« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
I got Isidore Geoffroy's Histoire Naturelle Générale, which Mr. Darwin commends in the note on the second page of the historical sketch, as giving“ an excellent history of opinion” upon the subject of evolution, and a full account of Buffon's conclusions upon the same subject
. This at least is what I supposed Mr. Darwin to mean. What he said was that Isidore Geoffroy gives an excellent history of opinion on the subject of the date of the first publication of Lamarck, and that in his work there is a full account of Buffon's fluctuating conclusions upon the same subject. But Mr. Darwin is a more than commonly puzzling writer. I read what M. Geoffroy had to say upon Buffon, and was surprised to find that, after all, according to M. Geoffroy, Buffon, and not Lamarck, was the founder of the theory of evolution. His name, as I have already said, was never mentioned in the first edition of the Origin of Species.
M. Geoffroy goes into the accusations of having fluctuated in his opinions, which he tells us have been brought against Buffon, and comes to the conclusion that they are unjust, as any one else will do who turns to Buffon himself. Mr. Darwin, however, in the“ brief but imperfect sketch,” catches at the accusation, and repeats it while saying nothing whatever about the defence. The following is still all he says: “ The first author who in modern times has treated ” evolution “ in a scientific spirit was Buffon. But as his opinions fluctuated greatly at different periods, and as he does not enter on the causes or means of the transformation
The note began thus: “I have taken the date of the first publication of Lamarck from Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire's (Hist. Nat. Générale, vol. ii, p. 405, 1859) excellent history of opinion upon this subjeđ. In this work a full account is given of Buffon's fluctuating conclusions upon the same subject" (Origin of Species, 3rd ed., 1861, p. xiv).
of species, I need not here enter on details.” On the next page, in the note last quoted, Mr. Darwin originally repeated the accusation of Buffon's having been fluctuating in his opinions, and appeared to give it the imprimatur of Isidore Geoffroy's approval; the fact being that Isidore Geoffroy only quoted the accusation in order to refute it; and though, I suppose, meaning well, did not make half the case he might have done, and abounds with misstatements. My readers will find this matter particularly dealt with in Evolution, Old and New, chapter 1o.
I gather that some one must have complained to Mr. Darwin of his saying that Isidore Geoffroy gave an account of Buffon's " Auctuating conclusions” cerning evolution, when he was doing all he knew to maintain that Buffon's conclusions did not fluctuate; for I see that in the edition of 1876 the word “ fluctuating” has dropped out of the note in question, and we now learn that Isidore Geoffroy gives" a full account of Buffon's conclusions,” without the “ fluctuating.' But Buffon has not taken much by this, for his opinions are still left fluctuating greatly at different periods on the preceding page, and though he still was the first to treat evolution in a scientific spirit, he still does not enter upon the causes or means of the transformation of species. No one can understand Mr. Darwin who does not collate the different editions of the Origin of Species with some attention. When he has done this, he will know what Newton meant by saying he felt like a child playing with pebbles upon the seashore. One word more upon this
note before I leave it. Mr. Darwin speaks of Isidore Geoffroy's history of opinion as “ excellent,” and his account of Buffon's opinions as “ full.” I wonder how well qualified he is to be a judge of these matters? If he knows much about the
earlier writers, he is the more inexcusable for having said so little about them. If little, what is his opinion worth?
To return to the “ brief but imperfect sketch.” I do not think I can ever again be surprised at anything Mr. Darwin may say or do, but if I could, I should wonder how a writer who did not
the causes or means of the transformation of species," and whose opinions “fluctuated greatly at different periods,” can be held to have treated evolution“ in a scientific spirit. Nevertheless, when I reflect upon the scientific reputation Mr. Darwin has attained, and the means by which he has won it, I suppose the scientific spirit must be much what he here implies. I see Mr. Darwin says of his own father, Dr. Robert Darwin of Shrewsbury, that he does not consider him to have had a scientific mind. Mr. Darwin cannot tell why he does not think his father's mind to have been fitted for advancing science, “ for he was fond of theorizing, and was incomparably the best observer ” Mr. Darwin ever knew. From the hint given in the “brief but imperfect sketch,” I fancy I can help Mr. Darwin to see why he does not think his father's mind to have been a scientific one. It is possible that Dr. Robert Darwin's opinions did not Auctuate sufficiently at different periods, and that Mr. Darwin considered him as having in some way entered upon the causes or means of the transformation of species. Certainly those who read Mr. Darwin's own works attentively will find no lack of fluctuation in his case; and reflection will show them that a theory of evolution which relies mainly on the accumulation of accidental variations comes very close to not entering upon the causes or means of the transformation of species.?
Life of Erasmus Darwin, pp. 84, 85. ? See Life and Habit, p. 264 and pp. 276, 277 [Shrewsbury Edition, p. 215 and pp. 225, 226].
I have shown, however, in Evolution, Old and New, that the assertion that Buffon does not enter on the causes or means of the transformation of species is absolutely without foundation, and that, on the contrary, he is continually dealing with this very matter, and devotes to it one of his longest and most important chapters, but I admit that he is less satisfactory on this head than either Dr. Erasmus Darwin or Lamarck.
As a matter of fact, Buffon is much more of a neoDarwinian than either Dr. Erasmus Darwin or Lamarck, for with him the variations are sometimes fortuitous. In the case of the dog, he speaks of them as making their appearance" by some chance common enough with Nature,”? and being perpetuated by man's selection. This is exactly the “ if any slight favourable variation happen to arise” of Mr. Charles Darwin. Buffon also speaks of the variations among pigeons arising “ par hasard.” But these expressions are only slips; his main cause of the variation is the direct action of changed conditions of existence, while with Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck the action of the conditions of existence is indirect, the direct action being that of the animals or plants themselves, in consequence of changed sense of need under changed conditions.
I should say that the sketch so often referred to is at first sight now no longer imperfect in Mr. Darwin's opinion. It was “brief but imperfect” in 1861 and in 1866, but in 1876 I see that it is brief only. Of course, discovering that it was no longer imperfect, I expected to find it briefer. What, then,
was my surprise at finding that it had become rather longer? I have found no perfectly satisfactory explanation of this inconsistency,
See Evolution, Old and New, pp. 159-165 (Shrewsbury Edition, pp. 139-144).
Ibid., p. 122 (Shrewsbury Edition, p. 106).
but, on the whole, incline to think that the “ greatest of living men” felt himself unequal to prolonging his struggle with the word “but,” and resolved to lay that conjunction at all hazards, even though the doing so might cost him the balance of his adjectives; for I think he must know that his sketch is still imperfect.
From Isidore Geoffroy I turned to Buffon himself, and had not long to wait before I felt that I was now brought into communication with the master-mind of all those who have up to the present time busied themselves with evolution. For a brief and imperfect sketch of him I must refer my readers to Evolution, Old and New.
I have no great respect for the author of the Vestiges of Creation, who behaved hardly better to the writers upon whom his own work was founded than Mr. Darwin himself has done. Nevertheless, I could not forget the gravity of the misrepresentation with which he was assailed on page 3 of the first edition of the Origin of Species, nor impugn the justice of his rejoinder in the following year, when he replied that it was to be regretted Mr. Darwin had read his work “almost as much amiss as if, like its declared opponents, he had an interest in misrepresenting it.”? I could not, again, forget that, though Mr. Darwin did not venture to stand by the passage in question, it was expunged without a word of apology or explanation of how it was that he had come to write it. A writer with any claim to our consideration will never fall into serious error about another writer without hastening to make a public apology as soon as he becomes aware of what he has done.
· See Evolution, Old and New, pp. 247, 248 (Shrewsbury Edition, PP: