« EelmineJätka »
its production, and, therefore, it may retain some of the habits of the parent system."1
When, then, the Athenceum reviewed "Life and Habit" (January 26, 1878), I took the opportunity to write to that paper, calling attention to Professor Hering's lecture, and also to the passage just quoted from Dr. Erasmus Darwin. The editor kindly inserted my letter in his issue of February 9, 1878. I felt that I had now done all in the way of acknowledgment to Professor Hering which it was, for the time, in my power to do.
I again took up Mr. Darwin's "Origin of Species," this time, I admit, in a spirit of scepticism. I read his "brief but imperfect" sketch of the progress of opinion on the origin of species, and turned to each one of the writers he had mentioned. First, I read all the parts of the " Zoonomia " that were not purely medical, and was atonished to find that, as Dr. Krause has since said in his essay on Erasmus Darwin, "he was the first who proposed and persistently carried out a well-rounded theory with regard to the development of the living world "2 (italics in original).
This is undoubtedly the case, and I was
1 Zoonomia, vol. i. p. 484; Evolution, Old and New, p. 214.
2 "Erasmus Darwin," by Ernest Krause, p. 211, London, 1879.
surprised at finding Professor Huxley say concerning this very eminent man that he could "hardly be said to have made any real advance upon his predecessors." Still more was I surprised at remembering that, in the first edition of the "Origin of Species," Dr. Erasmus Darwin had never been so much as named; while in the "brief but imperfect" sketch he was dismissed with a line of halfcontemptuous patronage, as though the mingled tribute of admiration and curiosity which attaches to scientific prophecies, as distinguished from discoveries, was the utmost he was entitled to. "It is curious," says Mr. Darwin innocently, in the middle of a note in the smallest possible type, "how largely my grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, anticipated the views and erroneous grounds of opinion of Lamarck in his 'Zoonomia' (vol. i. pp. 500-510), published in 1794;" this was all he had to say about the founder of " Darwinism," until I myself unearthed Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and put his work fairly before the present generation in "Evolution, Old and New." Six months after I had done this, I had the satisfaction of seeing that Mr. Darwin had woke up to the propriety of doing much the same thing, and that he had published an interesting and charmingly written memoir of his grandfather, of which more anon.
Not that Dr. Darwin was the first to catch sight of a complete theory of evolution. Buffon was the first to point out that, in view of the known modifications which had been effected among our domesticated animals and cultivated plants, the ass and the horse should be considered as, in all probability, descended from a common ancestor; yet, if this is so, he writes— if the point "were once gained that among animals and vegetables there had been, I do not say several species, but even a single one, which had been produced in the course of direct descent - from another species; if, for example, it could be once shown that the ass was but a degeneration from the horse, then there is no further limit to be set to the power of Nature, and we should not be wrong in supposing that, with sufficient time, she has evolved all other organised forms from one primordial type "1 (et I'on n'atiroit pas tort de supposer, que d'un seul itre elle a su tirer avec le temps tons les autres itres organists).
This, I imagine, in spite of Professor
1 See "Evolution, Old and New," p. 91, and Buffon, torn. iv. p. 383, ed. 1753.
Huxley's dictum, is contributing a good deal to the general doctrine of evolution; for though Descartes and Leibnitz may have thrown out hints pointing more or less broadly in the direction of evolution, some of which Professor Huxley has quoted, he has adduced nothing approaching to the passage from Buffon given above, either in respect of the clearness with which the conclusion intended to be arrived at is pointed out, or the breadth of view with which the whole ground of animal and vegetable nature is covered. The passage referred to is only one of many to the same effect, and must be connected with one quoted in "Evolution, Old and New,"- from p. 13 of Buffon's first volume, which appeared in 1749, and than which nothing can well point more plainly in the direction of evolution. It is not easy, therefore, to understand why Professor Huxley should give 1753-78 as the date of Buffon's work, nor yet why he should say that Buffon was "at first a partisan of the absolute immutability of species,"2 unless, indeed, we suppose he has been content to follow that very unsatisfactory writer, Isidore Geoffroy St.
1 Evolution, Old and New, p. 104.
Hilaire (who falls into this error, and says that Buffon's first volume on animals appeared 1753), without verifying him, and without making any reference to him.
Professor Huxley quotes a passage from the "Palingenesie Philosophique" of Bonnet, of which he says that, making allowance for his peculiar views on the subject of generation, they bear no small resemblance to what is understood by "evolution" at the present day. The most important parts of the passage quoted are as follows :—
"Should I be going too far if I were to conjecture that the plants and animals of the present day have arisen by a sort of natural evolution from the organised beings which peopled the world in its original state as it left the hands of the Creator? ... In the outset organised beings were probably very different from what they are now—as different as the original world is from our present one. We have no means of estimating the amount of these differences, but it is possible that even our ablest naturalist, if transplanted to the original world, would entirely fail to recognise our plants and animals therein."1
But this is feeble in comparison with Buffon, and did not appear till 1769, when Buffon had been writing on evolution for a full twenty years with the eyes of scientific Europe upon
1 Palingenesie Philosophique, part x. chap. ii. (quoted from Professor Huxley's article on "Evolution," Encycl. Brit., 9th ed., p. 745).