Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/October 1898/The Evolution of Colonies: The Law IV
|THE EVOLUTION OF COLONIES.|
IT is the great unquestioned addition to Darwinism made by Haeckel that the history of the embryo is shown to recapitulate the history of its ancestral species. As stated by Haeckel's authorized expositor, Mr. Lester Ward, the law has a fascinating simplicity. The development of successive species being the mechanical cause of the development of the embryo, every transmutation undergone by the former in the course of ages is passed through by the latter. From the primary cell onward, the successive species are faithfully reproduced by successive stages in the growth of the embryo. Man is thus first of all an amœba, he advances to the humble condition of a worm, is transformed into a lamprey, grows into a kind of fish, is fortunately only a bit of a reptile, is promoted to be a marsupial, a lemur, an ape, a man-ape, before he emerges in distinctly human form. So far, Haeckel. Other naturalists find the parallel more complex. In no case, according to Prof. Henry Drummond, is the recapitulation of the past complete. "Ancestral stages are constantly omitted, over-accentuated, condensed, distorted, or confused; while new and undecipherable characters occasionally appear." Haeckel has no difficulty in accounting for these new and undecipherable characters. They are the priceless records of formerly existing but now extinct species. By their aid we can recover the vanished past. It was a wonderful feat when Kant predicted, from certain disturbances in the planetary orbits, that the planet Neptune would one day be discovered. It was a great thing when Owen was (rightly or wrongly) believed to have reconstructed the moa from a thigh bone, or when from a few small molar teeth found in Germany and North America two lost species were built up. Haeckel has shown a still more daring exercise of the scientific imagination in confidently assuming the existence of species of which no trace has ever been found. Of the twenty-one species between the moner and man nearly one half are hypothetical. Not even their fossil remains have been discovered. But the German idealist betrays no doubt of their reality. That they are vouched for by answering stages in the growth of the embryo is evidence enough. In at least one case later research seems to have vindicated his prevision.
The analogy is strictly limited to species in the line of descent. No creature is the inheritor of the whole pre-existent organic creation. Man himself, the crown of Nature and its lord, is heir to only three of the seven animal subkingdoms. Never having been a vegetable, from one entire kingdom lie is altogether cut off.!Nor was he ever a zoöphyte, a mollusc, a fish, a reptile, a whale, a carnivore, or a rodent, and the palpable moral and physical characteristics of certain of these species which are plainly inherited at times by man (for who has not made acquaintance with the human mollusc, or come into unpleasant contact with the tiger, wolf, fox, ox, or dog type?) may be explained as reversions to species which the human pedigree just touched as it skirted their base.
Lastly, it is consistent with the analogy that the embryo should sometimes outstrip its parent species. Each generation being an advance upon its predecessors, each new embryo must possess new potentialities of development. Even in apparently stationary species there will usually be a capacity of adjustment to changed circumstances.
In the parallelism between the embryo and the species lies the key to colonial evolution. The genesis and growth of each colony repeat the origin and development of its parent state. There is again, no exact reproduction. Much in the history of every country belongs to what we call the chapter of accidents because we have not yet found its law. This may or may not be reproduced in a colony. There is also a good deal in the history of every colony determined by local circumstances. For all such it would be in vain to look for an analogue in the mother country's development. On certain lines the analogy conspicuously fails in appearance, but even on these there will always be discoverable traces in the new of the corresponding stages in the old country. In others it would be a mere academic exercise to trace fantastic resemblances. None the less is it true that up to the point in the growth of a colony when it ceases to be dependent on its metropolis the political and social evolution recapitulates in a few years the entire evolution which the mother country may have taken centuries to accomplish.
Colonial history will thus reflect light on national history, and national history profoundly studied will make colonial history luminous. What would not a Mommsen or other reconstructor of ancient civilizations from often enigmatical inscriptions on chancefound stones have given to discover such a wealth of material in the correspondence of Romans and provincials, in dispatches, books, pamphlets, and newspapers, as we possess in relation to the early foundation of colonies? In a sense he already possesses it. It is ancient history that we are studying when we peruse these modern records. The beginnings of extinct states rise again before our eyes. Obscure struggles, "battles of kites and crows," the long travail of national growth, will emerge from the dark. More than this: as the biologist assumes the existence of undiscovered species, the historian of colonies, finding in colonial history facts which have no answering stages in the history of the parent state, will point out the lacunae and predict that, when that history has been more closely studied, corresponding facts will be found. Only the surface of history has been scratched. Within the last thirty years the early constitutional history of France and Germany has been rewritten by Waitz, Roth, and Sohm. Yet the documents possessed by these scholars were, most of them, at the command of earlier scholars. It was the key that was wanting, the point of view that was false. So may colonial history (or may we call it coloniology?) furnish new means of reading the past.
It is necessarily only of the mother country that the colony repeats the development. The Phœnician, Greek, and Roman, the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and Dutch colonies are radically unlike one another in their origin and growth. Where they resemble they are but repeating the story of universal humanity. There have been agrarian agitations in New York and Australia, and Gracchi in New Zealand, but they do not reduplicate those of Rome. Nor were the tribunes of New Amsterdam Roman tribunes.
It is, finally, in perfect consistency with the analogy that the colony should often outstrip the parent state. While still dependent, it may develop institutions in advance of any to be found in the mother country, and after emancipation it may be a social organism of a higher type. The Australasian colonies have far surpassed Great Britain in the liberal character of their legislation, and in the United States the feeling of equality between man and man has gained a vigor never likely to be attained in the countries which contributed to the colonization of North America.