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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

The Rev. Joseph Cook: a critique. Reprinted from the North American review, with a preface by G. Lewis

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The Rev. Joseph Cook: A Critique.

By John Fiske, A.M., Ll.B., Sometime Lecturer on Philosophy, and Instructor in History, Harvard University; Author of "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," "Darwinism and Other Essays," "Myths and Myth-Makers," etc. [Reprinted from the North American Review.]

With a Preface By Dr. G. Lewis, B.A., F.Or.S. (Ind.)

He that is first in his own cause seemeth just;

But his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.

Prov. xviii. 17.

Melbourne: W. H. Terry, 84 Russell Street. Printed by R. H. Williams, Scholastic Press, Pont Road, Richmond.

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In assenting to the request that I should write a Preface to this reprint from the popular N. A. Review (March, 1881), I feel that no arduous task is being assumed. The author and the subject of the following pages need but little introduction.

John Fiske——Who has not heard of the brilliant American Spencerian? What library, making any pretensions to completeness, is without his volumes? The principal of these, "Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy," is one of the best works on Evolution; marked by acute thought, affluence of knowledge, thorough scholarship, and unrivalled perspicuity of exposition.

The subject of Mr. Fiske's critique—Mr. Joseph Cook, is as widely, if less honorably known. A few years since, he flashed, a comet, across the theological firmament of America, where, by the brightness of his shining, all other luminaries were threatened with speedy and eternal eclipse. But his career in that country, if dazzling, was not very long. He crossed to Britain where, to audiences more or less appreciative, he has lectured over a hundred times. The next spheres selected by Mr. Cook upon which to shed his illuminations, seem to be India and the Colonies. Mr. Cook's mission, it would appear, is to bolster up Orthodoxy in religion by the aid of science, and to rout the hosts of modern Heresy. Loud are the exultations of many of his admirers over the polemical success of this 'malleus hereticorum.' Not only do they advertise him as "a leader of the religious thought of the nation, armed at all points to resist assaults upon the faith," but they add the assurance that he has "exposed the sophistries of Emerson, Theodore-Parker, and J. F. Clarke, of Darwin, Spencer, Tyndall, and Huxley; hushed Ingersoll, and turned the people of Boston from their heresies." Others, while admiring, have been less emphatic in equating this champion's achievements with the entire discomfiture of Infidelity.

After an unbiassed perusal of Mr. Cook's works, I am constrained page ii to acquiesce largely in Prof. Fiske's verdict. I find a great deal of foliage, but little root, much superficiality, little insight into, or apprehension of principles; and a most pretentious massing together of often inconsequential propositions. It is true there is considerable ingenuity displayed; but that very ingenuity—causidical dexterity, I might call it—is itself provocative of distrust. "The language of truth," says a Greek poet, "is artless, and no subtle expositions are needed by a just cause, for it has an intrinsic reasonableness; but a false cause, weak in itself, requires skilful doctoring." Mr. Cook is generally best when he deals with subjects distinct from science and theology; his remarks on politics and political economy being often interspersed with good sense, though even these are not without much that is mere "blatherskite." Mr. Cook's friends will acquit me of vulgarity, when I assure them that the phrase is not mine, it is Mr. Cook's (v. Lecture on Future Punishment). Far be it from me to invalidate by any word of disparagement Mr. Cook's crusade against atheistic Materialism; but I fear nothing will militate so much against his success in that direction as his own tactics.

It need scarcely be remarked that the lecturer's philippics against Advanced Thought have had no effect upon the master-minds of that phase of intellectual development. Mr. E. W. Emerson writes that his father, Ralph Waldo Emerson, "never reads Mr. Cook's lectures." Dr. Shadworth Hodgson and Prof. Bain attend with befitting respect to the objections of Dr. Ward against their Necessitarianism. Herbert Spencer does not ignore a critic like Prof. Green or James Martineau, Nor does Dr. Tyndall flinch from crossing swords with the last named distinguished Christian philosopher. Prof. Huxley does not hesitate to review Virchow; and Dr. Vance Smith is ever ready to contend for Unitarianism against theologians like Liddon and Farrar. But these men have no word for the fulminations of Mr. Cook. At the same time, it must not be supposed that the Boston champion has been allowed undisturbed possession of the controversial arena. James Freeman Clarke has subjected his labored proofs of the Trinity, Atonement, etc., to a searching analysis. Col. It. G. Ingersoll, when attacked by Mr. Cook, "came to Boston and replied before the largest audience ever assembled in that city." In England, Mr. Cook was courteously challenged to a public discussion by Charles Bradlaugh; this discussion, however, was declined, on the plea of a desire not to advertise Infidelity! Dr. W. Hitchman and other freethought lecturers have also devoted some attention to his arguments.

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Before closing this Intoduction, it may be well to give a sort of précis of Mr. Cook's conclusions on some interesting points of theological speculation.

I. Spiritualism. Mr. Cook's knowledge of this subject seems to have been acquired chiefly through the medium of books, and one remarkable séance at the house of a well known Spiritualist. Mr. Cook is satisfied that many of the phenomena called spiritual are genuine and are produced by psychic force, but he is undecided whether that force is under the control of men exclusively, or under that of both spirits and men,—the theory adopted by Crookes and Zollner.

II. The Trinity. Mr. Cook's propositions on this subject are:-1. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God; 2. Each has a peculiarity incommunicable to the others; 3. Neither is God without the others; 4. Each with the others is God.

III. Total Depravity. By this, Mr. Cook means "the utter disar-rangedness of man's faculties previous to regeneration."

IV. Atonement. "We are assured that "The Atonement consists in the substitution of Christ's voluntary sacrificial chastisement for man's punishment. Guilt may mean either one of two very different things. It signifies sometimes personal blameworthiness; at others, liability to suffer to maintain the honor of a violated law. It is in this latter sense of the word that we are taught that guilt was taken off from sinners and placed upon our Lord." "Angels cannot understand how God could have condescended to make an Atonement; but there is no other screen known under Heaven or among men, by which the black past can be separated from our consciences and from God's face. A screen does not remove, it only hides; the black past remains, but it is hidden." Mr. Cook mentions the following as among popular misrepresentations of the doctrine: "That God punishes by substitution; that the Atonement involves a transfer of moral qualities from person to person; and that it saves, irrespective of character, whoever has faith."

V. Future Punishment. Its endlessness Mr. Cook infers from the endlessness of sin. Sin, when continued, blinds the judgment, he argues, so that truth becomes unwelcome. The soul may permanently lose the desire to be holy. The human being may become wilfully impenitent.

The punishment, however, does not befall the majority of humanity; nor is it physical. Mr. Cook's definition of perdition is, "permanent dissimilarity of feeling with God, and its consequences."

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From such expositions of the foregoing topics, it will be seen how far this lecturer is amenable to the charge of "maintaining Orthodoxy by abandoning it." That "Orthodoxy" will live for many a day without Mr. Cook's advocacy is likely enough; but one feels less confidence in predicting that it will long survive it.

To controvert the positions of Mr. Cock is not the object of this Introduct, else many reasons could be adduced to justify the belief that Mr. Joseph Cook has not yet scaled the heights of all wisdom and knowledge nor attained a perfect comprehension of the Divine Counsels.

I may state that on the interesting subject of Eschatology, the investigative reader will derive valuable assistance from a study of the works mentioned below.

It is, perhaps, fitting to add that in introducing these pages there is no intention to impugn the sincerity and earnestness of Mr. Cook's motives; it is only his methods that excite animadversion.

Geo. Lewis.

Restitution of All Things, by Rev. A. Jukes. (1873)

Mercy and Judgment, by Rev. F. W. Farrar, D.D. (1881)

What is the Truth as to Everlasting Punishment? by Rev. F. N. Oxenhain, M.A. (1881)

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The Rev. Joseph Cook a Critique.

"The small philosopher is a great character in New England; His fundamental rule of logical procedure is to guess at the half, and multiply by two. [Applause.]"* It is only two or throe years since the "philosopher," front whom this text is quoted, was himself "a great character in New England," inasmuch as he could give a lecture once every week, in one of the largest halls of New England's principal city, and could entertain his audience of two or three thousand people with discussions of the most vast and abstruse themes of science and metaphysics. The success with which he entertained his audience is carefully chronicled for us in the volumes made up from the reports of his lectures, in which parenthetical notes of "laughter," "applause," or "sensation" occur as frequently as in ordinary newspaper reports of stump-speeches or humorous convivial harangues. As a social phenomenon, this singular career of Mr Cook possesses considerable interest—enough, at any rate, to justify a brief inquiry as to his "fundamental rule of procedure."

Among the wise and witty sayings of the ancients with which our children are puzzled and edified in the first dozen pages of the Greek "Reader," there is a caustic remark attributed to Phokion, on the occasion of being very violently applauded by the populace: "Dear me," said the old statesman, "can it be that I have been making a fool of myself?" So, when three thousand people are made to laugh and clap their hands over statements; about the origin of species, or the anatomy of the nervous system, the first impulse of any scientific inquirer of ordinary sagacity and experience is to ask in what meretricious fashion these serious subjects can have been treated, in order to have produced such a result. The inference may be cynical, perhaps, but it is none the page 2 less likely to be sound. In Mr. Cook's case, one does not need to read far in the published reports of his lectures to see that his fundamental rule of procedure is something very different from any of the rules by which truth is wooed and won by scientific inquirers. Among Mr. Mill's comprehensive canons of logical method one might search in vain for a specimen of the method employed by Mr. Cook. Of the temper of mind, indeed, in which scientific inquiries are conducted, Mr. Cook has no more conception than Laura Bridgman could have of Pompeian red, or of a chord of the minor ninth. The process of holding one's judgment in suspense over a complicated problem, of patiently gathering and weighing the evidence on every side, of subjecting one's own first-formed hypotheses to repeated verification, of clearly comprehending and fairly stating opposing views, of setting forth one's conclusions at last, guardedly and with a distinct consciousness of the conditions under which they are tenable,—all this sort of thing is absolutely foreign to Mr. Cook's nature. To Mr. Cook, a scientific thesis is simply a statement over which it is possible to get up a fight. The game-cock is his totem; to him the bones of the vertebrate sub-kingdom are only so many bones of contention, and the sponge is interesting chiefly as an emblem which is never, on any account, to be "thrown up." He talks accordingly of scientific men lying in wait for Mr. Darwin, ready to pounce on him like a tiger on its prey; he is very fond of exhibiting what he calls the "strategic point" of a scientific book or theory; and altogether his attitude is bellicose to a degree that is as unbecoming in a minister of the gospel as it is out of place in a discussion of scientific questions. His favorite method of dealing with a scientific writer is to quote from him all sorts of detached statements and inferences, and, without the slightest regard to the writer's general system of opinions or habits of thought, to praise or vituperate the detached statements according to some principle which it is not always easy for the redder to discover, but which has always doubtless some reference to their supposed bearings upon the peculiar kind of orthodoxy of which Mr. Cook appears as the champion. There are some writers whom Mr. Cook thinks it necessary always to berate, no matter what they say. If they happen to say something which ought to be quite satisfactory to any reasonable person of orthodox opinions, Mr. Cook either accuses them of insincerity, or represents them as making "concessions." This last device, I am sorry to be obliged to add, is not an uncommon one with theological controversialists, whose zeal exceeds their scrupulousness. When a man makes a statement which expresses his deepest convictions, there is no easier way of seeming to knock away the platform on which he stands than to quote his statement, and describe it as some- page 3 tiling which he has reluctantly "conceded." With the principal writers on evolution, Mr. Cook is continual])' found resorting to this cheap and vulgar device. For example, when Professor Tyndall declares that "if a right-hand spiral movement of the particles of the brain could be shown to occur in love, and a left-hand spiral movement in hate, we should be as far off as ever from understanding the connection of this physical motion with the spiritual manifestations,"—when Professor Tyndall declares this, he simply asserts what is a cardinal proposition with the whole group of English philosophers to which he belongs. With Professor Huxley, as well as with Mr. Spencer, it is a fundamental proposition that psychical phenomena cannot possibly be interpreted in terms of matter and motion, and this proposition they have at various times set forth and defended,—and what is still more to the purpose, have proved it. In the chapter on "Matter and Spirit," in my work on "Cosmic Philosophy," I have fully expounded this point, and have further illustrated it in treating of the "Unseen World." With the conclusions there set forth, the remark of Professor Tyndall thoroughly agrees, and it does so because all these expressions of opinion and all these arguments are part and parcel of a coherent system of anti-materialistic thought adopted by the English school of evolutionists. Yet when Mr. Cook quotes Professor Tyndall's remark, he does it in this wise: "It is notorious that even Tyndall concedes," etc., etc.

By proceeding in this way, Mr. Cook finds it easy to make out a formidable array of what he calls "the concessions of evolutionists." He first gives the audience a crude impression of some sort of theory of evolution, such as no scientific thinker ever dreamed of, or, to speak more accurately, he plays upon the crude impression already half formed in the average mind of his audience, and which, to do him justice, he seems to share himself. The average notion of the doctrine of evolution possessed in common by an audience big enough to fill Tremont Temple, would no doubt seem to Mr. Darwin or to Mr. Spencer something altogether fearful and wonderful. Playing with this sort of crude material, Mr. Cook puts together a series of numbered propositions, which remind one of those interminable auction-catalogues of Walt Whitman, which some of our British cousins, more ardent than discriminating, mistake for a truly American species of inspired verse. In this long catena of statements, almost everything is easily seen to disagree with the crude general impression to which the speaker appeals, and almost everything is accordingly set down as a "concession." And as the audience go out after the lecture, they doubtless ask one another, in amazed whispers, how it is that sensible men who make so many "concessions" can find it in their hearts to maintain the doctrine of evolution at all!

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Sometimes Mr. Cook goes even farther than this, and, in the very act of quoting an authors declared opinions, expressly refuses to give him credit for them. Thus he has the impudence to say: "Even Herbert Spencer, who would be very glad to prove the opposite, says, in his Biology, 'The proximate chemical principles or chemical units—albumen, fibrine, gelatine, or the hypothetical proteine substance—cannot possess the property of forming the endlessly varied structures of animal forms.' "Mr. Cook here lays claim to a knowledge of his author's innermost thoughts and wishes that is quite remarkable. For a fit parallel one would have to cite the instance of the German who flogged his son for profanity, though the boy had not opened his mouth. "You dinks tamn," exclaimed the irate father, "and I vips you for dat."

As there are some writers whom Mr. Cook thinks it always necessary to vituperate, no matter what they say, so there are others whom he finds it convenient to quote, as foils to the former, and to mention with praise on all occasions, though it is difficult to assign the reasons for this preference except on the hypothesis that Mr. Cook has an implicit faith in the simple and confiding nature of his audience. Before giving these lectures, Mr. Cook had studied a while in Germany, and his citations of German writers show how far he deems it safe to presume on New England's ignorance of what Germany thinks. It is nice to have such a learned country as Germany at one's disposal to hurl at the heads of people whose "outlook in philosophy does not reach beyond the Straits of Dover"; it saves a great deal of troublesome argument, and still more painful examination of facts. This English opinion is all very well, you know, but it conies from a philosopher "whose star is just touching the western pines," and a German whom T am about to quote, whose book I "hold in my hand," and "whose star is in the ascendant," does not agree with it. All this is extremely neat and convincing, apparently, to the crowd in Tremont Temple. With all Germany at his disposal, however, it must be acknowledged that Mr. Cook makes a very sparing use of his resources. He quotes Helmholtz and Wundt every now and then with warm approval, though wherein they should be found any more acceptable to the orthodox world than Tyndall and Bain, it is not easy to see, save that the ill-repute of German free-thinkers takes somewhat longer to get diffused in New England than the ill-repute of English free-thinkers. Then, among these great Germans who are to set the English-speaking world aright, we have Delitzsch! To speak of Wundt and Delitzsch is as if one were to speak of John Stuart Mill and Stephen Pearl Andrews! And then comes the admirable Lotzo, whom Mr. Cook is continually setting page 5 off as a foil to Herbert Spencer. On page 170 of the lectures on "Heredity" he enumerates, with special emphasis, those opinions of Lotze which he deems as of especial importance with regard to the relations between matter and mind, and then proceeds to deprecate the "thunder" which he presumes he has evoked "from all quarters of the Spencerian sky." But, considering that the propositions he quotes from Lotze express the very views of Herbert Spencer, only somewhat inadequately worded, it would seem that the alarm Mr. Cook expresses cannot be very real, and the thunder in question is only a kind of comic-opera thunder manufactured behind the curtain for the benefit of the acquiescent audience. By way of example, the fourth proposition quoted with approval from Lotze by Air. Cook reads thus: "Physical phenomena point to an underlying being to whom they belong, but do not determine whether that being is material or immaterial." Now this is Spencerism, pure and unmitigated, and it is a crucial proposition too, pointing out the drift of the whole philosophy before which it is set up. The fact that Mr. Cook adopts such an opinion when stated by Lotze, but vituperates the same opinion when stated by Spencer, reveals to us, with a pungent though not wholly delicious flavor, the "true in wardness'" of his "fundamental method of procedure."

That method, it must be acknowledged with due reference to the bon mot of the old Greek statesman, is a method well adapted to conciliate the favor of an immense audience, even in so cultivated a city as Boston. We are descended from fighting ancestors, and many of us, who care little for the disinterested discussion of scientific theories, still like to see a man knocked down or impaled, provided the knocking down be done with a syllogistic club, or the impaling be restricted to such a hard substance as is afforded by the horns of a dilemma. It satisfies our combative instincts, without shocking our physical sympathies or making any great demand on our keener thinking powers, which most people do most of all dislike to be called upon to exercise. To this kind of feeling Mr. Cook's lectures appeal, and the peculiar character of his success seems to show that he knew very well how to deal with it. In a moment of winning frankness he exclaims: "Do you suppose that I think that this audience can be cheated? I do not know where in America there is another weekly audience with as many brains in it; at least, I do not know where, in New England, 1 should be so likely to be tripped up if I were to make an incorrect statement as here." ("Biology," page 67.) After this persuasive little dose of what the newspapers call "toffy," Mr. Cook proceeds to show his respect for the learning of his audience in some remarks on bathybius, which, as he condescendingly explains, is a name page 6 derived from two Greek words, meaning deep and sea!! The profound knowledge of elementary Greek thus shown is quite equalled by his account of bathybius from the zoological point of view. He begins by telling his hearers that, in a paper published in the "Microscopical Journal" in 1868, Prof. Huxley "announced his belief that the gelatinous substance found in the ooze of the bods of the deep seas is a sheet of living matter extending around the globe." Furthermore, of "this amazingly strategic (!) and haughtily trumpeted substance . . . Huxley assumed that it was in the past, and would be in the future, the progenitor of all the life on the planet." Now, it is not true that, in the paper referred to, Prof. Huxley announces any such belief, or makes any such assumption, as is here ascribed to him; but we shall see, in a moment, that Mr. Cook's system of quotation is peculiar in enabling him to extract from the text of an author any meaning whatever that may happen to suit his purposes. This slanderous misrepresentation enables the lecturer to come in with great effect at the close of his third lecture, and earn an ignoble round of applause, by holding up the current number of the "American Journal of Science and Arts" (which he would appear to have picked up at a book-store on his way to the lecture-room) and citing from it, as the fifty-first and closing "concession" of evolutionists, "that bathybius has been discovered in 1875, by the ship Challenger, to be—hear, 0 heavens! and give ear, 0 earth!—sulphate of lime; and that when dissolved it crystallizes as gypsum. [Applause.]" This is what Mr. Cook calls striking, with the "latest scientific intelligence," at the "bottom stem" of the great tree of evolution. The "latest scientific intelligence" with him means the last book or article which he has glanced over without comprehending its import, but from which he has contrived to glean some statement calculated to edify his audience and scatter the hosts of Midian. In point of fact, the identification of bathybius with sulphate of lime was set down by Sir Wyville Thomson only as a suspicion, to which Prof. Huxley, like a true man of science, at once accorded all possible weight, while leaving the question open for further discussion. Only a mountebank, however, dealing with an audience upon whose ignorance of the subject he might safely rely, could pretend to suppose that the fate of the doctrine of evolution was in any way involved in the question as to the organic nature of bathybius. The amazing strategy was all Mr. Cook's own, and the haughty trumpeting appears to have been chiefly done with his own very brazen instrument.

I said a moment ago that Mr. Cook's system of quotation is peculiar. The following instance is so good that it will bear citing at some length. According to Mr. Cook, Prof. Huxley says, in his article on Biology in page 7 the ninth edition of the "Encyclopædia Britannica": "Throughout almost the whole series of living beings, we find agamogenesis, or not-sexual generation." After a pause, Mr. Cook proceeded in a lower voice: "When the topic of the origin of the life of our Lord on the earth is approached from the point of view of the microscope, some men, who know not what the holy of holies in physical and religious science is, say that we have no example of the origin of life without two parents.' Mr. Cook then cites the familiar instances of parthenogenesis in bees and silk-moths, and proceeds: "Take up your Mivart, your Lyell your Owen, and you will read [where?] this same important fact which Huxley here asserts, when he says that the law that perfect individuals may be virginally born extends to the higher forms of life. I am in the presence of Almighty God; and yet, when a great soul like the tender spirit of our sainted Lincoln, in his early days, with little knowledge but with great thoughtfulness, was troubled by this difficulty, and almost thrown into infidelity by not knowing that the law that there must be two parents is nut universal. I am willing to allude, even in such a presence as this, to the latest science concerning miraculous conception. [Sensation.]"

Concerning the good taste, or the orthodox propriety, of "approaching the origin of the life of our Lord on earth from the point of view of the microscope," something might be said were there need of it. The rhetorical vulgarity of the above passage will be as obvious to most of our readers as its logical absurdity. All that I am now concerned with, however, is its unscrupulous misstatement. Let us look back for a moment at the italicized quotation from Prof. Huxley's article and see what he really does say. Treating of the whole subject of agamogenesis in the widest possible way by including it under the more general process of cell-multiplication, Prof. Huxley says: "Common as the process is in plants and in the lower animals, it becomes rare among the higher animals. In these, the reproduction of the whole organism from a part, in the way indicated above, ceases. At most we find that the cells at the end of an amputated portion of the organism are capable of reproducing the lost part, and, in the very highest animals, even this power vanishes in the adult. . .. Throughout almost the whole series of living beings, however, we find concurrently with the process of agamogenesis, or asexual generation, another method of generation, in which the development of the germ into an organism resembling the parent depends on an influence exerted by living matter different from the germ. This is gamogenesis, or sexual generation." (Encyc. Brit., 9th edition, "Biology," page 686.) Comparing the italicized passage here with Mr. Cook's italicized quotation, we see vividly illustrated page 8 the "fundamental method of procedure" by which the "Monday Lectureship" jumps from a statement about the reproduction of a lobster's claws to the inference that a man may be born without a father. Every one has heard of the worthy clergyman who introduced a scathing sermon on a new-fangled variety of ladies' head-dress by the appropriate text, "Top-knot come down!" On being reminded by one of his deacons that the full verse seemed to read, "Let him that is upon the house-top not come down," the pastor boldly justified his abridgment on the ground that any particular collocation of words in Scripture is as authoritative as any other, since all parts of the Bible are equally inspired. Probably Mr. Cook would justify his own peculiar principle of abridgment on the familiar ground that the end sanctifies the means, and that if a statement seems helpful to "the truth" in general, it is no matter whether the statement itself is true or not.

Enough of this. If we were to go through with Mr. Cook's volumes in detail, we should find little else but misrepresentations of facts, misconceptions of principles, and floods of tawdry rhetoric, of which the specimens here quoted are quite sufficient to illustrate his "fundamental method of procedure." I have not treated him seriously or with courtesy, because there is nothing in his matter or in his manner that would justify, or even excuse, a serious method of treatment. The only aspect of his career which really affords matter for grave reflection is the ease with which he succeeded for the moment in imposing on the credulity and in appealing to the prejudices of his public. The eagerness with which the orthodox world hailed the appearance of this new champion—whose very orthodoxy withal seems to be but little sounder than his science—cannot but remind one, with sad emphasis, of Oxenstjern's famous remark: "Quam parva sapientia mundus regitur!"


Printed By R.H. Williams. Scholastic Press, Punt Road, Richmond.

* Cook's "Boston Monday Lectures: Biology," page 51.