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1861i Evol/Race


Matthew, P. Man in Paradise, subject to nature’s law of selection and without the knowledge of good and evil. Farmer’s Magazine, Ser. 3 Vol 20 (1861, Jul-Dec), p.241

(Article dated Aug)
Matthew presents his views on the transition from “savage” to “civilized” man. The reference to “Man in Paradise” is interesting. Matthew was against organised religion (see for example his fifth letter in Schleswig-Holstein), but appears wedded to aspects of Christian ideology. For a man growing up with Scottish Protestantism, this is not as contradictory as it first sounds.

The evolution of man from other organisms is not discussed. Instead, Matthew asserts that “savage or stone stage” man was subject to natural selection, with “no “knowledge of good and evil,” no sense of crime or sin, no remorse”, simply “strong and limited family instincts”. Man moved from this state to a civilized state (where natural selection does not prevail) in many parts of the world (presumably independently), and also in some cases reverted back to a savage state. The transition appears guided by material means (hoarding food, taming animals, property), not by any supernatural process, which would be in line with Matthew’s views on designed laws of nature (rather than a supreme being who intervenes via supernatural causes).

The piece end with a positive view on the potentially limitless technological development of human civilization, including control of the climate among other things:
“ And it may be in vain to attempt to renovate the human organism without first effecting the climate improvement; which may be practicable, from the new powers civilised man is acquiring over material things. What these powers may reach to, we can form no conception at present; we can only in wonderment exclaim — “What next? and What next?” ”

The above passage is noteworthy because the question of whether mankind had a bright or a dark future was one issue where Matthew does seem to adopt contrasting views in different writings. Thus in wrapping up Note F of his appendix to On Naval Timber and Arboriculture he warns darkly that while man had achieved “dominion over the material world”, the unchecked rate of population expansion might be such that “the whole surface of the earth may soon be overrun by this engrossing anomaly, to the annihilation of every wonderful and beautiful variety of animated existence, which does not administer to his wants principally as laboratories of preparation to befit cruder elemental matter for assimilation by his organs.” Even darker is his letter to Darwin in December 1862, which predicts that once “all the great facts of material & vital science are pointed out” then civilization will fall, as others have done throughout history. But in his other writings, such as here, Matthew seems to have a much more positive outlook on the future of humanity.

The article is reproduced in full below:


In every clime man in the pure savage or stone stage keeps hold of existence in full and permanent health and strength; like the other wild animals, a little modified by climate and circumstance, in size, figure, and colour, forming several well-marked species. This is a consequence of his subjection to nature’s law of competitive selection, which he innovates from in the civilized stage. This law, while it prevents degeneracy, or may renovate a race formerly civilised which may have gone back to the savage stage, also modifies the organism in accommodation to circumstances. Under it he has become acclimated to every region, from the polar snows to the tropics—from the Andes’ heights and the high table lands of Mexico, to the low shores of the Caspian—he being in every region, by superior sagacity and the aid of fire, “lord of all he surveys,” superior to every other competitor in powers of occupancy, except civilized man. He pervades the fields of nature as an animal of prey, sometimes in single families, but generally gregarious, forming tribes in constant and most destructive warfare against each other, in the wilderness hunting grounds where they collide. But he withers up before civilized man, along with the wild animals upon which he principally subsists. Here even were subsistence obtainable, being of what may be termed a specific wild character, his instincts of race cannot become modified to so complete a change; so situated he cannot even obey the rules of health necessary to retain hold of existence as a race, and without amalgamation or bondage constraint he disappears. In this stage, when not in contact with civilized man, there is no infirm parent and sickly progeny — such could not exist. Nothing but health and strength can sustain elemental exposure, can rear up a family; and every one having health and strength has a family; the strongest in mind and body of the male, and the most perfect in personal development and attraction of the female, being the most prolific. Here strong and limited family instincts call forth his undivided energies. Here there is no “knowledge of good and evil,” no sense of crime or sin, no remorse. Bounded to earth there is no other-worldliness, no super-selfishness, no aspirations after a higher existence — to climb the Heavens, leading him away from the present, from his natural family affections, his mundane duties and mundane enjoyments; even his slight dream of a future state is limited to a spectral existence, chasing the wild deer.

In the natural or savage state man is very limited in numbers, from the difficulty of procuring a subsistence at all seasons of the year to himself and family, for which he requires to roam. Not the hundredth part, and in many situations not the thousandth part of the population can exist, that can do so as an engrossing organism, reducing the earth by culture to administer only to his own wants (insect and animalcule life excepted). This change to civilised life requires the assistance of prepared means. He requires to become a provident hoarding organism, in procuring implements and tamed animals, and other requirements, with protection to this property — that is, social order, with in most cases the separate appropriation of the land to individuals or families — private property, wealth, riches, so much anathematized by ignorance and superstitious folly. Property is the creator of a vastly extended human existence –property is life — is life to 999 out of the 1,000 of the human race.

The time man may have existed in this primal or stone period we have few means of ascertaining. Here there is little to judge from — no denaturalised material (weapons of splintered stone and fine hollowed-out canoes excepted), no metallic fabrications, no tearing-up of the earth’s surface in mines or agricultural ridges, or cities turned to mounds — no vestiges of organisms cultivated for being devoured; only mounds of shells, the contents of which for long periods had constituted his food. But from the stratified drift gravel (considerably elevated now above the present ocean level), containing embedded in it stone relics of his weapons and tools and even his bones, and these beds having been deposited when the earth’s surface had a different configuration from the present, and also from few or no vestiges of civilization appear belonging to a time when the surface of the earth was much different from the present configuration, we may presume that the stone era has greatly exceeded the civilized.

It seems probable that Eastern civilization, culture of nutritious plants, and property had commenced near the Northern tropic, and that it had been effected through the labour of slaves — enemies captured in war — an advance at once to the agricultural stage, without the intervention of the shepherd or pastoral stage. Slaves are more easily managed in the agricultural stage than in the pastoral. A pastoral life is favourable to personal independence, though not to honesty. It would thus appear that modern or western liberty is the child of pasturage, and has originated with the ancient Scythians and Teutons. The gramineae;– the most suited family of plants for pasturage — abound most in moderately cold regions; and are scarce, at least as pasturage, in the intertropical; hence flocks and herds have come to prevail in the north of Europe and Asia; and the hatred of slavery and love of freedom has thus taken root in the Teuton or German race. It is now our part to extend this feeling still further — to put down indirect slavery as well as the direct.

In ancient Egypt and India there has been a considerable local advance in certain departments of science and in social organization; but judging from the still-existing monuments and relics, priestcraft and deception has despotically prevailed, and science and intellectual power has been limited to a class, while the masses were ignorant and enslaved, their reason and judgment completely subverted by the superstition which it was the business of the priest to teach. This is all we are able to determine regarding this ancient advancement. The scientific knowledge of this early period has been lost, the annals nearly forgotten by History or tradition, and the little that has reached us is fabulous and incredible in a high degree. We therefore can only judge of the social condition of this age by the remains of the cities, aqueducts, and sepulchral monuments. Very few coins or metallic ornaments are to be found in excavating in these ancient sites of civilization. Having but recently advanced from the stone era their progress in art was naturally more limited to stone. Nature affords this material to our hand, while to obtain the metals, gold excepted, an ingenious and difficult process is required. It is only in the present age that metallic production has been largely carried out: hence this present era will in future time be named, the metallic era.

The time when man broke from the stone era into civilization, judging from the vestiges of art existing in the anciently civilized regions, and from languages (here, as above stated, history or tradition is little better than fable), may be estimated, or rather conjectured, to have been from eight to sixteen thousand years back. His advance from the first commencement seems to have been slow and partial, a long time circumscribed to a few portions of the earth, the south and east of Asia, a small portion of the north of Africa, Asia Minor, and perhaps the central parts of America. In these early civilized regions man, and in some places animated nature, seems to be worn out. And it may be in vain to attempt to renovate the human organism without first effecting the climate improvement; which may be practicable, from the new powers civilised man is acquiring over material things. What these powers may reach to, we can form no conception at present; we can only in wonderment exclaim — “What next? and What next?”

Patrick Matthew. Gourdie Hill, August, 1861.

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