Cornhill Magazine,  2 (1860), 421–31.

Physiological Riddles. IV.—Conclusion  [4/4]

[James Hinton]


Essay, Serial


Physiology, Physiological Psychology, Physiological Chemistry, Botany, Force, Energy, Nutrition, Analogy, Political Economy, Machinery, Natural Law, Vitalism, Magnetism, Romanticism, Organicism, Astronomy, Design, Theology of Nature

People mentioned:

Francis Bacon (1st Viscount St Alban) , John W Draper , Isaac Newton , Antonio J Cavanilles

Publications cited:


    Although conceding that the 'union of mind and body is in our experience so intimate, that we naturally think of them together', Hinton insists that the 'purely physical life of the body' remains 'subservient' to 'the spiritual faculties of feeling and will', and proposes that physiology must continue 'distinguishing the mental and the material life, [...] fixing our thoughts upon the body, over which, as over an obedient instrument, the conscious man bears sway' (421). In this examination of the animal body, Hinton locates it within the universal system of energy conservation that operates in accordance with the law: 'Every giving off of force has for its necessary effect the storing up of force in equal amount elsewhere' (424). The perpetual process of 'an equal loss and gain' of force is analogous to the principles of political economy: 'Nature in this respect is like the books of a commercial firm [...]. We are but borrowers from Nature's store, and what she showers on us with open hand, with a stern clutch she snatches from our fellows. But we are honest debtors, and pay to the last farthing' (425). Samuel T Coleridge in his posthumous book Hints Towards the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory of Life is seen to have 'anticipated, so far as his general view is concerned, almost the entire advance of physiological knowledge since his day' (426). The essential unity of the organic and inorganic worlds, expressed by Coleridge and others, leads to the necessary conclusion that 'the apparently inorganic world is truly living too' (428). All structures are made up of lifeless atoms ('The ultimate atoms of oxygen and hydrogen, for example, are the same in the human brain as they are in water'), and the existence of life depends only upon their mode of organization (429). In this view, inorganic planets might be considered as atomic particles that are organized into the living whole of a galaxy. Hinton concludes his series of articles by explaining to the reader, who has remained 'tolerant of the abstruse discussions which some of the papers contain' (431), that 'the name "Riddles" has not been given to them without meaning, or merely to stimulate a jaded curiosity' (430–31), but in order to signify our still 'feeble powers' of comprehension with regard to the 'laws and methods of the Highest and Universal Worker' (431).


Hinton 1862

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