Water … to its closer and higher kin”

            Water Babies presents aspects of
evolution in relation to morality and religion with a very distinct approach;
it is structured as a fairy tale. To provide some context, the piece of
literature was written in a time period marked by the infancy of Darwin’s
Theory of Evolution. Charles Kingsley, the author, was a proponent of this
theory. He was also a theologian which influenced his beliefs in how the role
of God worked into the theory. He utilized his skills as a respected writer to
convey his beliefs in a children’s book. Furthermore, Kingsley made references
to debates he’d had with a colleague, Thomas Huxley. Huxley was less convinced
of the presence of a God than Kingsley was; consequently, Kingsley utilized the
book to continue his conversations with Huxley. For example, it was suggested
that the apparent drowning and resurrection that Tom had alluded to Tom’s
belief in the afterlife as debated between him and Huxley following the death
of Huxley’s son.

 

            The book
follows the life of a chimneysweep named Tom. Tom was on track to grow up to be
slightly more civilized than an ape; his development was described as have a
negative trend (he was becoming a less and less evolved individual). When Tom
encountered someone who forced his attention onto his flaws, he ran to a stream
in an attempt to clean himself. Tom fell into an intense slumber and was
eventually taken away by three fairies. Tom metamorphosized into a “water baby”
which prompted the appearance of “gill folds”. This was meant to represent when
Tom was in the lowest evolutionary stage; he would eventually evolve into more
complex forms of life. This was similar to the law of embryological
recapitulation which stated that “the embryological development of an organism
proceeds in an orderly sequence, beginning with stages that represent its most
remote ancestors … to its closer and higher kin” (Kingsley 142).  The beginning of his new life after falling
into the stream was a religious allusion to a baptism. The three fairies Tom
learned from were Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs. Bedoneasyoudid, and Mother
Carey; the latter fairy represented God while the former two represented the
intentions of God. The responsibility of the fairies was to teach Tom lessons about
the importance of studying nature, of moral purity, and of putting effort into
life. As it was also debated between Huxley and Kingsley whether the God that
might exist was benevolent or malevolent, Kingsley included a story about the
“Doasyoulikes”. The Doasyoulikes abandoned “the Land of Hard Work … to settle
in the Land of Readymade…” (Kinglsey 144). This civilization was handed
everything; they didn’t have to scour for food, or build shelter, or concern
themselves with the creation of tools. As a consequence of the effortless lives
they led, they never took the time to understand the nature around them. They
were eventually selected against when volcanoes in their vicinity erupted; the
remaining citizens evolved into apes. This portion of Water Babies not only explains, in simple terms, the basis of
evolution, but also provided an argument as to how God was actually acting in
benevolence when he provided resources in scarce numbers. In order to solve the
problems presented by the scarcity, humans resort to higher thinking. This
message was further emphasized by the interaction between Tom and Mother Carey
when she explained to Tom that she doesn’t “trouble herself to make things…
she makes them make themselves” (Kingsley 147). While some aspects of the
literary piece have been changed or edited to suit modern thinking, the moral
lessons presented by the book remain relatively untouched as its popularity is
consistent.

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