Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/476

This page has been validated.


WHEN Wolf, Goethe, Oken, and Geoffroy St.-Hilaire began to tell us that the method of the creation of living creatures is an evolution, it was far from satisfactory. To comprehend the proposition in the first place was exceedingly difficult. It was almost incomprehensible, indeed, to minds tutored in the anthropomorphic notions of spasmodic and arbitrary special efforts on the part of some Demiurgus. Educated to see in Nature what were called evidences of design, meaning plan and purpose according to our finite ideas of design, we could not rise to the conception of the continuous action of universal law; and every thing not easily construed by our preconceived teleology was settled by the convenient doctrines of miracles and cataclysms. In another way, also, the world was not prepared for the proposition; for, in the second place, the proofs were hidden away in the still undiscovered facts of homology. The science of morphology was yet to be created. Not yet was it known that Bryant's solemn verses—

"All that tread

The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom"—

are as applicable to the genera and species of all living creatures as to the individuals of the human race; that the organic forms now extant are in simplest truth insignificant, both as to numbers and varieties, when compared with those which have preceded them and which have perished forever.

No wonder, then, that the new-fledged doctrine of evolution soon went out of fashion when even the great disciples of the great leaders just mentioned, Lamarck and the elder Darwin, had no better explanation to offer than the hypothesis of transmutation. Yet it ought not to be forgotten that their principal opponents were not devout professors of religion and theology, to the really qualified of whom, it must have been indifferent; but Voltaire, Frederick II., Cuvier, and Agassiz, men whom no one ever suspected of any profound knowledge of theology, or of special reverence for its deductions.

But now the mists are clearing away, just as, according to the logic of things, we should expect. For there is evolution in human thought and comprehension, as in all things else. Yet the how—the question of the method—the process of the development of life—still confronts us; and the recent labors of Charles Darwin, Wallace, Voght, Haeckel, Cope, and others, have taught us that the answer is