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Questions Answered Extempore by Miss Emma Hardinge 1866

 

MR COLEMAN, in introducing Miss Hardinge, said that the evening would be occupied, as previously intimated, in answering Questions proposed by various Ladies and Gentlemen. These were numerous, and the Committee had endeavoured to blend those which were related to each other, but they were still too numerous to be answered on one evening. None of them had been seen by Miss Hardinge, whose Answers would therefore be wholly unpremeditated. For the satisfaction of all, he would ask some of the Ladies present to draw promiscuously four or five Questions.

 

The following Questions were then drawn in the manner suggested by Mr Coleman, and were answered in the order in which we present them:­

 

Question 1

 

ANIMALS have brains and nervous systems, and exhibit phenomena, mental, moral, and emotional, which seem to differ only in degree from those of human life: they think, they reason, and invent novel and ingenious methods of attaining their objects, of overcoming their difficulties and remedying evils; they also manifest, love, hatred, gratitude, revenge, joy, grief, jealousy, etc., and have also methods of communication with each other. In our superior human nature we regard these as manifestations of the spirit within us, acting through the machinery of the brain and nervous system, and we know that spirit to survive the death of our mortal part. What is it that produces these analogous, though inferior manifestations in the brute creation, and what becomes of it after their death?

 

Answer

 

THE first Question presented requires us to define the difference between instinct and reason. It has been claimed, and justly, that the higher order of animals have a nervous system, whilst even the lower orders, in some form or other, are provided with an apparatus for the diffusion of nervous sensibility, correspondential to a system, excepting such forms of life as the mollusca, or other rudimental creatures, up to the humble worm, which exhibits a chain of ganglions, terminating in the larger one called the brain. Ranging up from the lower order of animals to the highest, we find a gradual improvement in the complexity of the nervous system, which is the apparatus which thought traverses: it is the telegraphic wire upon which the life-lightnings play,


 

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and without it the most magnificent and boundless scope of thought can never exhibit itself in matter. Consequently it is with especial reference to the nervous system, as a physical cause, that we must first attempt to answer your Question

 

We find that even the lowest orders of being exhibit a degree of instinct which is admirably appropriate to their condition. All the creatures of the dry land or of the water possess instincts adapted to their state: the reptile and the amphibious creature, fish and cold-blooded animals, generally are, if not fully provided with the same complex system of nerves as the mammalia, still organised with special arrangements for the generation of just the amount of vitality adapted to their state, and subservient to the instincts peculiar to that state. Yet the amount of instinct thus exhibited has never yet been classed as reason. It is, then, between the mammalia, as the highest order of animals, and man, that we must endeavour to draw the chief distinction between instinct and reason, and the question assumes a still more subtle form when we remember that the highest order of mammalia possesses a nervous system almost equal to that of man. In them, too, we find the heart, with its arterial and venous apparatus for the distribution of the circulating fluids, as elaborately developed as in the human form. We find that the brain, although it differs in quantity in different creatures, is almost as complex in its structure and convolutions as that of man: but we also find that the great column of the nervous system – the spine – with its ganglionic termination of the brain, is disposed differently in the animal to that of the man. In the animal it runs laterally with the ground, and the brain receives the galvanic power of the solar ray at an angle which varies considerably from the direct or perpendicular. Man, on the contrary, in his erect position, receives the first direct impetus from the solar ray in the action of a horizontal beam; hence, whatever force the power of light and heat can exercise upon receptive forms, have in this attitude full scope for their exhibition, and must form a line of demarcation between the play of nervous force in the human and in the mammalia thus differently stimulated. And the next evidence of difference in degree of nervous force exhibited in form, is found in the fact that no single form in creation is capable of exhibiting the same amount of intellectual power as man. Whilst the eagle’s wing can bear him upward to the sun, the power of man can transcend the eagle’s flight in the mechanical powers of mind displayed in the balloon. The mole can mine; the beaver build; the ant and bee manifest the united power of the geometrician and mathematician; the wasp’s and the tarantula’s nests are models of self-taught architecture: in short, throughout the whole range of natural history, every creature manifests a peculiarity of instinct which antedates human inventions, and emulates, in every form, the genius of man. But let it be remembered that these evidences of mental power are only exhibited in the lower creatures in one or two directions at a time. The animals which seem capable by training of enlarging the sphere of their faculties are very rare, and it is only in creatures which become the companions of, and are subject to, the intellect of man, that we realise the qualities set forth in your statement.

 

The instincts necessary to the preservation and perpetuation of species are manifest in all living creatures alike, for instance; the love that protects their young and associates gregariously in species and tribes. The manifestations of love, hatred, jealousy, revenge, prevision, and caution; all these are displayed in every species; but their exercise is limited within its species, and comprehends nothing outside of its own nature. All species realise others antagonistic to them; comprehend that which forms appropriate aliment, confine themselves within their own element, yet seem to


 

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comprehend the creatures on whom they can prey or consociate with; but none of the lower kingdom manifest evidence of an intellect outside of their own limited and defined form. Thus the building beaver, the geometrical ant, the weaving spider, and the hunting buffalo, are wonderfully instructive only in the direction of that one peculiar attribute which their form implies. The keen scent of the hound, the wonderful instincts of the migrating bird and of the hybernating animal, and even the prophetic power which teaches these creatures to lay up stores against the approaching seasons of scarcity - all this which looks so very like the action of calculating reason, when analytically considered, resolves itself at last into a necessity which grows out of the anatomy of all these creatures, and without now entering into detail, I affirm that each one is not only peculiarly adapted for the manifestation of the instinct it displays, but is as much compelled to exercise that instinct as the necessity of its form, as the flower must needs give off peculiar fragrance, and fruits or roots their quality or essence. It is far otherwise in the organism of man: this is mobile in every conceivable direction. Could the span of human life and strength, extend to the physical exertion, the foot of man is capable of compassing the earth; while the power of intellect enables him to traverse it by mechanical means without the waste of time and strength either on land or air or ocean. The wild beast of the forest is unfitted for the habitations of rock. The savage tenants of the cave subsist not in the field or pasture in the meadow. Each creature is fitted only for the soil and scene in which it is found, nor has any individual of a species, instincts which direct it to enter upon any other element, scene, or sphere of action than its own. But how various and infinitely subtle are the instincts whose assemblage we call reason in man! The throbbing pulse, like the wonderful indicator of the steam-engine, records the quantity and energetic action of the fires of life. Each organ works a telegraphic chain of nerves which informs the brain how much fatigue or effort man may make - how much emotion mind can well endure. The beast may feel all passions you describe, as love or hate or jealousy, or any of those feelings called emotions, yet is unable by any telegraph between the heart and the brain to determine how far its power must be controlled by judgment, intellect, or reason. It ever acts in the peculiar direction of its passions, and knows no hindrance to their play but physical exhaustion. Throughout the whole range of the human organism there is an adaptability to every circumstance; while the reason of man knits up into one, all the fragments of intellectual power that are manifest in every other creature. Thus man is a spinner, weaver, builder, engineer, and navigator. With the mariner’s compass he is enabled to guide his course over the pathless wastes of ocean better than the migratory instincts of even the swallow or the martin: by his intellect he is enabled to calculate atmospheric changes, and to determine even centuries hence what shall be the physical aspects of nature, from what they now exhibit by the observation of the growth and formation of strata beneath his feet. There is not an element of mind, nor an atom of matter, but what is subject to man, and combined in his organism. There is not an element of mind or an atom of matter, but what is distributed amongst the animal creation, but only in diverse forms and scattered fragments; whilst therefore we find the parts of being divided in them, in man we behold them all combined as in creation’s microcosm.

 

Then arise the questions which I would fain elaborate more fully, were there not so many other subjects of interest to consider. What shall become of this sovereign spirit of man, the totality of all other spiritual entities? And what of the fragments which constitute the life and instinct of the animal creation? Ask the realm of nature how she deals with the perfect and imperfect, the parts and whole of being. There we find that


 

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whatsoever is perfect is preserved, while imperfection pays sins wages - death, and passes as a fragment into higher forms to constitute a whole. Hence, while every animal is perfect in its degree, it is not perfect in relation to the highest of forms, which is man. It is only perfect as regards its own peculiar state and sphere. Here upon this earth, its being is necessary, its place is marked; but man, to whom the earth and all things of it are subjects, transcends the earth, and, therefore, belongs to spheres higher than earth. It is sometimes claimed at the spirit circle that all the forms known in the animal kingdom are found in the spirit-spheres. And this is true of some spheres which contain all types of earth and which preserve the representations of every condition manifested here, from the lowest mollusca to the highest man. You can annihilate nothing, therefore you cannot annihilate the fragments of thought which vitalise and move the very humblest form; but such forms are not preserved in permanent immortality, because they are not perfect, nor susceptible of continuing an individualised existence any longer than the form which it occupies is useful to creation, therefore, though for a time in the eternal progress of things the animal forms are preserved in something like a spiritual representative shape, these at last become extinct. Even as the monsters which are no longer useful to the earth’s surface have now become extinct and passed away, so for a time in the lower spheres you will find the representative forms of animals preserved, but not in the higher. There, where the perfected spirit of man dwells there is no consociation with animal forms whatsoever. We claim that the animal spirit, then, has a continued but not an immortal existence, whilst the spirit of man, as the perfect elaboration of form, the elaboration of intellect, the cosmos that binds up all of existence known or conceived of in the universal mind - this remains for ever. The imperfect dies; the beautiful and perfect, never.

Question 2  January 8th, 1866