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THE PRE-DARWINITE AND POST
N estimating the general bearings of a purely
scientific statement it is first of all necessary
to know just what that statement is; and, secondly, it is necessary to translate it into the largest expression of which it admits.
The doctrine of evolution, as interpreted and applied by the man whose name is now preeminently associated with it, is the consummate result to which the great highways of discovery had long tended before they converged. Over one hundred years ago the ancient speculations were recalled by Buffon, who said, “There is but one animal.” This grew through Buffon's pupil Lamarck to the theory of an evolution by fits and starts, something like that popularised in England in the book entitled “The Vestiges of Creation.” It gained a more scientific expression with Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, who affirmed the unity of all parts of the animal body, and indicated that “balance of organs by which each form was shown to be only another transformation of the common type. That all bones are vertebræ was discovered by Oken, who also demonstrated, in 1805, that all animals are built up out of vesicles or cells. Bichat was engaged in the work of showing the bearing of these facts upon the structure of man when unhappily his life terminated in 1771. Goethe extended the same principle to the morphology of plants. In England Dr. Erasmus Darwin struck the theme somewhat poetically, which his famous grandson has made into the great scientific generalisation of our time. Thus the Darwinian theory of evolution had great forerunners. It is no empyrical speculation, no isolated or eccentric fancy. It is the apex of a great pyramid of facts and researches resting solidly and squarely upon the graduated formations of knowledge in all time, and built up by the certain method of science.
Nor, in saying this, do I detract from the just fame of the man who has summed up and named the great series of preceding discoveries. The finest genius can do no greater work for us than that of filtrating, combining, and organising the mass of facts, and of applying to the full extent methods which had hitherto been doing but slight and partial service. That the telegraph was used in a German lecture-room long before it was known to society, does not detract from the grandeur of the achievement which has made it flash the thought of man through sea and mountain round the world. The great man does not create the laws of nature: he discovers them, he studies them, he applies them, he obeys them. Nor is he less a discoverer who discerns where a principle may be truly applied, and so recovers from chaos a realm of knowledge, than he who originally discovered the prin
ciple. Darwin inherited the principle of evolution, but he discovered that form of it through which alone it could simplify, revise, and harmonise every branch of human knowledge. He merits, therefore, the acknowledgment I once heard expressed by a distinguished American, that he had restored to England the intellectual sceptre of Europe. That sceptre had passed to the hand of Germany, but now every civilised nation looks again to England, as it looked in the days of Bacon and in those of Newton.
What, then, is the Darwinian theory? It is that all the organic forms around us, from lowest to highest, have been evolved the one from the other by means of the principle of natural selection. Natural selection is the obvious law that every power or trait which better adapts an animal to live amid its surroundings enables that animal to survive another which has not the same power or trait. The fit outlive the unfit. And because they outlive their inferiors they will propagate their species more freely. Their offspring will inherit their advantages; by the laws of heredity will still further improve upon them; and thus there will be a cumulative storing up of such advantages established. Each form less furnished with resources to maintain itself is crowded out before the increase of forms which are better supplied with hereditary abilities. A sufficient accumulation of slight advantages amount in the end to a new form or species. An accumulation of specific advantages will be summed up in a new genus.
And thus, as Enerson has said
"Striving to se nan. he worn
Monnts through ail the spires of forn." Now, to the merely scientific mind evciution is simply a scientific generalisation. In its uit de benoids the sprouting leaf hardening to a stem, unpacking itself to a blossom, swelling again to the pulpy lear, called fruit. Fie inspects the crustacean egg; sees the trilobite in the embryo stretching into a tiny lobster, shortening into a Crabı; and says, trilobite, lobster and crab pass from one for the other in this little egg-world, as the new theory shows they did in the big world. He will be interested to find out the intervening steps of improvement between one forro and another, and will fix upon this or that aninal as the one from which a consummate species budded. But, as I have stated, a truth in any one department of knowledge is capable of being translated into every other. We are already familiar with a popular translation of the Darwin theory in the phrase which explains it as meaning that men are descended from inonkeys. And by this common interpretation many conclude that it implies a degradation of the human species. But that phrase does not convey the truth of the theory any more than if a rough pediment in the museum were declared to be the splendid temple of Diana of phesus. For behind each one of the forms evolving higher, there stretch the endless lines and processions of the forms which combined to produce it. The ape may appear ugly seen as he is among us, detached from his environment, when contrasted with man ; but he is royal
when contrasted with a worm in the mud. But neither worm nor ape can be truly seen when detached from the cosmical order and beauty. It matters little what rude form sheathed the first glory of a human brain. It does not rob the opal of its beauty that its matrix was common flint, nor does it dim the diamond's lustre that it crystallised out of charcoal. The ape may be the jest of the ignorant, but the thinker will see behind him the myriad beautiful forms which made him possible. What wondrous forests of fern and vine grew in voiceless ages, clothing the hard primäeval rock, what flowers rich and rare broidered the raiment of the earth! What bright insects flashed through their green bowers, what gorgeous birds lit up the deep solitudes with torch-like plumage! Through a thousand ages the shining swimmers darted through pool or air ; for unnumbered generations stargemmed creatures, lithe and beautiful, sprang through jungle and forest : they browse peacefully on hill and meadow; they slake their thirst at crystal streams; they pursue their savage loves in wood and vale ; with mighty roar, with sweetest melody, they chant the music by which the world marches onward and upward,-onward and upward for ever! Millions pass away-millions advance: from every realm of nature they come to add their fibre of strength or tint of beauty to the rising form ; beneath every touch, with every tribute it ascends,
, -till at last, lodged for a moment in some rugged humanlike form for combination, the selected concentred powers expand into man—the sum of every creature's best !
The right translation of this theory for us is, then