Half a century ago as years run a student was called on to take the chair at a dinner in connection with the Royal School of Mines. Members of the staff were present. And the fortunate youth was honoured by the support of Professor Huxley.
“Which of the lines of science you have followed has chiefly engaged your interest?”
Following up the thread of my reply he drew from me the confession that an interest in philosophy and in the general scheme of things lay deeper than my interest in the practical applications of science to what then purported to be my bread-and-butter training. With sympathetic kindliness that soon dispelled my fear of him he led me to speak more freely to tell him how this came about what I had read and so on. That such a man should care to know what Berkeley and Hume had done for me; what I had got from Descartes' Discourse; how I was just then “embrangled in difficulties” over Spinoza; filled me with glad surprise. His comments were so ripe; and they were made to help me! “Whatever else you may do” he said “keep that light burning. But remember that biology has supplied a new and powerful illuminant.” Then speeches began. His parting words were: When you have reached the goal of your course why not come and spend a year with us at South Kensington?”
So when I had gained the diploma of which so little direct use was to be made and when my need of the illuminant and my lack of intimate acquaintance with the facts on which the new lamp shed light had been duly impressed on me during a visit to North America and Brazil I followed his advice attended his lectures and worked in his laboratory.
On one of the memorable occasions when he beckoned me to come to his private room he spoke of St. George Mivart's Genesis of Species. I had asked him some questions thereon a few days before to which he was then too busy to reply; and he gave me this opportunity of repeating them. Mivart had said: “If then such innate powers must be attributed to chemical atoms to mineral species to gemmules and to physiological units it is only reasonable to attribute such to each individual organism” (p. 260). I asked on what grounds this line of approach was unreasonable; for even then there was lurking within me some touch of “Pelagian heresy” in matters evolutionary. Far from snubbing a youthful heretic he dealt kindly with him. The question he said was open to discussion; but he thought Mivart's position was based on considerations other than scientific. Any analogy between the growth of a crystal and the development of an organism was of very doubtful validity. “Yes Sir” I said “save in this that both invite us to distinguish between an internal factor and the incidence of external conditions.” He then asked what I understood by “innate powers” saying that for Mivart they were the “substantial forms” of scholastic tradition. I ventured to suggest that the Schoolmen and their modern disciples were trying to explain what men of science must perhaps just accept on the evidence. And I asked whether for “an innate power” in the organism one might substitute what he had taught us to call “an internal metamorphic tendency” which must be “as distinctly recognised as that of an internal conservative tendency” (H. E. ii. p. 116). “Of course you may so long as you regard this merely as an expression of certain facts at present unexplained.” I then asked whether it was in this sense one should accept his statement that nature does make leaps (ii. pp. 77 97) and if this were so whether the difference on which Mivart laid so much stress—that between the mental capacities of animals and of men—might not be regarded as a natural leap in evolutionary progress.
This was the point to which I was leading up. I do not clearly recollect all that Huxley said. My notes written unfortunately not at the time but a year later give: “Stress on speech and language: no evidence of jump either in laryngeal mouth or brain structure: child passes from animal stage to man stage continuously: neuroses and psychoses.”
That which he was chiefly concerned to emphasise in dealing with Mivart was that—whether there were natural leaps or not—there was always a strict correlation of neuroses and psychoses (ii. pp. 158 164) which must be accepted by science as the natural outcome of the evolution of brain and mind. Believing that he courted rather than resented a frank expression of that which one felt as a difficulty I asked on what grounds he spoke of neurosis as antecedent (i. 238) to psychosis; and why if they were correlated as concomitant one might not follow Spinoza in regarding each as causal within its attribute and therefore both as playing their parts in natural causation. He was doubtful whether Spinoza's metaphysical treatment was helpful in scientific interpretation but gave him credit for trying to dig down more suo to fundamental issues.
In conclusion as he answered a knock at the door he dismissed a mere neophyte with the encouraging words: “You might well make all this a special field of enquiry.”
This among other things I have since attempted to do. That the Senatus of the University of St. Andrews should have deemed me worthy to present as Gifford Lecturer the conclusions to which I have been led is an honour of which I am deeply sensible.
The outcome is a constructive scheme which Huxley would not accept—and that upon more counts than one. He was not however intolerant of conclusions at variance with his own (though he might feel called on to combat them) if they were honestly come by. And so bearing tribute to what he did for me fifty years ago and after I say of him what Professor Alexander has finely said of Spinoza: “A great man does not exist to be followed slavishly and may be more honoured by divergence than by obedience.”
C. Lloyd Morgan.
Bristol February 1923.
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