Cornhill Magazine,  1 (1860), 198–207.

Studies in Animal Life Ch. 2  [2/6]

[George H Lewes]


Essay, Serial

Relevant illustrations:

wdct. [8]


Associationism, Microbiology, Invertebrate Zoology, Entomology, Gender, Nomenclature, Controversy, Taxonomy, Human Species, Animal Development, Dissection, Discovery, Textbooks, Wonder

People mentioned:

Léon Dufour , Theodor Hartig , Adolphe T Brongniart , Louis Jurine , Christian G Ehrenberg , Carl T E von Siebold , George Busk , William C Williamson , Abraham Trembley , Francis Bacon (1st Viscount St Alban) , Henry Gray

Publications cited:

Wordsworth 1814 , Baird 1850 , Stein 1859 , Trembley 1744 , Hoeven 1856-8

    The second chapter begins with the narration of an imagined visit to the ponds of Wimbledon Common which, while they are 'not so rich and lovely as rock-pools', nevertheless yield much to 'tempt us [...] to bring net and wide-mouthed jar' (198). Brief instructions are given concerning the equipment necessary for the examination of pond-life. The main part of the essay concerns the 'immense variety of tiny animals' that inhabit inland ponds, but the article is frequently punctuated by eclectic digressions. In an elegiac aside, for instance, Lewes discusses the childhood memories which the 'gaunt' windmill on the Common 'recalls [...] by the subtle laws of association' (199). Similarly, the consideration of sexual dimorphism in Entomostraca prompts a discussion of the inferiority of the male sex in 'some great families' such as the falcon and the bee. Explicitly identifying his readers as male, Lewes observes that 'It must be confessed that our sex cuts but a poor figure', and later adds 'this digression is becoming humiliating' (202). He goes on to explain the background of the scientific controversy over the animal or plant-like nature of Volvox, a dispute that, as he tells the lay reader, 'may perhaps excite your surprise'. In addition, Thomas H Huxley's coinage 'zöoids' is introduced as a new scientific term (203). The frequency of 'retrogression' in the metamorphosis of animal life is illustrated by 'human animals' who 'exhibit a somewhat similar metamorphosis, and make up for the fitful capriciousness of wandering youth, by the steady severity of their application to business, when width of waistcoat and smoothness of cranium suggest a sense of their responsibilities' (201–02). Discussing a 'blood-red' Polype, Lewes alerts the indifferent reader to the exciting 'discovery [...] of a species hitherto undescribed in text-books', but reflects that there 'must be a basis of knowledge before wonder can be felt' (206). The article concludes with an anecdote about a passing Irish labourer's initial contempt for Lewes's specimen collecting being soon transformed into a reverence both for divine creation and the practice of science.


Lewes 1862

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