Cornhill Magazine,  1 (1860), 61–74.

Studies in Animal Life Ch. 1  [1/6]

[George H Lewes]


Essay, Serial

Relevant illustrations:

wdct. [6]


Gender, Human Species, Nomenclature, Biology, Wonder, Transcendentalism, Microscopy, Microbiology, Popularization, Industry, Health, Taxonomy, Animal Development, Embryology, Anatomy, Utilitarianism, Analogy

People mentioned:

Charles P Robin , William Sharpey , Claude Bernard , William Paley , Jan Swammerdam , Carl T E von Siebold , Francis Bacon (1st Viscount St Alban) , King James II

Publications cited:

Wordsworth 1814 , Ehrenberg 1854 , Robin 1853 , Sharpey and Ellis 1856 , Goethe 1817–24 , Baer 1828 , Swammerdam 1752 , Siebold 1854 , Lewes 1858

    In his prospectus to the Cornhill in November 1859, William M Thackeray insisted that as well as novels and fiction, the new magazine should also have 'as much reality as possible' including 'familiar reports of scientific discovery' (Ray ed. 1946: 4, 160). A month earlier, George Smith had commissioned Lewes to contribute a suitable series of articles on natural history at the generous rate of 25s. a page (Ashton 1991: 203). Lewes's series of six articles (split into chapters and already planned as a book) attempts to present the leading arguments of mid-century natural history to a readership which Lewes self-consciously constructs as both male and 'popular'. They are written in a familiar, but nonetheless authoritative tone, with frequent references both to scientific authorities and Lewes's own experimental work. Some familiarity with the principal works of contemporary science is assumed.

    The first chapter begins with an invocation to study a feminized nature that reveals herself in myriad forms of life. In a strong narrative of wonder regarding the immanence of life, Lewes insists that although 'man is the noblest study', he can be known fully only through understanding 'the laws of universal life'. His 'Life forms but one grand illustration of Biology—the science of life, as he forms but the apex of the animal world'. A footnote adds that the term 'Biology' is both 'needful' and now being 'generally adopted' (61n.). The remainder of the article chiefly concerns the study of infusoria, and the rejection of Christian G Ehrenberg's notion of their complex organization. In addition, self-conscious digressions offer practical advice on the study of microscopy, and an analogy between infusorial and human anatomy with regard to health and industrial working conditions. The extremely simple organization of infusoria is part of 'an ascending series of animal organisms' (67) that accords with the 'grand law [...] of animal life', enunciated by Johann W von Goethe and Karl E von Baer, that 'Development is always from the general to the special, from the simple to the complex'. Lewes illustrates this law of development with a passage from 'the music of our deeply meditative' Alfred Tennyson. (68) The article closes with an apologia for the study of nature, and microscopy in particular. In an impassioned defence of more popular forms of research into the natural world, Lewes warns against 'the sneers or objections' of those who 'wish to close the temple against new comers' (74).


Lewes 1862

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