Cornhill Magazine,  6 (1862), 842–56.

Our Survey of Literature and Science

[George H Lewes] / [John F W Herschel]


Regular Feature, Review-Essay


Monographs, Religion, Controversy, Natural History, Oceanography, Botany, Biology, Astronomy, Measurement, Metallurgy, Inorganic Chemistry, Government

Publications cited:

Cohn 1861

    After suggesting that books are 'the flowers of winter' (842), Lewes concedes that they are 'not all beautiful [...]. Sometimes an unsuspected thorn pricks to anger; sometimes an odour, stronger, but not sweeter, than that of the rose, excites repugnance. What thorns, what odour, will be felt in Bishop Colenso's book [The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined], which "everybody" is handling and sniffing, it is not for us to say. We pass it by' (843). Reports that the 'natural history of the sea has received no more important or attractive contribution than in Dr. Wallich's North Atlantic Sea Bed, the first part of which has just appeared' [no more were published]. The book 'sets beyond a doubt a point which ought never to have been raised into a doubt, had biologists been more familiar with physics—namely, the existence of animal life at enormous depths in spite of the enormous pressure'. (852) In the Science section, Herschel observes, 'Instead of the marked opposition which may still be read in popular handbooks, thrown into the form of tabulated contrasts, we have learned that the physical, chemical, and physiological characters, by which the plant and the animal are supposed to be separated, are unequivocally characteristic of both' (854). Indeed, Ferdinand J Cohn's 'recent discovery [...] of a contractile tissue in plants identical in properties with the muscular tissues of animals, adds one more striking fact to the accumulated evidence of identity between the vegetal and animal organizations' (853–54). What Cohn's work has shown is that 'in at least one portion of a plant—the stamen of the Centaurea—there exists a tissue which presides over the phenomena of contractility' (854). Relates how a 'writer of the highest authority has forwarded to us his doubts' as to Jean B L Foucault's method of calculating the 'distance of the sun from the earth' by 'the velocity of light'. However, as Foucault's ally Jacques Babinet affirms, 'the received distance of the sun will have to be in some degree reduced, in conformity with, though not to the full extent of, the reduced result derived from working back through the medium of aberration, from M. Foucault's velocity of light'. The Russian government has determined to 'examine, in conjunction with Messers. Deville and Debray, the physical properties of platinum prepared by the simple fusion of the native metal without previous separation of the iridium and rhodium', with 'a view, perhaps, to the revival' of the only 'coinage of platina [which] has ever been in circulation'. (856)

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