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- On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals - 1/11 -


by Thomas H. Huxley

Multis videri poterit, majorem esso differentiam Simiae et Hominis, quam diei et noctis; verum tamen hi, comparatione instituta inter summos Europae Heroes et Hottentottos ad Caput bonae spei degentes, difficillime sibi persuadebunt, has eosdem habere natales; vel si virginem nobilem aulicam, maxime comtam et humanissimam, conferre vellent cum homine sylvestri et sibi relicto, vix augurari possent, hunc et illam ejusdem esse speciei.--'Linnaei Amoenitates Acad. "Anthropomorpha."'

THE question of questions for mankind--the problem which underlies all others, and is more deeply interesting than any other--is the ascertainment of the place which Man occupies in nature and of his relations to the universe of things. Whence our race has come; what are the limits of our power over nature, and of nature's power over us; to what goal we are tending; are the problems which present themselves anew and with undiminished interest to every man born into the world. Most of us, shrinking from the difficulties and dangers which beset the seeker after original answers to these riddles, are contented to ignore them altogether, or to smother the investigating spirit under the featherbed of respected and respectable tradition. But, in every age, one or two restless spirits, blessed with that constructive genius, which can only build on a secure foundation, or cursed with the spirit of mere scepticism, are unable to follow in the well-worn and comfortable track of their forefathers and contemporaries, and unmindful of thorns and stumbling-blocks, strike out into paths of their own. The sceptics end in the infidelity which asserts the problem to be insoluble, or in the atheism which denies the existence of any orderly progress and governance of things: the men of genius propound solutions which grow into systems of Theology or of Philosophy, or veiled in musical language which suggests more than it asserts, take the shape of the Poetry of an epoch.

Each such answer to the great question, invariably asserted by the followers of its propounder, if not by himself, to be complete and final, remains in high authority and esteem, it may be for one century, or it may be for twenty: but, as invariably, Time proves each reply to have been a mere approximation to the truth--tolerable chiefly on account of the ignorance of those by whom it was accepted, and wholly intolerable when tested by the larger knowledge of their successors.

In a well-worn metaphor, a parallel is drawn between the life of man and the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly; but the comparison may be more just as well as more novel, if for its former term we take the mental progress of the race. History shows that the human mind, fed by constant accessions of knowledge, periodically grows too large for its theoretical coverings, and bursts them asunder to appear in new habiliments, as the feeding and growing grub, at intervals, casts its too narrow skin and assumes another, itself but temporary. Truly the imago state of Man seems to be terribly distant, but every moult is a step gained, and of such there have been many.

Since the revival of learning, whereby the Western races of Europe were enabled to enter upon that progress towards true knowledge, which was commenced by the philosophers of Greece, but was almost arrested in subsequent long ages of intellectual stagnation, or, at most, gyration, the human larva has been feeding vigorously, and moulting in proportion. A skin of some dimension was cast in the 16th century, and another towards the end of the 18th, while, within the last fifty years, the extraordinary growth of every department of physical science has spread among us mental food of so nutritious and stimulating a character that a new ecdysis seems imminent. But this is a process not unusually accompanied by many throes and some sickness and debility, or, it may be, by graver disturbances; so that every good citizen must feel bound to facilitate the process, and even if he have nothing but a scalpel to work withal, to ease the cracking integument to the best of his ability.

In this duty lies my excuse for the publication of these essays. For it will be admitted that some knowledge of man's position in the animate world is an indispensable preliminary to the proper understanding of his relations to the universe--and this again resolves itself, in the long run, into an inquiry into the nature and the closeness of the ties which connect him with those singular creatures whose history* has been sketched in the preceding pages.

[footnote] * It will be understood that, in the preceding Essay, I have selected for notice from the vast mass of papers which have been written upon the man-like Apes, only those which seem to me to be of special moment.

The importance of such an inquiry is indeed intuitively manifest Brought face to face with these blurred copies of himself, the least thoughtful of men is conscious of a certain shock, due perhaps, not so much to disgust at the aspect of what looks like an insulting caricature, as to the awakening of a sudden and profound mistrust of time-honoured theories and strongly-rooted prejudices regarding his own position in nature, and his relations to the under-world of life; while that which remains a dim suspicion for the unthinking, becomes a vast argument, fraught with the deepest consequences, for all who are acquainted with the recent progress of the anatomical and physiological sciences.

I now propose briefly to unfold that argument, and to set forth, in a form intelligible to those who possess no special acquaintance with anatomical science, the chief facts upon which all conclusions respecting the nature and the extent of the bonds which connect man with the brute world must be based: I shall then indicate the one immediate conclusion which, in my judgment, is justified by those facts, and I shall finally discuss the bearing of that conclusion upon the hypotheses which have been entertained respecting the Origin of Man.

The facts to which I would first direct the reader's attention, though ignored by many of the professed instructors of the public mind, are easy of demonstration and are universally agreed to by men of science; while their significance is so great, that whoso has duly pondered over them will, I think, find little to startle him in the other revelations of Biology. I refer to those facts which have been made known by the study of Development.

It is a truth of very wide, if not of universal, application, that every living creature commences its existence under a form different from, and simpler than, that which it eventually attains.

FIG. 12.--A. Egg of the Dog, with the vitelline membrane burst, so as to give exit to the yolk, the germinal vesicle (a), and its included spot (b). B. C. D. E F. Successive changes of the yolk indicated in the text. After Bischoff.

The oak is a more complex thing than the little rudimentary plant contained in the acorn; the caterpillar is more complex than the egg; the butterfly than the caterpillar; and each of these beings, in passing from its rudimentary to its perfect condition, runs through a series of changes, the sum of which is called its Development. In the higher animals these changes are extremely complicated; but, within the last half century, the labours of such men as Von Baer, Rathke, Reichert, Bischof, and Remak, have almost completely unravelled them, so that the successive stages of development which are exhibited by a Dog, for example, are now as well known to the embryologist as are the steps of the metamorphosis of the silkworm moth to the school-boy. It will be useful to consider with attention the nature and the order of the stages of canine development, as an example of the process in the higher animals generally.

The Dog, like all animals, save the very lowest (and further inquiries may not improbably remove the apparent exception), commences its existence as an egg: as a body which is, in every sense, as much an egg as that of a hen, but is devoid of that accumulation of nutritive matter which confers upon the bird's egg its exceptional size and domestic utility; and wants the shell, which would not only be useless to an animal incubated within the body of its parent, but would cut it off from access to the source of that nutriment which the young creature requires, but which the minute egg of the mammal does not contain within itself.

The Dog's egg is, in fact, a little spheroidal bag (Fig. 12), formed of a delicate transparent membrane called the 'vitelline membrane', and about 1/130 to 1/120th of an inch in diameter. It contains a mass of viscid nutritive matter--the 'yelk'--within which is inclosed a second much more delicate spheroidal bag, called the 'germinal vesicle' (a). In this, lastly, lies a more solid rounded body, termed the 'germinal spot' (b).

The egg, or 'Ovum,' is originally formed within a gland, from which, in due season, it becomes detached, and passes into the living chamber fitted for its protection and maintenance during the protracted process of gestation. Here, when subjected to the required conditions, this minute and apparently insignificant particle of living matter becomes animated by a new and mysterious activity. The germinal vesicle and spot cease to be discernible (their precise fate being one of the yet unsolved problems of embryology), but the yelk becomes circumferentially indented, as if an invisible knife had been drawn round it, and thus appears divided into two hemispheres (Fig. 12, C).

By the repetition of this process in various planes, these hemispheres become subdivided, so that four segments are produced (D); and these, in like manner, divide and subdivide again, until the whole yelk is converted into a mass of granules, each of which consists of a minute spheroid of yelk-substance, inclosing a central particle, the so-called 'nucleus' (F). Nature, by this process, has attained much the same result as that at which a human artificer arrives by his operations in a brickfield. She takes the rough plastic material of the yelk and breaks it up into well-shaped tolerably even-sized masses, handy for building up into any part of the living edifice.

FIG. 13.--Earliest rudiment of the Dog. B. Rudiment further advanced, showing the foundations of the head, tail, and vertebral column. C. The very young puppy, with attached ends of the yelk-sac and allantois, and invested in the amnion.

Next, the mass of organic bricks, or 'cells' as they are technically called, thus formed, acquires an orderly arrangement, becoming converted into a hollow spheroid with double walls. Then, upon one side of this spheroid, appears a thickening, and, by and bye, in the centre of the area of thickening, a straight shallow groove (Fig. 13, A) marks the central line of the edifice which is to be raised, or, in other words, indicates the position of the middle line of the body of the future dog. The substance bounding the groove on each side next rises up into a fold, the rudiment of the side wall of that long cavity, which will eventually lodge the spinal marrow and the brain; and in the floor of this chamber appears a solid cellular cord, the so-called 'notochord.' One end of the inclosed cavity dilates to form the head (Fig. 13, B), the other remains narrow, and eventually becomes the tail; the side walls of the body are fashioned out of the downward

On the Relations of Man to the Lower Animals - 1/11

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