Cornhill Magazine,  1 (1860), 283–95.

Studies in Animal Life Ch. 3  [3/6]

[George H Lewes]


Essay, Serial

Relevant illustrations:

wdct. [4]


Wonder, Light, Photography, Associationism, Microbiology, Invertebrate Zoology, Spontaneous Generation, Error, Experiment, Observation, Biology, Disciplinarity, Natural History, Taxonomy, Monstrosities, Morphology, Philosophy

People mentioned:

William Wordsworth , Antoni van Leeuwenhoek , Christian G Ehrenberg , Louis M F Doyère , Casimir J Davaine , Lazzaro Spallanzani , Louis D J Gavarret

Institutions mentioned:

Académie des sciences, Paris

Publications cited:

Wordsworth 1814 , Draper 1856 , Leeuwenhoek 1798–1807 , Pouchet 1859 , Spallanzani 1803

    Reflecting on an old garden wall, Lewes begins the third chapter by asserting that in 'the wondrous metamorphosis momently going on everywhere in the world, there is change, but no loss'. In case the reader 'should imagine this to be poetry, and not science', he gives the example of the alterations affected by 'every beam of light'. (283) Even humans are 'involved in the universal metamorphosis', as is shown by the cases of uneducated women who suddenly begin using Greek and Hebrew phrases long stored in their unconscious minds. These 'vagabond thoughts' lead on to the main part of the article, which concerns Rotifera. The 'celebrity of these creatures' has been established by 'their power of resurrection' (286). Lewes, however, verifies experimentally that a Rotifer can be resurrected only from a state of 'suspended animation' in which the water in its tissues has not been evaporated (288). Once it becomes completely dry the Rotifer is dead and, contrary to the erroneous conclusions of earlier investigators, cannot be brought back to life. Apropos of the 'inherent love of the marvellous' which makes 'men greedily accept the idea of resuscitation' (289), Lewes proposes that 'the study of science is valuable as a means of culture' because 'in it the mind learns to submit to realities, instead of thrusting its figments in the place of realities'. In particular, biology, because of the complexity of the cases which it investigates and by cultivating caution, is both 'pre-eminent as a means of culture' and 'a mental tonic of inestimable worth'. Addressing the 'reader unfamiliar with the language of Natural History', Lewes concludes the article by listing the five plans of structure under which all animals are classed. (290) In a footnote concerning the position of organs in vertebrate monstrosities, he uses an example from Molière's play Le médecin malgré lui. Georges Cuvier's classification of the animal kingdom into four divisions, which is based upon 'an unphilosphical view of morphology', requires supplementing with a fifth division made up of the 'simplest of all animals [which] represent, as it were, the beginnings of life'. Furthermore, Cuvier's inadequate system, as Lewes notes, was 'secretly determined by the desire' to oppose the idea, held by Jean B P A de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, of the 'unity of composition throughout the animal kingdom;—in other words, that all varieties of animal forms were produced by successive modifications'. (294)


Lewes 1862

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