Art. I. 1. An Enquiry into the Probability and Rationality

of Mr. Hunter's Theory of Life, being the Subject of the

first two Anatomical Lectures delivered before the Royal Col-

lege of Surgeons of London. By John Abernethy, F.R.S. &c.

Professor of Anatomy and Surgery to the College. 1814.

2. An Introduction to Comparative Anatomy and Physiology,

being the two Introductory Lectures delivered at the Royal

College of Surgeons on the 21st and 25th of March, 1816.

By William Lawrence, F.R.S. &c.

3. Physiological Lectures, exhibiting a General View, &c. de-

livered before the Royal College of Surgeons, 1817. By John

Abemethy, F.R.S.

4. Lectures on Physiology, Zoology, and the Natural History of

Man, delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons. By William

Lawrence, F.R.S. 1819.

5. Sketches on the Philosophy of Life. By Sir T. C. Morgan.


6. Remarks on Scepticism, being an Answer to the Views of

Bichat, Sir T. C. Morgan, and Mr. Lawrence. By the Rev.

Thomas Rennell, A.M. Christian Advocate in the University

of Cambridge. 1819.

7. Cursory Observations upon the Lectures, &c. By one of the

People called Christians. 1819.

8. A Letter to the Rev. Thomas Rennell. From a Graduate in

Medicine. 1819.

WE find our attention called by the pamphlets before us to


the doctrine of materialism : an open avowal of which has been

made in the metropolis of the British empire, in lectures de-

livered under public authority, by Mr. Lawrence, Professor of

Anatomy and Surgery, in the Royal College of Surgeons.

In the year 1814, Mr. Abernethy, who has long been known

as a medical gentleman of the highest eminence, and one of

the professors of that college, delivered two lectures on the Proba-

bility and Rationality of Mr. Hunter's Theory of Life. It can

scarcely be necessary to remind our readers, in limine," that the

nature of the living principle is among the subjects which are

manifestly beyond the reach of human investigation. The effects


and the properties of life are indeed obvious to our senses, through the whole range of organized creation; but, on what they depend, and how they are produced, never has been discovered, and, probably, never will. 'Mr. Abernethy, however, following the steps of the celebrated J. Hunter, elucidates his views on the subject, which have the high merit of attempting to explain but little, but which seem fairly derived from the most probable conclusions to which our reason can carry us; viz. that life, in general, is some principle of activity added by the will of Omnipotence to organized structure,--and that, in man, who is endowed with an intelligent faculty in addition to this vital principle possessed by other organized beings, to life and structure an immaterial soul is superadded.

• We perceive,' he says, ' an exact correspondence between those opinions which result from physiological researches, and those which so naturally arise from the suggestions of reason that some have considered them as intuitive. For most reflecting persons in all ages have believed, and indeed it seems natural to believe, what modern physiology also appears to teach, that in the human body there esists an assemblage of organs, formed of common inert matter, such as we see after death, a principle of life and action, and a sentient and rational faculty, all intimately connected, yet each apparently distinct from the other.

• So intimate, indeed, is the connection as to impose on us the opinion of their identity. The body springs and bounds as though its inert fabric were alive; yet we have good reasons for believing that life is distinct from organization. The mind and the actions of life affect each other. Failure or disturbance of the actions of life prevent or disturb our feelings, and enfeeble, perplex, or distract our intellectual operations. The mind equally affects the actions of life, and thus influencés the whole body. Terror seems to palsy all its parts, whilst contrary emotions cause the limbs to struggle, and become contracted from energy. Now though these facts may countenance the idea of the identity of mind and life, yet we have good reasons for believing that they are perfectly distinct. Whilst, therefore, on the one hand I feel interested in oppugning those physiological opinions which tend to confound life with organization; I would, on the other, equally oppose those which confound perception and intelligence with mere vitality.'Enquiry, p. 77-79.

He thus concludes.

• Thus my mind rests at peace in thinking on the subject of life, as it has been taught by Mr. Hunter; and I am visionary enough to imagine, that if these opinions should become so established as to be generally admitted by philosophers, that if they once saw reason to believe that life was something of an invisible and active nature superadded to organization; they would then see equal reason to believe that mind might be superadded to life, as life is to structure. They would then indeed still farther perceive how mind and matter might reciprocally operate on each other by means of an intervening substance. Thus even would physiological researches enforce the belief which I may say is natural to man; that in addition to his bodily frame, he possesses a sensitive, intelligent, and independent mind: an opinion which tends in an eminent degree to produce virtuous, honorable, and useful actions.p. 94, 95.

Two years after the appearance of these lectures, Mr. Lawrence, who had recently been elected to the situation of colleague to Mr. Abernethy, delivered at the college his two introductory lectures on Comparative Anatomy and Physiology. Mr. Lawrence is, we understand, a young surgeon, who has acquired considerable reputation in his profession, and particularly by a diligent study of comparative anatomy, through the medium of foreign, for the most part German, writers and professors. He had been the pupil of Mr. Abernethy, and had lived for many years under his roof; and he speaks, in the warmest terms, of the invariable kindness and disinterested friendship with which that gentleman directed his early studies.

After giving, in his first lecture, an excellent sketch of the objects and the history of comparative anatomy, he proceeds, in the second, to develope his ideas concerning the principle of life. Here he assumes a very different character. Forgetting the encomiums which he had just passed on his benefactor and instructor, the respect which he owed to his professional situation and character, and, we hesitate not to add, the direct object of the professional station he was then filling, (a station expressly founded for displaying Mr. Hunter's noble Museum, purchased by Parliament for the use of the College, and of illustrating his physiological investigations,) he indulges in taunts and sarcasms, not of the most modest, or mild description, against Mr. Hunter's theory as maintained by Mr. Abernethy in the former year, and the manner in which he illustrated and supported it. In explaining his own opinions, Mr. Lawrence involves himself in much

perplexity and confusion; but still he inculcates, in terms too plain to be misunderstood, the portentous doctrine that the principle of life, whether sentient or intelligent, is in all organized beings the same; that, whether we look to man, the highest of the animal creation, with all his faculties of invention, memory, imagination, or to an oyster or a cabbage, the vital properties are all derived from their organic structure, and that the difference of this structure constitutes the only difference in their faculties and powers. He mentions, p. 144, as if it were a known and acknowledged truth, that medullary substance is capable of sensation and of



thought.' And at p. 155, favours us with the following notable passage.

• The cerebral functions, which are much more numerous and diversified in the higher orders of the mammalia, than in any of the preceding divisions of the animal kingdom, receive their last development in man; where they produce all the phenomena of intellect, all those wonderful processes of thought, known under the names of memory, reflection, association, judgment, reasoning, imagination, which so far transcend any analogous appearance in animals, that we almost feel a repugnance to refer them to the same principle.--If therefore we were to follow strictly the great series of living bodies through its whole extent, we should see the vital properties gradually encreased in number and energy from the last of plants, the mosses or the algą, to the first of animals, man!'

Mr. Lawrence, it will be instantly recollected by every reader, whatever other merit may belong to him, has not that of being the inventor of these doctrines. They are as old as any on record, and have been advanced and confuted, and revived and driven into obscurity again and again. In the present instance, Mr. Lawrence has copied them, and even the terms in which he has expressed them, from the school of modern French philosophy. Indeed, this is not the first occasion on which he has consented to become a mere copyist, and for the purpose of propagating these worn-out but mischievous opinions : he is understood to be the writer of several articles on life, and other subjects connected with it, in the interminable Encyclopædia of Dr. Rees, in which the same principles are maintained, and in which Mr. Rennell has discovered, that he bas translated whole sections from M. Bichat, without the slightest acknowledgment; and we have traced him, in like manner, still more frequently transcribing into his own pages materials of the same description from the free-thinking physiologists of Germany.

In 1817, Mr. Abernethy delivered another course of Physiological Lectures, exhibiting a general view of Mr. Hunter's physiology, and of his researches into comparative anatomy, in which he affords an interesting detail of the course of study of that distinguished naturalist, of the additions which he made to our stock of useful knowledge in these departments, and of the valuable ends to which he directed his pursuits. At the same time, be took occasion to defend the theory which he had previously explained, from the miserable ribaldry with which it had been assailed, and to guard his hearers from the mischief of the sceptical principles promulgated in that lecture-room in the preceding year. With that view, he made some very just observations on the general tone and method of proceeding of persons


« ElőzőTovább »