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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/277

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

ble," declared that "the doctrine of evolution lent itself as readily to promises of God as less complete explanations of the universe."

To explain the world-wide fame of Mr. Darwin and the expressions of high appreciation that have been elicited by his death, several circumstances must be taken into account. In the first place, his pre-eminence as a naturalist is not for a moment to be questioned. He had a genius for investigation in this field, as is shown by the immense amount of valuable and original work that he has accomplished. As an accurate and indefatigable observer, of keen insight, and equally fertile and skillful in his experimental devices to bring out the secrets of Nature, he was probably without a rival. Descended from a race of naturalists, he seemed to have a constitutional intuition for penetrating the mysteries of living beings, and detecting subtilties that had eluded previous observers. Patient, industrious, and concentrated upon his work, he has enriched natural history with a multitude of new facts, which will make his name an authority for all future time.

But Mr. Darwin was more than a mere observer and accumulator of facts; he was a man of ideas capable of methodising his observations and making them tributary to the progress of theoretical views. He found the problem of the origin of the diversities of living beings unsettled, he subordinated all his researches to its solution, and he put forth a theory upon the subject that has made him famous. This was the principle of natural selection, called also the survival' of the fittest, and it was elaborated with a wealth of illustration that rapidly commended it to the acceptance of the scientific world. In a nutshell it is this: There is a law of heredity, or descent of traits, from generation to generation, in the kingdom of organic life—a law under which "like produce like." But there is also a law of variation by which like always produces the slightly unlike—a modification from generation to generation, and adaptation to ever changing conditions. At the same time the rate of multiplication gives rise to a destructive struggle for existence, in which multitudes perish and but comparatively few survive, while the survivors are those best fitted to the new conditions. In this way new characters are strengthened and developed, and old traits are weakened and disappear, so that the progress of life is at the same time a slow transformation, in which at first new varieties and then new species gradually arise by minute increments of change. Thus the diversities among living creatures are accounted for by the operation of natural agencies.

But, besides the intrinsic character of his work, the traits of the man were eminently calculated to produce the most favorable impression. He was not a controversialist, and, instead of going roughly athwart men's prejudices, he was kindly, considerate, and conciliatory in all his writings. He was also modest and eminently candid and fair minded, always seeking to do justice to the views of his opponents. Men felt that his supreme object was simply to get at the truth. For this he labored incessantly and untiringly, and thus won the respect of all who can appreciate sincerity of aim and elevation of purpose. Added to this he was a very genial and pleasant man in his personal relations, and most highly regarded by those who were honored with his acquaintance and friendship.

But still other elements must be taken into account in explaining the extent of his popularity. He was a remarkably fortunate man. We refer not so much to his easy circumstances, which gave him command of resources and allowed full consecration to a life of study; but we mean that he came at a great crisis of thought, when a lead-