Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/June 1895/Correspondence



Department of Biology, Columbia College,

New York, April 11, 1895.

Reviewer of the Greeks to Darwin:

DEAR SIR: I regret that I do not see the Monthly regularly. A friend has recently called my attention to your review of the Greeks to Darwin, and I write to ask you to consider the following points:

The history ends absolutely with the publication of the theory of Natural Selection by Darwin and Wallace in 1858, therefore has no bearing upon the subsequent development of the evolution theory. The bibliography, also, is exclusively a bibliography of critical and historical articles upon the pre-Darwinian evolution. Where titles are of more recent date, they simply refer to recent historical and critical notices. This being the case, Herbert Spencer's position is simply treated as that which belonged to him previous to 1858; and if you will read his two earlier essays in comparison with Lamarck's Philosophic Zoologie—a large work of two volumes, fully expounding and expanding the evolution theory—I think you will see that I have done Herbert Spencer full justice.

Herbert Spencer, after 1858, as in his remarkable application of the evolution theory to all departments of thought, of course deserves a very high position, second only to Darwin, and this position I accorded him in the same course of lectures for the Columbia students, in treating of the Post-Darwinian Period. The fact that I barely consider any of Darwin's later work renders it evident that the omission of Spencer is not in the nature of a slight, but simply that his work did not come within the limits of the period treated. I fully understand and appreciate the peculiar features of Spencer's contributions to the evolution theory, and have myself contributed extensively to the Neo-Lamarckian literature in this country which is the Spencerian side; at the same time I can see many weak points in Herbert Spencer's biological system, and his rank in the future as a theoretical evolutionist is closely tied up with that of Lamarck in the question of the transmission or nontransmission of acquired characters.

Trusting I have made this matter clear, I am,
Very truly yours,
Henry F. Osborn.

[If the contents of Prof. Osborn's book agreed with its title—From the Greeks to Darwin—we might be able to accept the above excuse as valid. But since the work devotes fifteen pages to tracing the progress of Darwin's thought down to 1881 we fail to see the justice of disposing in as many lines of what has been done by a contemporary, who is the acknowledged master in the broader field which includes Darwinism.

Even if Prof. Osborn were correct in stating that "the history ends absolutely with the publication of the theory of Natural Selection by Darwin and Wallace in 1858," it is easy to show that he has not done justice to Mr. Spencer. Before that time Spencer had published his Social Statics (1851) and Principles of Psychology (1855), showing the working of evolution in social and mental phenomena respectively. He had also published twenty magazine articles, now to be found among his collected essays, or as chapters in his later books, in all of which the development hypothesis is unmistakably the keynote. More important than the single one of these that Prof. Osborn mentions is Progress: its Law and Cause (1857), in which Spencer states the nature of the process of development, with illustrations from all fields of activity. Furthermore, the implication in the above letter that Spencer has merely extended the application of what Darwin announced in 1858 deserves a word. The prospectus of Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy was printed in March, 1860. It has been reprinted since 1880 in the American edition of several of his books, with a note over the initials E. L. Y. from which the following testimony may be taken: "In 1854, he [Mr. Spencer] arrived at the conception of evolution as a universal process of Nature." Referring specifically to the prospectus: "The writer has seen a still earlier manuscript form of this Prospectus, embracing seven volumes instead of ten, but laying out the same subjects in the same order and by the same method, that was written out and became a matter of private correspondence in 1858." Prof. Hudson, in his Introduction to Spencer's Philosophy, corroborates both these dates, and states that the plan for the series of books was formed while Spencer was writing his Nebular Hypothesis, an essay published the day after the date of the journal containing Darwin's and Wallace's historic papers. The real relation between Spencer and Darwin is that the latter worked out independently one division of the great scheme elaborated by the former.—Editor.]


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Your note in the February number of The Popular Science Monthly on Roger Bacon's dream of the steamship tempts me to send you another curious illustration of how extraordinary geniuses in times past sometimes foreshadowed in their writings the marvels of a later era in the world's affairs. Of all the latest wonders of man's ingenuity, the phonograph would seem to be at least one that was not subject to the dictum of Solomon, "Nothing new under the sun"; and yet, a few months ago, while amusing myself with Cyrano de Bergerac's Histoire comique des États et Empires de la Lune et du Soleil (Paris, 1660), I was amazed to come across the matter quoted below, which surely foreshadows the phonograph as closely as do Bacon's words the steamship and railway.

The author (De Bergerac) is on a voyage over the moon. Left alone a little while by his guide, the latter gives him, to help him while away the hour, some books to read. The books, however, are different from any seen on earth. They are, in fact, little boxes, which Cyrano thus describes:

"On opening one of these boxes I found I know not what kind of metal (apparatus) similar to our clockwork, composed of I know not how many little devices and imperceptible machinery. It was a book, certainly, but a most marvelous one, which has neither leaves nor characters; a book to understand which the eyes are useless—one needs only use his ears. When one wishes to read this book he connects it by a sort of little nerve to his ears. Then he turns a needle to the chapter that he wishes to hear, and immediately there emerges from the instrument, as from the mouth of a man, or from a musical instrument, all the words and sounds which serve the Grands Lunaires for language."

I will say, further, that Cyrano anticipated many of the inventions and conceptions of modern aëronauts. No wonder that he was considered by his contemporaries as "somewhat off," or, as the French say, as a cerveau brulé.

Frank L. James, Ph. D., M. D.
St. Louis, February 28, 1895.