Robert Chambers (publisher born 1802)

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Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers (1802–1871) was a Scottish publisher, author, journal editor, geologist and evolutionary thinker.

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Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844)[edit]

This was an anonymously published (acknowledged only after death) work of speculative natural history and philosophy bringing together ideas of stellar evolution and progressive transmutation of species. It tied together numerous scientific theories of the age and preceded publication of Charles Darwin's theory in On the Origin of Species by 15 years and Alfred Russel Wallace's paper On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties by 14 years. Following quotes are taken from the 1844 edition.

  • A sensible parallax of about one second has been ascertained in the case of the double star [ Alpha Centauri ] of the constellation of the Centaur, and one of the third of that amount for the double star, 61 Cygni; which gave reason to presume that the distance of the former might be about twenty thousand millions of miles, and the latter of much greater amount. If we suppose that similar intervals exist between all the stars, we shall readily see that the space occupied by even the comparatively small number visible to the naked eye, must be vast beyond all powers of conception.
    • Footnote: By Mr. Henderson Professor of Astronomy in the Edinburgh University and Lieutenant Meadows.
    • p.3
  • It was first surmised by the ancient philosopher, Democritus, that the faintly white zone which spans the sky under the name of the Milky Way, might be only a dense collection of stars too remote to be distinguished. This conjecture has been verified by the instruments of modern astronomers.
    • p.3-4
  • The evidence of the existence of other astral systems besides our own is much more decided than might be expected when we consider that the nearest of them must needs be placed at a mighty interval beyond our own.
    • p.6
  • The elder Herschel, directing his wonderful tube towards the sides of our system, where stars are planted most rarely... was enabled with awe struck mind to see suspended in the vast empyrean astral systems, or, as he called them, firmaments, resembling our own. Like light cloudlets to a certain power of the telescope, they resolved themselves, under a greater power, into stars, though these generally seemed no larger than the finest particles of diamond dust. The general forms of these systems are various; but one at least has been detected as bearing a striking resemblance to the supposed form of our own. The distances are also various... The farthest observed by the astronomer were estimated by him as thirty-five thousand times more remote than Sirius, supposing its distance to be about twenty thousand millions of miles. It would thus appear, that not only does gravitation keep our earth in its place in the solar system, and the solar system in its place in our astral system, but it also may be presumed to have the mightier duty of preserving a local arrangement between that astral system and an immensity of others, through which the imagination is left to wander on and on without limit or stay, save that which is given by its inability to grasp the unbounded.
    • p.6-7
  • We have seen that the law which causes rotation in the single solar masses, is exactly the same which produces the familiar phenomenon of a small whirlpool or dimple in the surface of a stream. Such dimples are not always single. Upon the face of a river where there are various contending currents, it may often be observed that two or more dimples are formed near each other with more or less regularity. These fantastic eddies, which the musing poet will sometimes watch abstractedly for an hour, little thinking of the law which produces and connects them, are an illustration of the wonders of binary and ternary solar systems.
    • p.19
  • Seeing in our astral system many thousands of worlds in all stages of formation, from the most rudimental to that immediately preceding the present condition of those we deem perfect, it is unavoidable to conclude that all the perfect have gone through the various stages which we see in the rudimental. This leads us at once to the conclusion that the whole of our firmament was at one time a diffused mass of nebulous matter, extending through the space which it still occupies. So also, of course, must have been the other astral systems. Indeed, we must presume the whole to have been originally in one connected mass, the astral systems being only the first division into parts, and solar systems the second.
    • p.20
  • The first idea which all this impresses upon us is, that the formation of bodies in space is still and at present in progress. We live at a time when many have been formed and many are still forming.
    • p.20
  • All, we see, is done by certain laws of matter, so that it becomes a question of extreme interest, what are such laws? All that can yet be said, in answer, is, that we see certain natural events proceeding in an invariable order under certain conditions, and thence infer the existence of some fundamental arrangement which, for the bringing about of these events, has a force and certainty of action similar to, but more precise and unerring than those arrangements which human society makes for its own benefit, and calls laws. It is remarkable of physical laws, that we see them operating on every kind of scale as to magnitude, with the same regularity and perseverance.
    • p.24
  • We advance from law to the cause of law, and ask, What is that? Whence have come all these beautiful regulations? Here science leaves us, but only to conclude, from other grounds, that there is a First Cause to which all others are secondary and ministrative, a primitive almighty will, of which these laws are merely the mandates. That great Being, who shall say where is his dwelling-place or what his history! Man pauses breathless at the contemplation of a subject so much above his finite faculties, and only can wonder and adore!
    • p.26
  • Analogy would lead us to conclude that the combinations of the primordial matter, forming our so-called elements, are as universal or as liable to take place everywhere as are the laws of gravitation and centrifugal force. We must therefore presume that the gases, the metals, the earths, and other simple substances, (besides whatever more of which we have no acquaintance,) exist or are liable to come into existence under proper conditions, as well in the astral system, which is thirty five thousand times more distant than Sirius, as within the bounds of our own solar system or our own globe.
    • p.28
  • We cannot doubt after what we know of the power of heat that the nebulous form of matter was attended by the condition of a very high temperature.
    • p.30
  • There is nothing at all singular or special in the astronomical situation of the earth. It takes its place third in a series of planets, which series is only one of numberless other systems forming one group. It is strikingly-if I may use such an expression-a member of a democracy. Hence, we cannot suppose that there is any peculiarity about it which does not probably attach to multitudes of other bodies—in fact, to all that are analogous to it in respect of cosmical arrangements.
    • p.32-33
  • It is remarkable of the simple substances that they are generally in some compound form. Thus oxygen and nitrogen, though in union they form the aerial envelope of the globe, are never found separate in nature. Carbon is pure only in the diamond. And the metallic bases of the earths, though the chemist can disengage them, may well be supposed unlikely to remain long uncombined, seeing that contact with moisture makes them burn. Combination and re-combination are principles largely pervading nature. There are few rocks, for example, that are not composed of at least two varieties of matter, each of which is again a compound of elementary substances. What is still more wonderful with respect to this principle of combination, all the elementary substances observe certain mathematical proportions in their unions. It is hence supposed that matter is composed of infinitely minute particles or atoms, each of which belonging to any one substance, can only (through the operation of some as yet hidden law) associate with a certain number of the atoms of any other.
    • p.35
  • The earliest stratified rocks contain no matters which are not to be found in the primitive granite. They are the same in material, but only changed into new forms and combinations; hence they have been called by Mr. Lyell, metamorphic rocks. But how comes it that some of them are composed almost exclusively of one of the materials of granite; the mica schists, for example, of mica—the quartz rocks, of quartz, &c.? For this there are both chemical and mechanical causes. Suppose that a river has a certain quantity of material to carry down, it is evident that it will soonest drop the larger particles, and carry the lightest farthest on. To such a cause is it owing that some of the materials of the worn-down granite have settled in one place and some in another. Again, some of these materials must be presumed to have been in a state of chemical solution in the primeval seas. It would be, of course, in conformity with chemical laws, that certain of these materials would be precipitated singly, or in modified combinations, to the bottom, so as to form rocks by themselves.
    • p.51-52
  • When we hear of carbon beginning to appear in the ascending series of rocks, we are unavoidably led to consider it as marking a time of some importance in the earth's history, a new era of natural conditions, one in which organic life has probably played a part.
    • p.55
  • The appearance... of limestone beds in the early part of the stratified series, may be presumed to be connected with the fact of the commencement of organic life upon our planet, and, indeed, a consequent and a symptom of it. ...My hypothesis may indeed be unsound; but, whether or not, it is clear, taking organic remains as upon the whole a faithful chronicle, that the deposition of these limestone beds was coeval with the existence of the earliest, or all but the earliest, living creatures upon earth.
    • p.56
  • When we come to consider specific characters, we see that a difference exists—that, in short, the species and even genera are no longer represented upon earth. More than this, it will be found that the earliest species comparatively soon gave place to others, and that they are not represented even in the next higher group of rocks.
    • p.60
  • One important remark has been made, that a comparatively small variety of species is found in the older rocks, although of some particular ones the remains are very abundant...
    • p.60
  • Ascending to the next group of rocks, we find the traces of life become more abundant, the number of species extended, and important additions made in certain vestiges of fuci, or sea plants, and of fishes. This group of rocks has been called by English geologists, the Silurian System, because largely developed at the surface of a district of western England, formerly occupied by a people whom the Roman historians call Silures.
    • p.61
  • Not one species of any creature which flourished before the tertiary (Ehrenberg's infusoria excepted) now exists; and of the mammalia which arose during that series, many forms are altogether gone, while of others we have now only kindred species. Thus to find not only frequent additions to the previously existing forms, but frequent withdrawals of forms which had apparently become inappropriate—a constant shifting as well as advance—is a fact calculated very forcibly to arrest attention. A candid consideration of all these circumstances can scarcely fail to introduce into our minds a somewhat different idea of organic creation from what has hitherto been generally entertained.
    • p.152
  • Some other idea must then be come to with regard to the mode in which the Divine Author proceeded in the organic creation. Let us seek in the history of the earth's formation for a new suggestion on this point.
    • p.153
  • The fact of the cosmical arrangements being an effect of natural law, is a powerful argument for the organic arrangements being so likewise, for how can we suppose that the august Being who brought all these countless worlds into form by the simple establishment of a natural principle flowing from his mind, was to interfere personally and specially on every occasion when a new shell-fish or reptile was to be ushered into existence on one of these worlds. Surely this idea is too ridiculous to be for a moment entertained.
    • p.154
  • The first chapter of the Mosaic record is not only not in harmony with the ordinary ideas of mankind respecting cosmical and organic creation, but is opposed to them, and only in accordance with the views here taken. When we carefully peruse it with awakened minds, we find that all the procedure is represented primarily and pre-eminently as flowing from commands and expressions of will, not from direct acts. ...Thus the scriptural objection quickly vanishes, and the prevalent ideas about the organic creation appear only as a mistaken inference from the text, formed at a time when man's ignorance prevented him from drawing therefrom a just conclusion.
    • p.155
  • To a reasonable mind the Divine attributes must appear, not diminished or reduced in any way, by supposing a creation by law, but infinitely exalted. It is the narrowest of all views of the Deity, and characteristic of a humble class of intellects, to suppose him acting constantly in particular ways for particular occasions. It, for one thing, greatly detracts from his foresight, the most undeniable of all the attributes of Omnipotence. It lowers him towards the level of our own humble intellects. Much more worthy of him it surely is, to suppose that all things have been commissioned by him from the first, though neither is he absent from a particle of the current of natural affairs in one sense seeing that the whole system is continually supported by his providence.
    • p.156-157
  • This statistical regularity in moral affairs fully establishes their being under the presidency of law. Man is now seen to be an enigma only as an individual; in the mass he is a mathematical problem. It is hardly necessary to say, much less to argue, that mental action, being proved to be under law, passes at once into the category of natural things. Its old metaphysical character vanishes in a moment, and the distinction usually taken between physical and moral is annulled, as only an error in terms. This view agrees with what all observation teaches, that mental phenomena flow directly from the brain.
  • While the external forms of all these various animals are so different, it is very remarkable that the whole are, after all, variations of a fundamental plan, which can be traced as a basis throughout the whole, the variations being merely modifications of that plan to suit the particular conditions in which each particular animal has been designed to live. Starting from the primeval germ, which, as we have seen, is the representative of a particular order of full-grown animals, we find all others to be merely advances from that type, with the extension of endowments and modification of forms which are required in each particular case; each form, also, retaining a strong affinity to that which precedes it, and tending to impress its own features on that which succeeds.
    • p.192
  • The limbs of all the vertebrate animals are, in like manner, on one plan, however various they may appear.
    • p.195
  • The same law of development presides over the vegetable kingdom. ...where a special function is required for particular circumstances, nature has provided for it, not by a new organ, but by a modification of a common one, which she has effected in development.
    • p.197
  • These facts clearly shew how all the various organic forms of our world are bound up in one—how a fundamental unity pervades and embraces them all, collecting them, from the humblest lichen up to the highest mammifer, in one system, the whole creation of which must have depended upon one law or decree of the Almighty, though it did not all come forth at one time. After what we have seen, the idea of a separate exertion for each must appear totally inadmissible.
    • p.197
  • What mystery is there here—and how shall I proceed to enunciate the conception which I have ventured to form of what may prove to be its proper solution! It is an idea by no means calculated to impress by its greatness, or to puzzle by its profoundness. It is an idea more marked by simplicity than perhaps any other of those which have explained the great secrets of nature. But in this lies, perhaps, one of its strongest claims to the faith of mankind.
    • p.203
  • The whole train of animated beings, from the simplest and oldest up to the highest and most recent, are, then, to be regarded as a series of advances of the principle of development, which have depended upon external physical circumstances, to which the resulting animals are appropriate.
    • p.203
  • I contemplate the whole phenomena as having been in the first place arranged in the counsels of Divine Wisdom, to take place, not only upon this sphere, but upon all the others in space, under necessary modifications, and as being carried on, from first to last, here and elsewhere, under immediate favor of the creative will or energy.
    • Footnote: When I formed this idea, I was not aware of one which seems faintly to foreshadow it—namely, Socrates's doctrine, afterwards dilated on by Plato, that "previous to the existence of the world, and beyond its present limits, there existed certain archetypes, the embodiment (if we may use such a word) of general ideas; and that these archetypes were models, in imitation of which all particular beings were created."
    • p.203-204
  • We are drawn on to the supposition, that the first step in the creation of life upon this planet was a chemico-electric operation, by which simple germinal vesicles were produced.
    • p.204-205
  • I suggest, then... that the first step was an advance under favor of peculiar conditions, from the simplest forms of being, to the next more complicated, and this through the medium of the ordinary process of generation.
    • p.205
  • It must be borne in mind that the gestation of a single organism is the work of but a few days, weeks, or months, but the gestation (so to speak) of a whole creation is a matter probably involving enormous spaces of time.
    • p.210
  • The historical era is, we know, only a small portion of the entire age of our globe. We do not know what may have happened during the ages which preceded its commencement, as we do not know what may happen in ages yet in the distant future. All, therefore, that we can properly infer from the apparently invariable production of like by like is, that such is the ordinary procedure of nature in the time immediately passing before our eyes.
    • p.211
  • Mr. Babbage's illustration powerfully suggests that this ordinary procedure may be subordinate to a higher law which only permits it for a time, and in proper season interrupts and changes it.
    • p.212
  • The law of organic development is still daily seen at work to certain effects, only somewhat short of a transition from species to species.
    • p.214
  • Now it is possible that wants and the exercise of faculties have entered in some manner into the production of the phenomena which we have been considering; but certainly not in the way suggested by Lamarck, whose whole notion is obviously so inadequate to account for the rise of the organic kingdoms, that we only can place it with pity among the follies of the wise.
    • p.231
  • It may be asked, if He, as appears, has chosen to employ inferior organisms as a generative medium for the production of higher ones, even including ourselves, what right have we, his humble creatures, to find fault? There is, also, in this prejudice, an element of unkindliness towards the lower animals, which is utterly out of place. These creatures are all of them part products of the Almighty Conception, as well as ourselves. ...Let us regard them in a proper spirit, as parts of the grand plan, instead of contemplating them in the light of frivolous prejudices, and we shall be altogether at a loss to see how there should be any degradation in the idea of our race having been genealogically connected with them.
    • p.235
  • The nobler orders of being, including man himself, were contemplated from the first, and came into existence by virtue of a law, the operation of which had commenced ages before their forms were realized.
    • p.250
  • Under the flowing robes of nature, where all looks arbitrary and accidental, there is an artificiality of the most rigid kind. The natural, we now perceive, sinks into and merges in a Higher Artificial. ...we conclude, when we attain a knowledge of the artificiality which is at the basis of nature, that nature is wholly the production of a Being resembling, but infinitely greater than ourselves.
    • p.250
  • Is our race but the initial of the grand crowning type? Are there yet to be species superior to us in organization, purer in feeling, more powerful in device and act, and who shall take a rule over us! There is in this nothing improbable on other grounds. The present race, rude and impulsive as it is, is perhaps the best adapted to the present state of things in the world; but the external world goes through slow and gradual changes, which may leave it in time a much serener field of existence. There may then be occasion for a nobler type of humanity, which shall complete the zoological circle on this planet, and realize some of the dreams of the purest spirits of the present race.
    • p.276
  • Of late years... it has been successfully shewn that the human race might have had one origin, for anything that can be inferred from external peculiarities.
    • p.278
  • It appears from this inquiry that color and other physiological characters are of a more superficial and accidental nature than was at one time supposed.
    • p.278
  • There are nations, such as the inhabitants of Hindostan, known to be one in descent which nevertheless, contain groups of people of almost all shades of color, and likewise discrepant in other of those important features on which much stress has been laid.
    • p.278-279
  • The style of living is ascertained to have a powerful effect in modifying the human figure in the course of generations, and this even in its osseous structure.
    • p.280
  • While there is such a persistency to ordinary observation, it would also appear that nature has a power of producing new varieties, though this is only done rarely. Such novelties of type abound in the vegetable world, are seen more rarely in the animal circle, and perhaps are least frequent of occurrence in our own race.
    • p.281-282
  • The peculiarity of six fingers on the hand and six toes on the feet... is then sometimes seen to descend through several generations. It was Mr. Lawrence's opinion that, a pair, in which both parties were so distinguished, might be the progenitors of a new variety of the race who would be thus marked in all future time. It is not easy to surmise the causes which operate in producing such varieties. Perhaps they are simply types in nature, possible to be realized under certain appropriate conditions, but which conditions are such as altogether to elude notice.
    • Note: Chambers and his brother William were both born with this condition. Robert was made lame by the operation to remove the sixth digits from his feet.
    • p.282-283
  • We are ignorant of the laws of variety-production; but we see it going on as a principle in nature, and it is obviously favorable to the supposition that all the great families of men are of one stock.
    • p.283
  • I may here refer to a curious mathematical calculation by Dr. Thomas Young, to the effect, that if three words coincide in two different languages, it is ten to one they must be derived in both cases from some parent language, or introduced in some other manner.
    • p.293
  • Now as there are, according to Humboldt, one hundred and seventy words in common between the languages of the new and old continents, and many of these are expressive of the most primitive ideas, there is, by Dr Young's calculation, overpowering proof of the original connection of the American and other human families.
    • p.294
  • The probability may now be assumed that the human race sprung from one stock which was at first in a state of simplicity if not barbarism.
    • p.305
  • Phenomena appear, in a word, to be explicable on the ground of development. We have already seen that various leading animal forms represent stages in the embryotic progress of the highest—the human being. Our brain goes through the various stages of a fish's, a reptile's, and a mammifer's brain, and finally becomes human.
    • p.306
  • Pause and reflect; take time into consideration: the past history of mankind may be, to what is to come, but as a day.
    • p.310
  • Now, as the inferior animals were all in being before man, there was language upon earth long ere the history of our race commenced. The only additional fact in the history of language, which was produced by our creation, was the rise of a new mode of expression—namely that by sound-signs produced by the vocal organs. In other words, speech was the only novelty in this respect attending the creation of the human race.
    • p.311
  • The monkeys themselves, without instruction from any quarter, learn to use sticks in fighting, and some build houses—an act which cannot in their case be considered as one of instinct, but of intelligence.
    • p.320
  • Let us look at the inventive class of minds which stand out amongst their fellows—the men who, with little prompting or none, conceive new ideas in science, arts, morals—and we can be at no loss to understand how and whence have arisen the elements of that civilization which history traces from country to country throughout the course of centuries. See a Pascal, reproducing the Alexandrian's problems at fifteen; a Ferguson, making clocks from the suggestions of his own brain, while tending cattle on a Morayshire heath; a boy Lawrence, in an inn on the Bath road, producing, without a master, drawings which the educated could not but admire; or look at Solon and Confucius, devising sage laws, and breathing the accents of all but divine wisdom for their barbarous fellow-countrymen, three thousand years ago—and the whole mystery is solved at once. ...Nations, improved by these means, become in turn foci for the diffusion of light over the adjacent regions of barbarism—their very passions helping to this end, for nothing can be more clear than that ambitious aggression has led to the civilization of many countries. Such is the process which seems to form the destined means for bringing mankind from the darkness of barbarism to the day of knowledge and mechanical and social improvement.
    • p.321
  • The book, as far as I am aware, is the first attempt to connect the natural sciences into a history of creation.
    • p.388
  • I believe my doctrines to be in the main true; I believe all truth to be valuable, and its dissemination a blessing.
    • p.388
  • My sincere desire in the composition of the book was to give the true view of the history of nature, with as little disturbance as possible to existing beliefs, whether philosophical or religious.
    • p.388
  • Let the reconciliation of whatever is true in my views with whatever is true in other systems come about in the fulness of calm and careful inquiry.
    • p.388-389
  • I cannot but here remind the reader of what Dr. Wiseman has shewn so strikingly in his lectures, how different new philosophic doctrines are apt to appear after we have become somewhat familiar with them.
    • p.389
  • Geology at first seems inconsistent with the authority of the Mosaic record. A storm of unreasoning indignation rises against its teachers. In time, its truths, being found quite irresistible, are admitted, and mankind continue to regard the Scriptures with the same respect as before. So also with several other sciences.
    • p.389
  • May not the sacred text, on a liberal interpretation, or with the benefit of new light reflected from nature, or derived from learning, be shewn to be as much in harmony with the novelties of this volume as it has been with geology and natural philosophy? What is there in the laws of organic creation more startling to the candid theologian than in the Copernican system or the natural formation of strata?
    • p.389-390
  • Is it not a wiser course, since reconciliation has come in so many instances, still to hope for it, still to go on with our new truths, trusting that they also will in time be found harmonious with all others? Thus we avoid the damage which the very appearance of an opposition to natural truth is calculated to inflict on any system presumed to require such support.
  • Thus we give, as is meet, a respectful reception to what is revealed through the medium of nature, at the same time that we fully reserve our reverence for all we have been accustomed to hold sacred, not one tittle of which it may ultimately be found necessary to alter.
    • p.390

Sanitary Economy (1850)[edit]

  • A parish where life is precarious pays more poor-rates than its neighbors.
    • p.12
  • The great men of antiquityCato, Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and Othoforgot that they had obligations to their race as well as to themselves, when, in the selfish spirit of a pagan philosophy, they considered themselves entitled to put an end to their existence, and remove themselves from the world.
    • p.12
  • The whole history of lamentation, and mourning, and woe, from the beginning of the world—the funeral ceremonies in which the living symbolize the intensity of their grief—the monuments they rear to tell the world for centuries to come of the calamity they have suffered from the stroke of death—are enduring attestations that it is not so much in the removal of one sentient and living being off the earth, as in the change—the calamitous change to the survivors—that death is truly the King of Terrors.
    • p.13
  • The sick chamber is the place where the most angelic virtues of the human race have ever been called into action. The meek patience of the sufferer—the endurance and the active benevolence of those who would not barter that sick room, with its gloom and silence, for all the glitter and the grandeur that human ambition displays beyond its walls—are among the finest objects that the philosophic eye can look on. So in every well-regulated household, each deathbed, if it carry with it the memory of broken ties and deserted seats at the social board, calls up also the recollection of duties fulfilled, of charities administered, of overflowing affection, ashamed to speak its strength, showing itself in strong deeds of unwearied assiduity.
    • p.15
  • Indifference to life and indifference to the purity and amenity that sweeten existence must necessarily go together.
    • p.17
  • Abstract perfection should always be the direction aimed at by human efforts, however imperfect they may be; and the success of sanitary legislation will be indicated by the nearness or the distance of its actual practice from this perfect idea.
    • p.17
  • The facts, indeed, connected with this gloomy department of statistics show that the most valuable period of human life—that in which a man is producing more than he is consuming—is that which provides the greatest number of victims.
    • p.18
  • The working-classes require leaders and wise heads from their own body—patriarchs, in the old acceptation of the term—to keep them right in moments of excitement. The causes of early death prevent the existence of such a class of men, sobered and wise from experience, in sufficient numbers to discipline the youthful and fiery spirits who, confident in their ignorance, plunge themselves and those depending on their exertions into ruin.
    • p.24
  • It has been among the visions of some dreaming philosophers that human life is capable of almost indefinite extension. The great Condorcet was one of these. He thought that by the removal of the two causes of evil—poverty and superfluity—by destroying prejudices and superstitions, and by various other operations, which he considered the purification of mankind, but which other people would call their pollution, the approach of death would by degrees be farther and farther indefinitely protracted. It is desirable that the practical views entertained by sanitary reformers should be kept widely distinct from any such theories, the character of which has been well drawn by Malthus when he says—"...Though I may not be able in the present instance to mark the limit at which further improvement will stop I can very easily mention a point at which it will not arrive."
    • p.28-29
  • In most instances, affectionate relatives and kind friends would wish to prolong the existence of the individual who has reached that age; but if we look at the happiness of mankind in general, we shall find reason to believe that, like all the other general principles of nature, this one carries the impress of an all-wise and beneficent Creator; and that if man had it in his power to alter the arrangement, it may be questioned if he could improve it. At this age the great desires of life are generally accomplished, and the tired laborer in the hardest fields of exertion, which are those of the intellect, has had some years of quiet meditation on the long battle of life to which his days of energy and hope were devoted. The world has, in general, little more use for him; and should he—however meritorious his services, however honored his gray hairs—too long remain an actual living man, seeming to fill a part of the arena in which younger and abler combatants are looking for places, the consciousness of being honored and beloved may give way before the suspicion that he has become an encumbrance to the circle he once adorned.
    • p.29
  • The rise of each generation gives new ties towards the future, which insensibly dissolves those which bind us to the past; and the natural old age of the human race seems to have adjusted itself to that period beyond which the human being would feel isolated and desolate in the midst of the new objects of attachment which the progress of time brings into existence.
    • p.29-30

Testimony: its Posture in the Scientific World (1859)[edit]

  • The progress of knowledge is very irregular, somewhat resembling the movements of an army, of which some battalions are in vigorous health, while others are sickly or overburdened with baggage. The experimental marches on at a good pace; the observational proceeds but slowly; the speculative is left far in the rear.
    • p.1
  • The scientific skepticism of our age professes to spring from a sense of the extreme fallaciousness of the human senses, and the liability besetting us all to deceive ourselves into a belief which gratifies the faculty of wonder. It is held as a rare and valuable gift to be able to observe a fact correctly. We are pathetically told that what a man thinks he saw, is often a mere hypothesis of his imagination as to what he saw, and may be wholly wrong.
    • p.1-2
  • There is of course no extraordinary fact resting on testimony only, of which it is not possible to presume some error in the observation or reporting, if we be set upon finding one.
    • p.2
  • Just suppose for a moment that every fact reported to us by others were viewed in the light of the skeptical system, as to the fallaciousness of the senses and the tendency to self-deception. Should we not from that moment be at a stand-still in all the principal movements of our lives?
    • p.7
  • The skeptical view appears to me out of harmony with the inductive philosophy. Bacon gives us many warnings against preconceived opinions and prejudices; but he does not bid us despair of ascertaining facts from our own senses and from testimony. ...we do not find in Bacon any dogma like that of Mr. Faraday that the 'laws of nature are the foundation of our knowledge in natural things,' and that these form our only safe test for any new fact presented to our observation. Bacon's method is rather the contrary, namely, that facts are to serve as the foundation of the laws of nature.
    • p.8
  • This skeptical method consists very much in vicious circles. You cannot know whether a fact be a fact till you have ascertained the laws of nature in the case, and you cannot know the laws of nature till you have ascertained facts.
    • p.9
  • The fall of meteoric stones was occasionally reported by good witnesses during many ages. But science did not understand how stones should be formed in or beyond the atmosphere... The accounts of the fall of meteoric stones were held to be incompatible with the laws of nature, and specimens which had been seen to fall by hundreds of people were preserved in cabinets of natural history as ordinary minerals, 'which the credulous and superstitious regarded as having fallen from the clouds.' A committee of the French Academy of Sciences, including the celebrated Lavoisier, unanimously rejected an account of three nearly contemporary descents of meteorites which reached them on the strongest evidence. After two thousand years of incredulity, the truth in this matter was forced upon the scientific world about the beginning of the present century. There would have been at any time, of course, an instant cessation of skepticism if any one could have shewn, a priori, from ascertained principles in connection with the atmosphere, how stones were to be expected to fall from the sky. But what is this but to say that facts by themselves, however well attested, are wholly useless in such circumstances to the cultivators of physical science, while any kind of vague hypothesis can be brought forward in opposition to them? What is it but to put conjecture or prejudice above fact, and indeed utterly to repudiate the Baconian method?
    • p.10
  • Meteoric stones have proved to be a verity, and not an impossibility. About the same time, the fact of so many Gloucestershire peasantry having attested the prevention of small-pox by a virus from the teats of a cow, would have been deemed a sufficient answer to the same pleading, by nine out of every ten of the best educated physicians in England. Jenner's statue in Trafalgar Square tells us how fallacious the objection would have been. It is to be observed regarding such objections, that they are almost invariably gratuitous and unproved. Were they always put to the test of experiment, how many might prove like meteorites and vaccination?
    • p.14
  • We may, indeed, set it down as an absolute certainty, that many things are erroneously deemed impossible; for, till we know all the possible—and how far we are from that need not be insisted on—how can we know what is impossible?
    • p.14

Quotes about Chambers[edit]

  • The treatise which we have to examine and analyze is most engaging and interesting. We willingly accord to it all the attractions of novelty and ingenuity, the fascinations of beauty, the delights of theory. We readily attribute to it all the graces of the accomplished harlot. Her song is like the siren for its melody and attractive sweetness; she is clothed in scarlet, and every kind of fancy work of dress and ornament; her step is grace, and lightness and life; her laughter light, her very motion musical. But she is a foul and filthy thing, whose touch is taint; whose breath is contamination; whose look, and words, and thoughts, will turn the spring of purity to a pest, of truth to lies, of life to death, of love to loathing. Such is philosophy without the maiden gem of truth and singleness of purpose; divorced from the sacred and ennobling rule and discipline of faith. Without this, philosophy is a wanton and deformed adulteress.
  • It is a feature in this professedly "natural history of creation," of which we have perhaps no right to complain, that it leaves out all notice of a spiritual world. The Divine volition, and the natural laws by which It operated, are the only primary activities presented to our view by the author. He has thus presented only one half of the history of creation. The other half, and that the most important, is, through the Divine mercy, presented to us by Swedenborg...
    • "Review. Vestiges..." The Intellectual and New Jerusalem Magazine, Vol VI-New Series (1845) p.191
  • Vestiges is highly readable, but not always easy to understand.
    • James A. Secord, Introduction to the reprinted edition Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1994) p. xi

External links[edit]