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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/658

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evolutionary principles had never been put into a single big book, asked for at Mudie's, and permitted to lie on the drawing-room table side by side with the last new novel and the last fat volume of scandalous court memoirs. Therefore society ignored them, and knew them not; the word evolution scarcely entered at all as yet into its polite and refined dinner-table vocabulary. It recognized only the "Darwinian theory," "natural selection," "the missing link," and the belief that men were merely monkeys who had lost their tails, presumably by sitting upon them. To the world at large, that learned Mr. Darwin had invented and patented the entire business, including descent with modification, if such notions ever occurred at all to the world-at-large's speculative intelligence.

Now, evolutionism is really a thing of far deeper growth and older antecedents than this easy, superficial, drawing-room view would lead us to imagine. It is a very ancient and respectable theory, indeed, and it has an immense variety of minor developments. I am not going to push it back, in the fashionable modern scientific manner, to the vague and indefinite hints in our old friend Lucretius. The great original Roman poet—the only original poet in the Latin language—did indeed hit out for himself a very good rough working sketch of a sort of nebulous and shapeless evolutionism. It was bold, it was consistent, for its time it was wonderful. But Lucretius's philosophy, like all the philosophies of the older world, was a mere speculative idea, a fancy picture of the development of things, not dependent upon observation of facts at all, but wholly evolved, like the German thinker's camel, out of its author's own pregnant inner consciousness. The Roman poet would no doubt have built an excellent superstructure if he had only possessed a little straw to make his bricks of. As it was, however, scientific brick-making being still in its infancy, he could only construct in a day a shadowy Aladdin's palace of pure fanciful Epicurean phantasms, an imaginary world of imaginary atoms, fortuitously concurring out of void chaos into an orderly universe, as though by miracle. It is not thus that systems arise which regenerate the thought of humanity; he who would build for all time must make sure first of a solid foundation, and then use sound bricks in place of the airy nothings of metaphysical speculation.

It was in the last century that the evolutionary idea really began to take form and shape in the separate conceptions of Kant, Laplace, Lamarck, and Erasmus Darwin. These were the true founders of our modern evolutionism. Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer were the Joshuas who led the chosen people into the land which more than one venturous Moses had already dimly descried afar off from the Pisgah top of the eighteenth century.

Kant and Laplace came first in time, as astronomy comes first in logical order. Stars and suns, and planets and satellites, necessarily precede in development plants and animals. You can have no cabbages