The Genesis of Genius

IN The Atlantic Monthly for October, 1880, Dr. William James set forth a brilliant and interesting paper upon the subject of Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment, in which he traversed sundry theories of Mr. Herbert Spencer and other evolutionists. Among them, he devoted several pages to a friendly demolition of my humble self, and more particularly of diverse thoughts of mine on the evolution of national character which I had ventured to propound in the Gentleman’s Magazine, some three years since. I am so little accustomed to the dignity of being publicly controverted that I come forward with much diffidence to meet his kindly censure; but as the editor has courteously placed a few pages at my disposal, I shall so far trespass upon his space as briefly to enter into the principal questions in Dr. James’s essay which specially affect my own statements. As to the general issues which he raises against Mr. Spencer and others, they may be safely left in the able hands of Professor Fiske, who, I learn, will already have answered Dr. James in this review before the present article appears. Accordingly, I shall make no apology for confining my attention strictly to those parts of my assailant’s argument which are immediately directed against my own positions. And, first of all, I must start by thanking Dr. James for the uniform kindness and courtesy with which he has always treated my writings, — a courtesy which I shall endeavor to imitate in the present paper.

Dr. James begins by asserting as mine an opinion which I was not previously aware of maintaining, — “that individuals have no initiative in determining social change.” Such an opinion is of course, on the very face of it, absurd ; and one may reasonably doubt if it was ever held by anybody, even in the worst wards of Colney Hatch Asylum. To say that Wickliffe, Luther, and Calvin had nothing to do with initiating the Protestant Reformation, that Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin had nothing to do with initiating the American Revolution, is clearly nonsense. But to say that “ the differences between one nation and another, whether in intellect, commerce, art, morals, or general temperament, ultimately depend, not upon any mysterious properties of race, nationality, or any other unknown and unintelligible abstractions, but simply and solely upon the physical circumstances to which they are exposed,” is quite another thing. The power which a nation possesses of producing a Phidias, a Pericles, and an Æschylus, of begetting Washingtons, Lincolns, and Grants, who may in turn initiate such changes at the ripe moment, is the real problem for which we have to account. That the whole social history of a race depends in part upon the interaction of its units, and especially of those exceptional units whom we call great men, any child can see, and none but a fool could deny. But the causes which produce these great men are the things which we want to find out. That Hellas was Hellas in virtue of her individual poets and statesmen and philosophers ; that Rome was Rome in virtue of her Scipios, her Cæsars, and her Ciceros ; that England is England in virtue of her Shakespeares, her Newtons, and her Hampdens, and, I grieve to say, in virtue also of her Pitts, her Clives, and her Beaconsfields, — all this is as clear as the sun in the heavens. But why Hellas rather than India or China should produce a Socrates and an Aristotle, a Parthenon and a Prometheus ; why Rome rather than Cære or Tusculum should produce a race of ruthless conquerors and marvelous administrators ; why England rather than Central Africa should produce a Novum Organon and a Paradise Lost, or rather than France and Germany should colonize America and enslave India, •— these are the questions which really call for philosophical explanation. To put a simple parallel case, I have ventured to assert that all the heat which drives the steam-engine comes from the coal in the furnace : Dr. James accuses me of neglecting the hot water in the boiler, and declares it to be my opinion that the engine would go equally well if the water were as cold as ice. I answer that the water must certainly be boiling, but that no water boils itself, and that the heat which makes it work the piston and turn the crank all comes ultimately from the coal in the furnace. Or, to translate the metaphor into terms of the present discussion, individual men are the units whose movements make up social changes ; but the individual characters themselves, in their totality, are wholly created by the external circumstances.

First of all, we must remember that we have to deal, not with the great men only, but with the average men of each race. Shakespeare and Newton, and Clive and Hampden, and even Henry VIII., have done much to make England just what she is for good and for evil; but the ordinary law-loving, stubborn, hard-headed, stolid, energetic Englishman has done a great deal more. What we English now are we owe a little to William the Norman and Henry the Angevin, to Cromwell and to Wellington, to Wickliffe and to Wesley, to Darwin and to Spencer; but we owe it a great deal more to the nameless pirates who peopled Kent and East Anglia, to the hunted Celts who hung on to life and liberty in Wales and Cornwall, to the unknown yeomen and artisans of the Middle Ages, to the forgotten Puritans, the buried merchants, the manufacturers and inventors and toilers of later times. What you Americans now are you owe in part to those noble men who gave you your constitution, and to those great workers and soldiers who preserved the Union ; but you owe a thousand times more — you above every nation upon earth — to the average American citizen, and to his predecessors, the average colonists of the older days, and the average European settlers of the present time. After Mr. Galton, there is little need to demonstrate that great men themselves are but slight deviations from a general level of intelligence or taste, just as fools are slight deviations on the other side. Except in a generally mechanical race, you will not find a Watt or an Edison ; except in a generally literary race, you will not find a Shakespeare or a Goethe ; except in a generally æsthetic race, you will not find a Lionardo or a Beethoven. We never see an inborn Raphael at Memphis discovering all the laws of perspective offhand ; we never see an original Channing or Howard springing at once into existence amongst the head-hunting Dyaks ; we never see an incongruous Newton hitting suddenly upon the law of gravitation in some Zulu village. The great problem for our solution is this: How did Athens, or Rome, or mediæval Italy, attain its general character? and then we can easily answer tlie further questions, How did they turn out from time to time a Plato, a Pompeius, or a Michelangelo ?

Every race possesses a certain mean of character, intellectual, emotional, moral, and æsthetic. From this mean variations arise in every particular on either side ; and how they arise we shall inquire further on. But for the present it is sufficient to point out that the variations always bear a certain general proportion to the mean : they seldom very largely deflect from it in either direction, and never very largely in the direction of higher or increased powers. The average Englishman has a certain fairly fixed moral, intellectual, and æsthetic nature. Even our deviations are not extreme. A bad Englishman is not usually a cannibal, like the Fijians: a Stupid Englishman is not, as a rule, unable to count five, like the Bushmen ; a Philistine Englishman does not habitually beat a tom-tom, or smear himself with putrid fat, like the Hottentots. On the other hand, our upward variations are likewise in a certain proportion to our mean. Even a Darwin or a Spencer stands at a comparatively measurable distance from the average run of our naturalists and our philosophical thinkers ; even Mr. Morris and Sir Frederick Leighton are in the same category with our average water-color painters and decorative artists. We shall, I hope, see reason hereafter to think that these exceptional individuals are traceable to the convergence of certain special lines of descent; and as such convergences must, on an average, occur, in a settled number of births, a settled number of times, it may fairly be said that the exceptions are necessary products of the mean. And as such exceptions vary only within modest limits — as the exceptional Hottentots and Digger Indians are at bottom Hottentots and Digger Indians still, while the Platos and Cæsars and Schillers are at bottom Hellenes, or Romans, or Germans still — it may be fairly said to follow that whatever accounts for the mean accounts for the variations as well. For this reason it seems to me that the geographical Hellas — to take a concrete example — not only produced the average Athenians and Syracusans, but also equally produced the Aristotles and Euclids and Archimedes whom the prior existence of the average Athenian and Syracusan alone made possible.

Nor must we overrate the value of the particular great men, individually, as initiators of social change, when viewed in opposition to that general tendency to produce great men which results from the convergence of certain special stocks, and which makes each particular type of great man to some extent a drug in the market of countries like Hellas, England, and America. Dr. James asks, for example, whether England would have to-day an “ imperial ” ideal, “if a certain boy named Bob Clive had shot himself, as he tried to [do], at Madras.” It is much to be feared that she would. Experience of the greedy predatory class produced in England by survival of feudal families, by our still aristocratic government, and by our complication with European politics leads one to fear that if that particular Bob Clive had duly shot himself another and equally unscrupulous Bob Clive would have stolen Bengal all the same. Our circumstances have, unhappily, created amongst us a class of Bob Clive begetters ; and whenever there is a Zululand or an Afghanistan to annex, some Sir Bartle Frere is forthcoming at once to annex it. So, in America, the moment a need arises, you find Washingtons and Franklins, Grants and Sewards,ready to hand by the dozen. If the fabulous Indian had shot the original Washington at his first aim, if whooping-cough had carried off Abraham Lincoln in a Western shanty, the Union would doubtless now be just as intact as ever, and none the less be filled with cheap lithographs of some Jenkins or Smithson who was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. And can Dr. James be serious in supposing that nineteenthcentury America would have been almost destitute of naturalists but for the one “ magnetic personality ” of Agassiz ? Why, naturalists grow “spontaneously” in such an environment as that of New England.

Briefly put, it is the English nation, the American nation, and the Hellenic nation which need explanation, and whose explanation is to be found in two things, — the stock from which they each descend, and the circumstances in which they are respectively placed. Given these things, the Clives and Washingtons and Alcibiades all follow as a matter of course. Differences of detail there may be in the history, which it is impossible for us, in our general ignorance of detail, to follow out. But that the deviations are products of the mean is a fact which we have only to look about us in order to see.

“ A national mind,” says Dr. James, “differentiates ‘ itself’ whenever a genius is born in its midst, by reason of causes acting in the invisible and molecular cycle.” But this invisible and molecular cycle I emphatically deny. Dr. James tries to show that geniuses belong to the same class of phenomena as what Darwin calls “ spontaneous variations.” The phrase is a most unfortunate and misleading one, and it is much to be regretted that the father of rational biology should ever have permitted himself to use it, even with his careful explanation of its meaning. Many variations are known to be directly produced by the action of external circumstances ; and even where we cannot prove such a direct action we have good reason for believing in its existence. For example, Mr. Wallace has pointed out that certain insular habitats seem to produce certain special colors in birds and butterflies. Let us see whether something of the same sort is the case with the human mind. Are the variations really “spontaneous,” even in Mr. Darwin’s guarded sense of the word, or have they not always, on the contrary, an obvious external cause ? First, we will hear Dr. James’s view of the question, and then we will try to examine its validity.

“ So of the Greek mind,” says Dr. James, discoursing concerning eggs and omelets. “ To get such versatile intelligence it may be that such commercial dealings with the world as the geographical Hellas afforded are a necessary condition. But if they are a sufficient condition, why did not the Phœnicians outstrip the Greeks in intelligence? No geographical environment can produce a given type of mind. It can only foster and further certain types fortuitously produced, and thwart and frustrate others. Once again, its function is simply selective, and determines what shall actually be only by destroying what is positively incompatible.”

Before I proceed to examine the passages which I have taken the liberty to italicize, let me pause a moment to point out the strange confusion about the Phœnicians. Surely it is clear enough that the Phœnicians resembled the Hellenes in neither of the two points which I have laid down as determining causes of national character, — original race and geographical conditions. They were Semites, not Aryans; and they lived in Phœnicia, not in Hellas. To recur to Dr. James’s own egg illustration : I have asserted that if you put a fresh hen’s egg under a hen the result will be a chicken; and Dr. James objects that somebody put an addled duck’s egg into hot water, and did n’t get even a duckling. It seems to me that if the Phœnicians had been Aryans, and if they had lived in Hellas, then they would have been Hellenes : voilà tout. But as they were Semites, with a very different character already built up by their previous circumstances, and as they lived In Phœnicia, a very different country from Hellas, they were, on the whole, a very different people. Their commerce did make them intelligent, — how intelligent we really hardly know, for we have no Phoenician literature to speak of; but if we may judge from their neighbors and kinsmen, the Jews, in ancient and modern times, their intelligence was probably of a very high order; and their geographical position generally, affording a connection as it did with Egypt, Assyria, and Hellas, while leaving them open to attack from Persia, produced just the results upon their character that one would have expected it to produce. Here, it appears to me, Dr. James’s objection simply helps to enforce my thesis.1

Similarly, on the very next page, Dr. James uses an analogy of animal life, borrowed from Mr. Wallace, which really tells against his own argument. He points out that Borneo closely resembles New Guinea in climate and aspect, while it is totally unlike it in fauna. But if he had read Mr. Wallace a little more carefully he would have noticed that this difference is itself due to geographical causes and original diversity of race ; for New Guinea long formed part of the Australian continent, while Borneo was continuous with Asia; and hence the original species peopling the two were different, and the difference has been increased by the competition of higher forms in Borneo which are absent in New Guinea.

And now let us come to Dr. James’s main point, the mode in which mental varieties are first evolved. Are they, as Dr. James asserts, “ fortuitously produced,” or are they, as Mr. Herbert Spencer thinks, functionally produced ?

It seems to me that the nervous system stands in this respect on quite a different footing from any other portion of the animal organism. We can imagine a series of comparatively fortuitous circumstances which might make an animal, usually black, be born with white hair ; and we can easily believe that this idiosyncrasy, due at first to some mere special molecular collocation, might prove so useful to the creature in question as to give it an extra chance in the struggle for existence, and enable it to hand down its peculiarities to its descendants, who would thus form a permanent variety. But can we imagine a part of the nervous system, answering as it does so directly to some part of the external environment, to be thus produced ? Supposing, by any fortuitous chance, any mere molecular combination, — due to special peculiarities of the environment of an ovum or to its “ gemmules,” if you will, — that a single now cell or ganglion or fibre were added to some portion of an animal’s brain : why on earth should that new organ answer in any way to any fact of the environment ? If it added a factor to consciousness at all, ought not that factor, in all human probability, to be a purely wild or insane one? If any brain, human or animal, had in it any such extraordinary or supernumerary elements, added as mere sports, would we not expect them to be quite meaningless ? And if any brain were largely made up of such elements, would we not rightly expect it to produce an incoherent madman rather than a genius ?

On the other hand, the only probable genesis yet proposed for the nervous system represents it as essentially functional in origin. Evolutionism has been lucky in the fact that, while it had Mr. Darwin to build up the genesis of external form by means of “ fortuitous ” variations, it had Mr. Spencer to build up the genesis of nerves by functional adaptation. The Physical Synthesis does this as the Origin of Species did the other. Great as he is, Mr. Darwin is no psychologist. His theory fails him when he touches mind. There direct adaptation has done everything, and indirect adaptation nothing. Each new accretion to the nervous system seems to have been acquired in the course of practical action. And how a nervous system or a brain could ever have grown up in any other way is to me, I confess, inconceivable. Why should a new bulb of nerve matter, growing up just by molecular accidents, have any sort of relation to the color blue, or to the number fifty-four, or to the act of catching a fish, or to the instability of the homogeneous, or to any one of them more than another? If all brain elements had been functionally developed in the course of human or animal activities, their orderly relation to the environment would be natural and comprehensible ; but if they have been fortuitously produced, their orderliness and their relation to external facts are simple miracles. Just let us try to figure to ourselves a heavenly genius born into the world with half a dozen totally new brain elements, and then let us try to fancy reasons why these elements should have one particular function rather than another. Are the new organs to make him into a general, or a painter, or the discoverer of an unknown science ; or are they to give him a fresh talent for card-sharping, or a hitherto unequaled power of walking a tight-rope ? To my humble intelligence the notion of accidental brains seems simply monstrous and incredible.

But if, on the other hand, we suppose nervous systems to be functionally developed, all the facts which we know are adequately explained. We know that those nations whose circumstances have placed them in the best position for exercising their intellects have the highest intellects, and that those whose circumstances have least called forth their powers have the lowest. We know that in each class and each family and each individual, exercise sharpens the intelligence and disuse blunts it. We know that where families have for ages carried on certain pursuits, they are exceptionally fitted for those pursuits ; and we know, on the other hand, that where there has been ancestrally no habit of carrying on any particular activity, the power of carrying it on at all is usually weak or wanting. If fortuitous genius were to spring up independent of function, we might find an occasional philosopher among the naked Australians, or a stray Cimabue among the half-human Veddahs. But as we see nothing of the sort, our faith in the functional origin of brain and nerve tissue generally is greatly strengthened.

How, then, are we to account for the occasional appearance of the individual genius ? Is he not, by his very name, the man who does what nobody else ever has done or can do ? Is he not an originator of fresh paths, a being endowed with faculties which are peculiar to himself ? I think, not quite. Viewed in a sober light, and apart from the ecstatic exaggeration which we usually consider it necessary to throw into our estimate of greatness, the genius is only a step or two above the other men of his race and time. His peculiarity is that he possesses in some one department a few more elements of mind than most other people his contemporaries ; that he combines in himself a certain large number of mind factors, all or nearly all of which are to be severally found in other people, but which are not to be found in any other one person in the same combination. He is merely a special complex of the ordinary race qualities. What makes him individually so rather than any other person ?

Every individual is what he is in virtue of his heredity, though the same heredity may come out very differently even in twin brothers. Nevertheless, each personage represents an aggregate of peculiarities derived from some one or many among his ancestors, and recombined in him in a new form. That he should at birth possess any totally new brain elements appears to me simply incredible ; though he may perhaps to some slight extent functionally increase the total of his brain elements during his own life, — perhaps, as Dr. Bastian suggests, by the development of neuroglia cells into nerve cells, and the formation of new connecting fibres out of the neuroglia threads. Every individual, amongst human beings, is the direct product of two prior organisms ; and he combines elements found in both of them, and sometimes also elements latent in them, but existing in still earlier organisms of the same series. In the main, I suppose we are all agreed that what each man is he is already potentially at birth: whatever little can be added by himself is at best but an infinitesimal fraction, compared with what he derived directly from his parents or indirectly from his earlier ancestry.2

Now, in very homogeneous societies, like that of the Veddahs or the Australians, or even to some extent the North American Indians, every man’s life closely resembles every other man’s. The functions they each have to perform are almost exactly the same. Hence every child is born of a father and mother whose whole previous ancestry has been quite homogeneous ; and the child inherits from them a brain and nervous system of the relatively fixed ancestral type. Idiosyncrasies of temper and other minor points there will be, no doubt: but wide divergences there can hardly be. Deficiencies, of course, may occur anywhere ; and so there may be idiots and fools among the Veddahs and the Australian black - fellows as well as among ourselves. But large constructive additions to the brain there cannot be. We cannot fancy one of these people being born with a capricious, miraculous, wholly accidental set of organs, adapted for writing the Principia or even Euclid’s Elements. The ideas of number and size and shape and ratio must be slowly evolved, and corresponding elements superadded to the brain (as Mr. Spencer has shown in one of the most masterly parts of his Psychology) before such complex ideas can become matters of thought at all. In the homogeneous skulking life of the Bushman, or the homogeneous hunting and fighting life of the Red Indian, there is no occasion for the functional activities which might conceivably beget such a structure in the course of long generations.

With a heterogeneous society, however, such as that of the Hellenes, the English, or the Americans, infinitely differentiated by its geographical circumstances into classes, mercantile, political, military, manufacturing, artistic, agricultural,—with its sailors, its artisans, its handicraftsmen, and its idle aristocracy, — each individual is perpetually giving full play to all sorts of special activities, differing from those of the remainder. Thus there arise numberless varieties of functionally-acquired brain elements, directly transmitted from each to each. And as every individual is the son of two parents, the grandson of four grandparents, the great-grandson of eight earlier ancestors, and so on ad infinitum, he may combine in himself the various brain elements derived from a large number of separate progenitors. Whenever an Athenian citizen married an Athenian girl, by whom he had offspring, he caused a conveyance of certain special ancestral lines, each of which itself summed up a vast number of others, every one of them more or less distinct. In such circumstances, there may result almost any combination of the various functionally-acquired powers and faculties. The child born may be below the average, or just up to the average, or a great deal above the average. The play of those unseen but none the less purely physical causes of which Dr. James makes so much will produce different results in different cases. But, in the average of cases, there must follow a certain percentage of more highly endowed individuals,— individuals, that is to say, who combine in themselves an unusually large number of potential faculties ; and natural selection, acting upon the whole mass, will as a rule favor these better endowed individuals, who will then hand on their peculiarities, to be again crossed and recrossed with those of other stocks which have equally survived in the sharper competition of such a differentiated community. Those slightly above the average will be called clever people; those a great deal above it will be called able people; and those immensely above it will be called geniuses.

Moreover, the combinations may be of very special kinds. There may be the union in one man of moderately high faculties in many directions, which is versatility. Or there may be the convergence of specially high faculties in a single line, which is talent. Or there may be high powers of combination between groups of faculties, which is philosophical intellect. Here it may be the æsthetic side of a man’s nature which is richly endowed from his ancestry ; there it may be the imaginative side; and yonder, again, the practical, political, or money-making side. But whatever be the original endowments, high or low, they must be an inheritance from one or more ancestors, though they may be slightly increased by functional activity during each man’s life-time, and handed down again in fuller forms to those who come after.

“ Sporadic great men,” observes Dr. James, “ come everywhere.” True, among the Veddahs, there are doubtless sporadically great Veddahs, with exceptional talents for climbing trees and beating tom-toms. But the great point is not to account for these men, who must arise, as exceptions, everywhere: it is to account for the general level of Hellas, or Judea, or England, which makes an Aristotle, an Isaiah, or a Locke possible. If you can account for the average, you have accounted for the exceptions, which must, as a mathematical necessity, arise from the constant blending of variously constituted stocks. And when we ask, What accounts for the average ? there is only one answer possible: The geographical environment. To suppose, as Dr. James does, that we can owe all the wealth of intellect and æsthetic fancy which characterized Periclean Athens to the mere accidental play of molecules and gemmules is really to suppose it uncaused. I look at the physical conditions of Hellas, and I find a country which naturally called forth the varied activity of its sons, and which could not fail to produce functionally-acquired increments of brain. I see that these new functionally - acquired structures must have been handed down from father to son, in infinite varieties of intercrossing and combination. I can see no way in which this could fail to beget a high average of intelligence, together with occasional deviations of exceptional intelligence. When there is this real and known cause adequate to produce all the results, why should we go out of our way to suppose they must be produced by the occasional miraculous birth of somebody, with some totally new brainelements in his head, miraculously adapted à priori to certain external facts, such as writing The Birds or carving the Athene Promachus ? Is not this really the doctrine of special creations intervening in the very midst of the historical series?

Dr. James does not think so. “No geographical environment,” he says dogmatically, “ can produce a given type of mind. It can only foster and further certain types fortuitously produced.” I might oppose his dogmatism by an equally dogmatic contradiction ; but I prefer to ask, How does he know this ? Will not geographical environment mould3 and alter an individual character to a certain slight extent ? Does not the American continent produce certain modifications of character in most settlers ? May not these modifications he transmitted to descendants, and be gradually accumulated so as to bring about a new type ? In short, is there any such thing as functional alteration of character, and is there any reason why such alteration should have any necessary limit ? It is just like the Darwinian question about origin of species : How do you know that species are fixed, and that infinitesimal variations will not in time produce immense results ?

Moreover, as Dr. James himself acknowledges, your genius is nothing without his environment. There could have been no Shakespeare if the Elizabethan audience of the Globe had not been prepared to appreciate the delicate fancy of Midsummer Night’s Dream and the vulgar badinage of the Merry Wives of Windsor. There would have been no Giotto if the Italian monks and bishops had not possessed a sufficient æsthetic sense to admire the Madonna of Assisi, and to give fresh orders for the churches of Florence. Your genius is directed by his milieu, and reacts again upon his milieu. But both genius and milieu are products of the geographical conditions. Athens had a Parthenon, not because there was a Phidias there ready to build one, but because there was a large body of citizens who wanted a Parthenon built. The geographical conditions had set most Athenians on the artistic groove, and thus many among them took to art as their most natural career. The same thing that made the many into art critics made the few into artists. Had Phidias died in his cradle there would have been a Parthenon all the same.

But the figures on the frieze would have been a little different, Dr. James will perhaps object. Ah, yes; if Phidias had died of measles. But Phidias did n’t, and that is just the whole root of the question. A great many clever children are born in towns like Athens and Boston : some of them die young, and some of them don’t. But their dying or surviving is itself a product of the physical conditions, just as much as anything else. If we knew all the circumstances, we could explain everything, down to the very twist of Theseus’ leg, or the exact phrases that Hawthorne puts into the mouth of his elf-child. But we don’t know all, so we can only explain approximately. We take refuge in the approximate theory of averages. We may allow that a certain number of the clever children will die ; but there will be enough left to carve the Niobe and the Discobolus, to pour forth the Agamemnon and the Ajax, to write the Scarlet Letter and Evangeline and Daisy Miller. What we have really to explain is the force which produces the average man of each race ; aud the extraordinary men must come in their turn. They may each produce relatively slight effects which will give to the total a twist slightly different from that which it would otherwise have taken. These minor points we cannot adequately explain, for want of grasp of detail. But the petty differences impressed upon individual Greek minds by Plato, or Aristotle, or Zeno are nothing at all compared with the vast differences between every Greek mind and every Egyptian or Chinese mind. We may neglect them in a philosophy of history, just as in calculating the impetus of a locomotive we neglect the extra impulse given it by a single piece of better coal.

Dr. James accuses me of “ shrieking about the law of universal causation being undone, the moment we refuse to Invest in the kind of causation which is being peddled round by a particular school.” Now, barring that word “ shrieking,” which I do not think can be justly applied to anything in the two papers Dr. James undertakes to criticise, I plead guilty to the impeachment. Causation is either causation or nothing. Dr. James’s “ fortuitous ” and“ spontaneous ” variations, however carefully he may veil them, are merely long names for miracles. They are not Mr. Darwin’s variations : they are simply uncaused facts. The theory of functionally produced increments of the nervous system is a theory of causation : the theory of spontaneous variations accidentally producing genius is, like Mr. Bagehot’s crude notions in Physics and Politics, nothing more than a deification of Caprice, conceived as an entity capable of initiating changes outside the order of physical causation.

And, talking of shrieks, what are we to say of Dr. James’s peroration ? — “ I think that all who have had the patience to follow me thus far will agree that the Spencerian ‘ philosophy ’ of social and intellectual progress is an obsolete anachronism, reverting to a preDarwinian type of thought, just as the Spencerian philosophy of ' force,’ effacing all the previous phenomenal distinctions between vis viva, potential energy, momentum, work, force, mass, etc., which physicists have with so much agony achieved, carries us back to a pre-Galilean age.” Now, if these be facts, how is it that Mr. Spencer should still receive so much countenance from our greatest physicist, Professor Tyndall, and from our greatest biologists, Professor Huxley and Sir Joseph Hooker ? How is it that his Biology and Psychology have been adopted as a ground-work by all our rising physiologists, such as Romanes, Bastian, and Lankester ? How is it that they attach special importance to that theory of nerve genesis which Dr. James finds so old-fashioned ? How is it that every prominent Darwinian has accepted this pre-Darwinian creed, and that Dr. James stands alone amongst all the younger physiologists, ranged by the side of a purely obstructive and clerical opposition ? How is it that almost every scientific man regards the “obsolete anachronism” as Mr. Spencer’s justest title to philosophic respect ? Dr. James ought to be more measured in his statements. He is a brilliant and a subtle thinker ; but in science he should remember that it is a bad thing to find one’s self in a minority of one.

Grant Allen.

  1. I do not care to press this Phœnician side issue; but I think, if we consider sundry facts, we shall come to the conclusion that the Phoenicians really were very clever people. They invented the alphabet; they made exquisite repoussé metal work ; and they excelled all surrounding nations in art. Homer speaks of them with the unfeigned admiration of a barbarian for civilized men; and Herodotus mentions that they alone of all Xerxes’ subjects equaled the Hellenes in engineering skill. The energy of the Carthaginians, the organizing power of Hamilcar in Spain, the genius of Hannibal, the terror with which the Romans, ages afterward, regarded Punic faith and the Dirus Afer, the colonizing tendency, the explorations of Hanno, — all point in the same direction.
  2. Shall I be violating the courtesy of controversy if I add that one of the most interesting studies in heredity which I have ever met is that afforded by a gifted Boston family of the name of James, including a father and two sons, whose marked and subtle individuality has attracted the attention of many on both sides the Atlantic ?
  3. May I beg, as a special favor, that this word may be printed mould, not mold ? Had I been brought up in America I do not question that I should have willingly spelt it in the latter manner ; but my geographical environment has so prejudiced me on this matter that it caused me genuine dismay to see it attributed to me under that form in the excerpts quoted from my article by Dr. James. “But,” says somebody, “surely the difference is due to the personal influence of Dr. Noah Webster.” Believe me, no; a skin-deep criticism. In old England, our historical feeling keeps us true to the ancient spelling; in new America, a man is found to make alterations, and all the world follows him at once. We are more conservative; you are more rational. Outside old Puritan and literary Boston, how many Americans would object, like Dr. Holmes, on historical and philological grounds, to spelling his name “Homes ” ?
  4. [We are very glad to oblige our amiable transatlantic contributor by putting a superfluous letter into his mold. “ You kin spall an’ punctooate as you please,” says Mr. Hosea Biglow. “ I allus do. . . . Ef I squeeze the cents out of ’em it’s the main thing, an’ wut they wuz made fur; wut’s left’s jest pummis.” While freely admitting, however, that we are more rational, we must question whether we are less conservative than our English cousins in the spelling of our common tongue. Dr. Webster gives much earlier authorities than himself for spelling mold without the u ; and old books will doubtless show both spellings and three or four others, according to the printer’s exigency in spacing out his line. Our cousins are probably clinging to one misspelling, while we are clinging to another. Of course, nobody really knows how to spell mold.]