Cornhill Magazine,  7 (1863), 132–44.

Our Survey of Literature and Science

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


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Human Species, Progress, Ethnology, Comparative Philology, Intellectual Property, Controversy, Discovery, Physiology, Physics, Dynamics, Meteorology, Geology, Physical Geography, Nutrition, Neurology, Astronomy, Instruments, Observatories

    Remarks that while Daniel Wilson's recent book Prehistoric Man is of 'great interest' in its attempt to 'collect and classify material respecting the arts and habits of savage tribes and early forms of civilization', it is 'too ill-organized to be of service' as 'a contribution to the philosophy of the subject' (137). The consideration of the origin of literary plagiarism in The Origin and History of the English Language by George P Marsh, 'an American philologist of the new school of philologists, of whom Max Müller is the most brilliant professor' (138), leads Lewes to compare 'plagiarism [from] Shakespeare, Scott, or Dickens' with the charge made by 'the opponents of Marshall Hall' that he 'appropriated the German physiologist's [i.e. Georgius Procháska] discovery of Reflex Action', although Lewes makes it clear that the 'charge against Marshall Hall we believe to have been unfounded' (139). In the Science section, Herschel reports that 'M. Foucault's beautiful experiment, by which, through the medium of a pendulum, the rotation of the earth on its axis may be said to have been rendered palpable to our senses, has had the effect of calling attention to a great many other phenomena going on on its surface, into which it enters as a modifying cause'. These include 'the phenomena of Cyclones', which have been 'reduced to a dependence on this cause combined with local disturbances in temperature'. Similarly, it has afforded an explanation for the greater erosion of different sides of river banks ('in the northern hemisphere, the rotary motion of the earth will have the effect of driving the water against the right bank of the river [...] and vice versâ in the southern hemisphere'), a tendency that 'had already been noticed by more than one geologist of eminence, without any suspicion of its cause' (140–41). Recent work on the 'uses of sugar in assisting assimilation' suggests that 'Puddings and fruit tarts are not [...] simply flatteries of the palate, but digestive agents; provided always they are not themselves made of rebelliously indigestible materials, which in English cookery is too frequently the case' (141–42). Notes that 'the most brilliant physiologist of the day, Claude Bernard, has been led to doubt the truth of what has been considered indubitable ever since the nervous system has been systematically investigated: namely, that nerves are excitors, their functions being to excite the activity of the muscles and glands'. Instead, Bernard urges that nerves are 'bridles', and that organs manifest their functional power only when the nervous influence is suspended. Warns, however, that 'the conclusion drawn by M. Bernard is precipitate', and 'the discharge of the secretion from the gland' in fact occurs only when 'the nerves are stimulated'. (142–43) Every 'increase in the power of our telescopes tends to enhance' our conception of the variability of nebulæ 'by bringing into view new and unexpected features in their form and structure' (143). For instance, the observations made by Eyre B Powell, 'an astronomer resident at Madras', of 'the remarkable variable star' Eta Argus have revealed a 'most extraordinary change in its configuration' since 'the elaborate definition [of it] made by Sir John Herschel during his residence at the Cape of Good Hope' in the 1830s. Concludes that 'Should the effort now in progress to procure the erection of a great reflecting telescope at Melbourne prove successful, the further observation of these changes will be secured in a way leaving nothing to desire'. (144)

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