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On those Animal Forms called JMonsters, or Zusus JNaturae.
THE subject of the present section is naturally connected with that of the latter part of the preceding: and, although the occasion neither requires nor would justify even a brief examination of the laws which regulate the formation of monsters, or lusus natura, as they are often called, especially as they have been lately illustrated by that ardent French physiologist Geoffroy St. Hilaire; it will not be perhaps considered impertinent to make a few observations on those remarkable productions, considered with respect to one of the probable final causes of their existence.
The term lusus natura is applied to those natural productions, which vary in any remarkable degree, with respect to form, colour, structure, size, &c. from the general character of the individuals of the same species. The term literally taken, implies a sportive effort of the creative power of Nature; and for the purpose of general description there is no objection to this term, on; as it now is, familiarized by long continued use. But as we have no ground for supposing that nature, or, to use the more proper expression, that the providence of the Creator ever acts without some wise and beneficent purpose, we must consider the term in a philosophical point
of view, as expressing an effect, of the natural cause of which we are ignorant. What, then, is the real character of those unusual productions which are denominated lusus natura, or monsters; or, in other words, for what end has Providence ordained that such productions should be formed and subjected to our observation? And here, as has been observed in another part of this treatise, it will be found, upon even a cursory examination, that in a lusus natura, the character of the species, however obscured, is never lost. There is no ground, in short, for supposing that nature has ever produced such an individual as a chimera or centaur. And Lucretius's scepticism in this point is justified on truly philosophical principles; on the difference namely of the physical constitution of the horse and of man: the horse at the end of his third year being full grown, while man is yet almost an infant; and the horse being decrepit in his twentyfifth or thirtieth year, when man is in his full vigour.” In pursuing this investigation, it would be obvious to ask, what are the limits which separate a lusus natura, from the ordinary individuals of the same species? and we shall soon find that these limits are, in the majority of instances, undefinable. If, indeed, in comparing the several organs, agreement with respect to number be the criterion, the limits are for the most part fixed. Thus the human hand so very Fo consists of five fingers, that an instance of an individual having more or less than five fingers would be justly esteemed an instance of a lusus natura. But even number is not always an acknowledged criterion; for, with respect
* Sed neque Centauri fuerunt, neque tempore in ullo
250 ExERCISE OF THE INTELLECTUAL FACULTIES.
to the teeth, though thirty-two is the usual number in the human subject, yet the instances of persons having only twenty-eight are so frequent, that we can scarcely class them as deviations from the common law. But if size, or colour, or form be made the criterion, we evidently cannot then fix the limits; for in all these points there is an endless variety in individuals of the same species: so that it might perhaps be truly asserted, that out of the countless myriads of human beings that inhabit the earth, may even out of all that have existed since the creation, no two individuals would be found to resemble each other, exactly, in even any one of those points. And in this wonderful diversity the infinite power of the Deity is distinctly manifested: for, in the exercise of human skill, the most accomplished artist, as soon as he ceases to copy an actual individual, falls into that general similarity of outline by which we are enabled to ascertain his style upon the first view. If, in the pursuit of our inquiry, we appeal to the distribution of the internal organs of the body, we shall find, that though with respect to many the position is determinable with considerable precision, yet with respect to others, the smaller veins and arteries, for instance, the variation is endless. But— and this most highly deserves our attention—if we consider the uses of the parts with reference to the precision of their position, we shall find, that the position of those is most constant, the uses of which are most important; while the distribution of those parts, the position of which may differ to a considerable extent without inconvenience to the individual, is found to be continually varying. Now as this law of deviation from the usual structure does not seem at all to depend on the construction of the parts themselves; and as the result is necessarily connected with the well-being, and even the life, possibly, of the individual; we cannot consider this result as the effect of chance, or want of design: for, if chance could be admissible as the cause, why should one class of phenomena be so much more frequent than the other? And with equal or still greater force we may apply the argument to the existence of those productions emphatically called monsters. Probably then, or ... assuredly, these anomalous productions may, in addition to other ends, be considered as proofs of a particular or constantly superintending Providence; and, like the storms which occasionally ravage the surface of the earth, may awfully recall to our minds the power of the Deity, while they at the same time convince us, by the rarity of their occurrence, of the merciful beneficence of his nature.
It has been the immediate object of the preceding treatise to demonstrate the adaptation of the external world to the physical condition of man; and, either in considering him merely as an individual, or as a component member of any stage of society, it may be freely admitted that every step in the investigation has tended to confirm this general conclusion, that— whether from chance, (if any philosophical mind acknowledge the existence of such an agent as chance,) or from deliberate design—a mutual harmony does really exist between the corporeal powers and intellectual faculties of man, and the properties of the various forms of matter which surround him; the material constituents of all nature being as evidently adapted to the supply of the wants of his body, as the contemplation of their causes and relations to the exercise of his mind.
We have seen that from the surrounding atmosphere he is constantly supplied with that respirable part of the air, which alone can support the breath of life; and which is demanded for that purpose during almost every moment of his existence. We have seen that from the same source are derived those universal and important agents, water and heat and light, which are equally though not so immediately necessary, as air, to the wants of man. We have seen again, that the mineral kingdom, though it does not directly contribute to the support of life, yet in the form of natural soils sustains the growth of every kind of vegetable; and that on the nutriment derived from this source all animal life essentially depends: we have seen that the same source also supplies those various metallic and earthy bodies, the uses of which are most extensive and important in promoting many of the arts of civilized society. And, lastly, that the advantages derivable from the vegetable and animal kingdoms are, eventually, neither of less extent and importance, nor their adaptation to the physical condition of man less obvious, than those of the mineral and atmospherical. It would have been easy to demonstrate that an equally obvious but infinitely more important harmony exists between the external world, and the moral condition of man, as between that world and his physical condition: but this province had been assigned to others; and all systematic reference to thatharmony has therefore been studiously avoided— though the constantly recurring difficulty has been to abstain from such a demonstration. But, it may possibly be observed, both the physical and moral relations of man are inevitably soon cut short by death: and though, in many instances, societies continue to be benefited through successive ages in consequence of the efforts of individuals, who have long since ceased to live, yet in many instances, on the other hand, the memorial not only of individuals, but of nations also, entirely perishes; and all things apparently proceed, as if those individuals and nations had never existed.