consideration of Professor Hering's
theory. English biologists are little likely to find Weismann
satisfactory for long, and if he breaks down there is nothing left
for them but Lamarck, supplemented by the important and elucidatory
corollary on his theory proposed by Professor Hering. When the time
arrives for this to obtain a hearing it will be confirmed,
doubtless, by arguments clearer and more forcible than any I have
been able to adduce; I shall then be delighted to resign the
championship which till then I shall continue, as for some years
past, to have much pleasure in sustaining. Heretofore my
satisfaction has mainly lain in the fact that more of our prominent
men of science have seemed anxious to claim the theory than to
refute it; in the confidence thus engendered I leave it to any
fuller consideration which the outline I have above given may
incline the reader to bestow upon it.


{1} Published in the Universal Review, July 1888.

{2} Published in the Universal Review, December 1890.

{3} Published in the Universal Review, May 1889. As I have several
times been asked if the letters here reprinted were not fabricated
by Butler himself, I take this opportunity of stating that they are
authentic in every particular, and that the originals are now in my
possession.--R. A. S.

{4} An address delivered at the Somerville Club, February 27, 1895.

{5} "The Foundations of Belief," by the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour.
Longmans, 1895, p. 48.

{6} Published in the Universal Review, November 1888.

{7} Since this essay was written it has been ascertained by
Cavaliere Francesco Negri, of Casale Monferrato, that Tabachetti
died in 1615. If, therefore, the Sanctuary of Montrigone was not
founded until 1631, it is plain that Tabachetti cannot have worked
there. All the latest discoveries about Tabachetti's career will be
found in Cavaliere Negri's pamphlet "Il Santuario di Crea"
(Alessandria, 1902). See also note on p. 154.--R. A. S.

{8} Published in the Universal Review, December 1889.

{9} Longmans & Co., 1890.

{10} Longmans & Co., 1890.

{11} Published in the Universal Review, November 1890.

{12} Longmans & Co., 1890.

{13} M. Ruppen's words run: "1687 wurde die Kapelle zur hohen
Stiege gebaut, 1747 durch Zusatz vergrossert und 1755 mit Orgeln
ausgestattet. Anton Ruppen, ein geschickter Steinhauer mid
Maurermeister leitete den Kapellebau, und machte darin das kleinere
Altarlein. Bei der hohen Stiege war fruher kein Gebetshauslein; nur
ein wunderthatiges Bildlein der Mutter Gottes stand da in einer
Mauer vor dem fromme Hirten und viel andachtiges Volk unter freiem
Himmel beteten.

"1709 wurden die kleinen Kapellelein die 15 Geheimnisse des Psalters
vorstelland auf dem Wege zur hohen Stiege gebaut. Jeder Haushalter
des Viertels Fee ubernahm den Bau eines dieser Geheimnisskapellen,
und ein besonderer Gutthater dieser frommen Unternehmung war
Heinrich Andenmatten, nachher Bruder der Geselischaft Jesu."

{14} The story of Tabachetti's incarceration is very doubtful.
Cavaliere F. Negri, to whose book on Tabachetti and his work at Crea
I have already referred the reader, does not mention it. Tabachetti
left his native Dinant in 1585, and from that date until his death
in 1615 he appears to have worked chiefly at Varallo and Crea.
There is a document in existence stating that in 1588 he executed a
statue for the hermitage of S. Rocco, at Crea, which, if it is to be
relied on, disposes both of the incarceration and of the visit to
Saas. It is possible, however, that the date is 1598, in which case
Butler's theory of the visit to Saas may hold good. In 1590
Tabachetti was certainly at Varallo, and again in 1594, 1599, and
1602. He died in 1615, possibly during a visit to Varallo, though
his home at that time was Costigliole, near Asti.--R. A. S.

{15} This is thus chronicled by M. Ruppen: "1589 den 9 September
war eine Wassergrosse, die viel Schaden verursachte. Die
Thalstrasse, die von den Steinmatten an bis zur Kirche am Ufer der
Visp lag, wurde ganz zerstort. Man ward gezwungen eine neue Strasse
in einiger Entfernung vom Wasser durch einen alten Fussweg
auszuhauen welche vier und einerhalben Viertel der Klafter, oder 6
Schuh und 9 Zoll breit soilte." (p. 43).

{16} A lecture delivered at the Working Men's College in Great
Ormond Street, March 15, 1890; rewritten and delivered again at the
Somerville Club, February 13, 1894.

{17} "Correlation of Forces": Longmans, 1874, p. 15.

{18} "Three Lectures on the Science of Language," Longmans, 1889,
p. 4.

{19} "Science of Thought," Longmans, 1887, p. 9.

{20} Published in the Universal Review, April, May, and June 1890.

{21} "Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle," iii. p. 237.

{22} "Luck, or Cunning, as the main means of Organic Modification?"
(Longmans), pp. 179, 180.

{23} Journals of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Zoology,
vol. iii.), 1859, p. 61.

{24} "Darwinism" (Macmillan, 1889), p. 129.

{25} Longmans, 1890, p. 376.

{26} See Nature, March 6, 1890.

{27} "Origin of Species," sixth edition, 1888, vol. i. p. 168.

{28} "Origin of Species," sixth edition, 1888, vol. ii. p. 261.

{29} Mr. J. T. Cunningham, of the Marine Biological Laboratory,
Plymouth, has called my attention to the fact that I have ascribed
to Professor Ray Lankester a criticism on Mr. Wallace's remarks upon
the eyes of certain fiat-fish, which Professor Ray Lankester was, in
reality, only adopting--with full acknowledgment--from Mr.
Cunningham. Mr. Cunningham has left it to me whether to correct my
omission publicly or not, but he would so plainly prefer my doing so
that I consider myself bound to insert this note. Curiously enough
I find that in my book "Evolution Old and New," I gave what Lamarck
actually said upon the eyes of flat-fish, and having been led to
return to the subject, I may as well quote his words. He wrote:-

"Need--always occasioned by the circumstances in which an animal is
placed, and followed by sustained efforts at gratification--can not
only modify an organ--that is to say, augment or reduce it--but can
change its position when the case requires its removal.

"Ocean fishes have occasion to see what is on either side of them,
and have their eyes accordingly placed on either side of their head.
Some fishes, however, have their abode near coasts on submarine
banks and inclinations, and are thus forced to flatten themselves as
much as possible in order to get as near as they can to the shore.
In this situation they receive more light from above than from
below, and find it necessary to pay attention to whatever happens to
be above them; this need has involved the displacement of their
eyes, which now take the remarkable position which we observe in the
case of soles, turbots, plaice, &c. The transfer of position is not
even yet complete in the case of these fishes, and the eyes are not,
therefore, symmetrically placed; but they are so with the skate,
whose head and whole body are equally disposed on either side a
longitudinal section. Hence the eyes of this fish are placed
symmetrically upon the uppermost side."--Philosophie Zoologique,
tom. i., pp. 250, 251. Edition C. Martins. Paris, 1873.

{30} "Essays on Heredity," &c., Oxford, 1889, p. 171.

{31} "Essays on Heredity," &c., Oxford, 1889, p. 266.

{32} "Darwinism," 1889, p. 440.

{33} Page 83.

{34} Vol. i. p. 466, &c. Ed. 1885.

{35} "Darwinism," p. 440.

{36} Longmans, 1890.

{37} Tom. iv. p. 383. Ed. 1753.

{38} Essays, &c., p. 447.

{39} "Zoonomia," 1794, vol. i. p. 480.

{40} Longmans, 1890.

{41} Longmans, 1890.

{42} Longmans, 1890.

{43} Longmans, 1890.

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