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vol. 3, p. 104
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 3 (1875-1878)


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A Chapter of Naturalism


“ Learning hath gained most by those books by which the printers have lost.” —Thomas Fuller.

Philosophers have long been perplexed in their efforts to define nature, and human nature, in a manner altogether satisfactory to themselves and others. Inter alia—man has been sometimes characterized as “ the suicidal animal.” But, alas ! for the permanency of this discovery—notable as it might seem at first sight—the scorpion crossed this sage’s path of progress, and claimed equality with the Lord of Creation, in this dignified and glorious prerogative ! Moreover, during the Socratic and Aristotelian periods of philosophic history, shone the Greek intellect, “ like a meteor streaming to the wind,” but incomparably more lasting.

Man is “ a social being,” observes the head of the Peripatetic sect—the great Stagirite, who was sent for by Philip of Macedon, to instruct Alexander, and, as chroniclers tell, gave such unbounded satisfaction to my lord, the king, that the latter erected statutes to his memory, and rebuilt Stagira, his honored birthplace. From Meteorology to De Anima, the works of Aristotle display, in the truest sense, as all readers know, genius of the highest order and best quality— the admiration of every age and country—in science, litera-ature, and philosophy, whether called rhetoric, poetry, politics, ethics, physics, mathematics, logic, metaphysics—in a word, THOUGHT.

In the first chapter of his Natural History of Animals, recently translated, the term εῦρα is rendered “ nerve,” instead of tendon or ligament ; the sentence “ salt water and fresh water marshes ” occurs, with other and more copious illustrations of equal truth and value. Without some knowledge of zoology and comparative anatomy—for example, the structure of the ovum of the cuttle-fish, the history of the hectocotyle, the envelopes of the embryo, and the like—not even the profound scholarship of a Scaliger, or a Bentley, would suffice to master the difficulties of the text of Aristotle, in the matter of such familiar words as είδος, γένος, ίλυσπαστικà, and so forth, well-known expressions to both physicians and metaphysicians in the treatise De Incessu. Now, there is not a syllable in the original about “ salt water ” at all ; yet in English translations of the great philosopher of nature, he is absurdly represented to teach, amongst other things, that the perch, the carp, and the silurus, are “ marine fishes,” and that the different modes of locomotion—flying, walking, and swimming—are given by the Stagirite as “ wriggling ” examples of progression ! Surely, the great intellectual luminary of old was far too enlightened in all departments of human learning to have written thus of each particular class of gasteropods, caterpillars, worms, or of a species of the genus. What shall be said of such unnatural interpolation ?

“ Intolerable, not to be endured—men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love,—‘ As you like it,’—?—[3]

—By Mary, No !

The sense is so obvious, in every instance, to a practical anatomist, as to remind him of a justly merited compliment—

“ Il maestro di color che sanno.”[4]

This is how Dante calls Aristotle in the Divine Comedy (Hell, Canto IV) the teacher of all scientists

What naturalist can fail to discern in the following passages from De Partibus Animalium, the exact scientific question on the theory of development, as advocated by Lamarck, and the author of “ Vestiges of Creation ” ? “ Similarly, some philosophers assert, with respect to the generation of animals and plants, that from water flowing in the body a stomach was formed, and every organ became the recipient of food, or waste, and that by the passage of air nostrils were produced.” (Vol. I., p. 640, ed. Bekker.) The classical reader of The Scientist may find, again and again, in the works of Aristotle, various matters of scientific interest, at the present moment, everywhere, but to which one cannot now advert—especially those relating to atoms, germs, and molecules, or “ Spontaneous Generation,” a theory which has recently been advocated by Dr. Bastian, with considerable ability, in the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and duly supported by myself at Liverpool, with extremely curious, most important, and far from entirely inconclusive results. Life is given to insects out of death ? Infusorial animalcules need not other parentage than flint, dust, disease, or destruction ! What is done is done, living flowers do skirt an eternal frost.

Then, in such circumstances, shall each matin bell knell us back to a world of hideous annihilation, and shall we evermore exclaim, in the language of true science,—

Forth from his dark and lonely hiding place
(Portentous sight !) the owlet Atheism,
Sailing on obscene wings athwart the noon,
Drops his blue-fringed lids, and holds them close,
And, hooting at the glorious Sun in Heaven,
Cries out, ‘ Where is it ?’ ”

Does this hypothesis, alone, conclude the wondrous chapter of our earth’s history which is told by psychic Naturalism ? No : indeed, ten thousand times ten thousand denials or refusals rise up forthwith in the soul of each fond lover of God’s Universal Truth, when he instantly remembers that life given to lowest organisms, out of seeming atomic death, is as much a law Divine of the Eternal Almighty Parent, as the special creation of a Mastodon, or the genus Man. The history of cultivated vegetables, and that of domestic animals, throws freelight—more or less—on our own history Orchards, gardens, stables, are all scientific laboratories where each natural observer can work, with intellectual advantage, upon organized beings, even as the great variety of pigeons, dogs, horses, and poultry is illustrative of that in the races of human species—germ, embryo, youth and adult—whether by the direct fusion of one primitive cantonment with another,—transformation not seldom ending in degeneration, or by the reunion of three fundamental types with their several intermediate portions.

Are the phenomena of nature solely due to a blind force acting necessarily ? Round about precisely the same anatomical and physiological organization are distributed wholly different languages, in vogue at the same time, and representing most accurately, in the science of philology, the three grand linguistic divisions, universally admitted by British and foreign anthropologists. In fact, supported mainly by the first chapters of Genesis, Peyrere has sought to demonstrate, scientifically, to those naturalists who believe only in naturalism, that Adam and Eve were exclusively the ancestors of the Jewish nation ; that they had (as Lawrence eloquently, nay, brilliantly taught in our own College of Surgeons, in 1818) been long preceded by other men ; in short, that the pre-Adamites, ancestors of all the Gentiles, were “ created ” at the same time with the animals, and upon different ethnic areas of the habitable globe. With certain atheists or skeptics, however, nature and naturalism would seem to comprehend the sum total of all conditions of possible being—spiritual, mental, or physical ; plant, animal, and man ; past, present, future. Is the true spiritual philosopher, Mrs. Tappan, by way of eminence, seeking to vindicate the reality and grandeur of a transcendent spiritual ground, as the origin of faith, in the Logic of Pure Reason, by a series of propositions, in which the main truths of ideal integration are exhibited, demonstratively, by the free light of their own irrefragable evidence, in the very constitution of universal humanity ? What is the issue in 1874 ? Virtus sub cruce crescit, ad œthera solum tendens.

With what catholicity of sentiment is such knowledge received by scientific associations, and à fortiori by that human empire which neighbors not Heaven ?

Is she not met, at home and abroad, with the oft-reiterated imputation of mere gratuitous “ assumption,” or downright metaphysical “ jargon ” ?

On what substantial fabric is based the much be-lauded scientific “ imagination” of the more fashionable physicist ?

It is affirmed, as a matter of experience and observation, the world over, that in veriest reality, man is the only being one meets with, in nature or naturalism, from beginning to end of every chapter of their great unfolded book, having the following truly essential characteristics of spirituality proper :

1st. The ineradicable notion—however imperfectly developed, in theory or practice—of moral good and evil.

2ndly. The belief in another and better life.

3rdly. The confidence, not only in a Deity that reigns supreme, but in spirits who are vastly superior to himself in faculty, power, will, or happiness.

What is the invariable answer, from a scientific stand-point (when the matter is re-worded) ? “ Tut ! man, go no more a roving into the darkness of eternal night. In respect of spirituality, domestic animals are equally spiritual, for they readily obey those who influence them with the fear of rod, or the love of sugar !” There is no difference, in point of fact, or actual kind, between the superstitious biped, who worships God, and the vilest quadruped, who crouches at his master’s feet, to obtain pardon for a fault. EHEU, CONDITIONEM HUJUS TEMPORIS !. “ Hast any philosophy in thee, shepherd ?”

What is the remedy for this unbounteous state of things? Obviously to love Truth better than sectarianism or partisanship, and to render justice alike to Spiritualism and Science. Whosoever would arrive, henceforth, at a just conception of the knowledge of ourselves must extend his philosophical horizon. From man the molecular, to man the mental, social, moral,—nay, more, even this last enlarged basis is vastly too incomprehensive. Anthropology, of this our day, affects, in <... continues on page 3-105 >

Editor's notes

  1. image by unknown author
  2. A Chapter of Naturalism by Hitchman, William, Spiritual Scientist, v. 1, No. 17, December 31, 1874, pp. 200-1
  3. Here is a combined quotation from W. Shakespeare's plays. Before the hyphen from the play “The Taming of the Shrew”, Act 5, Scene 2; after the hyphen from the play “As you like it”, Act 4, Scene 1.
  4. “The master of those, who know” (Latin) – a periphrasis from the Divine Comedy by Dante, where he calls Aristotle “the teacher of all scholars.”