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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/278

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268
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

er was wanted in a comprehensive scientific field. It was his happy fortune to avail himself of a previous advance of biological inquiry, which was much greater than is generally supposed. Mr. Darwin has himself fully pointed out to what various extents his idea of natural selection had been discerned by preceding naturalists. It was a discovery all ready to be made, and how inevitably it grew out of the state of knowledge that had been attained, and how imminent it was in the thought of the time, is shown by the fact that he was compelled to publish on the subject earlier than he had intended, to prevent being anticipated by Mr. Alfred Russel Wallace, who had already arrived at and worked out the same principle. It was fortunate for the fame of Mr. Darwin that Mr. Wallace so gracefully and generously stepped aside, and surrendered to him the full leadership of the new biological reform.

Nor is it to be forgotten, in enumerating the causes that have conspired to give such prominence to the name and fame of Darwin, that his subject was one of intense and universal interest. No matter how unpalatable were the theories proposed, everybody was concerned with questions of the origin of life, because they involved explanations of human origin. Whence we came has always been a riddle which there has been an irrepressible curiosity to solve. Mr. Darwin's explanation came in the name of science, and, apparently involving but a single principle of such simplicity and familiar illustration that everybody could understand it, his little book was sought for and read with avidity by all 'classes. And yet, in the nature of things, it was impossible that the work should be generally understood with any thoroughness. It dealt with an order of ideas for which our higher education made no preparation, so that the college graduate was little better equipped than the uneducated country farmer to read intelligently and appreciatingly the argument of the "Origin of Species." There was, consequently, a great deal of popular confusion and misapprehension as to what Mr. Darwin had really done, and which naturally led to erroneous and even extravagant claims as to the nature and scope of his work. To those who were not well instructed he came to be regarded as the creator of an epoch and the originator of the whole scheme of ideas connected with his investigations. We see this in the tendency to attribute to Mr. Darwin the fatherhood of the law of evolution, and to identify evolution with Darwinism. He contributed to that universal law a most important principle, but he was neither its founder nor did he ever attempt anything like its general exposition. That great doctrine had been overwhelmingly proved, had been resolved into its forces, formulated, and extensively applied to the reorganization of scientific knowledge, before Mr. Darwin had ever published a word upon the subject. He has done noble work, and his position is for ever assured among the greatest in science; and, if circumstances have tended to favor some exaggeration of his real claims, we may leave to time the correction of imperfect judgments, and the equitable award of all honors among those to whom honors are due.

 

 

A VERY MODERN REPROACH.

Commenting, two months ago, upon Goldwin Smith's article attacking scientific ethics, we pointed out the extensive co-existence of supernatural beliefs with a lax morality. The "Christian Union," under the title of "A Very Ancient Reproach," charges "The Popular Science Review" with reviving a stale old accusation of Thomas Paine. It, moreover, attempts to confound us with "History," and offers a quotation from Gibbon, declaring that through conversions by the early Church "the