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CHAPTER THREE: HOW I CAME TO WRITE EVOLUTION,
WHICH EVOLUTION, OLD AND NEW MET WITH
HOUGH MY BOOK WAS OUT IN 1877, IT was not till January 1878 that I took an opportunity of looking up Professor Ray Lankester's
account of Professor Hering's lecture. hardly say how relieved I was to find that it sprung no mine upon me, but that, so far as I could gather, Professor Hering and I had come to pretty much the same conclusion. I had already found the passage in Dr. Erasmus Darwin which I quoted in Evolution, Old and New, but may perhaps as well repeat it here. It runs:
“Owing to the imperfection of language, the offspring is termed a new animal; but is, in truth, a branch or elongation of the parent, since a part of the embryon animal is or was a part of the parent, and, therefore, in strid language, cannot be said to be entirely new at the time of its production, and, therefore, it may retain some of the habits of the parent system.
When, then, the Athenaeum reviewed Life and Habit (26th January 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 9th February 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
Zoonomia, vol. i, p. 484; Evolution, Old and New, p. 214 (Shrewsbury Edition, p. 189).
Evolution,” etc. he had mentioned. First, I read all the parts of the Zoonomia, that were not purely medical, and was astonished 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”? (italics in original).
This is undoubtedly the case, and I was 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 · Erasmus Darwin, by Ernst Krause, p. 211, London, 1879.
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 writesif 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 organized forms from one primordial type (et l'on n'auroit pas tort de supposer, que d'un seul être elle a su tirer avec le temps tous les autres êtres organisés).
This, I imagine, in spite of Professor 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
See Evolution, Old and New, p. 91 (Shrewsbury Edition, p. 79), and Buffon, vol. iv, p. 383, ed. 1753. · Evolution, Old and New, p. 104 (Shrewsbury Edition, p. 90).
Professor Huxley should give 1753-78 as the date of Buffon's work, nor yet why he should say that Buffon
at first a partisan of the absolute immutability of species,”l unless, indeed, we suppose he has been content to follow that very unsatisfa&tory writer, Isidore Geoffroy St. 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 Palingénésie 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 organized beings which peopled the world in its original state as it left the hands of the Creator? ... In the outset organized 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 naturalists, if transplanted to the original world, would entirely fail to recognize our plants and animals therein.” 2
But this is feeble in comparison with Buffon, and did not appear till 1769, when Buffon had been writing on evolution for fully twenty years with the eyes of scientific Europe upon him. Whatever concession to the 1 · Encycl. Brit., 9th ed., art. “Evolution,” p. 748.
Palingénésie Philosophique, part x, chap. îi (quoted from Professor Huxley's article on "Evolution,” Encycl
. Brit., 9th ed., p. 745).
opinion of Buffon Bonnet may have been inclined to make in 1769, in 1764, when he published his Contemplation de la Nature, and in 1762, when his Considérations sur les Corps Organisés appeared, he cannot be considered to have been a supporter of evolution. I went through these works in 1878 when I was writing Evolution, Old and New, to see whether I could claim him as on my side; but though frequently delighted with his work, I found it impossible to press him into my service.
The pre-eminent claim of Buffon to be considered as the father of the modern doctrine of evolution cannot be reasonably disputed, though he was doubtless led to his conclusions by the works of Descartes and Leibnitz, of both of whom he was an avowed and very warm admirer. His claim does not rest upon a passage here or there, but upon the spirit of forty quartos written over a period of about as many years. Nevertheless he wrote, as I have shown in Evolution, Old and New, of set purpose enigmatically, whereas there was no beating about the bush with Dr. Darwin. He speaks Straight out, and Dr. Krause is justified in saying of him “ that he was the first who proposed and persistently carried out a well-rounded theory” of evolution.
I now turned to Lamarck. I read the first volume of the Philosophie Zoologique, analysed it and translated the most important parts. The second volume was beside my purpose, dealing as it does rather with the origin of life than of species, and travelling too fast and too far for me to be able to keep up with him. Again I was astonished at the little mention Mr. Darwin had made of this illustrious writer, at the manner in which he had motioned him away, as it were, with his hand in the first edition of the Origin of Species, and at the brevity and imperfection of the remarks made upon him in the subsequent historical sketch.