20 AUGUST 1881, Page 12


BACON AND SHAKESPEARE ON VIVISECTION. [To THE EDITOR OP THE " SPECTATOR:] SIR,—I do not remember to have seen any reference to either of the above writers in the course of the Vivisection controversy. If, as a matter of fact, what they have said on the matter is not generally known, it will, perhaps, not be without interest to your readers, if I draw their attention to the passages in which each of the two great "masters of those who know" uttered his thoughts on what was then beginning to be a question of the day. The fact that both were contemporaries with Harvey, whose praises have been lately sung by Professor Owen, as the great "father of Vivisection," and in whose footsteps the studious youth of England are exhorted earnestly to tread, and that they may probably, therefore, have known something of his methods of study, gives, if I mistake not, a special signifi- cance to their utterances, it will be seen that, in citing them, I supply each side in the controversy with the authority of a great name. I leave it to others to estimate the relative value of that authority.

My first quotation is from the "Advancement of Learning" (ii., 11). Bacon speaks, almost as the forerunner of Huxley, on the advantages of the methods of observation and experiment over mere book-knowledge :—" Certain it is, that unto the deep, fruitful, and operative study of many sciences, especially Natural Philosophy and Physic, books be not the only instru- mentals We see, likewise, that some places instituted for physic have annexed the commodity of gardens for simples of all sorts, and do likewise command the use of dead bodies for anatomies.' So far, of course, he probably speaks only of the recognised practice of the College of Physicians and the Barber Chyrurgeons' Hall, as they were under James I., certainly of what was done in universities like those of Padua and Bologna. There were, however, cravings in Bacon's mind for something more. He noted, after his fashion, the many "deficiencies" of Medicine as a science, and here was one of them. And so, further on in the " Advancement " (II., x. 4), we meet with a singularly suggestive passage :—

"As for the passages and pores, it is tree which was anciently noted, that the more subtle of them appear not in anatomies,, because they are shut and latent in dead bodies, though they be open and manifest in live : which being supposed, though the inhumanity of anatontia vivorunt was by Celstis justly reproved" [human vivisec- tion, then, had been practised in the Augustan age], "yet in regard of the great use of this observation, the inquiry needed not by hitm so slightly to have been relinquished altogether, or referred to the casual practices of surgery ; but ?nought have been well diverted upon the dissection of beasts alive, which, notwithstanding the dissimilitude of of their parts, may sufficiently satisfy this inquiry."

Dates are not without their interest here. The "Advancement of Learning" was published in A.D. 1605. Two years beforg

that date Harvey, who had studied and graduated at Padua,. had settled in London, and was entered as a candidate at the College of Physicians. I have no access, as I write, to Sped- ding's "Life of Bacon," and do not know whether there is any actual evidence of intercourse between the two men, but it lies in the nature of things that a man in Bacon's position, and with his inquisitive turn of mind, would be likely to hear of Harvey's arrival, and to seek him out, and learn from him what were the foreign methods of scientific study. Internal evidence points to the inference that he had made Harvey's acquaintance between the dates of the two passages I have quoted.

But there was another mind watching, and with very different

feelings, the introduction of the new method. Shakespeare may have read the "Advancement," or have heard, in his visits to London, or when, in 1603, he was at the Earl of Pembroke's seat near Salisbury and performed before James I., of the new practices which were beginning to gain ground among men of science about the Court. And he was not long before he let men know what he thought of them. A scene is introduced in Cy2nbeline (placed by Shakespearean experts at various dates between A.D. 1605 and 1610) which cannot have had had any

other purpose. It comes as .Act I., scene 6. The Queen has told her doctor, Cornelius, to prepare certain poisons, and these he brings. But he says, as he gives them,—

" My conscience bids me ask wherefore you have Commanded of me these most poisonous compounds, Which are the movers of a languishing end, And though slow, deadly."

The Queen answers in a tone of injured innocence, and de- scribes her love of experimental philosophy almost in the very • words of Bacon. She has gone so far ; may she not go yet farther ? Can she not be trusted ?—

" I wonder, doctor. Thou tisk'st me such a question. Have I not been Thy pupil long ? Hest thou not learn'd me how To make perfumes ? distill ? preserve ? yea, so, That our great king himself doth woo me oft For my confections. Having thus far proceeded (Unless thou think me devilish), is't not meet That I did amplify my judgment in

Other conclusions ? will try the forces Of these thy compounds on such creatures as We count not worth the hanging (but none human), To try the vigour of them, and apply Allayments to their act : and by them gather Their several virtues and effects."

The plea seemed plausible enough. We have often heard its; echoes. But Cornelius—or, as I venture to think, the poet- prophet of humanity, speaking through Cornelius—is not satis- fied with this. He dare not utter all his thoughts, but one word of warning he is compelled to speak,—

" Your highness

Shall from this practice but make hard your heart."

Later on, however, when he is alone, he speaks what he really thinks,—

" I do know her spirit,

And will not trust one of her malice with A drug of such damned nature. Those she has Will stupefy and dull the sense awhile : Which first, perchance, she'll prove on cats and dogs, Then afterward up higher."

Historically, the death of Sir Thomas Overbury, a few years later (1613), possibly, also, that of the Prince of Wales (1612), furnished a striking illustration of the justice of this forecast as to the tendency of the practices of which Shakespeare Broke. / am concerned now, however, with the more general truth of the law to which he points, with his profound insight into the working of man's nature, as determining their influence on character :—

" Shall from this practice but snake hard your heart."

Yes ; that was the danger then, and that is the danger now. "Passive impressions," to express the same law in Butler'g

language (" Analogy," Part I., ch. 8), "by being repeated grow weaker." The first thrill of horror at the sight of animal suffering is soon conquered, and treated as a mere track of nerve, to which the mere humanitarian may attach importance, but which the scientific explorer soon learns to disregard. If that callousness is balanced by a wide and continuous activity in doing good, by self-denying labours for the relief of human suffering, it may, as Butler points out, exercise no deteriorating influence on the character. But in the absence of that compensating influence—and it will not be denied that the division of labour in modern science tends to place the vivisectional experimentalist outside it, and to leave him to his own work—the risk becomes a very serious one. The evidence taken before the Commission on Vivisection shows, as you have often pointed out, that even men of high scientific reputation, Majendie, Bernard, and others, have not escaped it. Is it wise to follow Professor Owen's counsels, as given in his speech at Folkestone, and to invite young students with unformed characters to enter on this method of investi- gation as part of their educational discipline, not for the pur- pose of making new discoveries for themselves, but in order to verify by their own observation the discoveries which have been thus made by others P "Them afterwards, Isp higher." Is that, too, a danger so remote as to be of no account in the question ? Such things have been, we know, in the past. The passage in Celsus (De Be ifedica, I., 5) to which Bacon refers, shows that the anatomia vivorum* was not uncommon in the early days of the Roman Empire. We have all heard the story of the man of science standing by the bed-side of a pauper patient, and say- ing to his clinical pupil, "Fiat experimentum in cor pore viii," and of his being met with the unlooked-for and unwelcome answer from the sufferer, "Hand tam vile corpus est, pro quo Christ us hand dedignatus eat mori." It is, I suppose, a ques- tion how far that answer would have seemed more than one of the delirantiu»z somnia to many of our living experimentalists, how far it would have had any power to stay the operator's hands. And we may venture, I think, to ask on what ground, from the stand-point which. many of them occupy, it should have stayed his hand. If man be only "the cunningest of Nature's clocks," why should not the wheels and springs of that dock be taken to pieces, in the same way as her less cunning workmanship ? If the human organism has no other origination and no other future than that of the ape, why should it not be subjected to like processes of inquiry ? As yet there are the restraints of law, custom, popular feeling, of influences under which the experimentalists have grown up, and by which their character has been fashioned, even though they now reject and scorn them. But allow for the working of the laws of hergditg and development, on which the experimentalists themselves lay so much stress, and three or four generations may alter the condition of things. We have to picture to ourselves a race of men who have inherited the callousness which is now acquired by practice, and who carry it on to new degrees of hardness, to whom the restraining in- fluence of Christianity, theism, altruism, the worship of humanity, will be alike among the delusive dreams of the past. Why should the Klein or Schiff of the future see more in a human infant than in a puppy ? Why should he be more moved to say, "Oh, the pity of it, the pity of it ! " by such an infant's smile, than the scientific vivisector is moved now by the wistful, half-human appeal for sympathy which he sees, or might see, in the face of a monkey or a dog ? He might, perhaps, find its cries unpleasant and disturbing, but the logical outcome of the principles on which he had been trained, if our Medical schools are to be organised after the fashion now recom- mended, would lead him to administer curari, and "con molto amore e pazienza " to proceed to operate.—I am, Sir, itc., Bickley Vicarage, Kent, August 15th. E. H. PIAIMPTRE.

• It may, perhaps, be well to give evidence for a statement that may seem startling. The words of Coleus, to which Bacon refers, run thus, " Incidere antem vivorum corpora et crudele et snpervaennm eat; mortnorum, discentibus necessarinm." Bacon clearly interprets the " vivernm," "of living men." and was probably right in doing so. The sympathies of Celsns were not likely to have extended to the lower creatures, and we have independent evidence that human vivisection had been practised before his time. Dr. Greenhill (art. " Physiologia," in Smith's "Dictionary of Classical Antiquities "), states that Herophilns and Erasistratus were said to have dissected criminals alive in the third century before Christ, and, though he charitably suggests a doubt whether the report may not have been a distortion of the fact that they dissected human bodies after death, the language of TertnIlian (" De Anima," chapter 10), shews, at least, what was the recognised tradition,—" Herophilns file medicus, ant lanins, qui sexcentos easeenit nt nature= serntaretnr, qa hominsm edit ut nowt."