Home  »  Volume XIII: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part One The Nineteenth Century, II  »  § 8. His scientific controversies

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XIV. George Meredith, Samuel Butler, George Gissing

§ 8. His scientific controversies

Only the briefest reference is possible to Butler’s scientific discussions. His interest in them was lifelong, and he imparted to them, at times, an angry temper born of his belief that he was flouted by an oligarchy of men of science, who regarded him as an amateur because he was not a professional collector and experimenter. He accepted all their facts; but he challenged their interpretations on the ground of what he deemed was their loose reasoning. His contentions turn chiefly upon two points: first, the restoration of the idea of design to the philosophy of evolution—not the old teleological design of Buffon, Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin, but a cunning and will inherent in each separate cell to shape the chances of its environment to ends of comfort and stability. Secondly, he put forward a conception of heredity based on the continuity of each generation with all its predecessors, and the transmission of serviceable habits stored up by unconscious memory. These conclusions are now, in a provisional way, accepted; but the debate has passed away from this region and is concentrated for the present upon the internal economy of the reproductive cell.