Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/262

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

living things, which was almost universal five-and-twenty years ago, was only equaled in arbitrariness, artificiality, and absurdity by the celebrated theory of Epicycles, which caused Alfonso of Castile to exclaim, "If God had asked my advice when he created the world, I should have managed things much better."

"Afflavit Darwinius et dissipata est" would, alluding to the above-mentioned theory, be a fitting inscription for a medal in honor of the "Origin of Species." For now all things were seen to be due to the quiet development of a few simple germs; graduated days of creation gave place to one day on which matter in motion was created; and organic suitability was replaced by a mechanical process, for as such we may look on natural selection, and now for the first time man took his proper place at the head of his brethren.

We may compare Copernicus's student-days at Bologna with Darwin's voyage in the Beagle, and his retired life at Franenburg with Darwin's in his Kentish home, up to the time when the appearance of Mr. Wallace's work caused him to break his long silence. Here, happily for Darwin, the parallel ends. Many circumstances combined in Darwin's case to render his task easier and insure his ultimate triumph. Botany and zo├Âlogy, morphology, the theory of evolution, and the study of the geographical distribution of plants and animals, had advanced far enough to allow of general conclusions being drawn from them; Lyell's sound sense had freed geology from the hypotheses which disfigured it, and introduced the idea of uniformity into science. The doctrine of the conservation of energy had been put on a new basis, and extended so that in combination with astronomical observation it gave rise to entirely new views of the history and duration of the universe. The doctrine of vital energy had been proved to be untenable on closer investigation. An unusually dry season had some years earlier led to the discovery of the so-called lake-dwellings in the bed of one of the Swiss lakes, whereby prehistoric research was quickly extended and developed. Though many links are still missing, we may fairly consider the knowledge of the existence of primeval man as the beginning of the long-looked-for connection between him and the anthropoids on the one hand, and between them both and their common progenitors on the other. In a word, the time had come for the publication of the "Descent of Man"; that is why an opinion on the nature of man, which differs from all former ones fully as much as the system of Copernicus, of which it is the complement, differs from that of Ptolemy, found such ready and general acceptance.

How different was the fate of Copernicus! "Copernicus," says Poggendorff, "is, and will ever remain, a brilliant star in the firmament of science; but he rose at a time when the horizon was almost entirely obscured by the mists of ignorance. . . . The Ptolemaic system was too ancient and too much venerated to be easily displaced." Copernicus's teaching met with but scant appreciation for the first