"I went back to science fiction to try a few experiments …and my first experiment was a disaster…"
- Alfred Bester
||Dr. Moreau demonstrates the plasticity of the organic form.
Dr. Moreau performs experiments on animals, always testing the limits of what is possible, to transform them into something more man-like.
|I am only beginning.
Those are trivial cases of alteration. Surgery can do better things
than that. There is building up as well as breaking down and changing.
You have heard, perhaps, of a common surgical operation resorted to in
cases where the nose has been destroyed: a flap of skin is cut from
the forehead, turned down on the nose, and heals in the new position.
This is a kind of grafting in a new position of part of an animal
upon itself. Grafting of freshly obtained material from another
animal is also possible,--the case of teeth, for example.
The grafting of skin and bone is done to facilitate healing:
the surgeon places in the middle of the wound pieces of skin snipped
from another animal, or fragments of bone from a victim freshly killed.
Hunter's cock-spur--possibly you have heard of that--flourished on
the bull's neck; and the rhinoceros rats of the Algerian zouaves are
also to be thought of,--monsters manufactured by transferring a slip
from the tail of an ordinary rat to its snout, and allowing it to heal in
"Monsters manufactured!" said I. "Then you mean to tell me--"
"Yes. These creatures you have seen are animals carven and wrought
into new shapes. To that, to the study of the plasticity of
living forms, my life has been devoted. I have studied for years,
gaining in knowledge as I go. I see you look horrified, and yet I
am telling you nothing new. It all lay in the surface of practical
anatomy years ago, but no one had the temerity to touch it.
It is not simply the outward form of an animal which I can change.
The physiology, the chemical rhythm of the creature, may also be made
to undergo an enduring modification,--of which vaccination and other
methods of inoculation with living or dead matter are examples
that will, no doubt, be familiar to you. A similar operation is
the transfusion of blood,--with which subject, indeed, I began.
These are all familiar cases. Less so, and probably far more extensive,
were the operations of those mediaeval practitioners who made
dwarfs and beggar-cripples, show-monsters,--some vestiges of whose
art still remain in the preliminary manipulation of the young
mountebank or contortionist. Victor Hugo gives an account of them
in 'L'Homme qui Rit.'--But perhaps my meaning grows plain now.
You begin to see that it is a possible thing to transplant tissue
from one part of an animal to another, or from one animal to another;
to alter its chemical reactions and methods of growth; to modify
the articulations of its limbs; and, indeed, to change it in its most
"And yet this extraordinary branch of knowledge has never been sought
as an end, and systematically, by modern investigators until I took it up!
Some such things have been hit upon in the last resort of surgery;
most of the kindred evidence that will recur to your mind has been
demonstrated as it were by accident,--by tyrants, by criminals,
by the breeders of horses and dogs, by all kinds of untrained
clumsy-handed men working for their own immediate ends.
I was the first man to take up this question armed with antiseptic surgery,
and with a really scientific knowledge of the laws of growth.
Yet one would imagine it must have been practised in secret before.
Such creatures as the Siamese Twins--And in the vaults of
the Inquisition. No doubt their chief aim was artistic torture,
but some at least of the inquisitors must have had a touch of
|From The Island of Dr. Moreau,
by H.G. Wells.
Published by Garden City in 1896
Additional resources -
Wells also makes this remark about the ethics of the scientist:
The thing before you is no longer an animal, a fellow-creature,
but a problem! Sympathetic pain,--all I know of it I remember
as a thing I used to suffer from years ago. I wanted--it was
the one thing I wanted--to find out the extreme limit of plasticity
in a living shape."
"But," said I, "the thing is an abomination--"
"To this day I have never troubled about the ethics of the matter,"
he continued. "The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless
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