Monday, 30 March 2015


By JOHN WILLIAM DRAPER, M.D., LL D., Professor of Chemistry and Physiology in the University of New York. Bell and Daldy.

Dr. Draper's "Human Physiology" treats of man as an individual. He conceives himself to have only completed that work in considering him, in the two present volumes, in his social relation. " The life of an individual is a miniature of the life of a nation," and both are controlled by natural laws. These are the propositions which the work is designed to illustrate. The second is undoubtedly true. About the other point readers will not so readily concur with the ingenious speculations in which the author indulges. Before the appearance of Mr. Buckle's "Philosophy of History" public opinion was quite prepared for his application of the doctrine of fixed law to historic events and evolutions, though not perhaps precisely and altogether disposed to follow his manner of applying it. The question as to the life of nations resembling that of the individual is a different one. It has become somewhat familiar through the celebrated essay of Dr. Temple, although that paper treated rather of man as one than of men divided into nationalities, and besides did not profess to set forth the matter scientifically, after the mode of the present work. But the idea seems rather fanciful, and it is one by no means easy to justify in all its natural applications.

That like causes produce like effects we all acknowledge in history as elsewhere, and it is becoming more and more understood how much of national as of individual development depends upon the peculiar physical and other conditions in which people and men are found. It may be further admitted that intellectual growth proceeds generally in similar ways everywhere, varied only by physical conditions of organisation and outward circumstance. There may be thus many points of likeness between the intellectual advance of one man and that of many men living at the same period. Bodies of men so long as they continue in ignorance will resemble children in some things, though in other things certainly the parallel will not hold. By both, for example, things are believed to be what they seem—there is no correction of appearances by reflection—while nevertheless children and ignorant peoples give free play to the fancy for personifying the forces of nature. So far there is a likeness between them. But again, ignorant nations live in daily terror of the mysterious powers they cannot comprehend, which cannot be said of children, who literally fear nothing, not even things which safety makes it needful they should fear, until caution and terror have been duly impressed upon them. As to ideas, ignorant nations think from their own consciousness, and refer everything to that, and take themselves as the standard by which to measure everything else. So far, again, there is likeness between them and individual children. But children have not the same strong sense of their own personality as adults. The impression of parents and friends upon their thought is too powerful for that, and besides they cannot so well distinguish between the outward which they fancy, and the inward or what they feel. There is growth in both cases ; surely that is enough to say —enough to justify the expectation of certain similarities between a nation and an individual. There is little to be gained in pressing the analogy more closely.

If the author insists upon the close analogy, it might be asked what childhood is it with which the comparison is made ? and, secondly, we should require to be informed with greater precision as to what nationality is so compared with the individual in his growth, maturity, and decay. Dr. Draper has some ideal of an individual in his mind, and with that he is comparing some corporate body, also the creature of his own imagination. Dr. Temple so conceived of the human race, but Dr. Draper applies the idea to nations only, yet when we examine what he is writing about we find it to be sometimes one thing, sometimes another. The Chinese is the only nation of which he distinctly speaks. To the Roman he finds his idea scarcely applicable, and so he does not press it. But he does talk of the Hindoo and Egyptian civilization, of the great mind and of the intellectual development of Europe, which is clearly a number of nations, and not a single one. Under the general term of childhood there can be no reason why we should not take for example the childhood of all people of Greece in some one of his national periods, say the national period of Greek childhood in the time of Thales, according to the author's classification. Now these individuals, he says, become gradually of mature intellect, and then grow old and die. Yet all this while the nation continues stiU in its state of childhood ! In like manner the nation may be in the last state of decrepitude while the same process is going on. Can a nation be anything else but the aggregate of the minds that form it ? Or whence does he obtain the idea of an intellect ever growing old ? It is a mere fancy to compare the exhausted interest of the later Alexandrian speculations with the supposed weakness of aged intellects in so many statesman, philosophers, and others, who have retained their powers to the last, and have only then broken-down under sheer bodily infirmities. 

We do not assent to the author's characterisation of the different phases of individual life; much less do we admit the naturalness; and propriety of his correspondent divisions of the intellectual growth! of Greece or Europe. He distinguishes in infancy, credulity; in childhood, inquiry; in youth, faith ; in mature life, the matured  reason ; and in old age nothing but decrepitude. Decrepitude does not come within the same category as faith or reason, and between inquiry and reason the distinction is not clear. So credulity and faith are much more nearly related than is here represented. Moreover, the author's classification proves of small service to him. He can only again and again assert it; he makes little of it otherwise. M. Comte's division of periods would be of more value if it could but always be substantiated, into the theological phase, the metaphysical, and then the positive, what is here called the age of reason or maturity. There is every reason to prefer to both these Mr. Buckle's more simple distinction between the deductive and the inductive periods. As far as we can make out, the author means the age of dogma in what he calls the age of faith. It is between dogma and analysis, between deduction and induction, that the true contrast lies which separates modern from mediƦval Europe, as they formerly separated the researches of Aristotle from the dreams of Plato. Mr. Buckle, in his great work, made an unfortunate use of the term "scepticism," which gave a false impression to many persons as to his real views. Dr. Draper falls into the same error in his adoption of the word "faith" to represent the state of unreasoning submission to authority, and assumption of first principles without examination. He is himself, as we learn from many passages in these volumes, a well persuaded Christian believer. He holds to statistics but without denying to man free-will, and does not commit the common modern mistake of supposing that the fixed laws and regular developments of nature must lead to the disbelief in the personal will and intelligence of the Creator. Though he explains, after the manner of Gibbon, by natural causes, the rapid early spread of the Christian profession, yet can he designate Christianity as God's gift to man, and he is not tempted to resign his own conviction of the saving work of the Son of God, by all the proofs he adduces of the comparatively insignificant position which the earth and the human race hold in the grand universe of modern knowledge. Dr. Draper cannot therefore purpose to throw disparagement upon faith, though he looks contemptuously upon what he calls "the age of faith" of any people or race. The truth is that he holds highest in esteem physical research, and sees in the development of intellect the great end of human life, the great purpose of the whole scheme of Providence. Everything is tried by this standard. He says distinctly that more accurate knowledge implies not only increase of power and wealth, but also higher virtue ; that "the morality of man is enhanced by the improvement of his intellect and by personal independence." For philosophy in the proper and old sense of the word the learned author has little to say, except in its dispraise. It seems to be the regular tendency of natural studies to disincline man to metaphysics. Here is his verdict upon the ancient philosophies, one which, clearly indicates the position which he assumes, though admitting, as we have just seen, a kind of religious faith which the modern pantheistic atheism, professedly founded upon science, utterly repudiates.

"The second, age of Greek philosophy ended in sophism, the third in scepticism. Speculative philosophy strikes at last upon a limit which it cannot overpass. This is its state even in our own times. It reverberates against the wall that confines it, without the least chance of making its way through."

The idea coincides exactly with that of Mr. G. H. Lewes in his "Biographical History of Philosophy." He says of philosophy, that "it is an impossible attempt," that it was "the forlorn hope of humanity which perished in its efforts, but not without having led the way to victory." "It is no longer necessary to humanity," and should be set aside." And he intimates his belief of a doctrine not unlike the pervading idea of Dr. Draper's work, "that nevertheless there is a direct parentage between the various epochs, between the ideas of the ancient thinkers and the ideas of moderns." But he does not mix up this notion with the ideal growth and decay of nations, which is another point, not so easy, as we have seen, of establishment. An illustration of the different ways in which the same term may be employed even by persons of the same general turn of thought may be found in this author as compared with Dr. Draper. Mr. Lewes says that "with Thales reason separated itself from faith." Manifestly a true statement, though it was reason proceeding deductively from more assumptions. Dr. Draper, led by his analogy of national with individual life, fixes the age of reason at the period of Aristotle, and interposes between the Ionian philosophers and the time of Alexander a distinct interval, to which he assigns, in a very inappropriate way, the name of "the Greek age of faith"—the period of Socrates, Plato, and the Sceptics. This might have been called the age of fanciful reasonings, but we have no proper use of the term faith in such an application. And if Socrates reasoned from universals, so did all his predecessors, as also in great part those reasone(rs) who came after him. The scientific development came afterwards to an abrupt end, not because the Greek mind had grown old, but chiefly because the true method of enquiry was not fixed, but only here and there happily hit upon. Then circumstances arose which discouraged all speculation and research whatever and the way of discovery became closed to men until the times of the Reformation in Europe approached.

The history writing in these volumes is admirably done, quite independently of the doctor's theories, which are rather interspersed than truly wrought upon in his work. He writes agreeably, and forcibly upon a great variety of subjects which really hide from view the thread of connecting thought in his mind. Of this thread the reader sees most in the table of contents ; the work itself will be read with interest as a succinct and serviceable history of the struggles of human thought. Regarded in this light, those volumes bear a high value. The reader's interest cannot but grow as he proceeds, since the style is direct and clear, and the thought always of a kind to arouse and repay reflection. Particular chapters might be pointed out of special worth and interest. The digressions, as they are entitled, on the civilization of India and Egypt, on the movement of the Arabian mind, on Mexico and Peru, are full of information, excellently conveyed, while the sketch of Roman history displays the author's great power of interesting condensation. His sketches in physical geography are of no less value, especially, where he is able to show how plainly the march of travel and commerce oversteps the limits of credulous and mythological tradition, and ever prepares the way for the wider movement of human thought. The opening of the Egyptian ports by Psammeticus had an immediate bearing upon the speculations of Thales, which branched out in his followers as Greek commerce expanded. In like manner the conquests of Alexander created the Alexandrian Museum, just as in modern European history the revival of philosophy and the reorganisation of scientific research were anteceded by the discoveries of new geographical worlds, and the rapid increase of the means of mutual national intercourse. Dr. Draper has great expectations from the vastly increased facilities of modern locomotion, of immense advances yet to be made in general knowledge and civilisation.           

The history of the Greek philosophising, as Dr. Draper tells it, may be commended in interest to even popular readers, who will find it at least conceivable, a thing impossible according to most books on the  subject. He has certainly not perfectly succeeded, nor is the last word here said of which the subject admits. But he has tried to bring ancient speculation within the reach of modern comprehension. Neither he nor preceding writers of the same school had sufficiently understood or appreciated the philosophic mode of thought to be able to co-ordinate and connect together properly the ideas of any one of the Greek masters. They test everything by the rule of modern thought and knowledge, and therefore with a little of good and acute thinking they find associated in the Greek doctrines a great deal of what appears to them absurdity. They are too ready to exclaim, what silliness! where they would have better employed themselves in dealing more critically with the broken and distorted reports of doctrines which is all that for the most part we have. Dr. Draper seems to believe everything to the discredit of the ancient Grecian wisdom, and as little as possible on the other side. To other ancient doctrine he is far more charitable, especially to that of India and Egypt. It is the conceited and clever Greeks who excite his historic ire. The animus of his description of their ways and thinkings may be remarked in what he says of Socrates. A few words from the earlier part of the work will explain his general views of that Athenian moralist.
"It was the uncontrollable advancement of knowledge that overthrew Greek religion. Socrates himself never hesitated to denounce physics for that tendency, and the Athenians extended his principles to his own pursuits, their strong common sense telling them that the philosophical cultivation of ethics must be equally bad. He was not loyal to science, but sought to support his own views by exciting a theological odium against his competitors, a crime that educated men ought never to forgive. In the tragedy that ensued, the Athenians only paid him in his own coin."

The simple answer to which is—first,that there was no science at the time to which this great man could have been either loyal or disloyal ; secondly, that the Sophists whom he did oppose were, by the doctor's own showing, direct teachers of immorality and perverters of the way of truth. "They had brought on," he says, " an intellectual anarchy," and only mocked at virtue. In what particular could he have been faithless to science who know absolutely nothing about it ? Science, in Dr. Draper's sense, is modern, and was certainly not founded before the age of Socrates. But Socrates did contemn speculations upon the universe, suggested by physical appearances ; he did teach the method of study of the consciousness which our modern Positivists so fanatically dislike. Hence the following smart piece of biography :

"If we examine the case according to every-day principles, we cannot fail to remark that the Socrates of our imagination is a very different man from the Socrates of contemporaneous Athenians. To us he appears a transcendent genius to whom the great names of antiquity render their profound homage; a martyr in behalf of principles of which if society is devoid life itself is scarcely of any worth, and for the defence of which it is the highest glory that a man should be called upon to die. To them Socrates was no more than an idle lounger in the public places and corners of the streets; grotesque, and even repulsive in his person ; affecting in the oddities of his walking and in his appearance many of the manners of the mountebank, for his trade seems to have been that of a stone-cutter, he wasted his time in discoursing with such youths as his lecherous countenance and satyr-like person could gather around him, leading them astray from the gods of his country, the flimsy veil of his hypocrisy being too transparent to conceal his infidelity. Nevertheless he was a very brave soldier, as those who served with him testify. It does not appear that he was observant of those cares which by most men are properly considered as paramount, giving him self but little concern for the support of his children and wife.  The good woman Xantippe is, to all appearance, one of those characters, who are unfairly judged of by the world. Socrates married her because of her singular conversational powers, and though he himself, according, to universal testimony possessed extraordinary merits in that respect, he found, to his cost, when too late that so commanding were her excellences that he was altogether her inferior. Among the amusing instances related of his domestic difficulties were the consequences of his invitations to persons to dine with him when there was nothing in the house wherewith to entertain them—a proceeding severely trying to the temper of Xantippe, whose cause would unquestionably be defended by the matrons of any nation. It was nothing but the mortification of a high-spirited woman at the acts of a man who was too shiftless to have any concern for his domestic honour. "  

The Athenians very properly regarded him, thinks the author, "as an unworthy, and perhaps a troublesome member of society." After this the reader will anticipate the sort of justice which the philosophy of Socrates is likely to obtain at his hands. It led immediately, he avers, to selfishness and scepticism, and so was proved that the way of truth is to be found no more within the consciousness and in moral reasonings, than without it, in hypothetic speculations about the universe. And yet this author admits in another place a criterion of truth, which is as applicable to reasonings upon the phenomena of consciousness as it is to inductions of physical science. He parts company here for the time with the Comtain school, and holds rather to the eclectic doctrine of M. Cousin, strengthening himself by his idea of taking the convictions not of the individual but of the race, as the approximative certainty which is all that it is given to man to attain.

"Thus we may conclude that neither are the senses to be trusted alone, nor is the mind to be trusted alone. In the conjoint notion of the two, by reason of the mutual checks established, a far higher degree of certainty is attained to; yet even in this, the utmost vouchsafed to the individual, there is not, as both Greeks and Indians ascertained, an absolute sureness. It was the knowledge of this which extorted from them so many melancholy complaints, which throw them into an intellectual despair, and made them, by applying the sad determination to which they had come to the course of their daily life, sink down into indifference and infidelity. But yet there is something more in reserve for man. Let him cast off the clog of individuality and remember that he has race connexions, connexions which, in this matter of a criterion of truth, indefinitely increase his chances of certainty. If he looks with contempton the opinions of his childhood, with little consideration on those of his youth, with distrust on those of his manhood, what will he say about the opinions of his race ? Do not such considerations teach us that through all these successive conditions the criterion of truth is ever advancing in precision and power, and that its maximum is found in the unanimous opinion of the whole human race ?"

Whatever may be judged of this theory, it ought certainly to have disposed the author to appreciate at higher value the philosophic labours of Greece, since at least the Greeks brought under discussion most of the questions of deepest moment to human welfare— Socrates, perhaps, more than any other ; and it is poor criticism to say of him that his philosophy was superficial, and possessed little of novelty. Perhaps, however, the author's rough handling of the ancients may not be without its use. He discourses slightingly of certain of the Greeks; the Romans he manifestly detests. But he speaks of the more ancient philosophers with respect, and rightly establishes the classic nations in their true comparatively modern position as compared with the greater age of Egyptian and Indian civilisation. People will study with interest just now his exposition of the doctrines of Sakya Mouni. There is another respect in which Dr. Draper's criticism of the classic philosophers may be found to have rendered service. They have been too much written about by authors who had no knowledge of the great results of modern scientific inquiries, who, therefore, were unable to verify for themselves the gossipping statements of older writers, and in consequence attributed to the Greek philosophers all sorts of inconsistent ideas. They will be found in all probability, to stand higher in the esteem of the world when these incompetent and idle statements shall have been critically sifted, and their true processes of thought more correctly ascertained. 

Dr. Draper handles with equal boldness the later history of European thought and civilisation. The "Age of Reason" is the period of scientific progress. Maritime discoveries prepared its way, as also did the revival of the ancient learning, the invention of printing, and the Reformation. It began with an astronomical controversy, and became an established fact when the labours of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton determined the true heliocentric doctrine of the heavens. Dr. Draper thinks too little of the value of Bacon's services in the settlement of the inductive method. He does not distinguish between his principles and his opinions, nor perceive how important the discussion of the former has proved, though the latter may have all been wrong.

"Few scientific pretenders have made more mistakes than Lord Bacon. He rejected the Copernican system, and spoke insolently of its great author ; he undertook to criticise adversely Gilbert's treatise " De Magnete;" he was occupied in the condemnation of any investigation of final causes, while Harvey was deducing the circulation of the blood from Aquapendente's discovery of the valves in the veins ; he was doubtful whether instruments were of any advantage while Galileo was investigating the heavens with, the telescope. Ignorant himself of every branch of mathematics, he presumed that they were useless in science, but a few years before Newton achieved by their aid his immortal discoveries. It is time that the sacred name of philosophy should be severed from its long connection with that of one who was a pretender in science, a time-serving politician, an insidious lawyer, a corrupt judge, a treacherous friend, a bad man."      

Let it be added here that this is partisan writing, not history. Science has nothing to do with a man's personal moral character. And as to philosophy, it is precisely the thing from which the name of Bacon cannot be dissociated. For it was of the philosophy of science that he so treated as to have fixed its basis for all coming time. In more empirical working he was but a blundering amateur.     

Most readers will follow with pleasure the author's story of the wonderful successive discoveries of science down to our own times, which have contributed so largely towards the amelioration and improvement of modern social conditions. We are considered to so now at maturity, and it is Dr. Draper's idea that as the organisation of intellect in civil life is actually proceeding enlightened governments will wisely help forward the process. His model for this is not a happy one. It is China, which he considers to be in its stage of decrepitude. It is to be hoped that European civilisation is not destined to any such condition, or at least that our maturity may last out as long as the protracted old age of the great literary nation on the other side of the globe. We are not left by the historian without a gleam of consolation.   

In an all-important particular this prospect of Europe is bright. China is passing through the last stage of civil life in the cheerlessness of Buddhism ; Europe approaches it through Christianity. Universal benevolence cannot fail to yield a better fruit than unsocial pride. There is a fairer hope for nations animated by a sincere religious sentiment, who, whatever their political history may have been, have always agreed in this, that they were devout, than for a people who dedicate themselves to a selfish pursuit of material advantages, who have lost all belief in a future, and are living without any God.— Daily News.

Empire 9 February 1865

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