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fore, to regard these earlier chapters as in some measure a personal explanation, as well as a contribution to the history of an important feature in the developments of the last twenty years. I hope also, by showing the steps by which I was led to my conclusions, to make the conclusions themselves more acceptable and easy of comprehension.
Being on my way to New Zealand when the "Origin of Species" appeared, I did not get it till i860 or 1861. When I read it, I found "the theory of natural selection" repeatedly spoken of as though it were a synonym for "the theory of descent with modification;" this is especially the case in the recapitulation chapter of the work. I failed to see how important it was that these two theories—if indeed "natural selection " can be called a theory—should not be confounded together, and that a "theory of descent with modification" might be true, while a "theory of descent with modification through natural selection " 1 might not stand being looked into.
If any one had asked me to state in brief what Mr. Darwin's theory was, I am afraid I might have answered "natural selection," or "descent with modification," whichever came first, as though the one meant much the same
1 Origin of Species, ed. i., p. 459.
as the other. I observe that most of the leading writers on the subject are still unable to catch sight of the distinction here alluded to, and console myself for my want of acumen by reflecting that, if I was misled, I was misled in good company.
I—and I may add, the public generally— failed also to see what the unaided reader who was new to the subject would be almost certain to overlook. I mean, that, according to Mr. Darwin, the variations whose accumulation resulted in diversity of species and genus were indefinite, fortuitous, attributable but in small degree to any known causes, and without a general principle underlying them which would cause them to appear steadily in a given direction for many successive generations and in a considerable number of individuals at the same time. We did not know that the theory of evolution was one that had been quietly but steadily gaining ground during the last hundred years. Buffon we knew by name, but he sounded too like "buffoon" for any good to come from him. We had heard also of Lamarck, and held him to be a kind of French Lord Monboddo; but we knew nothing of his doctrine save through the caricatures promulgated by his opponents, or the misrepresentations of those who had another kind of interest in disparaging him. Dr. Erasmus Darwin we believed to be a forgotten minor poet, but ninetynine out of every hundred of us had never so much as heard of the "Zoonomia." We were little likely, therefore, to know that Lamarck drew very largely from Buffon, and probably also from Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and that this last-named writer, though essentially original, was founded upon Buffon, who was greatly more in advance of any predecessor than any successor has been in advance of him.
We did not know, then, that according to the earlier writers the variations whose accumulation results in species were not fortuitous and indefinite, but were due to a known principle of universal application—namely, "sense of need "—or apprehend the difference between a theory of evolution which has a backbone, as it were, in the tolerably constant or slowly varying needs of large numbers of individuals for long periods together, and one which has no such backbone, but according to which the progress of one generation is always liable to be cancelled and obliterated by that of the next. We did not know that the new theory in a quiet way professed to tell us less than the old had done, and declared that it could throw little if any light upon the matter which the earlier writers had endeavoured to illuminate as the central point in their system. We took it for granted that more light must be being thrown instead of less ; and reading in perfect good faith, we rose from our perusal with the impression that Mr. Darwin was advocating the descent of all existing forms of life from a single, or from, at any rate, a very few primordial types; that no one else had done this hitherto, or that, if they had, they had got the whole subject into a mess, which mess, whatever it was—for we were never told this—was now being removed once for all by Mr. Darwin.
The evolution part of the story, that is to say, the fact of evolution, remained in our minds as by far the most prominent feature in Mr. Darwin's book; and being grateful for it, we were very ready to take Mr. Darwin's work at the estimate tacitly claimed for it by himself, and vehemently insisted upon by reviewers in influential journals, who took much the same line towards the earlier writers on evolution as Mr. Darwin himself had taken. But perhaps nothing more prepossessed us in Mr. Darwin's favour than the air of candour that was omnipresent throughout his work. The prominence given to the arguments of opponents completely carried us away; it was this which threw us off our guard. It never occurred to us that there might be other and more dangerous opponents who were not brought forward. Mr. Darwin did not tell us what his grandfather and Lamarck would have had to say to this or that. Moreover, there was an unobtrusive parade of hidden learning and of difficulties at last overcome which was particularly grateful to us. Whatever opinion might be ultimately come to concerning the value of his theory, there could be but one about the value of the example he had set to men of science generally by the perfect frankness and unselfishness of his work. Friends and foes alike combined to do homage to Mr. Darwin in this respect.
For, brilliant as the reception of the " Origin of Species" was, it met in the first instance with hardly less hostile than friendly criticism. But the attacks were ill-directed; they came from a suspected quarter, and those who led them did not detect more than the general public had done what were the really weak places in Mr. Darwin's armour. They attacked him where he was strongest; and above all, they were, as a general rule, stamped with a disingenuousness which at that time we believed to be peculiar to theological writers and alien to the spirit of