Chapter II: The Time Voyagers
I. The Extraordinary Voyage
The geographical novelties of the earth .... are now exhausted. Our voyages of discovery have become time voyages.
-- Wyndham Lewis
The eighteenth century can be characterized as essentially Linnaean in outlook, for we find a preoccupation with the naming of new species, a limited time scale, and an assumption of the fixity of animal life. It was necessary for man to discover one great principle, one supreme generalization capable of drawing a multitude of otherwise dispersed and meaningless facts together, before biology could cast any light upon human origins. Scientifically man's oldest written records told him nothing of himself. They showed him a picture limited, at best, to a few millennia in which he had warred and suffered, changed kings and customs, marked the face of the landscape with towns and chimneys, but, for all that, he had remained to himself unknown.
Until the one great effort at synthesis -- evolution -- was achieved, man saw himself essentially as having emerged from an unknown darkness and as passing similarly into an unknown future. It is no cause for surprise that, trapped as he was within the ominous and enigmatic present, man became addicted to a naive supernaturalism, nor that he peopled the nature about him with baleful or beneficent beings which were often, in reality, the projected shadows of his hopes and fears. Man was a creature without history, and for a thinking being to be without history is to make him a fabricator of illusions. His restless and inquiring intellect will create its own universe and describe its forces, even if these are no more than the malignant personifications which loom behind the face of nature in the mythologies of simple folk.
The eighteenth, however, was a relatively sophisticated century. The voyagers, and the raconteurs and philosophers who fed upon their discoveries, had done their work. Where men of today feed upon an ever growing technology and delight in space fiction, people of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fed upon a literary diet of extraordinary voyages -- real, utopian, and imaginary. In these the fixed arrangement of the Scala Naturae was often confused. One could read in the numerous "voyages" of man-animal crosses, of women mating with monkeys or with bears. It is an old folklore but one which always flourishes on far frontiers where men and animals meet on a level of equality and the distinctions between them remain blurred. 
Moreover, as the religious traditions of foreign nations became known, as other interpretations of how the earth came into being were encountered, it began to appear possible there might be other reasonable theories of earth history beside the orthodox one. The Linnaean century, in other words, was really a divided century. Scholars were following the Linnaean lead but there was an undercurrent of doubt about the fixity of species. We have seen it emerge in the case of Linnaeus himself, but it became most openly expressed in that nation which had been the chief producer of the form of literature known as the extraordinary voyage. France, whose revolutionary stirrings had been fed by accounts of le bon sauvage and accounts of democratic societies of aborigines, real or imaginary, was approaching the time when the voyages of discovery in the present would no longer suffice the hungry intellectual. He would turn to another dimension; he would attempt the most dangerous intellectual journey of all -- the voyage backward into time.II. Benoit de Maillet
Among the books widely read at the midpoint of the eighteenth century -- a work which achieved popularity in English translation -- was a volume entitled Telliamed: Or Discourses Between an Indian Philosopher and a French Missianary on the Diminution of the Sea, the Formation of the Earth, the Origin of Men and Animals, etc. Telliamed, the name of the Indian philosopher,_ is the name of M. de Maillet; the author, spelled backward. It was something of a literary tradition in France throughout the previous century to make use of a stock character, the tolerant oriental sage, whenever one wished to advance ideas of a heretical or socially critical cast.  True to the tradition De Maillet addresses his sage as follows:
"I confess to you, that notwithstanding the small Foundation I find in your system, I am charmed to hear you speak with as much Assurance of what you think passes in the vast Extent of the Universe, as if from infinite Ages, flying from Vortex to Vortex you had been an Eye-witness of what you relate concerning them.... I hope you will also deign to give me your Opinion of the Origin of Men and Animals, which in your System, are no doubt the Productions of Chance, a doctrine which neither my Religion nor my Reason permit me to believe." 
It will be observed that the author, as a good Christian, carefully disavows belief in the theories of his fictional sage. Nevertheless, he recounts them at length and with great enthusiasm. At the close of the book the sage, with convenient discretion, departs for his Far Eastern home. The interview itself is supposed to have taken place in Cairo, a meeting place of East and West, in 1715.
Telliamed, though known to English historians of science, has passed comparatively unnoticed. Of five histories of biology which I have consulted on my shelves only one mentions Telliamed -- and then only in a passing sentence. This neglect seems to lie largely in the fact that De Maillet was a traveler and a government official, not a professional scientist, and that his work contains elements of the fantastic. The popularizer, however, was often a very significant figure in the earlier centuries of science. His work might plant the germ of new ideas in other, more systematic minds, and the actual diffusion of his books, as represented by numbers of editions and translations, can throw light upon the ideas which were beginning to intrigue the public imagination.
Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738), for all his anecdotes of mermen attracted by the female figureheads of vessels, and similar tales which sound as though gleaned from the taverns of the ports, is worthy of serious attention. He made one of the first fumbling attempts to link cosmic to biological evolution; he anticipated a greater age for the world; he recognized the true nature of fossils and suspected that some fossil plants "exist no more." He termed a fossil quarry "the most Ancient Library in the World"; he had an idea of a planet evolving by natural forces. He even grasped dimly the principle of the successive deposition of strata. He is not, of course, the original author of all these separate ideas but he picked them up, combined them in his own cosmological theory, spread them and made them widely accessible. Certainly the volume played a part in the stimulation of far greater minds.
It is not surprising that beds of fossil shells began to attract attention long before the remains of vertebrate animals. In the first place they are more easily recognizable for what they are, and they occur, often, in greater profusion. The bones of extinct land vertebrates, on the contrary, demanded a detailed knowledge of comparative anatomy before they could be recognized for what they were. The presence in various parts of Europe of marine shells far from the sea or uplifted in mountain ranges raised questions as to how they had been transported into regions remote from their natural habitat. Since the great age of the earth and the transformations which its surface had undergone remained unappreciated, the fossil shells were often regarded as "sports" of nature, the product of "plastic forces" and thus as never really having lived at all. Or naturalists linked the shells to the Noachian Deluge and assumed that they had been laid down during the time when the world had been overwhelmed by water.
There was little in the way of a clear recognition of the long stratigraphical history of the planet, nor of the fact that mountains were of different ages and themselves represented dynamic forces at work in the earth's crust. The vast waters which the Christian mythology demanded were often assumed to have emerged from the interior of the earth and to have re-entered it again. As Ray remarks in the picturesque language of the time, "Ye Earth itself, I mean this Terraqueous globe, is in a forced & preternaturall state, ye earth above ye water, wch is lighter than it, so that did not ye Scripture tell us so much, one might by reason collect, that the Water was sometime uppermost & covered all." 
As science began to grope toward an understanding of the surface features of the planet it was handicapped by certain erroneous preconceptions which had arisen in past intellectual climates and which even atheistic free thinkers found it necessary to explain. Shells on mountaintops demanded higher seas, for water was movable and mountains were not. As a consequence, all the "theories of the Earth," as the new geological speculations were called, were much taken up with this problem. Telliamed is no exception. Though first published posthumously in Amsterdam in 1748, the book is actually, in its composition and flavor, a product of the early eighteenth century. The intricate dance of the planets, which forms a major part of De Maillet's attempt to explain the shrinking water content of the earth, is based upon Descartes's theory of vortices. This idea had a wide popularity in France beyond the close of the seventeenth century. 
De Maillet was fully cognizant that the incorruptible celestial heavens had disappeared under the telescopes of the astronomers; stars shift their positions, fade or flare up, comets appear and disappear. This globe and "this whole System which we see, this fine Order which we admire, are subject to Changes." This world of cosmic change which he observed in the heavens De Maillet extended to the earth and to life itself. He believed that at one time the earth was totally covered with water which had slowly been receding throughout the planet's history. This great sea, however, he carefully differentiates from the localized phenomenon of the Mosaic flood. The slow recession of the seas had laid bare more and more land and promoted the emergence of life from the waters. In working out his theory De Maillet fully recognized the advantages of examining geological exposures of either a natural or artificial character, such as those made possible in commercial excavations.
Making allowance for the state of knowledge in his time De Maillet's system is essentially uniformitarian, that is, dependent upon the known and still operating forces of nature. He speaks of "the insensible Fabrication of our soils," of the wind and the rain acting upon rock to wear its substance away; he traces these substances downward to the sea where they will form in the course of time sedimentary rock containing fossils. "You must observe, sir," he remarks, "that Brooks, Rivers, Rivulets, and even the peculiar Substance of our Soils, are things accidental to our Globe, and posterior to the Appearance of our first Ground."
He challenged the conception that the life of the sea cannot be transformed into the life of the land and he maintained that this transformation had not alone taken place in the past but is continuing at the present time. n must, nevertheless, be remarked that De Maillet's evolutionism still savors of the purely generic variability of other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers, except that he has introduced a change of medium, from water to air. De Maillet, in other words, labors under the illusion that the life of the land is essentially duplicated in the sea -- that plants and animals quite similar to the terrestrial ones can be observed there. Flying fish, for example, are on the way to becoming birds; there are mermen and women. The legendary has become entwined with the actual.
On the other hand, De Maillet was capable of surprisingly modem observations. He noted amphibious species such as otters and seals which he rightly observed are in some manner transitional half-world creatures moving from one medium to another. In one passage he is already debating the significance of a phenomenon which was still mystifying the naturalists of Darwin's time; namely, that "in small islands far from the Continent, which have but appeared a few Ages ago at most, and where it is manifest that never any Man had been, we find Shrubs, Herbs, Roots and sometimes Animals. Now you must be forced to own, either that these Productions owed their Origin to the Sea, or to a new Creation, which is absurd." 
In effecting the transition from sea to land, De Maillet, in one passage, and without elaboration, strongly hinted at what really amounts to mutation and preservation through natural selection. "If a hundred thousand have perished in contracting the Habitude," he said, "yet if two have acquired it, they are sufficient to give Birth to the Species."  Strange primates excited De Maillet's attention: "A human Form met with in Madagascar, who walk as we do, and who are deprived of the use of Voice"; orangs from the Dutch Indies, creatures who resembled men so much that "it would have been rashness to pronounce that they were only brutes." People lately come out of the sea, De Maillet contended, had no voice and would only acquire one by degrees through a number of generations. A Chinese author, he asserted warily, had maintained that "men were only a species of Apes more perfect than those which did not speak."
As for the origin of life itself, De Maillet found it in organic atoms which reproduced their various kinds. Such living atoms could be seen under the microscope. "Whether," De Maillet observed, "these Seeds have existed always, or have been created in Time, each of these Opinions is equally agreeable to my System." This notion of living organic atoms, different from those making up inorganic objects, was a derivative from the microscopic observations of the day. Sperm, protozoa -- the world of the infinitely little heretofore unsuspected by man -- were now generating almost as much interest as the universe in outer space revealed by the telescope. These organic atoms would pass through many bands and descend into the nineteenth century to become the pangenes of Darwin.
The total system proposed in Telliamed may be seen as uniformitarian in essence, mutable in its parts, and self-renewing. Planets acquire heavy water content when remote from the sun. As they move inward the water content dissipates, just as that of earth is now doing. Eventually the earth will be desiccated and itself become a sun, or escape, by fortune, to become part of another solar system. Finally, a burnt-out wreck, it will perhaps pass into the vortex of another sun, regain, on the confines of that system, its water content, and begin once more its eternal circling dance through space and time. Who knows, the author muses, how many times this event has already happened, or what traces of those former worlds lie buried beneath our feet?
Elated with the symmetry of his system De Maillet writes movingly, "What Comparison could we make between a Clock-maker, who had skill enough to make a clock so curiously, that by the Disorder which Time should produce in her Parts and Movements; there should be new Wheels and Springs formed out of the Pieces, which had been worn and broken; and another Artist of the same Profession, whose Work should every Day, every Hour, and Minute, require his attention to rectify its Errors and eternal Variations?"III. The Comte de Buffon
We have now come, at the midpoint of the eighteenth century, into a world where several ideas are beginning to emerge without quite coalescing into an organized whole -- the theory which will unite them is still to be manufactured. It is thus no longer possible to pursue a single line of scientific innovators. Instead, several contemporary streams of thought must be examined. Before exploring these channels in more detail, it may serve the purposes, of orientation to list some of these ideas.
1. Theories of cosmic evolution, of suns and planets emerging from gaseous nebulae in space, appeared almost simultaneously with the first intimations of organic change. The timeless Empyrean heaven was now seen to be, like the corrupt world itself, a place of endless change, of waxing and waning worlds. Although the fact waited upon geological demonstration, the new astronomy with its vast extent of space implied another order of time than man had heretofore known. For a little while the public would not grasp what the sky watchers had precipitated. It would have to be brought home to them by the resurrection of the past.
2. Already; as we have seen in the case of De Maillet, there were those who were beginning to sense that the fossils of the planet told, like the old coins of the collector, a story that stretched backward through buried centuries and millennia. Ray and his friends had pondered the problem nervously if devoutly in the seventeenth century. There were now whispers that some of that buried life was no longer present among the living. Still, no man gazing upon the world around him dared to say its antiquity might be of the order of even a million years. A figure of a hundred thousand would have been a rash and heretical statement, though one man, the Comte de Buffon, slightly exceeded that estimate.
3. The microscope, which, like the telescope, had been invented at the beginning of the seventeenth century, had opened a new world as fascinating in its way as the vistas of space. Men began to explore the reproductive cells and to puzzle over the developmental stages of the living organism. Did a new creature grow from a microscopic but true replica of its adult form, or did it develop by degrees from a less differentiated substance? C. F. Wolff in his Theoria generationes (1759) took the latter point of view though it was not immediately popular. One must note, however, that to accept development, an emergence by degrees, in the case of the single individual makes it possible to accept with greater equanimity the conception that a species itself may have come into existence by some more extended process of phylogenetic change. Thus, indirectly, epigenesis, or the developmental theory of embryonic growth, fitted, analogically, the theory of evolution, just as the older preformationist doctrine -- of the fully formed but microscopic homunculus -- coin cided more satisfactorily with the idea of special creation.
4. In France, mismanaged and drifting toward the storms of the Revolution, an enormous interest in man, his destiny, the nature of society, the struggle of the poor and downtrodden to exist stimulated the thinking of intellectuals upon nature. The first studies of human population in relation to food supply began to be made. Analogies were drawn with wild life. Later, at the end of the century, Thomas Malthus, the English clergyman, drew heavily upon these sources in the composition of his famous Essay on the Principles of Population. England, in the first phase of the Industrial Revolution and frightened by the excesses of the French monarchial overthrow, would take readily to the bleak expression of the human struggle as portrayed by Malthus. The doctrine of the survival of the fittest would lie ready to the hand of Darwin. The revolt against the church promoted the spread of philosophical Deism -- the elevation of the second book of revelation, Nature, to a pre-eminence over the written book. What was read in the rocks and seen in the woods would thus come to take on an importance and authority it could never have possessed for the scholastic minds of the Middle Ages.
5. The treasures that had been named by Linnaeus were being observed in royal gardens and the hothouses of English noblemen. Variation was observable, artificial selection consciously practiced. Interest in the improvement of stock had diffused among the gentry. It was partly from this source that Buffon, and after him the later evolutionists, would draw ideas of change. But no one quite dared to say steadily that change was endless -- the fossils were still too firmly locked in the Paris limestones.
In the interaction of many minds, in the letters that flowed to and fro, in the flourishing scientific societies, it is often impossible to say with much surety where a given idea originated. If one searches diligently one may find an intriguing sentence or an ambiguous hint. Only recently some forgotten books which contributed to the development of evolutionary ideas have been brought to the attention of historians of science. Thomas Malthus, for example, had long been preceded by a little French work issued in England under the self- revelatory title of A Philosophical Survey of the Animal Creation, Wherein the General Devastation and Carnage that reign among the different Classes of Animals are Considered in a New Point of View; and the Vast Increase of Life and Enjoyment Derived to the Whale from this Institution of Nature is Clearly Demonstrated. The work is by John Bruckner (1726-1804), and the English translation appeared in 1768. 
Similarly the French philosopher and scientist Pierre de Maupertuis (1698-1759) had fallen into an undeserved obscurity from which he bas recently been rescued by Professor Bentley Glass of Johns Hopkins University.  In 1745 Maupertuis published a small anonymous book titled Venus Physique which contains some surprisingly modem embryological and genetic observations, including a theory of particulate inheritance long prior to Mendel. In his Systeme de la Nature (1751) he advanced the view that by repeated fortuitous deviations it might have been possible for the diversity of life which we see around us to have arisen from a single source. Buffon was enormously impressed by Maupertuis and the two men had some influence upon each other.
Linnaeus, I have said, had one great rival in the public affection; this was the Comte de Buffon (1707-88). In 1749 he published the first volume of his huge Histoire naturelle, a set of studies of the living world destined to have a wide circulation and to be translated into many languages. It was gracefully, even entrancingly written, and here and there the author managed, not too conspicuously, to touch upon a number of forbidden topics.
The book was written to appeal to two sorts of readers: those interested in the simple description of animals and those intellectuals who might wish to think about what they saw. We need not expect complete candor on the part of a man writing a century before Darwin. Buffon had doubts, hesitations, and fears. He wrote at times cryptically and ironically. He brought forward an impressive array of facts suggesting evolutionary changes and then arbitrarily denied what he had just been at such pains to propose. It is not always possible to determine when he was exercising an honest doubt of his own and when he was playing a game. In any case he could not leave this dangerous subject alone. It fascinated him as, a century later, it was to fascinate Darwin. He had devised a theory of "degeneration." The word sounds odd and a trifle morbid today, because we are in the habit of thinking of life as "evolving," "progressing" from one thing to another. Nevertheless, Buffon's "degeneration" is nothing more than a rough sketch of evolution. He implied by this term simply change, a falling away from some earlier type of animal into a new mold. Curiously enough, as his work proceeded, Buffon managed, albeit in a somewhat scattered fashion, at least to mention every significant ingredient which was to be incorporated into Darwin's great synthesis of 1859. He did not, however, quite manage to put these factors together. Specifically they may be analyzed as follows:
1. Buffon observed a tendency for life to multiply faster than its food supply and thus to promote a struggle for existence on the part of living things. "Nature," he said, "turns upon two steady pivots, unlimited fecundity which she has given to all species; and those innumerable causes of destruction which reduce the product of this fecundity...." 
2. He recognized that within a single species there were variations in form. In domestic plants and animals these variations were often heritable, so that by careful selection the stock could be improved and the direction of the improvement controlled. "There is," he wrote, "a strange variety in the appearance of individuals, and at the same time a constant resemblance in the whole species."" He recognized "our peaches, our apricots, our pears" to be "new productions with ancient names.... It was only by sowing and rearing an infinite number of vegetables of the same species, that some individuals were recognized to bear better and more succulent fruit than others...."  Similarly he noted that in the case of the domestic hen and pigeon "a great number of races have been lately produced, all of which propagate their kinds." "In order to improve Nature," he commented in another volume, "we must advance by gradual steps." 
3. Buffon was impressed by the underlying similarity of structure among quite different animals, an observation which is a necessary prelude to tracing out ancestral relationships in the fossil past. "There exists," he said, "a primitive and general design, which may be traced to a great distance, and whose degradations are still slower than those of figure or other external relations...." 
He philosophized warily that among the numerous families brought into existence by the Almighty "there are lesser families conceived by Nature and produced by Time."  Such remarks, woven into the web of orthodoxy, at times grow bolder, as when he suggested "that each family, as well in animals as in vegetables, comes from the same origin, and even that all animals are come from one species, which, in the succession of time, by improving and degenerating. has produced all the races of animals which now exist."  "Improvement and degeneration," he had earlier remarked, "are the same thing; for they both imply an alteration of original constitution." Though Buffon was quick to add something to satisfy the ecclesiastical authorities after such a remark, it is interesting to observe that in repeating all creatures have really been specially created, he says "we ought to believe that they were then nearly such as they appear at present."  It is obviously a most grudging concession.
4. Buffon foreshadowed in some degree the uniformitarianism of James Hutton at the end of the century. Like De Maillet he sought natural explanations for the formation of the earth and for geological events. After having listed the innumerable effects of rain, rivers, winds, and frost he remarked perceptively, "We do not pay any consideration that, though the time of our existence is very limited, nature proceeds in her regular course. We would condense into our momentary existence the transactions of ages past and to come, without reflecting that this instant of time, nay, even human life itself, is only a single fact in the history of the acts of the Almighty." 
Buffon anticipated the need of a greatly lengthened time scale in order to account for the stratification of the planet and the history of life upon it. "Nature's great workman," he said, "is time." By modern standards, of course, his estimates of the antiquity of the globe are very constricted but in his own time they were unorthodox. He thought that it had taken some seventy-two thousand years for the globe to cool from an incandescent state sufficiently to allow for the appearance of life. He assumed that the heat of the globe was imperceptibly diminishing. Further, he calculated that roughly another seventy thousand years would elapse before the planet was so chilled as to be unable to sustain life on its surface. 
5. He accepted the fact that some of the animal life of the earth had become extinct. This he ascribed to the cooling of the earth which had eliminated the warmth-loving fauna of an earlier day. He thought that many existing species would, in time, perish for the same reasons. He recognized the bones of mammoth as being those of extinct elephants and foresaw the value of paleontology. "To know all the petrifactions of which there are no living representatives: he remarked, "would require long study and an exact comparison of the various species of petrified bodies, which have been found in the bowels of the earth. This science is still in its infancy."  By this means, however, man, through the use of comparative anatomy, might be enabled to "remount the different ages of nature." It will eventually be possible, Buffon thought, to place milestones "on the eternal route of time."
6. Buffon also recognized the value of an experimental approach to evolutionary problems. The relations between species, he contended, could never be unraveled without long continued and difficult breeding experiments. "At what distance from man," he hinted slyly, "shall we place the large apes, who resemble him so perfectly in conformation of body ...? Have not the feeble species been destroyed by the stronger, or by the tyranny of man ...?"  Although in some passages he was careful to maintain the distinctive qualities of man, that his "animal body· had been infused with a divine spirit, he also remarked at a convenient point: "You unjustly compare, it may be said, an ape who is a native of the forests with the man who resides in polished society. To form a proper judgment between them, a savage man and an ape should be viewed together; for we have no just idea of man in a pure state of nature."  Buffon then gives a revolting picture of the savage Hottentot so frequently described by the eighteenth-century voyagers and ends by commenting: "There is as great a distance between man in a pure state of nature and a Hottentot, as there is between a Hottentot and us." 
There can be noted in these passages a tendency which will be seen to descend into the Darwinian era and to find at least faint expression in Darwin's own work. I refer to the preference for continuing the use of the morphology of the living as a key to descent rather than to wait upon paleontology. This inclination was enhanced because of the long use of the Scale of Being, which, of course, had always involved only living forms in a permanently linked relationship. Furthermore, since the fossil past was still little known and its length inadequately perceived, emphasis naturally continued to lie upon existing animals and their relationships. Thus even the pioneer evolutionists tended to see closer phylogenetic relationships in the present than actually existed between European man, Hottentot, and orang. In a few passages Buffon seems to be struggling to free himself from the living comparative ladder, from living "ancestral forms." At moments he glimpses the value of family trees and collateral lines of descent. Nevertheless, though he had a premonition that paleontology would prove valuable, he was not in a position to realize its scope or extent; thus his evolutionism was essentially trapped within the present.
7. Buffon was one of the first biologists to sense the significance of animal and plant distributions. He observed marked differences between the faunas of the New and Old World tropics. He also perceived that the northern, Holarctic region was more nearly similar in its fauna and most similar where Asia and North America adjoined each other. As we have remarked earlier there were seventeenth- entury writers who had puzzled over these differences between the fauna of the New and Old Worlds. Buffon, however, answered the question in a truly modern fashion. He said of the New World species which differed from those of the Old Continent: "They ... have remote relations, which seem to indicate something common in their formation, and lead us to causes of degeneration [i.e., evolution] more ancient, perhaps, than all others."  Thus Buffon had glimpsed that animals, instead of diffusing from the ark on Ararat, had, partially at least, originated in the areas where they were now to be found. They had, in other words, arisen by modification from ancestral forms previously inhabiting the same region.  Here we can observe the first premonitory formulation of the Law of Succession which was to be demonstrated paleontologically by Clift, Owen, Darwin, and others, later on in the nineteenth century.
8. Last, we may note that Buffon also had distinguished, though briefly and uncertainly, something of that world of eternal imperfection and change which, later on, was to fascinate Darwin. He had seen "doubtful species," "irregular productions," "anomalous existences." He had stared into the magic mirror of nature and, like the gods, had seen for a moment the cloud forms streaming past. Perhaps in the end he and his great contemporary rival Linnaeus had not seen too differently -- though Buffon had seen farther and been bolder about what he saw.
The count died in 1788, ten years after Linnaeus, although both had been born in the same year. It was a good time to go. The next year his son was to perish with other aristocrats in the fury of the Terror, proudly and reproachfully saying as he waited on the scaffold, "Citizens, my name is Buffon." It was the end of an age. Buffon like Linnaeus, had had a world reputation, had had his specimens passed graciously through warring fleets, had corresponded with Franklin, had been one of the leading figures in a great country at the height of its intellectual powers.
It is a great pity that his ideas were scattered and diffused throughout the vast body of his Natural History with its accounts of individual animals. Not only did this concealment make his interpretation difficult, but it lessened the impact of his evolutionary ideas. If he had been able to present his thesis in a single organized volume, it is possible that he himself might have argued his points more cogently and perhaps seen more fully the direction of his thought. For one important idea was still lacking: Buffon had never wrestled satisfactorily with the mechanism of change. He seemed, at times, quite conscious of the value of selection in breeding experiments, and this, with his full recognition of individual variation, implies something very close to Darwin's later theories. Actually, however, Buffon never seems to have been able to get from artificial to natural selection. Instead he suggests "climate" as a leading factor in "degeneration." However, almost everything necessary to originate a theory of natural selection existed in Buffon. It needed only to be brought together and removed from the protective ecclesiastical coloration which the exigencies of his time demanded.IV. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck
There has been considerable difference of opinion among students of evolutionary thought upon the origin of the views of Erasmus Darwin (1131-1802) and Jean Lamarck (1744-1829). Some have contended that Lamarck was stimulated by Erasmus Darwin's work, which was published prior to his own. Others claim both arrived at their ideas independently. Still another view would derive both men's ideas, in essence at least, from Buffon. This latter position is the most plausible. The contention for complete originality of thought on the part of both authors can be least sustained, for by the end of the eighteenth century the idea of unlimited organic change had been spread far and wide. It certainly was not a popular doctrine, but it had long been known in intellectual circles, largely through the popularity of Buffon.
Increasing interest in scientific breeding had also intensified public interest in the alteration of animal and plant forms. There were many who might not have been willing to say that all life arose from a single organic corpuscle, but who were vaguely and uncertainly aware that living forms might vary within limits. If pressed to name those limits with precision, they would have evinced discomfort. Lamarck and the earlier Darwin should be seen simply as continuing and enhancing a little stream of evolutionary thought which, beginning with ideas of purely specific or generic change -- alteration, in other words, within narrow limits -- was growing steadily bolder in the range of its thinking.
Of the two men, Lamarck was the more complete and systematic thinker. Erasmus Darwin's importance lies less in his scientific achievement than in his relationship to Charles Darwin and in his indirect influence upon Charles. (He died seven years before Charles Darwin was born.) Nevertheless, the priority of Erasmus over Lamarck is clear. His Zoonomia was published in 1794, but there is correspondence extant which indicates that its author was at work upon it as early as 1771.  He had as insatiable a passion for the odd facts of natural history as his grandson. Any serious reading of the footnotes attached to his long poems, The Temple of Nature (1803) and The Botanic Garden (1791), will yield them in great quantities. The elder Darwin was a keen observer of adaptations of all kinds, including protective coloration. Like his grandson he was a keen student of seed dissemination. He noted the intricate web of ecological relationships between different forms of life; he considered the possible survival of living fossils in the depths of the sea. He had some knowledge of rudimentary structures and the "wounds of evolution: He was aware that life, because of its ever changing aspect, is not always perfectly adjusted to its surrounding environment. He is the undoubted source from which his grandson drew the idea of sexual selection, and in Canto IV of The Temple of Nature he sketched a ghastly picture of the struggle for existence. He estimated the antiquity of the earth in terms of "millions of ages." In spite of the diversity of life he recognized through "a certain similitude on the features of nature ... that the whole is one family of one parent."  Though similar quotations expressing Erasmus Darwin's grasp of comparative morphology and stores of odd learning could be multiplied from his works, we may come directly to the point. He himself remarks in The Botanic Garden: "As all the families both of plants and animals appear in a state of perpetual improvement or degeneracy,  it becomes a subject of importance to detect the causes of these mutations."
What, then, is Erasmus Darwin's explanation of the mechanics of evolution? It lies essentially in "the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!"  The key here lies in the words "irritations," "sensations," and "volitions." Erasmus Darwin, in partial but not complete contrast to his grandson, believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Lamarck's philosophy was markedly similar.
Jean Baptiste Lamarck was intimately acquainted in his earlier years with Buffon, but it was not until his late fifties, in 1802, that he expressed himself as favoring the evolutionary hypothesis. Like the other eighteenth-century evolutionists, he had to recognize the necessity of a greatly lengthened antiquity for the world; he speaks so clearly of the dynamic balance of populations and the struggle for life that it would not be surprising if he had read the Systeme de Animal of his countryman Bruckner. Like De Maillet and Buffon, and with some of the same wariness as the latter, he hints in the Philosophie Zoologique (1809) at an anthropoid origin for man. "It could easily be shown that his special characters are all due to long-standing changes in his activities and in the habits which he has adopted...." Noting that man tires rapidly in an erect posture he suggests that further investigation would reveal in him "an origin analogous to that of the other animals."
Lamarck believed in a constant, spontaneous generation, so far as low forms of life were concerned, and he assumed a living scale of life which, in some respects, is reminiscent of the old Scala Naturae, although he broke partially away from the simple ladder arrangement. He believed in alteration rather than extinction. Any miss- ing taxonomical links simply remained to be discovered. Thus, in so far as he studied man, he would have derived him from a living primate -- probably the ever serviceable orang. As the world alters, as geographic and climatic areas change, new influences are brought to bear upon plant and animal life. In the course of long ages transformations in this life occur. These alterations are the product of use, of the effort which the animal makes to employ those parts which are most serviceable to it under the new conditions. As time passes related species may differentiate further and further from each other and these changes will be retained through heredity. Physiological need will promote the formation of new organs or alteration of old ones. Disuse, on the contrary, will promote their loss.
It should now be clear that Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck held rather similar theories as to the nature of the evolutionary process. Lamarck's views were sparsely represented in English literature until Lyell introduced him to the British public in 1830. The work of the elder Darwin, on the contrary, had earlier passed into French and German translations. It is this fact which has led to some suggestion that Lamarck drew his ideas from Erasmus Darwin. Charles Darwin seems to have been of this opinion, for he remarked to Thomas Huxley about the time the Origin of Species was published that "the history of error is quite unimportant, but it is curious to observe how exactly and accurately my grandfather gives Lamarck's theory."  This passage, unfortunately, reveals an attitude toward both Lamarck and his grandfather -- both dismissed as "part of the history of error" -- which, as we shall demonstrate later, was persistent on the part of Darwin.
There is, it may also be observed, no evidence that Lamarck plagiarized Erasmus Darwin. The long-continued and widespread belief in the inheritance of acquired characters historically documented by Professor Zirkle of the University of Pennsylvania makes it very likely, as we have earlier remarked, that both men were simply working in the same climate of ideas. Lamarck's name has by historical chance become so heavily associated with the doctrine of acquired characteristics that it is often assumed he invented it. Yet after an exhaustive treatment of the subject, running back through several centuries, Zirkle remarks: "It is interesting for us to note how many of Lamarck's contemporaries stated that such characters were inherited and to note how completely these statements have been overlooked by modern biologists."  Zirkle goes on to establish the presence of the idea in medical, biological, and travel books. It was the commonly accepted doctrine of the time and, indeed, the first apt to be explored in the advance of biology. What Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck both did was to apply a very ancient hypothesis, one might almost say a folk-belief, to the explanation of continuing organic change and modification. Lamarck, whose work is the most thoroughgoing, saw clearly the cumulative advantages of such change in the creation of the higher organisms. Right or wrong, there was nothing startlingly new about this -- all the originality lay in its application to evolution.
As Professor Gillispie has pointed out, Lamarck was a late eighteenth-century Deist. Evolution, in his eyes, "was the accomplishment of an immanent purpose to perfect the creation."  Thus in his thought the old fixed ladder of being had been transformed into an "escalator." Life, in simple forms, is constantly emerging, and, through its own inner perfecting principle or drive, it begins to achieve complexity and to ascend toward higher levels. In this way Lamarck accounted for the presence of simple forms of life at the present day. Except for the presence of the physical environment Lamarck seems to have felt that nature would arrange itself in a perfect ascending scale comparable to the old theologically conceived ladder of existence.
The physical environment, however, shifts with time and circumstance. This brings about changes in the life needs of the organism. The mutability of needs, argued Lamarck, brings about changes in behavior which in turn effect alterations of habit, which then by slow degrees involve the bodily structure of the organism. Because of this constant environmental adjustment the animal is diverted from achieving the pure, abstract perfection represented by the Scale of Being concept, and is forced into branching pathways of adjustment. The orang driven into the wilderness does not become man though he possesses this potentiality.
Certain conflicts in Lamarck's system were never totally resolved but need not concern us here. Both he and Erasmus Darwin placed, as we have seen, an emphasis upon volition, the "striving"' of the organism for survival and adjustment. Nevertheless, it should be noted that With the rise of the romantic element in the literature of the early nineteenth century both Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin came to be somewhat misinterpreted -- a misinterpretation which continues into the present.  Lamarck; in particular, has suffered from a certain obscurity of style and, in addition, from poor translation. It has been assumed that by constant, conscious wishing an organism secured the organ or bodily modification it desired. Actually neither of these early evolutionists meant this, but rather that the unconscious striving of the animal to adjust to the demands of the environment would promote physical modification and change through the use or disuse of organs. Professor Potter points out that the idea of conscious willing fitted the romantic transcendentalist doctrines of men like Emerson whose lines
And striving to be man the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form
are representative of the notion that the life force may consciously determine its own destiny. It would appear that Charles Darwin himself was somewhat influenced by these confused interpretations of Lamarck.V. Early Glimpses of Ecological Adaptation
If, now, in retrospect, we cast an eye backward we can make certain general observations. The struggle for existence was known throughout the century and it is well-nigh futile to attempt to assign this obvious and self-evident fact to a definite individual. It was, however, regarded essentially as a pruning device keeping species in dynamic balance and ensuring the survival of good healthy stock. To quote a few examples, Mathew Hale spoke of it in 1677, Rousseau was aware of it in 1755, Lamarck remarked that "We know ... it is the stronger and the better equipped that eat the weaker, and that the larger species devour the smaller." 
Since Lamarck's theory did not demand natural selection as its primary mechanism, however, he treated the subject as it was, namely, a generally accepted fact of natural history, but without the significance attached to it by biologists today. It was part of the natural evil of a world organized on the Scale of Being principle. Part of that philosophy included the assumption that God created up to the limit of His capacity which was infinite. Only by the "war of nature" could so many unlike forms of different habits and mutually contradictory natures exist. The very elements contended, and man, who at first glance seemed to have escaped this fate, struggled endlessly with his own kind. It is not necessary to have recourse to Malthus for this observation; it is omnipresent in the thought of the century.  Charles Darwin's later contribution lay, not in the application of the struggle for existence to the entire animal creation, but rather in his discovery that biological variation combined with the pruning hook of selective struggle might be the key to endless organic divergence.
If we examine the general status of evolution itself throughout the century, and the leading theological preconceptions which made up the intellectual climate of the times, it becomes easier to see why a society which was already practicing the selective breeding of plants and animals failed so signally, and for so long, to arrive at the heart of the Darwinian thesis. We have noted that the Scale of Nature doctrine implied fixity and instantaneous creation, even though there is a clear recognition of grades of organic complexity leading up to man and even beyond him. Nevertheless, naturalists, in actual practice, since the seventeenth century, had believed species capable of variation. It was assumed, however, without genuine proof, that these variations were restricted within certain limits. There was a type form of the species around which varieties might oscillate, but biological plasticity was circumscribed.  This notion accounted for the breeding successes of the gardener or pigeon fancier without raising serious issues which, in reality, could scarcely be faced until the fact of extinction and great geological age came to be accepted. The complex, interrelated web of life was appreciated long before Darwin, but the concentration on final ends, the theological argument for design in an immediate sense, was the really overpowering religious motif of the times. As a consequence of these factors natural selection, while recognized, was recognized only in a most limited sense.
One may venture that Lamarck, in particular, failed to grasp the possible significance of chance variation because he was unsure of extinction on any major scale. If he had been in a position to abandon the Scale of Nature concept sufficiently to accept the dying out of numerous species, Lamarck might have been led at least to consider some fortuitous element at work in life. Lacking this detailed knowledge of the past, but. observant of change in the invertebrates he studied, he came to the conclusion that the lost species were not dead but only changed into living species. Thus his conception of organic development appeared so directively controlled that chance and extinction could play, at best, but little part in it.
The grip of the design argument was still strong. In fact, both Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin may be said to have been engaged in altering the divine fixed plan of the Chain of Being, the universal hierarchy, into what Bell has called a "composite of particular wills," a kind of open competitive society.  It is unlikely that the two men consciously realized this fact but it was curiously reflective of what was occurring in the social world about them.
The reaction, in England, to the French Revolution was destined to sweep Erasmus Darwin's ideas out of fashion, reinstitute religious orthodoxy, and lead to the derogation of Lamarck as a "French atheist" whose ideas were "morally reprehensible." In the end a conspiracy of silence surrounded his work.  As has happened many times before in the history of thought, an idea had become the victim of social events and its re-emergence was to be delayed accordingly.
Looking back, however, we can still observe a reasonably steady march toward' a satisfactory evolutionary mechanism. Buffon had assumed direct organic change in response to climatic and similar environmental factors which was then inherited. Lamarck had denied that environment works direct changes. Instead, he contended it could do so only through altering the habits of the animal which, as we have seen, might then induce inheritable bodily changes. The views of Erasmus Darwin were similar.
In thus establishing the persistent adjustment of the animal to its environment both Lamarck and the elder Darwin were among the first to recognize the twofold ecological relationship between the organism and its environment -- that when the one was altered the living creature persistently responded. Moreover, Lamarck appears to have been the first to grasp the importance of the concept of use and disuse in their effect upon individual organs. Later on this was to be appropriated by Charles Darwin and fitted into his own evolutionary system.
As one sees Lamarck fumbling over the problem of extinction, one realizes that the single key to the past contained in the comparative morphology of the living was insufficient to prove the reality of evolution. The time voyagers had to have vast eons in which to travel and they had, like the earlier voyagers, to bring back the visible spoil of strange coasts to convince their unwilling contemporaries. It is to the three great navigators who solved the secrets of that unknown ocean to whom we will now turn.
1. Geoffroy Atkinson, The Extraordinary Voyage In French Literature before 1700, Columbia University Press, 1920, p. 58.
2. Geoffroy Atkinson, Les Relations de Voyoges Die XVII6 Siecle et L'evolution des Idees, Paris, n.d., p. 82 ff.
3. De Maillet, op. cit., English translation, London, 1750, p. 206.
4. R. W. T. Gunther, op. cit., p. 260.
5. Charles Singer, A Short History at Science, Oxford University Press, 1946, pp. 224-25.
6. Op. cit., p. 218.
7. Ibid., p. 225.
8. For an extended treatment of the early students of population see J. J. Spengler, French Predecessors of Malthus, Duke University Press. 1942.
9. Bentley Glass, "Maupertuis and the Beginnings of Genetics; Quarterly Review of Biology, 1947, Vol. 22, pp. 196-209.
10. Buffon's Natural History, London, 1812, Vol. 5, p. 88.
11. Ibid., pp. 128-29.
12. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 346.
13. Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 102.
14. Ibid., pp. 160-61.
15. Op. cit.. p. 162. (Italics mine. L.E.)
16. Ibid., Vol. 5. pp. 184-85.
17. Ibid.. p. 185. (Italics mine. L.E.)
18. Barr's Buffon, London. 1797. Vol. 2. p. 253.
19. Op. cit., 1812, Vol. 2, p. 337.
20. Ibid., p. 250.
21. Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 218.
22. Barr's Buffon, London, 1807, Vol. 9, p. 136.
23. Ibid., p. 137. Compare with Darwin's remark cited on p. 261.
24. Op. cit., 1812, Vol. 4, pp. 47-48.
25. See Theodore Gill, "The Principles of Zoogeography," Proceedings of the Biological Society Of Washington, 1884, Vol. 2, pp. 1- 39.
26. Bashford Dean. "Two Letters of Dr. Darwin: the Early Date of His Evolutional Writings," Science, 1906. n.s. Vol. 23. pp. 986-87.
27. Preface to the Zoonomia.
28. Compare with Buffon's phraseology cited on p. 39.
29. Zoonomia, Vol. 1, p. 572.
30. MLD, Vol. 1, p. 125.
31. Conway Zirkle, "The Early History of the Idea of Acquired Characters and of Pangenesis," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1946, n.s. Vol. 35, p. 111.
32. Charles C. Gillispie, "The Formation of Lamarck's Evolutionary Theory," Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Science, 1957, Vol. 9, pp. 323-38.
33. G. R. Potter, The Idea of Evolution in the English Poets from 1744 to 1832, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University, 1922, pp. 211-13.
34. Zoologicol Philosophy, Eng. translation, Macmillan, 1914, p. 54.
35. See A. O. Lovejoy, "Optimism and Romanticism," Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 1927, Vol. 42, pp. 930-33. An extensive discussion of this subject can be found in Conway Zirkle's "Natural Selection before the Origin of Species," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1941, Vol. 84, pp. 71-123.
36. H. A. Nicholson, Natural History: Its Rise and Progress in Britain, London, 1886, p. 243.
37. Charles G. Bell, "Mechanistic Replacement of Purpose in Biology," Philosophy of Science, 1948, Vol. 15, p. 47.
38. Norton Garfinkle. "Science and Religion in England 1790-1800," Journal of the History of Ideas, 1955, Vol. 16, pp. 387-88. Also Gillispie, op. cit., 1957.