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- Luck or Cunning? - 1/44 -

Transcribed by David Price, email from the 1922 Jonathan Cape edition



This second edition of Luck, or Cunning? is a reprint of the first edition, dated 1887, but actually published in November, 1886. The only alterations of any consequence are in the Index, which has been enlarged by the incorporation of several entries made by the author in a copy of the book which came into my possession on the death of his literary executor, Mr. R. A. Streatfeild. I thank Mr. G. W. Webb, of the University Library, Cambridge, for the care and skill with which he has made the necessary alterations; it was a troublesome job because owing to the re-setting, the pagination was no longer the same.

Luck, or Cunning? is the fourth of Butler's evolution books; it was followed in 1890 by three articles in The Universal Review entitled "The Deadlock in Darwinism" (republished in The Humour of Homer), after which he published no more upon that subject.

In this book, as he says in his Introduction, he insists upon two main points: (1) the substantial identity between heredity and memory, and (2) the reintroduction of design into organic development; and these two points he treats as though they have something of that physical life with which they are so closely associated. He was aware that what he had to say was likely to prove more interesting to future generations than to his immediate public, "but any book that desires to see out a literary three-score years and ten must offer something to future generations as well as to its own." By next year one half of the three-score years and ten will have passed, and the new generation by their constant enquiries for the work have already begun to show their appreciation of Butler's method of treating the subject, and their readiness to listen to what was addressed to them as well as to their fathers.



This book, as I have said in my concluding chapter, has turned out very different from the one I had it in my mind to write when I began it. It arose out of a conversation with the late Mr. Alfred Tylor soon after his paper on the growth of trees and protoplasmic continuity was read before the Linnean Society--that is to say, in December, 1884--and I proposed to make the theory concerning the subdivision of organic life into animal and vegetable, which I have broached in my concluding chapter, the main feature of the book. One afternoon, on leaving Mr. Tylor's bedside, much touched at the deep disappointment he evidently felt at being unable to complete the work he had begun so ably, it occurred to me that it might be some pleasure to him if I promised to dedicate my own book to him, and thus, however unworthy it might be, connect it with his name. It occurred to me, of course, also that the honour to my own book would be greater than any it could confer, but the time was not one for balancing considerations nicely, and when I made my suggestion to Mr. Tylor on the last occasion that I ever saw him, the manner in which he received it settled the question. If he had lived I should no doubt have kept more closely to my plan, and should probably have been furnished by him with much that would have enriched the book and made it more worthy of his acceptance; but this was not to be.

In the course of writing I became more and more convinced that no progress could be made towards a sounder view of the theory of descent until people came to understand what the late Mr. Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection amounted to, and how it was that it ever came to be propounded. Until the mindless theory of Charles Darwinian natural selection was finally discredited, and a mindful theory of evolution was substituted in its place, neither Mr. Tylor's experiments nor my own theories could stand much chance of being attended to. I therefore devoted myself mainly, as I had done in "Evolution Old and New," and in "Unconscious Memory," to considering whether the view taken by the late Mr. Darwin, or the one put forward by his three most illustrious predecessors, should most command our assent.

The deflection from my original purpose was increased by the appearance, about a year ago, of Mr. Grant Allen's "Charles Darwin," which I imagine to have had a very large circulation. So important, indeed, did I think it not to leave Mr. Allen's statements unchallenged, that in November last I recast my book completely, cutting out much that I had written, and practically starting anew. How far Mr. Tylor would have liked it, or even sanctioned its being dedicated to him, if he were now living, I cannot, of course, say. I never heard him speak of the late Mr. Darwin in any but terms of warm respect, and am by no means sure that he would have been well pleased at an attempt to connect him with a book so polemical as the present. On the other hand, a promise made and received as mine was, cannot be set aside lightly. The understanding was that my next book was to be dedicated to Mr. Tylor; I have written the best I could, and indeed never took so much pains with any other; to Mr. Tylor's memory, therefore, I have most respectfully, and regretfully, inscribed it.

Desiring that the responsibility for what has been done should rest with me, I have avoided saying anything about the book while it was in progress to any of Mr Tylor's family or representatives. They know nothing, therefore, of its contents, and if they did, would probably feel with myself very uncertain how far it is right to use Mr. Tylor's name in connection with it. I can only trust that, on the whole, they may think I have done most rightly in adhering to the letter of my promise.

October 15, 1886.


I shall perhaps best promote the acceptance of the two main points on which I have been insisting for some years past, I mean, the substantial identity between heredity and memory, and the reintroduction of design into organic development, by treating them as if they had something of that physical life with which they are so closely connected. Ideas are like plants and animals in this respect also, as in so many others, that they are more fully understood when their relations to other ideas of their time, and the history of their development are known and borne in mind. By development I do not merely mean their growth in the minds of those who first advanced them, but that larger development which consists in their subsequent good or evil fortunes--in their reception, favourable or otherwise, by those to whom they were presented. This is to an idea what its surroundings are to an organism, and throws much the same light upon it that knowledge of the conditions under which an organism lives throws upon the organism itself. I shall, therefore, begin this new work with a few remarks about its predecessors.

I am aware that what I may say on this head is likely to prove more interesting to future students of the literature of descent than to my immediate public, but any book that desires to see out a literary three-score years and ten must offer something to future generations as well as to its own. It is a condition of its survival that it shall do this, and herein lies one of the author's chief difficulties. If books only lived as long as men and women, we should know better how to grow them; as matters stand, however, the author lives for one or two generations, whom he comes in the end to understand fairly well, while the book, if reasonable pains have been taken with it, should live more or less usefully for a dozen. About the greater number of these generations the author is in the dark; but come what may, some of them are sure to have arrived at conclusions diametrically opposed to our own upon every subject connected with art, science, philosophy, and religion; it is plain, therefore, that if posterity is to be pleased, it can only be at the cost of repelling some present readers. Unwilling as I am to do this, I still hold it the lesser of two evils; I will be as brief, however, as the interests of the opinions I am supporting will allow.

In "Life and Habit" I contended that heredity was a mode of memory. I endeavoured to show that all hereditary traits, whether of mind or body, are inherited in virtue of, and as a manifestation of, the same power whereby we are able to remember intelligently what we did half an hour, yesterday, or a twelvemonth since, and this in no figurative but in a perfectly real sense. If life be compared to an equation of a hundred unknown quantities, I followed Professor Hering of Prague in reducing it to one of ninety-nine only, by showing two of the supposed unknown quantities to be so closely allied that they should count as one. I maintained that instinct was inherited memory, and this without admitting more exceptions and qualifying clauses than arise, as it were, by way of harmonics from every proposition, and must be neglected if thought and language are to be possible.

I showed that if the view for which I was contending was taken, many facts which, though familiar, were still without explanation or connection with our other ideas, would remain no longer isolated, but be seen at once as joined with the mainland of our most assured convictions. Among the things thus brought more comfortably home to us was the principle underlying longevity. It became apparent why some living beings should live longer than others, and how any race must be treated whose longevity it is desired to increase. Hitherto we had known that an elephant was a long-lived animal and a fly short-lived, but we could give no reason why the one should live longer than the other; that is to say, it did not follow in immediate coherence with, or as intimately associated with, any familiar principle that an animal which is late in the full development of its reproductive system will tend to live longer than one which reproduces early. If the theory of "Life and Habit" be

Luck or Cunning? - 1/44

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