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Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews   By: (1825-1895)

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London: MacMillan and Co. London R. Clay, Sons, and Taylor, Printers, Bread Street Hill.




I should have liked to provide this collection of "Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews," with a Dedication and a Preface. In the former, I should have asked you to allow me to associate your name with the book, chiefly on the ground that the oldest of the papers in it is a good deal younger than our friendship. In the latter, I intended to comment upon certain criticisms with which some of these Essays have been met.

But, on turning the matter over in my mind, I began to fear that a formal dedication at the beginning of such a volume would look like a grand lodge in front of a set of cottages; while a complete defence of any of my old papers would simply amount to writing a new one a labour for which I am, at present, by no means fit.

The book must go forth, therefore, without any better substitute for either Dedication, or Preface, than this letter; before concluding which it is necessary for me to notify you, and any other reader, of two or three matters.

The first is, that the oldest Essay of the whole, that "On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences," contains a view of the nature of the differences between living and not living bodies out of which I have long since grown.

Secondly, in the same paper, there is a statement concerning the method of the mathematical sciences, which, repeated and expanded elsewhere, brought upon me, during the meeting of the British Association at Exeter, the artillery of our eminent friend Professor Sylvester.

No one knows better than you do, how readily I should defer to the opinion of so great a mathematician if the question at issue were really, as he seems to think it is, a mathematical one. But I submit, that the dictum of a mathematical athlete upon a difficult problem which mathematics offers to philosophy, has no more special weight, than the verdict of that great pedestrian Captain Barclay would have had, in settling a disputed point in the physiology of locomotion.

The genius which sighs for new worlds to conquer beyond that surprising region in which "geometry, algebra, and the theory of numbers melt into one another like sunset tints, or the colours of a dying dolphin," may be of comparatively little service in the cold domain (mostly lighted by the moon, some say) of philosophy. And the more I think of it, the more does our friend seem to me to fall into the position of one of those "verständige Leute," about whom he makes so apt a quotation from Goethe. Surely he has not duly considered two points. The first, that I am in no way answerable for the origination of the doctrine he criticises: and the second, that if we are to employ the terms observation, induction, and experiment, in the sense in which he uses them, logic is as much an observational, inductive, and experimental science as mathematics; and that, I confess, appears to me to be a reductio ad absurdum of his argument.

Thirdly, the essay "On the Physical Basis of Life" was intended to contain a plain and untechnical statement of one of the great tendencies of modern biological thought, accompanied by a protest, from the philosophical side, against what is commonly called Materialism. The result of my well meant efforts I find to be, that I am generally credited with having invented "protoplasm" in the interests of "materialism." My unlucky "Lay Sermon" has been attacked by microscopists, ignorant alike of Biology and Philosophy; by philosophers, not very learned in either Biology or Microscopy; by clergymen of several denominations; and by some few writers who have taken the trouble to understand the subject. I trust that these last will believe that I leave the essay unaltered from no want of respectful attention to all they have said.

Fourthly, I wish to refer all who are interested in the topics discussed in my address on "Geological Reform," to the reply with which Sir William Thomson has honoured me... Continue reading book >>

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