Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Animal and Vegetable Physiology,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 206-211


[page 206:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, February, 1836.]

AS we have no doubt that the great majority of our readers are acquainted with the circumstances attending the publication of the Bridgewater Treatises, we shall content ourselves with a very brief statement of those circumstances, by way of introduction to some few observations respecting this, the fifth of the Series.

Francis Henry, Earl of Bridgewater, who died some time in the beginning of the year 1829, directed certain Trustees mentioned in his will [[Will]], to invest eight thousand pounds sterling in the public funds, which eight thousand pounds, with the interest accruing, was to be under the control of the President, for the time being, of the Royal Society of London. The money thus invested, was to be paid by the President to such person or persons [[or persons]] as he, the President, should appoint to “write, print and publish, one thousand copies of a work, On the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation; illustrating such work by all reasonable arguments, as, for instance, the variety and formation of God’s creatures, in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms; the effect of digestion, and thereby of conversion; the construction of the hand of man, and an infinite variety of other arguments; [page 207:] as also by discoveries ancient and modern, in arts, sciences, and the whole extent of literature.” The profits of the works were to be paid to the authors.

Davies Gilbert, Esq. being President of the Royal Society, advised with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, and “a nobleman immediately connected with the deceased,” in regard to the best mode of carrying into effect the design of the testator. It was finally resolved to divide the eight thousand pounds among eight gentlemen, who were to compose eight Treatises as follows. Thomas Chalmers, D. D. Professor of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh, was to write on “The Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Constitution of Man,” — John Kidd, M.D., F. R. S., Regius Professor of Medicine in the University of Oxford, on “The Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man,” — William Whewell, M. A., F. R. S., Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, on “Astronomy and General Physics considered with reference to Natural Theology,” — Sir Charles Bell, K. G. H., F. R. S., L. and E., on “The Hand: its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design,” — Peter Mark Roget, M.D., Fellow of and Secretary to the Royal Society, on “Animal and Vegetable Physiology,” — William Buckland, D. D. F. R. S., Professor of Geology in the University of Oxford, on “Geology and Mineralogy,” — William Kirby, M. A., F. R. S., on “The History, Habits, and Instincts of Animals” — and William Prout, M.D., F. R. S., on “Chemistry, Meteorology, and the Function of Digestion, considered with Reference to Natural Theology.” [page 208:]

However excellent and praiseworthy the intention of the Earl of Bridgewater, and however liberal the sum bequeathed, there can be little doubt that in the wording of his bequest, in the encumbering of the work so nobly proposed with a specification of the arguments to be employed in its execution, he has offered a very serious impediment to the fulfilment of the spirit of his design. It is perhaps, too, a matter of regret, that the introduction of the words “person or persons” in the paragraph touching the contemplated publication, should have left it optional with the President of the Royal Society to divide the eight thousand pounds among so many. We are sorry that the eight treatises were determined upon for several reasons. First, we do not believe any such arrangement to have been contemplated by the testator — his words “write, print, and publish one thousand copies of a work,” &c., inducing the opinion that one single book or treatise was intended: and we the rather hold to this belief, as it might easily be proved (we will speak farther of this hereafter,) that the whole argument set forth in the words of the Testament, and indeed the whole arguments of the whole eight Treatises now published, might have been readily discussed in one connected work of no greater bulk than the Physiology whose title forms the heading of this article. In the second place the bequest of the eight thousand pounds, which en masse, is magnificent, and which might thus have operated as a sufficient inducement for some one competent person to devote a sufficiency of time to the steady and gradual completion of a noble and extraordinary work — this bequest, we say, is somewhat of a common-place affair when we regard it in its subdivision. Thirdly, one thousand pounds is but little for the labor necessary in a work like [page 209:] any one of the Treatises, and we are mistaken if the “profits of the sales” meet in any degree either the merits or the expectations of the respective authors. If they do, however, it is a matter altogether foreign to and apart from the liberality of the testator — a liberality whose proper development should have been scrupulously borne in view by the Trustee. Fourthly, the result of the combination of a number of intellects is seldom in any case — never in a case like the present — equal to the sum of the results of the same intellects laboring individually — the difference, generally, being in precise ratio with the number of the intellects engaged. It follows that each writer of a Bridgewater Treatise has been employed at a disadvantage. Lastly — an accurate examination of the nature and argument of each Treatise as allotted, will convince one a priori that the whole must, in any attempt at a full discussion, unavoidably run one into the other — this indeed in so very great a degree that each Treatise respectively would embody a vast quantity of matter, (handled in a style necessarily similar) to be found in each and all of the remaining seven Treatises. Here again is not only labor wasted by the writers — but, by the readers of the works, much time and trouble unprofitably thrown away. We say that this might have been proved a priori by an inspection of the arguments of the Treatises. It has been fully proved, a posteriori, by the fact: and this fact will go far in establishing what we asserted in our first reason for disapproving of the subdivision — to wit: that the whole argument of the whole eight Treatises might have been readily discussed in one connected work of no greater bulk than the Physiology now before us. [page 210:]

We cannot bring ourselves to think Dr. Roget’s book the best of the Bridgewater series, although we have heard it so called. Indeed in the very singular and too partial arrangement of the subjects it would have been really a matter for wonder if Dr. Whewell had not written the best, and Sir Charles Bell the worst of the Treatises. [[The talents of Dr. Roget, however, are a sufficient guarantee that he has furnished no ordinary work.]] We are grieved to learn from the Preface that his progress has been greatly impeded by “long protracted anxieties and afflictions, and by the almost overwhelming pressure of domestic calamity.”

The chief difficulty of the Physiologist in handling a subject of so vast and almost interminable extent as the science to which his labors have been devoted — a science comprehending all the animal and vegetable beings in existence — has evidently been the difficulty of selection from an exuberance of materials. He has excluded from the Treatise — (it was necessary to exclude a great deal) — “all those particulars of the natural history both of animals and plants, and all description of those structures, of which the relation to final causes cannot be distinctly traced.” In a word, he has admitted such facts alone as afford palpable evidence of Almighty design. He has also abstained from entering into historical accounts of the progress of discovery — the present state of Physiological science being his only aim. The work is illustrated by nearly 500 wood cuts by Mr. Byfield, and references in the Index to passages in the volumes where terms of mere technical science have been explained. Appended are also a catalogue of the engravings, and a tabular view of the classification of animals adopted by Cuvier in his “Règne Animal” with examples included. This Table is reprinted from that in the author’s “Introductory [page 211:] Lecture on Human and Comparative Physiology,” published in 1826. Such alterations, however, have been introduced as were requisite to make the Table correspond with Cuvier’s second edition.






[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Animal and Vegetable Physiology)