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Natural Philosophy-Goethe-Predestined Transformation according to Richard Owen-Lamark.
WE have hitherto confined ourselves essentially to the contemplation of the phenomena of the animal world as facts, avoiding as far as possible any examination of the correlation of these facts, or any criticism of the attempts to explain them. It was nevertheless necessary to single out from the history of our science some few impulses of which the after-effects extend to the present time, and of which a knowledge is conducive to the comprehension of prevailing views, tendencies, and prejudices. For this reason we again revert to the evolutionary history of Biology and Comparative Anatomy, that we may trace the present currents to their sources. Since the middle of last century, there has been no lack of leading ideas. in the organic natural sciences, such, for instance, as are contained in Buffon's magnificent project of a picture of the world. But if it is a question of a single comprehensive solution of the organic world, we are at once reminded of the claims preferred by Natural Philosophy in the first decades of this century, to explain the universe; to derive from the whole, not only matter in the abstract, but the being and origin of organic bodies. When the Philosophy of Identity began to
found the laws of the Mind without the study of the body, and in its own fashion had proved the identity of the corporal and spiritual world by means of imponderables and non-organic bodies, their constructions necessarily extended to organisms.
This attempt to generalize the principles of Schelling was made by Oken" when in his system he conceives all Nature to be a process of evolution. In his opinion, natural science is the science of the eternal modification of God, that is of Mind, in the world, and is thus in the widest sense, Cosmogony. Everything, when contemplated as part of the genetic process of the whole, involves, besides the idea of existence, also that of non-existence, or position and negation, as it rises into a higher idea. These contrasts include the category of polarity, which manifests itself in motion, the life of all things. The simpler elementary bodies aggregate into higher forms, which are mere higher powers of the former, as their causes. Hence the various classes of bodies represent parallel series, each corresponding with and modifying the order of the other; classes of which the rational arrangement follows with inherent necessity from their genetic coherence. But in individuals, these lower series again become apparent during the period of development. The antagonisms in the solar system of the planets and the sun, repeat themselves in plants and animals; and as light is the principle of motion, the animal has the advantage of independent motion, above the vegetal organism which pre-eminently belongs to the earth. Embryology receives its due in a general proposition. "Animals perfect themselves gradually, adding organ to organ in the self-same manner as the individual
animal is perfected." But in Man, as the highest animal, the whole animal world is contained; he is the actual Microcosm.
If Natural Philosophy be the expression and logical connection of all well-observed facts, we could not now designate as Natural Philosophy, Oken's well-rounded system, laid down in 3562 propositions, with their inferential conceits of Position, Negation, and Polarity, the absolutely meaningless formula of + - without any real penetration of the subject-matter. Various and important incitements to research were nevertheless supplied by it, and we have been the more anxious to call attention to this system, as it implies at least as much as the vague formulæ and ideas of "intrinsic development," the "principle of progress," the "conversion of the lower into the higher," and the whole litany of indecision and indistinctness.
In this chapter we shall not adhere to chronological succession, but merely characterize various theories of organic nature; and we may therefore now revert to Goethe, who in Haeckel's opinion forestalled his age on the great question which forms the subject of this book, and deserves to be honoured as the independent founder of the theory of descent in Germany." We cannot ascribe this importance to Goethe, for we must deny. the very cardinal-point on which Haeckel lays most weight, that Goethe regards species not merely as modified phenomena of the variable idea of the genus, but as the sum of bodies modifiable in the concrete. What principally induces us to make detailed mention of Goethe is his penetration of the idea of type, which since the time of Buffon had been for two gencra
tions the lodestar of a higher research unknown to the pure systematizers. Goethe elaborated this idea in his own mind on the basis of a certainly remarkable special knowledge of organic matter, and undeniably reached the threshold of the solution. That his scientific activity was a necessary effusion of his nature, I have demonstrated in the treatises here cited. Additional evidence has been given by Helmholtz and Virchow.
Goethe's notes on his position towards nature, and his researches, comprise a period of more than fifty years. About the year 1780, there appears, under the title of "Die Natur," a sort of Hymn to Nature, concluding with the beautiful words which make him seem a pure Pantheist: "She placed me in it; she will also lead me forth; I trust myself to her. She may dispose of me. She will not hate her work. I spake not of her. No, whatever is true and whatever is false, she spake it all. All is her fault, and all is her merit." And shortly before his death, in March, 1832, he threw his whole soul into the scientific controversy as to the different methods of the investigation of nature and the fundamental principles of study, which rose high in the midst of the French Academy between the two renowned representatives of the inductive and deductive tendencies, Cuvier and Geoffroy St. Hilaire. What Goethe here laid down in the evening of his days, is a sort of scientific profession of faith, and it inspires the greatest admiration to behold the venerable octogenarian standing on the pinnacle of time, and above all parties, with the same principles which with his own powers he had framed for himself five-and-forty years before, in the prime of manhood.
In the height of his genius, when Goethe, standing at the centre of the life of Weimar, frequently withdrew from the bustle of the town and court, he received the first suggestions of the "Metamorphosis of Plants." He was irresistibly attracted to the varying phenomena of vegetal life, and he could but muse on the implied unity and rule underlying this variation. This was a fresh source of agitation, which pursued him when, in 1787, he forcibly tore himself from the influences of Weimar and fled to Italy. There, in Sicily, he found the solution of the riddle the leaf seemed to be the rudimentary organ of vegetal structure. And when, after his return, a new star rose for him in Christiana Vulpius, he laid down the quintessence of his ideas on the Metamorphosis of Plants in that exquisite poem, of which the lines—
"All forms have a resemblance, none is the same as another,
are present to all who ever made themselves acquainted.
with the muse of Goethe. He now saw in the various parts of the plant what he had learnt to see with the eye of the imagination, which he considers essential to the Naturalist, the harmonizing principle. "The same organ may be expanded into a compound leaf, or contracted into a simple stipule or scale. According to different circumstances, the self-same organ may be developed into a peduncle or an unfruitful branch. The calyx, by over-hastening itself, may become the corolla, and conversely, the corolla may approximate to the
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