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Yet my parents were kind, and we had a whole house to live in and plenty to eat. I was fairly intelligent, and at twenty-three gave evidence of this by passing with credit a difficult and comprehensive examination.
At twenty-five I mistook potatoes in a field for cabbages, walked three miles by road rather than cross a field in which were number of cows, was more afraid. of a bull than of a score of ghosts, while a dog threw me into a cold shiver, and I could neither climb a hill nor look down a well. I was never on a horse until I was forty-five, and then I descended from the dangerous eminence at the earliest possible opportunity and with great pleasure.
My career in life has been marked by want of readiness to use opportunities of success, and even more by want of power to appreciate them as opportunities. Now at fifty I am just beginning to see how often I have had such and how entirely I failed to seize them.
My son was also born in London, but after the first two years has lived entirely in the country, and travelled not only about England, but in Wales and in Ireland. He is now nearly seven, and will mount a ladder or climb a tree while I quaver about at its foot; will drive a horse that I am almost afraid to sit behind, and will go into his tub with a dog that I am almost afraid to look at; has as much self-confidence and promptitude at seven as I had at seventeen, and has had in eighty months as much enjoyment and happiness as I had in forty years, though mine has been a life remarkably free from trouble; and has cost not more, probably less, than was spent on my childhood; for it is room and freedom, not money, that children want.
The problem of the worth of life faces the inquirer in very different lines of research. It is not only the moralist and the theologian who find themselves involved in the perplexities of the harassing question. The historian who lets his eye wander over the wide spaces
of collective human experience can hardly forbear touching the deeply interesting issue. On another side the man of science, and more particularly the biologist, who surveys the yet wider region of conscious life in the animal kingdom, finds it natural enough to raise the question whether this mass of sentience is on the whole a good thing, crowning and perfecting nature's handiwork.
There is much that predisposes the biologist to take a favourable view of this aggregate animal life. The very picturesqueness of this play of vital force, rendering it so intensely interesting as an object of study, seems in a sense to justify it. And then, is not the whole region of organic action one great illustration of a controlling order and a skilful contrivance ? The naturalist has habitually been impressed with this appearance of design, and so has been wont to expatiate on the wisdom and goodness manifested in the arrangements of creation. Indeed, natural history has, till quite recently at least, served as a kind of nursery garden to optimistic theology, supplying this with its choicest facts and arguments.
There are no doubt some ugly circumstances that very soon force themselves on the attention of the biologist. Animal life as a whole, like human life, has its mystery of evil. The observation of the habits and conditions of life of different groups of animals soon brought to light the appalling fact that the beautiful harmony of organic nature consists to a considerable extent in a perpetual renewal of a certain proportion between destroyer and destroyed, captor and victim. The naturalist, if a man of sympathetic mind, could hardly overlook these obstacles to an easy optimism. Yet for the most part he has been so much under the influence of teleological ideas, that these terrible features of the organic scene have not produced their full effect on his mind.
This customary attitude of the scientific mind in relatiou to the problems raised by the optimist and the pessimist, is very well illustrated in the case of Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the distinguished living naturalist. Darwin wrote at the turn of the last century, his Phytologia, to which special reference is here made, appearing in 1800; and he shows the influence of the last century temper. That period was marked by a strange confidence in the glorious destiny of the race, and in the natural and unaided powers of the human mind to solve all the mystery of the universe. Thus it believed itself to be perfectly capable, apart from the artificial light of revelation, of arriving by the natural light of reason at the great truths of religion, and more particularly the existence of a wise and benevolent Creator. And this confidence is evidently shared in by Erasmus Darwin.
The writer's optimism breaks out in a curious chapter of the Phytologia, headed, "The Happiness of Organic Life' (sec. xix. ch. vii.). He begins by frankly admitting the odds against him. He is by no means blind to the dash of fierce cruelty that seems to have got somehow mixed up with the mild benevolence of creation. Indeed, he sets this forth with a grim irony that reminds one of Schopenhauer. "Such' (he exclaims) is the condition of organic nature! whose first law might be expressed in the words, “Eat, or be eaten!" and which would seem to be one great slaughter-house, one universal scene of rapacity and injustice. The writer, it should be observed, has previously argued that plants as well as animals have sensibility, and so undergo pain when destroyed, a doctrine which clearly includes the seemingly gentle herbivora among the slaughterers.
Yet, though putting the case thus strongly, Darwin very soon satisfies himself that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, whatever is is right. The facility with which the man of science here finds a 'benevolent idea' wherewith to console himself, reminds the reader of the way in which other writers of the last century, more particularly Hartley and Abraham Tucker, went to work to bolster up the theory of the best possible world. It shows, unmistakably, how deeply the thought of the age was penetrated and coloured by the optimistic temper.
Here is a sample of Darwin's mode of justifying the ways of God to man. He calls attention to the fact that the more vigorous destroy the less vigorous, and adds, that by this contrivance more pleasurable sensation exists in the world, as the organic matter is taken from a state of less irritability and less sensibility, and converted into a greater. One could wish that the writer had been more full and precise in the statement of this comforting scientific truth. Does he mean that the addition to the pleasure of a cat's existence by the devouring of a mouse, including that of the act itself, more than counterbalances the destruction of the mouse's pleasurable existence, together with the agonies undergone in the act of administering to its devourer's increased efficiency? This seems to be the allimportant point, yet it would be by no means easy to prove this pro
position. And even if this were satisfactorily established, there would remain the question whether the devourer is always organically superior to the devoured. According to what standard of organisation shall we rank the deadly snake above the sensitive quadruped which it crushes in its cruel embrace ? And what about the cases in which highly organised animals are slowly consumed by seemingly insignificant parasitic animals ? It is evident indeed that Darwin did not seriously apply himself to solve the dark problem of physical evil : in spite of the rhetoric about the great slaughter-house,' he probably felt his serenity of mind very little disturbed by the mystery.
Between Erasmus and Charles Darwin the interval is a long one. Biology is no longer the meek handmaid of an optimistic theology. The phenomena of organic life are no longer accounted for as the direct results of conscious intelligent purpose, but as consequences of natural and mechanical laws. The wondrous correlations and interdependences of life, its curious and beautiful adaptations, are now viewed as arising by a process that is as much a matter of mechanical necessity as the falling of an unsupported body to the ground.
At first sight it might seem that the doctrine of the origin of animal forms by natural selection would silence all the old-fashioned talk about the worth of life. We have seen that with the earlier naturalists the task of showing that the animal world has on the whole a not undesirable lot, was undertaken in the interests of the theologic conception of creation. To say that the world is very good, still more to say that it is the best possible, seems to imply that it has been made, that it is the product of workmanship, and so a legitimate matter of criticism. Now Darwinism may no doubt be reconcilable with ideas of intelligent creation, but nobody can fail to see that its immediate result is to dispense with the aid of these ideas in accounting for the world. And if, as is certainly conceivable, this efflorescence of sentient life on the surface of the globe is but the crystallisation of subtle material forces, if the living cosmos has evolved itself, aided by no prevision, however obscure, of its resultant form, where is the pertinence of calling it either good or bad ?
The human mind is much more than a logical machine. The problems that stir the deepest activities of our thought often start from some irrepressible emotional impulse. So it is here. Even though the doctrine of evolution appears to banish ideas of creative intelligence from the region of science far back into the misty region that defies the most piercing glances of man's intellect, the habit of looking at things as though ordered by a will is too firmly fixed in the constitution of our minds to allow us to forego our criticism of them. The natural craving for the best that is seen, the itch of our practical instincts to alter and amend, will never be completely controlled by the recognition of what Goethe calls the necessity which underlies our life. Even if the mosaic of life has been pieced together by unthinking forces, and its seeming pattern be a mere kaleidoscopic effect, due, not to the blind impulse that shapes it into symmetrical form, but simply to the way in which it is looked at, there is some sort of satisfaction in judging it according to the standard of our inherent wishes and our notions of commendable human action.
But, further, supposing we could ever shake off all relics of this anthropomorphic way of looking at things, the mere play of a wide sympathy with sentient life would probably suffice to keep our minds alert in relation to the question. How fares it with these countless offspring of natural forces, whose high degree of organisation somehow involves such various possibilities of weal and woe? To find out the proportions of suffering and happiness in the world can never be an uninteresting occupation. And the result of the inquiry may prove to be of vital consequence to the theology of the future, enfeebled as it will possibly be by the loss of some of its ancient supports.
Thus it has happened that Darwinism has been probed for a new answer to the old question respecting the worth of life. And in one sense it has expedited the solution of the problem by compelling men to look at the facts as they are, and apart from the optimist prepossessions which the theological view of the world could hardly fail to instil into their minds. The naturalist of to-day who concerns himself with the question of the desirability of life is much more likely than his predecessor to give us the results of a calm and unbiassed observation and calculation.
Mr. Darwin, whose strict conscientious fidelity to fact is patent to all who read him, has fully recognised the twofold aspect of life, its element of failure and cruel irony, its element of success and harmonious order. His particular way of accounting for the genesis of organic forms brings this habit of wide impartial observation clearly into view. The principle of natural selection points out with equal distinctness the two factors of dissonance and consonance which everywhere mingle in sentient existence. It tells us of a perpetual struggle in which many are predestined to fail; it tells us too of an emergence out of this sea of conflict of a stable organic cosmos, composed of efficient structures happily adapted to their external conditions. Just as the individual human life is ushered in by the pangs of travail, so the collective animal life is born amid the groans and travails of creation. Evil and good, pain and pleasure, failure and success, are thus firmly linked together. And this comprehensive
. view of the animal destiny is equally removed from an optimism whose jubilant song contains no sad reminiscence of pain, and from a pessimism which peevishly exclaims that life is an unmitigated ill.
Yet though Darwinism is thus inimical alike to the extreme forms of optimism and pessimism, it allows ample room for the play of individual judgment in considering the worth of life. It has been