Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/469

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BUFFON AND THE PROBLEM OF SPECIES

what to the opposite extreme "; and in all his writings subsequent to 1766 he held to a doctrine of "limited mutability," to the "permanence of the essential features" of species and "the variability of details." This division of Buffon's opinions into three periods, of which the middle one was characterized by an extreme evolutionism, has been accepted by a number of later writers. It is apparently adopted by Osborn, though not to the exclusion of other interpretations inconsistent with it.[1] (3) By several recent writers—such as Samuel Butler, de Lanessan, Giard, Clodd—Geoffroy's scheme of three periods is rejected, and Buffon is declared to have been an evolutionist throughout virtually his whole career as a writer. Those who take this view explain away his apparent self-contradictions by various suppositions. Giard, for example, holds that Buffon began as a transformist, but was led by his difficulties with the ecclesiastical authorities (in 1751) to conceal his real position for a number of years, becoming bolder and more outspoken after 1761, when his fame was securely established. In other words, Giard proposes an alternative division into three periods, in which the middle phase is the least evolutionistic. Samuel Butler, who has taken the most extreme ground of all in favor of the view that Buffon was a whole-hearted evolutionist, endeavors at great length and with much ingenuity to show[2] that all the anti-evolutionary passages in the "Histoire Naturelle" are ironical. According to this interpretation Buffon must almost be said to have woven a sort of cryptogram into his work. "His irony is not the ill-natured irony of one who is merely amusing himself at other people's expense, but the serious and legitimate irony of one who must either limit the circle of those to whom he appeals, or must know how to make the same language appeal differently to the different capacities of his readers, and who trusts to the good sense of the discerning to understand the difficulty of his position, and make due allowance for it." In other words, Buffon threw in sufficiently frequent affirmations of the immutability of species to deceive, or at least to quiet, the doctors of the Sorbonne, and in the very act of doing so he made it evident to the judicious reader that the opposite conclusion was the one to be accepted.

The three remaining interpretations of Buffon's position are less subtle and ingenious. (1) The author of the most comprehensive recent history of biological theories[3] tells us that, though Buffon "speculated aboiut the origination of one species from another," he did not "especially interest himself in the question of the mutability of species; his too little developed sense for the historical [i. e., the genetic] aspect of nature did not permit him to put clearly before himself such a question as that concerning the origin of species. How should he have done so, since he did not even believe in the existence of species, but recog-

  1. "From the Greeks to Darwin," 130-135.
  2. In his "Evolution Old and New."
  3. "Rádl, "Gesch. der biologischen Theorien," I., 1905, pp. 117-118.