THE EVOLUTION OF HELIOLOGY.
THE world was learning much, and thinking more, and stirring with fresh wonder. And there came to it a Teacher well assured. His sight was swift and keen. But its range was curiously limited by a peculiar form of short-sight. He could discern nothing beyond the atmosphere of earth, and thus had never seen the sun. So he reasoned with a sun-conscious organism, and sought to prove to it that the origin of all its forms of expression was earthy. "Trace them up," he said, " and you everywhere find that form, -colour, motion, growth, even thought, are only transformed elementary force evolved by the earth. As these develop, as activity increases, as faculties multiply, and as you become conscious of them and at last able to reflect upon and reason about them, you suppose—fatal error!—that they are somehow derived from a source extraneous to the soil from whence they sprang. Thus, also, with sensations of light and heat. They both originate exclusively from the organic germ itself, or from its earth-environment. The notion that light or heat-rays come from and are due to some great sun' in distant space, independent of earth (though earth is dependent upon and revolves round it), is pure delusion. It would be useful to write a paper on the evolution of sunrayism,' or perhaps of heliology,' and to show how the ideas of a sun as fountain of light and heat and chemical force arose,—to trace back, in short, their history and genesis. For it is plain that even were there any foundation for the myth of a sun, it must be beyond our faculties of perception, as beyond our atmosphere ; and the idea of our learning its constituents or movements and action, yet more, of our consciously receiving its emanations and influence, must in the nature of things be groundless. It would be easy to show the natural process, in times of scientific ignorance, by which the heat in the earth's centre, ahown in volcanic action, geysers, &c., and in deep mine- borings, the light and flames produced by friction, phosphores- cence both animal and mineral, and the diffused light of a self- luminous atmosphere, have been erected by the ever-growing superstitions of organic life in its credulous infancy into the revelations of a mighty life-imparting, light-giving sphere, the -cause and origin of all activity on earth, and of all the rich and complex phenomena of our existence."
Here the group was joined by an egg-enclosed Embryo which observed :—" I have just been lecturing in the same sense to my foolish brother-embryos, who persist in sticking to similarly obsolete notions about being hatched.' They, too, apparently inherit a sort of glorified ghost-theory, by which they flatter
themselves that they originated not primarily from the speck out of which it can be proved that they grew, but from some mysterious source outside the very egg itself, forming round them what they suppose to be a mere shell, some day to be -cracked and ' transcended,' but which, like the atmosphere you speak of, encloses us in barriers which cannot be passed even in thought. So I explained to them that all theories which foster a craving for post-shell-cracked existence are sheer fancy ; for the sooner we all understand this, the better. As you and I know, the very idea of such parentage' is due really to inflated dreams of our dignity and destiny, which have a morbid origin. So strong, indeed, is the tendency to carry high-flown mytho- logical fancies into detail, that some even declare that, once out- side the shell, they will acquire powers not merely to run upon the earth, but to ' cleave the skies on wing.' "
The conversation was now taken np by an Orange-pip and a Wheat-grain. "We quite agree with you," said they ; and the Orange-pip continued :—" I can contribute some curious facts from the experience of my own tribe. Some of us claim a subtle ;faculty of conception, an inward power of perception, a recep- tive organ of reflection, by which the wildest stories and legends are certified and taken as representing sober fact, and revealing verifiable principle. One such imaginative pip asks us to believe that it originally dwelt in a golden globe attached to what it calls the branch of a tree, and surrounded by so-called leaves— whatever such terms may stand for—and farther fancies that
this globe started from the centre of a corolla of fragrant leaves,' called the petals of a flower. Not content with such a tissue of idle dreams, the pip insists that within the shrine of its own heart lies, ready to be drawn forth by the action of that very extraneity called 'sun,' the promise and the potency of a plant to spring from it that shall consist of root, stem, and branch, of leaf, and flower, and fruit, and thus of seed again. And it maintains that the very condition of this development is that first it shall moulder away, be broken up and die as seed in earth."
Here broke in the Wheat-grain :—" Some of us, I can assure you, go even further in their folly. They not only fancy that they are conscious of a plant-life beyond grain, but one actually teaches the law of sacrifice ' in life through death; affirming that the supreme destiny of the wheat-grain is incorporation in a higher organism than any plant-form known. It tells us that not only are we to abandon all care for self-preservation as intact seed, to fall cheerfully into fertile soil, and there in pain and darkness waste away in order that at last, through utter dissolution, our hearts may germinate and ascend towards the light, but that corn has another ' privilege,' a representative glory.' It may, foraootb, be ground, and then be kneaded and exposed to fearful heat ; after which it may be received into and assimilated by a more complex organism, to help in forming tissue composed of innumerable cells like our own, but with in- definitely greater powers of combined consciousness and action. A fine prospect and a likely issue, truly !"
" Well," said the Pip, thoughtfully, " my friend, too, spoke of the golden ball being cut when be fell out, and its substance being taken into some organic region unknown to us, to help in building up a finer structure."
Here the Teacher was observed to be making notes with an air of being somewhat taken aback, and was heard to mutter :—
"This must be seen to. I must correct the mistaken inference that because there are no sun-rays to produce or stimulate these processes, therefore they don't exist ; I must write an Essay on the Science of Biological Ethics,' which shall show that all this really takes place, but through forces wholly derived from earth."
A fragment of ice and a crystal of snow lay close together listening, and near them rested a particle of carbon. Said the Ice to the Snow :—" Let us take all this to heart. We used to think that if warmth came to us, it was from a sun, and if we melted, though I lost my gem-like glitter, and you your exquisite design, yet that we should find a larger life in flowing through the world in fertilising streams ; nay, that beyond all present limits, we should be drawn up by the sun in wreathe of filmy vapour from the earth, returning there in life-bringing
showers to aid sun-work. But clearly warmth is earth-begotten and death-dealing; we melt, and we are not." "Aye," sadly echoed the Carbon ; " and once I thought that, dull and uncomely as I am, I too might one day enter into a glorified state of radiance men call ' diamond,' and that the many colours and the sparkling light I should give forth, would reflect the fabled sun ' they speak of." Soon, many murmurs took up the burden both of protest and regret. All Nature seemed per- versely to have given one hand to heaven and the other one to earth ; from all sides came the voice,—" Behold the sun ! what witness need we that it is?" But the Teacher smiled. "It is curious," he said, "how the growth of superstition follows the same laws everywhere. It is a weed hard, as all weeds are, to kill or root up finally. Ideas long cherished, however base- less, tend, both in the individual and in the race (through heredity), to project themselves into a sort of spurious objec- tivity. You will hear many declaring that they see the sun, and often watch with rapture its glowing, radiant disc behind the many-hued clouds, at what they call sunrise and sunset. And numbers maintain that the alternations of night and day, winter and summer, witness to this ultra-atmospheric luminary, instead of merely being special forms of a general law of rhythm, or action and reaction, as observed, e.g., in the pheno- mena of sound. As well might we attribute to the influence of the tidal ebb and flow, the rise and fall of our own respiration ! It is time that the sun-myth were finally discarded. Intelli- gent and reasonable beings should recognise, even though with pain, the limit of their knowledge and their vision. It is plain common-sense that we cannot know what is beyond the region
of the atmosphere, or penetrate the vacant, sunless depths Let ns all be satisfied with earth !"