An Old Book and a New One
Theosophist, December, 1879
The nineteenth century is the century of struggle and strife, par excellence; of religious, political, social, and philosophical conflict. The biologists could and would not remain silent witnesses of this memorable crisis. Clad from head to foot in the panoply of exact sciences; hardened in battles against ignorance, superstition and falsehood, they rushed to their places in the ranks of the fighters and, as those having authority, began the work of demolition.
But who destroys ought to rebuild; and exact science does nothing of the kind, at least so far as the question of the highest psychological aspirations of humanity is concerned. Strange to say, yet nevertheless an incontrovertible fact, the duty has fallen upon the daily augmenting body of Spiritualists, to sweep away the mangled debris of the warfare, and rebuild from the ruins of the past something more tangible, more unassailable than the dreamy doctrines of theology. From the first, Spiritualism has fortified its positions by ocular demonstrations, slowly but surely replacing fanciful hypothesis and blind faith with a series of phenomena which, when genuine, invite the crucial tests of the most exacting experimentalists.
It is one of the most curious features of the day, to see science in her double rôle of the aggressor and attacked. And it is a sight, indeed, to follow the steady advance of the columns of “infidelity” against the strongholds of the Church, simultaneously with the pushing back of materialism towards its last entrenchments by the Spiritualists. Both the fundamental doctrines of theology, and the cold negations of science, have of late been successfully assailed by learned and skillful writers. And, it can hardly be denied, that there are strong indications of wavering on the part of both the attacked parties, with an evident disposition to capitulate. The “Speaker’s Commentary”, followed by the new edition of the revised Bible, giving up as it despairingly does, the hitherto treasured Mosaic miracles, and the recent additions to the party of the Spiritualists of more than one great man of science, are impressive facts. Canon Farrar, of Westminster Abbey, destroys the old-fashioned belief in the eternity of hell, and the veteran and learned philosopher, Dr. Fichte of Germany, dying, all but confesses his belief in the philosophy of Spiritualism! Alas, for the Philistines of Biology; this Goliath whom they but put forth as their champion was slain by a single medium, and the spear which seemed as big and strong “as a weaver’s beam,” has pierced their own sides!
The most recent development of this double conflict is a work which comes just at a time to palliate the evil effects of another one which preceded it. We refer to “The Mechanism of Man”, by Mr. Serjeant Cox, “Die Anthropogenie” of Professor Haeckel. The latter had sown wind and reaped the whirlwind; and a furious hurricane it was at one time. The public had begun to look up to the Jena professor as to a new saviour from the “dark superstitions” of the forefathers. Reaction had come. Between the dying infallibility of the Churches, the not over-satisfactory results of Spiritualism, and, for the average masses, far too deep and philosophical researches of Herbert Spencer, Bain, and the great lights of exact Science, the public was hesitating and perplexed. On the one hand, it had a strong, and ever growing desire to follow a progress that went hand in hand with science; but, notwithstanding its late conquests, science finds missing links at every step, dreary blanks in its knowledge, ‘chasms’ on whose brinks its votaries shudder, fearing to cross. On the other hand, the absurdly unjust ridicule cast upon the believers in phenomena, held back the general public from personal investigation. True, the Church or rather the “schoolmen’s philosophy,” miscalled Christianity, as Huxley has it, was daily offering to compromise, and with but a slight effort of diplomacy one might remain within the fold, while disbelieving even in a personal devil, without risking to “smell of the faggott.”
But the spell was broken and the prestige quite gone. For faith there is no middle ground. It must be either completely blind, or it will see too much. Like water, it ceases to be pure as soon as the smallest foreign ingredient is introduced.
The public is a big child; cunning yet trusting, diffident and yet credulous. Is it cause for wonder then, that while it hesitated between the conflicting parties, a man like Haeckel, vain and presumptuous, notwithstanding his great learning, ever ready to dogmatize upon problems for the solution of which humanity has thirsted for ages, and which no true philosophical mind will dare presume to answer conclusively—secured at one time the greatest attention for his Anthropogeny? Between men like Balfour Stewart, Du Bois-Reymond, and other honest scientists, who confess their ignorance, and one who proclaims that he has solved every riddle of life, and that nature has disclosed to him her last mystery, the public will rarely hesitate. As one of Haeckel’s critics remarks, a street quack, with his panacea medicine, will often secure a far more liberal and numerous audience than an honest and cautious physician. Anthropogeny has plunged more minds into a profound materialism than any other book of which we have knowledge. Even the great Huxley was at one time inclined (see “Darwin and Haeckel,” Pop. Science Monthly for March, 1875), more than was needed, to support Haeckel’s views, and laud his book, which he called “a milestone indicating the progress of the theory of evolution,” a “real life book, full of power and genius, and based upon a foundation of practical, original work, to which few living men can offer a parallel.” Whether the father of Protoplasm continues to think so to this day, is a matter of little consequence, though we doubt it. The public, at least, was speedily disabused by the combined efforts of the greatest minds of Europe.
In this famous work of Haeckel’s, not only is man refused a soul, but an ancestor is forced upon him, in the shape of a formless, gelatinous Bathybius Haeckelis,—the protoplasmic root of man—which dwelt in the slime at the bottom of the seas “before the oldest of the fossiliferous rocks were deposited.” Having transformed himself, in good time, into a series of interesting animals—some consisting of but one bowel, and others of a single nose (Monorhinae), all evolved out of Professor Haeckel’s fathomless ingenuity, our genealogical line is led up to, and stops abruptly at the soulless man!
We have nothing whatever against the physical side of the theory of evolution, the general theory of which we thoroughly accept ourselves; neither against Haeckel’s worms, fishes, mammals, nor, finally, the tailless anthropoid—all of which he introduces to fill up the hiatus between ape and man—as our forefathers. No more do we object to his inventing names for them and coupling them with his own. What we object to is the utter unconcern of the Jena professor as to the other side of the theory of evolution: to the evolution of spirit, silently developing and asserting itself more and more with every newly perfected form.
What we again object to is that the ingenious evolutionist not only purposely neglects, but in several places actually sneers at the idea of a spiritual evolution, progressing hand in hand with the physical, though he might have done it as scientifically as he did the rest and—more honestly. He would thereby have missed, perhaps, the untimely praises of the protoplasmic Huxley, but won for his Anthropogeny the thanks of the public. Per se, the theory of evolution is not new, for every cosmogony—even the Jewish Genesis, for him who understands it—has it. And Manu who places special creation with periodical revolutions or Pralayas, followed, many thousands of years ago, the chain of transformation from the lowest animal to the highest—man, even more comprehensively if less scientifically (in the modern sense of the word) than Haeckel. Had the latter held more to the spirit of the modern discoveries of biology and physiology than to their dead-letter and his own theories, he would have led, perhaps, a new hegira of science separating itself violently from the cold materialism of the age. No one—not even the staunchest apostle of Positivism—will deny that the more we study the organisms of the animal world, and assure ourselves that the organ of all psychical manifestation is the nervous system, the more we find the necessity of plunging deeper into the metaphysical world of psychology, beyond the boundary line hitherto marked for us by the materialists. The line of demarcation between the two modes of life of the vegetable and animal worlds is yet terra incognita for every naturalist. And no more will anyone protest against the scientifically established truism that intelligence manifests itself in direct proportion with the cerebral development, in the consecutive series of the animal world. Following then, the development of this system alone—from the automatic motions produced by the simple process of what is called the reflex action of the ascidian mollusk, for instance, the instinctive motions of the bee, up to the highest order of mammalians and ending, finally, with man—if we invariably find an unbroken ratio of steady increase in cerebral development, hence—a corresponding increase of reasoning powers, of intelligence—the deduction becomes irresistible that there must be a spiritual as well as a physical evolution.
This is the A.B.C. of physiology. And are we to be told that there is no further development, no future evolution for man? That there is a prospect on earth for the caterpillar to become a butterfly, for the tadpole to develop into a higher form, and for every bird to live after it has rid itself of its shell, while for man, who has evoluted from the lowest to the highest point of physical and mental development on this earth, all further conscious, sentient development is to be arrested by the dissolution of his material organization? That, just as he has reached the culminating point, and the world of soul begins unfolding before his mind; just as the assurance of another and a better life begins dawning upon him; his memory, reason, feeling, consciousness, intelligence, and all his highest aspirations are to desert him in one brief moment, and go out into eternal darkness? Were it so, knowledge, science, life, and all nature itself, would be the most idiotic of farces? If we are told that such a research does not pertain to the province of positive sciences, that no exact and accurate deductions are to be made out of purely metaphysical premises, then we will inquire, why should then deductions, as hypothetical deductions, from purely imaginary data, as in the case of Haeckel’s Bathybius and tailless anthropoid, be accepted as scientific truths, as no such missing link has ever yet been found, any more than it has been proved that the invertebrated moner, the grandparent of the lovely amphioxus, or that philosophical recluse—the Bathybius, ever existed?
But now, peace to the ashes of our direct ancestor! The venerable Professor Virchow, backed by an army of infuriated naturalists, passing like the powerful khamsin, the wind of the desert, over the plains of hypothetical speculations, destroyed all our best hopes for a closer acquaintance with our noble relatives of the slimy ooze. Beginning with Bathybius, whom he dragged out of his sea-mud—to show he was not there—the Berlin savant evinced no more respect for the Simiae Catarrhinae (our tail-blessed ancestor) whom he hurled back into non-being. He went further and crushed out of existence even the beautiful tailless ape—the missing link! So strong was the reaction of thought as to the merits of Haeckel’s work, that it well-nigh knocked off his legs even the innocent though first cause of Anthropogeny—the great Charles Darwin, himself.
But the mischief is done, and it requires mighty powerful restoratives to bring the ex-admirers of Haeckel back to a belief in the human soul. Serjeant Cox’s “The Mechanism of Man: An answer to the Question: What Am I?” now in its third edition, will remain as one of the most powerful answers to the soul-destroying sophistry of Heackel and his like. It is quite refreshing to find that a work upon such an unwelcome subject—to the men of science—a book which treats of psychology and its phenomena, is so eagerly welcomed by the educated public. In reviewing it, a London weekly very truly remarks that:
“The Scientists have had a capital time of it lately; they have been able to raise a cloud of doubts about the most serious questions of life; but they have not been able to solve one of the difficulties they raised. Into the arena which they occupied few men dared to enter and withstand them, so that the boastful cry the Scientists raised has gone echoing far and wide, that the old foundations of belief in Immortality were myths, fit for weak-minded people. In Serjeant Cox, however, the timid believers have found champion able to fight the Scientists with their own weapons; able to pursue the theories raised by them to their ultimate conclusions; able to unmask the pretentious arrogance of men who would destroy simply because they cannot appreciate; men who would pull down, but cannot build up anything to take the place of the wrecked structure.”
But we will now let the author speak for himself:
“The Scientists began by denial of the facts and phenomena, not by disproof of them; by argument a priori that they cannot be and therefore are not. That failing, the next step was to discredit the witnesses. They were not honest; if honest, they were not competent; if competent by general intelligence and experience, in the particular instances they were the victims of illusion or delusion. That is the present position of the controversy. The assertion is still repeated here, with entire confidence, that the Mechanism of Man is directed and determined by some intelligent force within itself; that the existence of that force is proved by the facts and phenomena attendant upon the motions of that mechanism in its normal and its abnormal conditions; that this force is by the same evidence proved to be the product of something other than the molecular mechanism of the body; that this something is an entity distinct from that molecular structure, capable of action beyond and apart from it; that this Something is what is called SOUL, and that this soul lives after it has parted from the body.”
This subject, that man has a soul—which so many men of science, especially physicians and psychologists deny—is treated in the work under notice with the utmost ability. Numberless new avenues—as the result of such a knowledge when proved—are opened to us by this able pioneer; and under his skillful treatment that hope which was blighted for the moment by the brutal hand of Positivism, is rekindled in the reader’s breast, and death is made to lose its terrors. So confident is the author that upon the solution of this enigma—which is one but to those who will not see—depend the most important questions to humanity, such as disease, old age, chronic and nervous sufferings, many of which are now considered as beyond human help, that he thinks that a perfect acquaintance with psychology will be of the utmost help in treating even the most obstinate diseases. He pointedly reminds his readers that:
“It seems scarcely credible, but it is literally true that the most learned physician cannot tell us by what process any one medicine he administers performs its cures! He can say only that experience has shown certain effects as often found to follow the exhibition of certain drugs. But he certainly does not know how those drugs produce those effects. It is strange and distressing to observe what irrational prejudices still prevail in all matters connected with the physiology of body and mind, and their mutual relationship and influences, even among persons otherwise well informed and who deem themselves educated. It is still more strange that not the least prejudiced nor the least instructed in these subjects are to be found in the profession whose business it is to keep the human machine in sound working condition.”
Serjeant Cox need scarcely hope to count the practising physicians among his admirers. His last remark is more applicable to Chinese medicine, whose practitioners are paid by their patients only so long as they preserve their health, and have their pay stopped at the first symptoms of disease in their patrons—than in Europe. It seems rather the “business” of the European doctor to keep the human machine in an unsound condition. Human suffering is for European physicians, as the torments of purgatory for the priest—a perennial source of income.
But the author suggests that “the cause of this ignorance of the laws of life, of Mental Physiology and of Psychology” is that “they are not studied as we study the structure which that Life moves and that Intelligence directs.” He asks whether it has
“never occurred to the Physician and the Mental Philosopher that possibly in the laws of life, in the physiology of mind, in the relationship of the conscious Self and the body, more even than in the structure itself, are to be found the causes of many of the maladies to which that structure is subject. Therefore, that in the investigation of these laws, the secret is to be sought of the operation of remedies, rather than in the molecular structure where for centuries the Doctors have been exclusively hunting for them with so little success?”
Dr. Wm. A. Hammond, of New York, the famous professor of diseases of the mind and nervous system, experimented for years with the celebrated “Perkins’ tractors,” metal discs, whose fame at one time nearly came to grief, through the cunning fraud of an English speculator. This man, who was making a specialty of the metallic treatment, was detected in imitating the expensive gold, silver, copper, and nickel rings, with rings of wood painted or gilded. But the results were not changed; patients were cured! Now this is a clear case of psychological and mesmeric power. And Dr. Hammond himself calls it “nothing more than the power of one mind over another.” This noted materialist is thoroughly convinced that if one person suggests an idea to another who has complete faith in that person’s power, the one acted upon will experience all the sensations the operator may suggest to him. He has made a number of experiments and even published presumably learned papers upon the subject. And yet Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and occult psychological phenomena in general, upon the investigation of which Serjeant Cox lays the greatest stress, have no bitterer enemy or more active opponent than the New York celebrity. We need only recall his dogmatic attitude in the case of Miss Mollie Fancher, of Brooklyn, a respectable young girl, who, according to the statement of Dr. Charles E. West, has lived without any food for over nine years. This extraordinary girl never sleeps—her frequent trances being the only rest she obtains; she reads sealed letters as though they were open; describes distant friends; though completely blind, perfectly discriminates colours; and finally, though her right hand is rigidly drawn up behind her head, by a permanent paralysis, makes embroidery upon canvas, and produces in wax, without having taken a lesson in the art, and with neither a knowledge of botany nor even models to copy, flowers of a most marvellously natural appearance. In the case of this phenomenal patient, there are numbers of thoroughly reliable and well educated witnesses to testify for the genuineness of the phenomena. The joint testimony of several respectable clergymen, of Professor West, of Mr. H. Parkhurst, the astronomer, and of such physicians as Drs. Speir, Ormiston, Kissam and Mitchell, is on record. With all this examined and proved, Dr. Hammond, notwithstanding his personal experience of the “power of mind over matter,” had not a jot to give the reporter in explanation of the phenomenon, but the words “humbug! . . . a clear case of deception! . . . Simply the deception of a hysterical girl, Sir”. . . “But has she deceived all these clergymen and physicians, and for years?” inquired the reporter.
“Oh, that’s nothing. Clergymen are the most gullible men in the world, and physicians who have not made a study of nervous diseases are apt to be imposed upon by these girls.” . . . (The N.Y. Sun, of Nov. 25th, 1878).
We doubt whether even Serjeant Cox’s able book, though he is President of the Psychological Society of Great Britain and ought to be a competent witness, will make any more impression upon such a mind as that of the physician Hammond than a ball of snow upon the rock. And since the multitude suffers itself to be led by such sciolists as he, this able book may have to wait another generation before receiving that need of appreciation which it merits. And yet, no author treating on psychology has ever built up with more scientific precision or force of argument his proofs of the existence of a soul in man, and its manifestation in the “mechanism of man.” He concludes the work with the following remarks:
“Scientists may sneer at Psychology as being visionary science, based upon mere assumption and dealing with that whose very existence is problematical. But its subject matter is as real as that with which they deal. Even were it not so, the more important it would be that the study of it should be pursued, with an honest endeavour to ascertain if the foundation on which it is erected be sound or baseless—that if, after due investigation, it be found to be false, the world may cease from a vain labour; but that, if it be proved a truth, Man may have the blessed assurance that, as a fact and not merely as a faith, he has a Soul and inherits an Immortality.”
We wish all such learned authors completest success in their noble efforts to bring back humanity to the Light of Truth—but we have but little hope for the XIXth century.