Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/367

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

one man has borne off all the praise, while many men bore the brunt of the labor; in other cases the work done has been so evenly distributed among several laborers that even that unjust judge, the general public, could set none as greater or less than another, none as before or after another.

Observe, once more, a case where, at first sight, the part played by the individual genius seems exceptionally great—I mean Newton's discovery of universal gravitation. Here, surely, if ever anywhere, the genius was fully entitled to say, "Alone I did it." Yet even here it was quite as much the crisis that made Newton as Newton that made the crisis. Galileo's observations on the pendulum, Torricelli's invention of the mercurial barometer, the true theory of the common pump. Von Guericke's air-pump, Copernicus's view of the solar system, Kepler's laws of motion—all these led up, slowly but surely, by various routes, to the ultimate and inevitable discovery of the law of gravitation. The world had its problem then and there neatly presented to it. The Cartesian theory of vortices, indeed, was a premature attempt at a metaphysical, or at least an a priori solution of the self-same difficulty. All the early work of the seventeenth century led up directly to Newton as a foregone conclusion. Newton himself merely came, in the fullness of time, as the great, fully-equipped mathematical and physical thinker who could not fail to advance science by that one step, already foreshadowed and predestined for him by the joint work of his many predecessors.

So it was, too, with organic evolution and with evolution in general. In the last century De Maillet and Monboddo, from different sides, had caught faint glimpses (as in a glass, darkly) of the descent of animals from common progenitors. With Buffon the glimpse became a distinct idea; with Erasmus Darwin the idea grew into a fully evolved and tenable hypothesis. Lamarck gave it form and body; Goethe breathed into it a wider cosmical spirit. Even the particular notion of natural selection was hit upon simultaneously by Wallace and Darwin; while Spencer had traced out the development of mind seven years before the publication of the "Origin of Species." Kant and Laplace and Lyell led on, by many lines, to the "System of Synthetic Philosophy." Evolutionism has been a growth of numberless minds, yet in the future it will appear to the multitude at large as the work of two men, and of two men only—Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. I need hardly say, I hope, that no man feels more profound reverence for those two mighty thinkers than I do—indeed, I dare never trust myself to say in public how profound that reverence really is; we stand so near them still that those who estimate them at their true worth only get laughed at; but I do not think we ought ever to forget the important part played also in their