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A SENSE of uneasiness is at last beginning to be manifested in some quarters at a pernicious literary practice that has been too long disregarded.
For some years past it has been the fashion with a certain school to trifle with words. And the fashion is spreading. Language is being confounded, and the terms of our mother-tongue, with distinct individual meanings as old as written thought itself, are being misused and perverted till they cease to convey any definite notion at all.
It is not a question of new terms framed to meet the requirements of the ever-increasing discoveries of modern science. There can be no real ground for uneasiness in the growth of language, notwithstanding the apprehension of the Tübingen professor who, reviewing the progress of knowledge in its various branches, expressed a fear that, with the increasing specialisation and multitudinous subdivision of men's studies, the temple of science, like the Tower of Babel, would never be completed because of the inability of the workmen to understand one another's language. This was not a well-founded fear. With the advance of science it is inevitable that language should be expanded and developed ; that terms should be multiplied and new words coined.
Licuit, semperque licebit,
It would be lamentable were it otherwise : decay, if not death, would then be at hand. But the question now is the indiscriminate or determined application of terms, with clearly defined intellectual equivalents of their own, to notions or things to which they do not belong, and never have belonged, till one poor word a hundred clinches makes. This is the stultification of language. moreover, a fraud. The old ideas exist, and no straining of the principle of cy pres can avail those who would rob them of the verbal legacy of ancient times that for our own good we are bound to administer for them.
1 Sir James Paget, Theology and Science. VOL. XV.No. 88.
Theology, literature, medicine, and science generally are suffering from the effects of this fraudulent nomenclature, as it has been admirably designated in a recent number of this Review. Everywhere it is creeping into use in public speaking as in scientific treatises; in the daily press as in works dealing with the gravest theological topics.
A distinguished Comtist, for example, whose brilliant style never fails to win him attention, tells his audience, when he would excite their sympathy for the celebrated Republican leader, that the religion of Gambetta was France ! 4 Had he told them that France was his god, or his idol, we could have understood him. Again, the man whose reputation for a 'matchless power of
6 observation' is more than European, and whose influence as a popular writer is equal to his weight with scientific men, in the last book that he published before his death 5—which no sooner saw light than it was scattered by the thousand over the land--played so fast and loose with the words will,' consciousness,"close attention, general notion, 'mental qualities,' that many of his readers, fascinated by the popular science' thus served up to them by their great teacher, were only too delighted to adopt his phraseology, and rejoice in the mind of the common earthworm.
How could they do otherwise ? The old-fashioned instinct 6 could never account for the wonderful inferences drawn by Mr. Darwin from his observations of worm-life-observations, be it remembered, that were made with the declared antecedent wish to learn how far worms acted consciously, and how much mental power they displayed (p. 3, Introduction).
The earthworm, according to Mr. Darwin, has mind because its actions resemble those of the higher animals. And with the higher animals when close attention to some object leads to the disregard of the impressions which other objects must be producing on them, we attribute this to their attention being absorbed ; and attention im. plies the presence of a mind (pp. 22–3-4). It is scarcely necessary to analyse this, or to ask whence our knowledge of the attention to which we attribute the power of being absorbed. The passage shows of itself how the mind of worms was originally projected from the imagination of the great naturalist.
2 • Of late years there has arisen in the domains of general literature, and of controversial theology, a habit of dealing with the relations of ideas to words, which is calculated to throw into confusion all the higher controversies of the time, and to inflict serious injury upon letters, the advancement of knowledge, and even the moral life of man. Under cover of a particular word, connected by long usage and common consent with a sufficiently definite idea, a new idea, totally different from the old, is introduced, and is then used as if the one had become merged into the other, and as if there were no doubt or difference between them. . . . Now this juggling with words and ideas, this throwing of dust into people's eyes so that controversies which cannot be settled may be stifled, this unpardonable sin in literature, is threatening to invade the realms of medicine, to confuse our discussions, and to render hopeless our progress in some departments of knowledge.'--Medical Times and Gazette, 10th of February, 1883; Presidential Address delivered before the Clinical Society of London, by Andrew Clark, M.D. LL.D. 3 Aubrey de Vere, Subjective Difficulties in Religion, May 1883.
The Times, 5th of February, 1883; Mr. Frederic Harrison on Gambetta. 5 Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms; with Observations on their Habits.
* Throughout this article the italics are mine, unless otherwise specified.
The process of gradually pushing instinct out of the field by a hypothetical-assumptive method is further and curiously illustrated in the following passages from the same author :
Although worms are so remarkably deficient in several sense-organs, this does not necessarily preclude intelligence, as we know from such cases as those of Laura Bridgeman; and we have seen that when their attention is engaged, they neglect impressions they would otherwise have attended to; and attention indicates the presence of a inind of some kind. . . . If worms are able to judge, either before drawing or after having drawn an object close to the mouth of their burrows, how best to drag it in, they must acquire some notion of its general shape. If worms have the power of acquiring some notion, however rude, of the shape of an object and of their burrows, as seems to be the case, they deserve to be called intelligent; for they act in nearly the same manner as a man would under similar circumstances (pp. 34, 97).
But Mr. Darwin's disciples go beyond their master. They dispense altogether with any pretence of arguing reason down to beasts and worms. They do not even have recourse to hypothetical assumption to distract us whilst they are busy subverting the old order of language and confounding our grammatical apprehension of it. They boldly assert until their own reason seems overwhelmed by fancy. Their glowing imagination, outshining the dry light of science, carries ordinary readers away until they too are in danger of forgetting that prosopopeia has no place even in popular science. And that to talk of the will, perception, foresight, choice, reason, and providence of plants, if it is otherwise than by way of poetical license, is to talk nonsense.
In Vignettes from Nature, which, in a brief preface, Mr. Grant Allen calls popular expositions of current evolutionary thought, published with a view of spreading more widely a knowledge of those great biological and cosmical doctrines which are revolutionising the European mind, and which owe their origin to the epoch-making works of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, personification is the order of the day; and flowers, plants, and trees there appear so highly endowed that no Alice in Wonderland could ever meet with greater marvels. We read that the dry brown petals in the woodrush have found out a new function to which they have adapted themselves (p. 17); that the wind-fertilised plants have a plan (p. 18); that the pretty nodding sedge has solved a problem by putting all the stamens in one head of the flowers at the top, and all the pistils in another head at the bottom (p. 19); that the red campion is successful in its efforts to attract the eyes of insects (p. 23), and so on.
There is very little to choose between all this and Dr. Nägel's demand that the province of mind should be extended not only to animals and plants, but that we should finally pass over from the organic to the inorganic world with our conceptions of the nature of mental operations : that, baving given plants their soul and endowed the cell with sensation and thought, we should finally come to speak of chemical atoms as hating or loving, seeking or flying from one another.?
But, lest I should seem to be prejudiced and selecting examples unfairly, I will take a quotation from one of the most attractive of the daily papers that do so much to the formation of public opinion on all manner of things, carefully bearing in mind meanwhile that non vi sed sæpe cadendo gutta cavat lapidem. The Pall Mall Gazette of September 1, 1882, commenting on the Reviews of the current month, described them as
not very rich in scientific papers. The most readable is that in the Fortnightly Review in which Mr. G. Allen displays his remarkable gift of lucid exposition in his attempt to answer the question "Who was primitive man?' Cave-men, he admits, were far too highly developed to supply the missing link. Even riverdrift men were too manly to be the first cousin to the anthropoid ape; but, by making dexterous use of a skull, a jawbone, a few fragmentary relics supposed to belong to races belonging to miocene and pliocene times, he draws the following very unattractive picture of the Adam of science, the supposed manlike animal who inanufactured the earliest known split flints :- The real primitive man apparently took to the outlying and open plain, perhaps bid in caves, and though probably still in part frugivorous, eked out his livelihood by hunting. We may not unjustifiably picture him to ourselves as a tall and hairy creature, more or less erect, but with a slouching gait, black-faced, and whiskered, with prominent prognathous muzzle, and large pointed canine teeth. His forehead was no doubt low and retreating, with many bosses underlying the shaggy eyebrows, which gave him a fierce expression something like that of the gorilla. But already, in all likelihood, he had learned to walk habitually erect, and had begun to develop a human pelvis, as well as to carry his head more straight on his shoulders.'
Is it possible to find a greater perversion of the word "science, 6 scientific,' than we have here? It is simply making science and hypothesis convertible terms. What business have supposed,' apparently,' 'perhaps, “probably,''not unjustifiably,''in all likelihood,' with science ? What weight can any assertions hanging upon them carry ? It makes one rub one's eyes and look again to see if one has read aright. And yet to how many readers swiftly receiving their impressions from a rapid perusal of the notice would the apparentlys and perhapses and probablys stand out from the vivid picture of the hideous gorilla that in all likelihood had learned to walk habitually
? Virchow, The Freedom of Science in the lucern State.
erect and had begun to develop a human pelvis ? •Habit dulls the senses and puts the critical faculty to sleep.'
Had Mr. Allen taken a lesson from Professor Virchow, and printed all his hypotheses in small type, perhaps his reviewer would not have been betrayed into miscalling his paper scientific. Scientia est potentia ; but now, as in Bacon's time, it does not mean speculative knowledge, or the knowledge of hypotheses : 8 it is knowledge through principles, the certain knowledge of truth which admits of demonstration and excludes the possibility of its contradictory being true. • Viewed subjectively, it is the certain and evident knowledge of the ultimate reasons or principles of truth attained by reasoning. Viewed objectively, it is the system of known truths belonging to the same order as a whole and depending upon one only principle.'9 Its value is now what it was in the days of Aristotle, and whoever perverts its meaning confounds and subverts language.
But great as is the manifest mischief being wrought in literature and natural science by the ruthless disregard of time-honoured terminology, it is even greater and more marked in the field of theology; ard nowhere has it been more flagrant or more lamentable than in a recent work that, from the reputation of its author, could not fail to attract the attention of a miscellaneous, indiscriminating multitude of readers.
Everyone who has read Ecce Homo with any degree of care must have felt that the author was a man capable of strong, close, consecutive thinking, however much they may have disapproved of his standpoint or disagreed with his conclusions. And the continued demand for the book—it has already gone through sixteen editions, would a priori be sufficient evidence, were other proof wanting, that a fresh work coming from the same author would be certain to bring with it the weight of authority for many, the expectation of originality for others, and the hope of novelty for not a few. Natural Religion quickly reached a second edition, and the authorised publication of a private letter from the author in The Spectator not long since, as well as frequent allusions to it, show that the interest in the book is not ephemeral.
In that letter the author of Natural Religion says, “I undertake
'Virchow, The Freedom of Science in the Modern State. 9 Cardinal Manning.
10 « Aristote explique la démonstration par son effet. Or la science ne se confond pas avec la science quelle qu'elle soit, mais c'est une connaissance par les causes. ... De cette définition découle que toute démonstration (parfaite) doit partir, non senlement de principes vrais, mais encore de principes imo édiats. Un principe immédiat est celui dont la vérité n'est pas connue seulementi u 'moyen de quelque autre principe et qui, par conséquent, n'a point de prémisses. Or ce qui est en ce sens connaissance première ou commencement ne peut pas être démontré, mais est certain par soi-même; aussi Aristote appelle-t-il ces principes immédiatement après, au lieu d'immédiats [àuéowr], principes indémontrables (pótwy åvarodelktwv].'Kleutgen, Phil sophie Scholastique.