In Nature's Name: An Anthology of Women's Writing and Illustration, 1780-1930

An excerpt from
In Nature's Name
An Anthology of Women's Writing and Illustration, 1780-1930
Edited by Barbara T. Gates


Science in Excelsis:
A New Vision of Judgement

Frances Power Cobbe

Scene I.
An outlying region of Paradise. A group of Cherubim reclining on clouds. In the midst, the Archangel St. Raphael on a crimson bank of sunset. Eloa, the sister of the Angels (the Angel of Pity), leaning on the frustrum of a rainbow in the background.

St. Raphael. My friends and fellow Cherubim, it seems to me that we and some of our former associates, now in "another place," have dissertated long enough on Fixed Fate, Free Will, Foreknowledge Absolute. If I mistake not, it is nearly nine hundred thousand years since the subject was first mooted by my illustrious brother Saint Uriel, and since that epoch we have spent many ages in talking the matter over, without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. In fact (as one of these poor little intelligent creatures who move on the planet Tellus ventured to surmise), we have—

"Found no end, in wandering mazes lost." (1)
It is high time, surely, for us to turn to some more practical study, lest our special glory of being the "Spirits who know most" be eclipsed, and no question will remain but that the Seraphim, who love most, have the better of us.

The Angel Israfel. I rise to second the motion of the most wise and noble Archangel. His observation is just. We have spent time enough on scholastic and metaphysical riddles which no Angel can be expected to understand. Science, as everyone now admits, is superior both to Learning and Philosophy. Let us turn our attention to it forthwith.

Many cherubim at once. By all means! By all means! Let us immediately establish a "Celestial Association for the Promotion of Science."

Raphael (graciously). I am pleased, my friends, to see that my suggestion meets with your approval. We will take up Science with angelic vigour forthwith. Let us consider a moment how we shall pursue the various branches. As to Astronomy (for which we possess, of course, very special advantages), I think our Celestial Association might very properly "endow research" by sending out an Exploring Expedition round the Universe, to bring us in the latest intelligence from all the worlds of space. A Report drawn up on such a scale would be both instructive and entertaining.

The Angel Samiasa. A splendid proposal, Saint Raphael! I am ready to volunteer for the Expedition on the spot.

Many other angels. And I! And I! And I!

Raphael. This is highly gratifying. Our distinguished colleagues will doubtless return, within a million years or so, laden with interesting intelligence. I would only warn the less far-sighted not to lose themselves by mischance in a Nebula, a misfortune to which scientists in general seem liable. The next science to be considered (since we need not trouble ourselves with petty details, such as Geography or Geology) is Physiology; and here, I venture to foretell, our most interesting studies will be found. What do any of us, Angels, know, for example, of that singular little Automaton, Man—a tiny creature of bone and muscle, blood and nerves, who yet sends his thoughts up to our very dwelling-place, looks through our ethereal forms with his telescope even to the remotest suns, penetrates the history of past ages, and writes poems which, like the Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost, even Angels are wont to peruse with satisfaction? How, I ask, does that little lump of pulpy matter which the creature calls his Brain help him to do these things? How does he move his little legs and arms by those bands he calls his muscles; and what is the meaning of that curious internal bag, into which he is always cramming bread and fruit and (horrible to think!) the flesh of other animals? Truly, I believe, my dear fellow-cherubim, we could scarcely find, in any of the hundred million spheres around us, a more interesting point whereat to commence our studies than this very Physiology of Man; and I for my part, as the Archangelic Healer, confidently hope to hit on some beneficent discoveries which, as in the case of Tobit, may enable me to cure these poor creatures' maladies.
       [All the Angels tumultuously applaud, and St. Raphael continues:]
       To effect our purpose, it will be desirable to adopt their own method of scientific research and make investigations into the structure of these little beings, especially into their nervous systems; and to collect and verify as many facts as possible about their various organs—how they are kept alive, and how long it takes to kill them when they are dipped in boiling water, or starved, or put in an oven, and so on.

Eloa (starting up). Oh, Saint Raphael! you don't mean to say you would suffocate, or starve, or bake those miserable creatures? Consider, they are evidently sensitive to pain.

Raphael (reprovingly). Dear Eloa! do not be so excitable! Nothing will be attempted, I can assure you, beyond the legitimate demands of Science. Grave doubts may be entertained as to whether Men are anything more than Automata; but, even granting they have some dim feelings of pain and pleasure, it would surely be absurd for a moment to put their sensations in competition with the noble thirst for knowledge now stirring in the Angelic mind? Only think of placing man's existence or suffering in the balance against the acquirement of some great truth by Archangels like Gabriel, Michael, or myself!

Eloa (weeping and clasping her hands). Oh, Saint Raphael! when you speak thus, and draw up your majestic form a thousand fathoms high and shake your iridescent wings, I feel how poor and low, and all too base, to claim your consideration, are the feeble creatures of earth! But yet, O mighty and wise and generous Archangel, have pity on these miserable beings! To the greater part of them Science is but a name, a word of no meaning. To live their little day in the sun; to play and eat and sleep; to love their mates and their offspring; this is what existence is to them—harmless, even if ignoble. Say, great and glorious St. Raphael, that you will not turn that humble existence into a curse by putting them to tortures of which they can understand neither reason nor end?
       [Two or three Cherubim touch her on the shoulder.]
       Sister Eloa! It is a pity when charming Angels talk of things which they don't understand.

St. Raphael. Well, well, Eloa shall have her way thus far. We will not try any experiments on those simple mortals for whom she pleads, who know nothing about the glories of Science, and cannot be supposed to take any sympathetic interest in our investigations into their brains and stomachs. We will confine our researches entirely to those eminent Physiologists who have devoted themselves to the same pursuit, and have tried every experiment upon creatures nearly as much lower than they as they are lower than we; I mean on cats, dogs, and monkeys. They have been so ingenious in inventing and so candid in recording all their practices, that we shall have nothing to do but to order up a few of their Handbooks and Reports, and then set to work to go over the contents seriatim on their own persons. At the end—though it seems doubtful whether these human Physiologists have obtained anything of value by tormenting the brutes—of course we, with our keener vision and deeper knowledge, shall advance Science much more by experimenting on the higher animal.

The Angel Ituhriel. Nothing can be more to the purpose than our great President's observation. I only wish to know how his Wisdom means to proceed.

Raphael. Well, I think we must first command a new Physiological Laboratory to be built in connection with our College of Science, and let it be placed in such a position that it cannot be overlooked, and also where good south and north light may be obtained. So far as my recollection goes, there has not hitherto been any edifice of the kind in Heaven, though there are several closely resembling it in an opposite locality. Then we shall furnish it suitable with tables, Bernard's gags, experiment troughs, forceps, saws, clamps, chisels, cannulæ, knives and actual cauteries; a furnace or two, and an engine for maintaining artificial respiration when the subjects are curarised. When all is ready, Azrael will, I am sure, be so obliging as to run down and tell all the Physiologists they are "wanted" up here; and we may then immediately set to work without further delay.

All the cherubim. An excellent plan! So be it. Glory to Science in the highest! Amen.
       [Scene closes.]

Scene II.
A celestial Laboratory, or lofty hall, filled with a variety of singular troughs and tables of sundry shapes. A formidable collection of instruments is ranged along the wall. An engine works in the corner. Galvanic batteries, kymographions, hœmodromometers, and other philosophical machines, lie about the tables. Over the door is the inscription Licensed As The Act Directs, For The Torture Of Vertebrate Animals, beneath which a boy-cherub has written in chalk "Mangling Done Here." Enter Raphael and the Cherubim. Eloa timidly following.

Raphael. Our architect has done his work with his usual rapidity. Our Laboratory has "risen like an exhalation." I hope, my friends, we shall soon be enabled to quench our noble thirst for knowledge at the fountains of life. Ha! here comes the ever-punctual Azrael and our "subjects."
[Enter Azrael (the Angel of Death), leading in a score of eminent Physiologists, who stand, pale and shivering, near the door.]

German physiologist. Mein Gott! What is that for a place! It mooch remind me of a well-known spot.

French physiologist. Mais qu'est-ce donc? Un laboratoire de physiologie? But where are the dogs, and the cats, and the rabbits? Mon Dieu! Serait-il possible que . . .

English physiologist. Well! what do those tremendous swells of Angels over there want with us? Can they intend to take some lessons out of our handbook of the Physiological laboratory, and do they mean to invite us to give them a course of lectures, like the students at the dear old Hospital?

Raphael (approaching with a smile). Not so far wrong, most learned doctor. We mean to learn Physiology from you, only not perhaps quite in the way you expect. You have always loudly proclaimed that theory without experiment is of little worth, so we intend to try some of your own choice examples on yourself and your friends.

All the physiologists in chorus. Oh! oh! oh! No! no! no! Oh, how shocking! Oh, how cruel! Oh, how insulting to Science!

Raphael (turning to the Cherubim). Did you ever hear anything so inconsistent? Why, these are the very men who have been repeating again and again that only by actual Vivisection could Physiological Science be advanced, and that Science is an end so noble and glorious that it was not worth while considering the pain any creature might endure to advance it! I have really no patience with them; but still I will condescend just to say a few words in explanation. [He beckons to the Physiologists, and whistles, as if calling dogs.] Come hither, you poor little two-legged trembling creatures! Don't growl and whine, but think yourselves very much honoured by what we Cherubim are going to do to you.

Physiologists. Oh, my Lord! Oh, your Saintship! Oh, your Holiness! Don't try your experiments on us! We were not made to be experimented on—indeed we were not; and we are quite certain the UNKNOWN AND UNKNOWABLE would not approve of it at all!

Raphael. I should like to know why you are not to be experimented on, when you have tried your own devices on nearly every creature which breathes.

Physiologists. Why? Because we are men and they were brutes. We had of course a right to do as we pleased with them.

Raphael. Well! we are angels and you are men; and by the same logic we have a right to do as we please with you, being quite as much above you as you are above the dogs and monkeys. Moreover, these same monkeys, by your own showing, are your near relations; whereas we angels disclaim any kind of connection with you miserable mortals.

Physiologists. Oh, but, you see, we are intelligent beings.

Raphael. If I am not greatly mistaken, dogs are intelligent too; much nearer to the level of your intelligence than you are to ours.

Physiologists. We have reason.

Raphael. So have they.

Physiologists. We have affections.

Raphael. So have they! More than you, I suspect.

English physiologist. We have immortal souls.

Raphael. A la bonne heure! I was waiting for somebody to say that; and I suppose the French and German and Italian Physiologists felt a little diffidence in bringing out the argument. You have certainly immortal souls, as your presence here, after Azrael has delivered his death-warrant, sufficiently testifies. But will you please to explain to me why the fact that an animal has (as you imagine) only one life should justify you in making that solitary life such a curse as that it were better it had never been given?

German physiologist (loftily). We don't want to be justified. We are Philosophers, and can allow no superstitious moral considerations derived merely from the inherited prejudices of our ancestors to interfere with our pursuit of knowledge.

Raphael. Herr Professor! though you don't believe in the story of Adam and the Forbidden Tree of Knowledge, you talk uncommonly like one of his descendants. May I ask if you think it equally becoming for a Philosopher to steal and lie and cheat, as well as to be cruel, for sake of knowledge?

French physiologist. Quel tracasserie Çpropos de quelques malheureux chiens! Enfin—we are the strongest, and that is the long and the short of the matter.

Raphael. Perfectly true, Monsieur! You have hit the nail on the head. Your argument is unanswerable, and of course you will acquiesce cheerfully in our application of it to the present case. We Cherubim are stronger than you men, and we mean to treat you precisely as you treated the dogs.
[Physiologists are silent and stand, with chattering teeth, looking at the apparatus and at the Cherubim, who are tucking up their sleeves.]

Eloa (sinking on her knees). Oh, my beloved Archangel, have mercy upon them!

Raphael. Tut-tut! Eloa, you are really too weak, I cannot let these creatures escape. The slight resemblances which exist between their nature and ours make them (as they have said of dogs) "creatures which it would be a pity to withdraw from research"; and in the sacred interests of Science—

All the cherubim. Oh, yes! The sacred interests of Science! The sacred interests of Science!

Physiologists (unanimously). D——n Science!

Raphael. Come, come; we have no time to lose. Just hand me that curly-haired one, Sandalphon, and I'll begin by paralysing him with curare!

Physiologists (screaming). O mercy, mercy! not curare!

Raphael. What a miserable cur it is, whining and crying before he is hurt! We can have no more of this. Let the assistants secure the whole pack as fast as possible on the operating troughs. Where are their books?

Attendant cherub. Here, your Grace. Here is the Handbook of the Physiological Laboratory, and the Lezioni di Fisiologia Sperimentale, and the Leçon sure le Système Nerveux, and the Physiologie Opératoire, and the Pression Barométrique, and the Méthodik, and the Archives de Physiologie, and the Centralblatt, and many more lectures and papers.

Raphael. Enough for the present. Let us begin at once and take the Englishmen, for their experiments are not quite so ingeniously cruel as the others. When we have sawn through their backbones, and irritated the stumps of the nerves, and rubbed caustic on their eyes, and made a few other interesting demonstrations, we shall be in better mood to bake, and skin, and try many curious experiments with the rest. See, here is quite a facetious idea. [Reads.]
       "It seems, indeed, wonderful to see animals (of course Men are included) sometimes, after a slight puncture of some part of the encephalon with a needle, turn round just like a horse in a circus, or roll over and over, for hours, and sometimes for days. . . . The animal is bent like a corkscrew as much as the bones allow, in cases of rolling." (2)
       Think how instructive it will be to see a philosopher rolling over and over, twisted over like a corkscrew, for hours and days together! Then there are many other experiments to be verified. I say deliberately verified, because it seems that after being tried on dogs and cats and horses, even if all the Physiologists come to the same conclusion, which is very seldom, it always remains doubtful whether the same result will follow in the case of man. [Turns over the books.] Here is a good case for one of our English—or ought I to say Scotch?—subjects. It is recorded, I find, in the British Medical Journal for Oct. 23, 1875—a periodical, I think, edited by the very gentleman who so loudly proclaimed, in a newspaper called The Times, that no cruelties are ever practised by vivsectors. [Aside.] I hope you have not forgotten to bring him up, Azrael? Of the whole crew he will be the most entertaining subject, as we shall be able to see what sort of brain secretes these kind of statements. [Aloud.] Well, our Professor, like his dogs, will need to be starved for eighteen hours. Then we shall curarise him and establish artificial respiration, and when this is done we shall cut open his abdomen, squeeze out his gall-bladder, clamp his cystic-duct, dissect out his bile-duct, tie a tube in it, inject various things into his intestine, and carefully note the results. It will not take more than seven or eight hours, it appears, to do all that is needful.
       Here is another very amusing experiment to be tried upon one of the authors of the Handbook of the Laboratory. He directs it to be tried by the student on the eye of a "frog or small mammal," but I have little doubt a large mammal will answer quite as well. We must first take off the Professor's spectacles, and then "scrape the cornea of the eye, so as to remove the epithelium completely. Hereupon, the caustic is to be rubbed two or three times lightly over the whole surface, after which the eye is washed with saline solution, and the animal (or professor) is left to itself for twenty or thirty minutes," during which interval spectators have recorded that it is apt to perform antics of a very diverting description.
       But we will not be severe on these Englishmen, who, as I said, are not so cruel yet as their continental colleagues. Here, good Israfel, will you be so obliging as to catch that slippery little German who gives the Lezioni di Fisiologia to his pupils? We will just try two of his tricks mentioned in his book, pages 38 and 40. First, we will take hold of the sciatic nerve (the great nerve of the thigh, my dear fellow-cherubim, which in all these earthly creatures is exquisitely sensitive), and tear out its roots at the pelvis, as he did to the nerve of a dog. After a little while we shall then treat him to a curious experiment he is fond of trying on frogs. We will force open his mouth, seize the epiglottis with a hook, pull up the lungs, and snip them off with scissors.
       As to the French gentlemen, we have plenty of interesting experiments to make on them. Here is one or two we will try on the author of the Traité de Physiologie Humaine:
       "We must first strip the skin completely off the legs and lay bare the nerves, and then apply to the nervous branches some exciting substance."
       Still more instructive will be this:
       "In order to suppress the functions of the skin, it is advisable to lay bare, by shaving, the whole skin of the dog, sheep, or horse (it will not be necessary to shave the man), and to cover the exposed surface with a thick drying varnish. Animals thus treated rarely survive twelve hours. After death the organs are found gorged with black blood."
       The state of the creature while it is thus simmered alive in its own blood must be very curious indeed to witness; indeed, it would seem there can be little use in the experiment, except to afford pastime to the spectators. Quite a new interest will be afforded by baking some of these gentlemen in ovens variously prepared at different degrees of heat. Several of them have ascertained in this way, as M. Gavarret mentions, that dogs bear being kept in an oven at 120° centigrade for eighteen minutes, or survive for thirty minutes if the oven be only heated to 80°. (3) It will be new to see how long Men can endure having the blood parched in their living veins like these animals.
       Lastly, we shall take one peculiarly ingenious gentleman, and treat him as he tells us he treated a "middle-sized, vigorous dog." (4) We shall place some curare under his skin, which, we are told, (5) "will cause him to become perfectly paralysed; while his intelligence, his sensitiveness, and his will, will remain intact"—"a condition," we are assured by the same great authority, "accompanied by the most atrocious sufferings which the imagination of man can conceive." When our friend is in this state of redoubled sensitiveness, but utter helplessness, we shall make him breathe, by means of a machine blowing through a hole in his wind-pipe, and then we shall dissect out the nerves of his face, neck, fore-arm, interior of abdomen, and hip. We shall continue to excite them with electricity for ten hours, and then we shall leave him with the engine working on him, while we go and refresh ourselves for a second bout of the same interesting experiments.

Eloa (whose eyes have grown large with horror during this reading, flings herself into the arms of St. Raphael). Oh, my brother! my glorious Archangel! spare these poor wretches! It is impossible your noble nature can descend to inflict such torment even on the meanest of God's creatures.

Raphael. Dear Eloa! Must I remind you that your unfortunate habit of compassionating unworthy objects has ere now led you into terrible mistakes? Do you forget how you followed Lucifer himself into Gehenna when he told you his pitiful tale, and how, when he had got you there, he clutched you fast, and said you should remain and be lost with him for ever; and how it was JUSTICE, and not PITY, which delivered you, so that you might warn your sex never to follow your foolish example?

Bahman, Lord of the Animals (6) (here stands forward among the group of student-Cherubim). Most noble Archangel and brother Cherubim! I think it becomes me to speak in this matter. Do you understand, beloved and gentle Eloa, that these men have already done all these hideous things to my poor, harmless, unoffending birds and brutes? Do you know that they have tortured them for hours and days, by scores and by hundreds, and taught thoughtless youths to stifle every emotion of compassion and do the like, multiplying and repeating every form and kind of agony again and yet again? Do you know that the clanking engines, which maintain breath in the curarised and doubly-suffering creatures, never cease working in their accursed laboratories by day or night; and that they lie down to sleep leaving their mangled victims on their torture-troughs, waiting for the morrow's fresh anguish? Do you know that one of these men alone has been known to have tried his infernal devices on no less than fourteen thousand dogs, beside uncounted numbers of other sensitive creatures?
       [Eloa sobs convulsively, and at last covers her face and slowly leaves the hall.]

Raphael. My brother Angels! there now remains nothing to stay our hands. PITY has fled before SCIENCE, who alone will henceforth direct our proceedings.
[A veil falls and conceals the scene.]
A voice from behind the veil:

With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

An Anthem of Seraphs heard from a great Distance:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy!


  1. John Milton. Paradise Lost 2:561. Ed.
  2. Lecture by Dr. Brown-Sëquard, Lancet, vol. ii., p. 600.
  3. See M. Gavarret's Treatise, p. 156.
  4. Archives de Physiologie, vol. ii., p. 650.
  5. Revue des Deux Mondes, Sept. 1, 1864, pp. 173, 182.
  6. One of the seven Amshaspands. Vide Zend-Avesto.

The Modern Rack.
London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co, 1889. 239-51.


From the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, hundreds of British women wrote about and drew from nature. Some—like Beatrix Potter, who wrote natural history about hedgehogs as well as stories about rabbits—are still familiar today. But others have all but disappeared from view. Barbara Gates recovers these lost works in this anthology. Here online are just a few of the riches of In Nature's Name.

To the left is "Science in Excelsis: A New Vision of Judgement" by Frances Power Cobbe. You may also read a poem by Emily Brontë "High Waving Heather" and an excerpt from the travel account The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them by Nina Mazuchelli.

"Gates's splendid new anthology, is packed with treasures and discoveries. Learned, lavishly illustrated and meticulously annotated, the book is bound to appeal to a range of readers, from feminist scholars to historians of science, from students of Romanticism, Victorianism and modernism to lovers of what one of the nineteenth-century authors represented here described as that 'charming beautifier Dame Nature."—Sandra M. Gilbert, coeditor of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women



Copyright notice: ©2002 Excerpted from page 145-54 of In Nature's Name: An Anthology of Women's Writing and Illustration, 1780-1930 edited by Barbara T. Gates, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2002 by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of University of Chicago Press.

Barbara T. Gates, editor
In Nature's Name: An Anthology of Women's Writing and Illustration, 1780-1930
©2002, 700 pages, 28 halftones, 37 line drawings
Cloth $90.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-28444-6
Paper $27.50 ISBN: 978-0-226-28446-0

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