Wednesday, September 14, 2016

General Jacob on the Progress of Being

“The Progress of Being in the Universe" is a remarkable subject for any man to discuss under any circumstances ; but that General Jacob, memorable for the Scinde Horse, for rifle shells, and for controversies with that genus irritabile the Napiers (which last step in universal progress is described in the pamphlet before us as “fighting with chimney-sweeps”), should correspond with a lady on such a subject, should find his reputation for orthodox seriously damaged by privately circulating his letters, and should feel himself bound to publish them for his own vindication—these are portents which most rise to the dignity of signs of the times. Our attention has of late been so much occupied with the heroic side of Indian life that we have almost forgotten that it has a petty aspect. General Jacob's pamphlet unpleasantly recalls the fact. There is something at once painful and ludicrous in the spectacle of a controversy, which must of necessity be utterly unfruitful, between one of the most distinguished officers in India and the European clergy resident there upon the fundamental doctrines of religious belief. General Jacob, it seems, wrote a series of letters to a lady, which, in their collected form, constitute the pamphlet before us. The letters were thought sufficiently interesting to be printed for private circulation. Hereupon a variety of communications were addressed to their author, in which he was charged with attempting to force his views into circulation, and to corrupt the minds of every young man brought in his way, and was called upon to give the letters to the world, and so submit them to public criticism. He at last answered these demands by the publication of the pamphlet before us, in which he indignantly denies the charge of proselytism, and declares that he made no attempt whatever to force the letters into circulation. General Jacob prints one of the letters which he received, and it certainly enables us to form a pretty strong conjecture that he must be undergoing that kind of petty martyrdom with which the odium theologicum is accustomed to afflict the minority in all small societies; yet we cannot but regret that he should have thought himself bound to keep up the quarrel by publishing his pamphlet. If he had contented himself with disproving the public offence with which he was charged, the matter must have fallen to the ground in due course of time. As it is, he certainly gives his antagonists as good as they bring. Nothing can exceed the audacity and violence with which he states his views. For example, common religious opinions are described generically as “their idols, their prayers, and their miserable ceremonies; their traditions and their sacred writings of old Fukkeers." Again, “If priests or other poor people assail you, and call you ‘infidel,’ &c., grieve not; remember that our priests are hired to rail at those who refuse to accept their drivel as divine truth." "The most enormous evil which ever existed in the world is the Church of England joined to the State"—a greater evil, we suppose, than Thuggee, infanticide, or human sacrifices.

This kind of language cannot be justified by any amount of malice, misrepresentation, or stupidity. We have a great respect for General Jacob, and very little for the common run of popular theologians—especially when they intrude into private affairs; but it grieves us to see language like this use by a gallant soldier and first-rate administrator. If we wanted further proof of the necessity which exists for preaching reserve and moderation upon theological subjects to all persons connected with the Government of India, we should find it in the transaction recorded by this pamphlet. We cannot believe that there was any substantial ground for supposing that General Jacob was really guilty of abusing his position by making it an instrument for spreading his views; and we are therefore forced to conclude that, at the very crisis of the fate of our Indian Empire, the local clergy on the one hand, and General Jacob on the other, thought it wise and right to give and accept a challenge to discuss questions upon which they can throw no new light whatever, and which involve nothing less than the whole structure of religion and morality. What must be the conclusions of the natives, when they learn that the European clergy look upon one of the most vigorous of our proconsuls as being many degrees worse than the most benighted worshipper of Buddha or Brahma, whilst he on the other hand considers their opinions as nothing more than "Paganism slightly altered," and the existence of the church to which they belong as a greater enormity than the worship of Juggernaut? Of General Jacob's assailants we can only say, that their conduct in exciting such a controversy at such a time justifies the bitter sarcasm of the warmest friend the clergy ever ad. “I have always found," said Lord Clarendon, “that no men were so unfit for the conduct of affairs as the clergy." As to General Jacob, he ought to have known better. Whatever may be the truth about the Church of England and Christianity, no provocation can justify a public officer in making a public attack upon either the one or the other at such a time and place. If he had replied to his assailants by a denial that he had ever abused his position for proselytizing purposes, and an indignant refusal to discuss the questions at issue between them and himself in the presence of the common enemy, he would have occupied an invulnerable position. As it is, he has placed himself in one which those who admire his public career cannot but be the first to regret.

General Jacob's pamphlet is little more than a restatement of the theory of the author of the Vestiges of Creation. According to him, at an indefinitely distant epoch the material of the solar system was dispersed through all space. After a time, the force of attraction whirled it into globes, which globes by degrees consolidated, evolving heat as they condensed. At this point crystals began to form, according to the law of polarity—a form of magnetism. The earth, being in this polarized state, gradually crystallized under the influence of light, heat, &c. Ultimately this produced combustion, whence came carbonic acid gas, and also water. The carbonic acid and the water also crystallized, forming simple organic cells, which, being joined, formed tubes, and thus ultimately vegetables—the life of the vegetables consisting of the united polar currents of the tubes of which they are composed. This vegetation set free much oxygen, whereby the vegetable cells became converted into animal cells, whence, in due course of time arose a variety of animals, and ultimately man. The brains of the higher orders of animals secreted courage, anger, love, &c., and man's brain elaborated by a similar process good and noble thoughts, and many other things. So long as the individual life is “completely governed by the general life-current of the whole body," all is well; but “the instant a cell ceases to obey, to follow, to live by the general law of the life of the whole to which it belongs, it ceases to be a part of a living being of a higher order than itself. It is now a HYDATID— a foreign body -—a disease." Hence come good and evil, but the highest step in our development (though its nature is not physically explained) is consciousness. “Man is a particle which has attained to that state of existence at which consciousness of the general LAW of being, of the existence of a mighty whole to which he belongs, commences." This consciousness, together with the other “ imponderables" secreted by the brain—such as "causality, conscientiousness, benevolence, veneration, ideality, &c.—are as much parts of men's persons as are bones and muscles," says General Jacob, in small capitals. The conclusion is, that we ought to “habitually identify ourselves with and especially exercise and cultivate that portion of our being which we find to lead us eternally towards reason, justice, charity, holiness, and beauty, and wheresoever these are we shall live." Thus a good man is, as it were, the crown and flower of all progress from the time when there was nothing but articles and polarity up to the present day. We are incidentally informed that Christianity is all a mistake, and is indeed merely slightly “altered paganism." This conclusion is founded “on reading and study," and a list is given of such of the books from which it was formed as remain in General Jacob's possession. We forbear to criticise the list, for we do not wish to ridicule a gallant soldier.

Our readers will see at once that, in so far as it relates to physical science, General Jacob's pamphlet is a mere restatement of a very well known theory. We need not point out the objections to its reception. We should rather like to be told why, at the end of the vegetable stage of the process described, the oak trees did not develop into sea-anemones, which would seem to have been their proper course; and we have some curiosity to know what is the difference between the aggregate number of cells which put together make up a man, and the man himself, and to learn how, if there is no difference, that remarkable “imponderable" called “consciousness,” is secreted from a quantity of atoms in which it does not exist. It is, however, no great sacrifice to suppress a curiosity which is certain to be disappointed.

The use which General Jacob makes of his theory is better worth attention than the merits of the theory itself, for we cannot remember to have ever met with a more singular illustration of the onesidedness and rashness with which even persons of undoubted ability are apt to theorize in the present day upon the most important subjects. General Jacob appears to agree with his critics in supposing that his views are totally incompatible with a belief in Christianity; but the fact is, that he has jumbled together two trains of thought, which, though they are often confounded, are nevertheless essentially distinct, and involve a distinction which it is of the first importance to bear in mind in all such speculations. The theory of, development appears to us to be, to say the least, altogether improved. If it were freed from many obvious objections, it would still be no more than a more or less ingenious conjecture, resting upon hypotheses so enormously wide as to amount to something very like a petitio principii, and involving the use of that most inexact and deceptive metaphor which calls mere uniformity of operation a “law," and then invests the uniformity with an inherent energy— a fallacy equivalent to that of saying (to use the phrase of a contemporary), “that the pattern weaves the cloth, or that the Nautical Almanack regulates the tides." If, however, the theory in question were entirely true, it would leave our moral and religious position as it found it. It would not be inconsistent even with a revelation; and the truth or falsehood of any system claiming to be a revelation would, upon that hypothesis, be as much a question of fact and evidence as it is now.

The theory of development claims to give an account of the manner in which man and nature came into existence, and to show that the steps of the process were regular and consecutive. Religion and morality address themselves to men as they are, and tell them of their duties and prospects. Whether or not, before men existed, certain other things, more or less resembling them, existed in a certain order, is a question which appears to us totally irrelevant to that which relates to the nature of their present position. No one ever supposed that his responsibilities or his prospects, here or hereafter, are in the least degree affected by the fact that he is, in a certain sense, identical with the ovum and the foetus from which his existing body was developed; and if this be so, what difference can it make to him whether or not, millions and billions of years ago, certain half-rational baboons existed from whom his descent may be conjecturally traced? To attempt to refute or to establish any theological system by studying the modus operandi in creation, is like trying to find out the time of day by studying clockmaking. There is nothing that we know of to prevent the most devout Christian from accepting the theory of development if he pleases. The questions which it raises upon the common interpretation of the Mosaic chronology are by no means peculiar to it, but arise equally upon any scheme of geology; and even the extravagant positions of General Jacob, if rigidly and consistently adhered to, produce not only no unorthodox conclusions, but literally no new conclusions whatever. It seems to us extremely absurd to talk of the brain secreting benevolence; but provided a man goes on to recognise the doctrine, that if, by reason of the insufficiency of that secretion, a man mutinies, or robs, or murders, certain other brains will and ought to proceed to secrete indignation, and to send down electric currents into the corresponding hands, which will cause them to tie ropes into nooses, and put the nooses round the necks afflicted with the deficiency in question, and thereby elevate the heads, necks, and bodies from the ground till the vital stream permanently ceases to secrete consciousness, we do not know that it much matters. So long as a man recognises good and evil as such, and believes that here and hereafter the choice of the one and the avoiding of the other is the one thing needful, it makes no sort of difference whether he calls evil a HYDATID or any other name which is particularly satisfactory and intelligible to himself. The choice of a phraseology is really very much a matter of taste. By taking up half of one theory and half of another, no doubt the worst results will follow. If a man believes that matter cannot have a conscience, and that nothing exists except matter, no doubt he eliminates conscience from the world. But if he stretches his definition of matter in such a way as to include conscience, he is guilty at most of a singular use of language. Habit, education, and, above all, loose modes of talking and thinking, are, however, so all powerful, that such theories are always imperfectly applied, and do, in practice, much harm. The attempt to mould all one's thoughts into a form so inconceivably strange and clumsy as that which is furnished by the machinery of cells, hydatids, polarity, and the rest, is in reality hopelessly impossible, and General Jacob fails in it ludicrously. He tacitly an unconsciously assumes, throughout the whole of his pamphlet, principles borrowed from the system which he disavows. It is obvious, for example, that by studying modes of succession, nothing can be obtained except modes of succession. All existence resolves itself into a certain set of antecedents and consequents, necessarily connected together. How can such studies give any principle of selection? What is the meaning, in this system, of such words as good and evil, right and wrong? The corresponding ideas belong to an entirely different system. If they are translated into the language which General Jacob wishes us to talk, he must translate all the other notions which are connected with them into the same language. He will have to find equivalents, according to the same theory, for conscience, guilt, punishment, reward, and the like; and if so, he will have effected nothing more than the translation of familiar into unfamiliar phraseology. This might or might not be an improvement, but it would leave human belief and conduct precisely where it found them.

This observation receives additional confirmation from every attempt which General Jacob makes to reduce his theory to practice. He tells us that we shall rise in the scale of Being, and not in that of Appearance, if we adopt his views— as if rising were not a mere metaphor, and as if it mattered two straws whether in any strict sense of the word, people “rise" or “full," or are “hydatids" or “cells" in such a system as this. He also says that, in point of fact, this has been the case with wild tribes on whom he has tried experiments. Does he really think that the special purport of Christianity is to make people scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites, or that e is the first person who ever ado ted the motto, Esse quam videri? If he were the very best kind of Christian, he might have constructed rifle shells, organized irregular cavalry, and administered the affairs of Beloochistan just as well as he does at present; and he would, in the opinion of all reasonable men, have been bound to do his duty in that state of life (and we firmly believe that he has in many respects discharged it most nobly) by all the strongest considerations which can apply to any human conduct whatever. The theory of development could do no more, and with the vast majority of men it would have operated in quite another way.

Saturday Review, May 22, 1858.

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