[Review: The Latest Romance of Science]
[A Summary of “The Pedigree of Man”]
Lucifer, September, 1887
“The Latest Romance of Science,” summarized by a Frenchman.
If the Atomo-mechanical Theory of the Universe has caused considerable embarrassment to our materialists and brought some of their much beloved scientific speculations to grief (see The Concepts and Theories of Modern Physics, by J. B. Stallo), the layman must not be ungrateful to the great men for other boons received at their hands. Through the indefatigable labours of the most famous biologists and anthropologists of the day, the mystery which has hitherto enshrouded the origin of man is no more. It has vanished into thin air; thanks to the activity of the officina (workshop, in Queen’s English), in Haeckel’s brain, or, as a Hylo-Idealist would say, in the vesiculo-neurine of his hemispherical ganglia1—the origin of mankind has to be sought in that scientific region, and nowhere else.
Religiously read by the “Animalists” in its English translation in Protestant and Monarchical England, The Pedigree of Man is now welcomed with shouts of joy in Roman Catholic Republican France. A summary has just been compiled of it by a French savant, who rejoices in the name of Topinard. The summary on that “question of questions” (as Mr. Huxley calls it), is more interesting in reality than the Pedigree of Man itself. It is so deliciously fantastic and original, that one comes almost to regret that our numerous and frolicsome ancestors in the Zoological Gardens of Europe and America seem to show no intention of getting up a subscription list among themselves, for the raising of a lasting monument to the great Haeckel. Thus, ingratitude in man must surely be a phenomenon of atavism; another suggestive point being thus gained toward further proof of man’s descent from the ingrate and heartless, as well as tailless, pithecoid baboon.
Saith the learned Topinard:—
“At the commencement of what geologists call the Laurentian period of the Earth, and the fortuitous union of certain elements of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, under conditions which probably only took place at that epoch, the first albuminoid clots were formed. From them, and by spontaneous generation,2 the first cellules or cleavage masses took their origin. These cellules were then subdivided and multiplied, arranging themselves in the form of organs, and after a series of transformations, fixed by Mr. Haeckel at nine in number, originated certain vertebrata of the genus Amphioxus lanceolatus. The division into sexes was marked out, the spinal marrow and chorda dorsalis became visible. At the tenth stage the brain and skull made their appearance, as in the lamprey; at the eleventh, the limbs and jaws were developed . . . . . the earth was then only in the Silurian period. At the sixteenth, the adaptation to terrestrial life ceased. At the seventeenth, which corresponds to the Jurassic phase of the history of the globe, the genealogy of man is raised to the kangaroo among the marsupials. At the eighteenth, he becomes a lemurian; the Tertiary period commences. At the nineteenth, he becomes a Catarrhinian, that is to say, an ape with a tail, a Pithecian. At the twentieth he becomes an anthropoid, continuing so throughout the whole of the Miocene period. At the twenty-first he becomes a man-ape, he does not possess language, nor in consequence the corresponding brain. Lastly, at the twenty-second, man comes forth . . . . in his inferior types.”
Happy, privileged man! Hapless evolution-forsaken baboon! We are not told by science the secret why, while man has had plenty of time to become, say a Plato, a Newton, a Napoleon, or even a Haeckel, his poor ancestor should have been arrested in his growth and development. For, as far as is known, the rump of the cynocephalus seems as blue and as callous today, as it was during the reign of Psammetichus or Cheops; the macacus must have made as ugly faces at Pliny 18 centuries back, as he does now at a Darwinian. We may be told that in the enormous period of time that must have elapsed since the beginning of evolution, 2,000 or even 10,000 years mean very little. But then, one does not find even the Moneron any better off for the millions of years that have rolled away. Yet, between the gelatinous and thoughtful hermit of the briny deep and man, there must have elapsed quite sufficient time for some trifling transformation. That primordial protoplasmic creature, however, seems to fare no better at the hands of evolution, which has well-nigh forgotten it.
By this time, one should suppose that this ancestor of ours of stage one, ought to have reached, to say the least, a higher development; to have become, for instance, the amphibian “sozura” of the “fourteenth stage,” so minutely and scientifically described by Mr. Haeckel, and of which de Quatrefages so wickedly says in The Human Species (p. 108), that it (the sozura) “is equally unknown to science.” But we see quite the reverse. The tender-bodied little one, has remained but a moneron to this very hour; so much so, that Mr. Huxley, fishing him out from the abysmal ocean depths, took pity upon him, and gave him a father. He baptized our archaic ancestor, and named him Bathybius Haeckelii. . . .
But all these are mysteries that will, no doubt, be easily explained to the full satisfaction—of science, by any biologist of Haeckel’s brain power. As all know, no acrobatic feats, from the top of one tree to another top, by the swiftest of chimpanzees, can ever approach, let alone equal, the rapid evolutions of fancy in his cerebral “officina,” whenever Haeckel is called upon to explain the inexplicable. . . .
There is one trifle, however, which seems to have the best of even his capacity for getting out of a scientific dilemma, and this is the eighteenth stage of his genealogy in The Pedigree of Man. Man’s evolution from the Monera, alias Bathybius Haeckelii, up to tailed and then tailless man, passes through the marsupials, the kangaroo, sarrigue, etc. Thus he writes:—
“Eighteenth stage. Prosimiæ, allied to the Loris (Stenops), and Makis (Lemur), without marsupial bones and cloaca, but with placenta.” (Pedig. of Man, p. 77)
Now it may be perhaps interesting to the profane and the innocent to learn that no such “prosimiæ,” with placenta, exist in nature. That it is, in short, another creation of the famous German Evolutionist, and a child of his own brain. For de Quatrefages has pointed out several years ago, that:
“The anatomical investigations of MM. Alphonse Milne-Edwards and Grandidier . . . . place it beyond all doubt that the prosimiæ of Haeckel have no decidua and a diffuse placenta. They are indeciduata. Far from any possibility of their being the ancestors of the apes, according to the principle laid down by Haeckel himself, they cannot even be regarded as the ancestors of the zonoplacential mammals . . . and ought to be connected with the pachydermata, the edentata and the cetacea.” (p. 110)
But, as that great French savant shows, “Haeckel, without the least hesitation, adds his prosimiæ,” to the other groups in The Pedigree of Man, and “attributes to them a decidua and a discoidal placenta.” Must the world of the too credulous innocents again accept on faith these two creatures unknown to Science or man, only because “the proof of their existence arises from the necessity of an intermediate type?” This necessity, however, being one only for the greater success of their inventor, Haeckel, that Simian Homer must not bear us ill will, if we do not hesitate to call his “genealogy” of man a romance of Science of the wildest type.
One thing is very suggestive in this speculation. The discovery of the absence of the needed placenta in the so-called prosimiæ now dates several years back. Haeckel knows of it, of course. So does Mr. Ed. B. Aveling, D.Sc., his translator. Why is the error allowed to remain uncorrected, and even unnoticed, in the English translation of The Pedigree of Man of 1887? Do the “members of the International Library of Science and Freethought,” fear to lose some of Haeckel’s admirers were these to learn the truth?
Nevertheless Haeckel’s scientific Pedigree of Man ought to awake and stir up to action the spirit of private enterprise. What a charming Féerie could be made of it on the stage of a theatre! A corps de ballet, composed of antediluvian reptiles and giant lizards, gradually, and stage by stage, metamorphosing themselves into kangaroos, lemurs, tailless apes and anthropoid baboons, and finally into a chorus of German biologists!
Such a Féerie would have “Black Crook,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” nowhere. An intelligent manager, alive to his interests, would make his fortune were he but to follow the happy thought.
Nota bene:—The suggestion is copyright.
1. Dr. Lewins, the Hylo-Idealist, in his appendices to What is Religion? A Vindication of Freethought, by C. N. [Constance Naden]: The Brain Theory of Mind and Matter, the Creed of Physics, Physics and Philosophy. W. Stewart and Co.
2. Mark well: when a theosophist or an occultist speaks of “spontaneous generation,” because for him there exists no inorganic matter in Kosmos—he is forthwith set down as an ignoramus. To prove the descent of man from the animal, however, even spontaneous generation from dead or inorganic matter, becomes an axiomatic and scientific fact.