Darwin's Century, by Loren Eiseley

Darwin's Century, by Loren Eiseley

Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:23 pm

Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It
by Loren Eiseley
© 1958 by Loren Eiseley




Table of Contents:

• Inside Cover
• I. The Age of Discovery
The Voyagers -- The Two Ladders and the Scale of Being -- The Baconian and Humanistic Traditions in Natural History -- Linnaeus -- The Fixity of Species
• II. The Time Voyagers
The Extraordinary Voyage -- Benoit de Maillet -- The Comte de Buffon -- Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck -- Early Glimpses of Ecological Adaptation
• III. The Pirate Chart
Time and Organic Change -- Pagan and Christian Time -- The Chart -- The Rise of Catastrophism -- James Hutton's World Machine and Uniformitarianism -- William Smith -- Cuvier: the Magician of the Charnel House
• IV. Progressionism and Evolution
Geological Prophecy -- Sir Charles Lyell and the Re-emergence of Uniformitarianism -- Non-progressionism
• V. The Minor Evolutionists
Branching Evolution -- William Wells -- Patrick Matthew and Robert Chambers
• VI. The Voyage of the Beagle
The Age of Giants -- The Influence of Erasmus Darwin -- Darwin's Intellectual Background -- The Voyage -- South America -- The Galapagos
• VII. The Making of the Origin
"The Bridgewater Treatises -- Darwin and Malthus -- The Law of Divergence -- The First Essay Attempts -- Darwin and Design -- Darwin and Lamarck
• VIII. The Priest Who Held the Key to Evolution
Gregor Mendel -- Pre-Mendelian Genetics -- Pangenesis -- Artificial Selection and the Evolutionists -- Mendel's Contribution -- Johannsen and Variation
• IX. Darwin and the Physicists
Kelvin and Residual Heat -- The Biological Retreat -- De Vries and Saltatory Evolution -- Time and Radioactivity
• X. The Reception of the First Missing Links
The Evolutionists Turn to Man -- Ape and Hottentot -- The Microcephali -- The Descent into the Past -- The Java Ape Man
• XI. Wallace and the Brain
The Darwinian Bias -- Alfred Russel Wallace -- Darwin and Human Evolution -- Degeneration or Development -- Wallace and Human Antiquity -- The Concept of Latency -- Brains and Time
• XII. Conclusion
Time: Cyclic and Historic -- The Pre-Darwinian Era -- The Struggle of the Parts -- Evolution and Human Culture -- The Role of Indeterminism
• Glossary
• Suggested Reading
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He who calls what has vanished back again into being, enjoys a bliss like that of creating.

-- Barthold Niebuhr


After their first listing, frequently mentioned sources are referred
to in the footnotes by the following code letters:

D Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. "Beagle," edited by Nora Barlow, Cambridge Univ., Press, 1933.

FO Foundations of the Origin of Species, edited by Francis Darwin, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1909.

JR Journal of Researches (1839), facsimile reprint of the first edition, Hafner Publishing Co., New York, 1952.

LLD Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, 3 vols., edited by Francis Darwin, London: John Murray, 1888.

LLH Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, 3 vols., edited by Leonard Huxley, Macmillan & Co., London, 1913.

LLL Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, 2 vols., edited by Mrs. Katherine Lyell, London: John Murray, 1881.

MLD More Letters of Charles Darwin, 2 vols., edited by Francis Darwin and A. C. Seward, London: John Murray, 1903.

N Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the "Beagle; edited by Nora Barlow, Philosophical Library, New York, 1946 (this book contains the rough notebooks kept by Darwin during the voyage).

O The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, reprint of the first edition, Philosophical Library, New York, 1951. (Unless otherwise indicated O will stand for this edition.)

PG Principles of Geology by Sir Charles Lyell, 4 vols., third edition, London: John Murray, 1834. (Unless otherwise indicated all references are to this edition.)

VAP Variations of Animals and Plants under Domestication by Charles Darwin, 2 vols., Orange Judd & Co., New York, 1868.

A glossary of certain technical terms used in this book will be found on page 353.


The author wishes to express his grateful appreciation to the Administration of the University of Pennsylvania for providing the leave of absence during which much of the writing of this book was done, to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research for financial encouragement, and to the American Philosophical Society for the opportunity to utilize its magnificent collection of Darwiniana, including the privilege of quoting from one unpublished letter.

For the Anchor edition I have made a few minor changes and drawn attention to my recent study of Edward Blyth. Otherwise the edition remains the same.

Loren Eiseley

The University of Pennsylvania
September 16, 1960
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:28 pm

Chapter I: The Age of Discovery

We saw as a sign we were nearing America some great birds like crows, but white with long tails.
-- Abraham Kendall, 1594

When we arrive at certain lands, newly discovered, the inhabitants we find are there scarce men; they are animals with human figures, and those sometimes imperfect, but almost without human reason ...
-- Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, 1686

I. The Voyagers

It has been remarked by historians that the discovery of the world by the great voyagers, and particularly their passage across the western seas, had made a tremendous impact upon the thought of Europe In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There was nothing recondite or obscure about the discoveries of the captains. The unlettered as well as the cultivated were stirred by new facts and speculations to an Increasing sophistication which spread by way of the ports and the tales of homing sailors. This broadening intellectual experience was shared by all western Europeans and it aided tremendously in ushering in the dawning age of science.

As an indirect consequence of this adventure the theory of evolution, vast in its implications as a new continent, was really, in essence, glimpsed through the fogs and sea wrack penetrated by the master mariners. Moreover, and most appropriately, it was to be a voyager- naturalist, Charles Darwin, later on in the nineteenth century, who would finally establish its reality. Like the fabulous western isles the idea would be coasted at first through dangerous intellectual waters. It would be termed a phantom, a figment of man's restless imagination. It would be labeled like a sea monster "blasphemous," "illusory," and "godless." Finally it would lie there under the lifting fogwisps which had so long .obscured the human vision, a country of wraiths and changelings among whom was to be accounted man himself. Time such as humanity had never dreamed before lay across that world. It was a land where water wore away the shapes of mountains, and the great bones and carapaces of vanished beasts lay hoar and rime-frosted in deep crevices and canyons.

This wild landscape was, by the twentieth century, utterly to possess the human mind. Christian thought had long contemplated eternity but it had been the shadowless, changeless eternity of God. Earthly time had been seen by comparison as the brief drama of the Fall and Redemption, the lowly world of Nature merely the stage setting for a morality play. "Time we may comprehend; wrote Sir Thomas Browne in the Religio Medici, "'tis but five days elder than ourselves, and hath the same Horoscope with the World." [1]

The tight little medieval domain, with its ark full of known animals and its Biblically accounted for humanity, was soon to find itself theologically at grips with a whole series of unexpected problems. Ostensibly the voyagers went to seek lands and riches but they saw with human eyes and they returned with observations which stimulated the curiosity of savants and stay-at-home thinkers. "We carry with us the wonders we seek without us: there is all Africa and her prodigies in us" defends Sir Thomas Browne again, and this is true. Nevertheless, the curious marvels over which he exclaims are, to a marked extent, the product of that subversive and elusive thought which has begun to reach even the sedentary scholar In his garden. Intruding into the devout world of Thomas Browne comes "another secret not contained In the Scripture, which is more hard to comprehend ... and that is ... how America abounded with Beasts of prey and noxious Animals, yet contained not In it that necessary Creature a Horse, is very strange. By what passage those, not only Birds, but dangerous and unwelcome Beasts, came over; how there be creatures there, which are not found in this Triple Continent; all which must needs be strange unto us, that hold but one Ark, and that the Creatures began their progress from the Mountains of Ararat."

Obviously the solution to this mystery lies in evolutionary radiation and organic change. The seventeenth century does not provide an appropriate answer but it is clear that the voyagers, bringing home accounts of East Indian orangutans and Cape Hottentots, along with strange seeds from the Americas and reports of the doings of Red Indians, are providing a new and mysterious universe for examination. Old explanations no longer hold, old philosophies are fraying at the edges.

Long before the eighteenth-century naturalists began to grope toward an explanation of the odd facts of animal distribution and variation, speculations such as the one I have just quoted from Sir Thomas Browne were destined to become widespread in European thought. It would not be long until all the Ingredients necessary to devise a working theory of evolution would be present In the literature. The emergence. of a true evolutionary philosophy would then wait only upon the abatement of religious prejudice and the appearance of a synthesizing mind capable of taking a great body of diverse data and relating it within the confines of a single abstraction.

First, however, as so often happens in the history of a scientific hypothesis, a series of compromises were bound to be attempted between older and more recent modes of thought. It is obvious that to fully understand the evolution of the evolutionary principle itself, one must examine the preceding intellectual climate out of which it arose. The various streams of thought which, pursuing separate channels, eventually merged as one in the mind of Charles Darwin have had an intricate and autonomous existence which is not fully revealed by a mere recital of dates and names. It is my hope, in the pages that follow, to recapture from the fossil world of documents some glimpses of the living shape of thought as it flows, mutates, and transforms itself from age to age. The task has about it some of the same fascination which comes to those who pursue the related forms of animals downward through the ever lengthening vistas of the past.

To some degree it is inevitable that we should share with the paleontologist the vexation of lost documents and disconnected phylogenies. For this reason I have not attempted to treat of the speculative evolutionary philosophy of early Greek writers, nor to pursue the distantly related alchemical thinking of the Arabs. What is known of these matters has been adequately treated in the works of other authors. In this book we shall be concerned only with the last three centuries which, as I have intimated, afford us our major clues to the nature and development of the evolutionary philosophy. My treatment of the subject does not purport to be a history of biology in general. It is directed only toward the main theme and, in two chapters, is concerned particularly with problems which arose in the field of human evolution.

If I have touched lightly upon certain familiar names such as Thomas Huxley, it has not been out of neglect or ignorance, but simply because their story was not germane to the particular line of thought being followed in this work. At the risk of being deliberate and pedestrian, I have chosen to follow the intellectual currents which produced the major evolutionary synthesis and, by patient and detailed analysis, to perceive from whence and under what conditions \:hat complex of ideas known as Darwinism has emerged. I am under no illusion that the story has been fully told. I will be satisfied if there is added to the general store of our knowledge a glimpse of the ingredients which crystallized into a new thought pattern which lies at the root of Western thinking. The period after nineteen hundred is really a separate problem in itself, complex, many-sided and demanding lengthy individual treatment. To that period, as time may permit, I contemplate devoting a second volume.

II. The Two Ladders and the Scale of Being

There are two main ways by which the transmutations of organic substance, or, as we would say today, the evolution of life, can be approached: through the living world around us or by means of the record of the fossil past which is preserved, albeit fragmentarily, within the sedimentary rocks of the planet. There is, in other words, a ladder backward into time which involves the careful anatomical comparison of existing forms of life at various levels of complexity, and the use of such information in attempting to work out the major physiological and anatomical advances in the history of life. The other ladder by which we descend into the past is that of paleontology itself, the analysis, again by comparative anatomy, of the organic remains of all those once living orders which have left bones or impressions of their bodies encased in the substance of ancient land surfaces or sea bottoms. There are, of course, accessory approaches to the problem to be derived from such studies as animal and plant distributions and from embryology, that science which concerns itself with the development of the single individual from the time of his conception. Essentially, however, all of these methods are in some degree dependent upon our two major techniques: the analysis of the living organism In order that we may extrapolate Into the past, and the use of the fossilized organism to determine the actual life of the past Thus we are able In some degree to check the findings of comparative anatomy as it philosophizes from the living animal alone.

As we survey the course of scientific history it would appear Inevitable that the present world would have given man his first clues to the history of life. Yet it is interesting to observe that only the existence In the West of a certain type of theological philosophy caused men to look upon the world around them In a way, or In a frame, that would prepare the Western mind for the final acceptance of evolution. Strange though it may sound, it was a combination of Judeo-Greek ideas, amalgamated within the medieval church itself, which were to form part of the foundation out of which finally arose, In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time: the recovery of the lost history of life, and the demonstration of its total interrelatedness. This achievement, however, waited upon the transformation of a static conception of nature into a dynamic one. It was just this leaven which the voyagers supplied with their unheard-of animals, and apes that were scarcely distinguishable from savage men.

Widespread In the literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and easily traceable Into earlier periods, is the theological doctrine known variously as the Scala Naturae, Chain of Being, echelle des etre, Ladder of Perfection, and by other similar titles. Before the doctrine and its history were subjected to careful analysis In Professor A. O. Lovejoy's masterly volume The Great Chain of Being (1942), several well-intentioned but historically naive scholars, coming upon expressions of this philosophy In eighteenth-century literature, had mistakenly multiplied the number of Darwin's forerunners. It behooves us to examine this philosophy carefully, for if we think of our first approach, the living ladder into the past, this philosophy will be found to equate quite satisfactorily with the Scale of Being concept. There can be little doubt that the rise of comparative anatomy is inextricably linked to the history of the Chain of Being concept with its gradations of complexity in living forms. In making this observation, however, we have to keep in mind one salient fact. Strange though it may sound to a modem evolutionist this gradation of organisms implied nothing in the way of phylogenetic relationship. Equally it implied nothing in the way of evolutionary transformations and it specifically denied the possibility that any organism could become extinct. The whole scheme was as rigidly fixed as the medieval social world itself. Indeed it is to some degree a powerful mental projection of that world.

"There is in this Universe a Stair," continues Browne, "rising not disorderly, or in confusion, but with a comely method and proportion." And since the Scale of Nature runs from minerals by insensible degrees upward through the lower forms of life to man, and beyond him to purely spiritual existences like the angels, ourselves, compounded of both dust and spirit, become "that great and true Amphibium, whose nature is disposed to live ... in divided and distinguished worlds." We exist, in short, in both the material and spiritual universes. In this respect Homo duplex, as he was sometimes called, occupies a place on the scale of life as a link between the animal and spiritual natures. Man suffers from this division and it contributes to his ofttimes confused and contradictory behavior.

If, however, this serried array of living forms does not denote a physical phylogenetic connection, what can it be said to represent? It is just here that we enter upon the very real differences which exist between the recognition of grades of complexity in nature and the assumption that a lower level of complexity evolves physically into that of a higher -- that an ape, by way of illustration, may evolve into a man. The scholars of the eighteenth century recognized quite well that the ape stood next to man on the Scale of Nature, but they did not find this spectacle as appalling as a nineteenth-century audience listening to Thomas Huxley. There was a very simple reason for this: The Scala Naturae in its pure form asserts the immutability of species. The entire chain of life is assumed to have been created in its present order when God by creative fiat brought the universe out of chaos.

As we remarked earlier the scale is static. Creation is not considered as still in progress. Thus the resemblances between living things are not the result of descent with modification but rather are the product of the uniformity and continuity of the divine act. Since the world was assumed by theologians and scientists alike to be only a few thousand years old, the question of evolution could arise only with the greatest difficulty. There was literally not time enough for such a creation. Theologically it was also held that animal species could not become extinct. By and large, men eyed askance the notion that a whole order of life could disappear. Such piecemeal disappearances from the Scale of Nature seemed to threaten the confidence reposed in divine providence.

As time went on, evidences for the past existence of organisms no longer to be found on the planet began to be brought forward but were received with obvious reluctance. Few wished to believe the reports and their reception was not encouraging. Since knowledge of some parts of the world was scant, even well into the eighteenth century, one favorite resort was to accept the disappearance of certain forms of life in Europe but with the proviso that the creatures probably still survived in remote areas of the earth.

It was a convenient evasion of a question which had theological overtones. For just this reason, however, the often mentioned reports of mammoths surviving into colonial times in interior North America have to be viewed with great skepticism. The intellectual climate of the times promoted and encouraged such accounts. Always the creatures lay just a little farther on, first in the Virginia woods, or in Labrador, then deeper into the interior or "across the lakes." They were heard bellowing in the woods, or seen grazing on the plains of South America. In no case, however, is the documentation satisfactory, nor were hides or tusks from recent beasts shipped home to adorn the cabinets of eager scientists. With the acceptance of the idea of total and successive extinctions of past faunas at the dawn of the nineteenth century the sporadic reports of living mammoths or mastodons began to fade. It must also be remembered in this connection that until the 'great age of the world and its successive strata were grasped, no great antiquity could be attributed even to fossil bones.

It remains a curious episode in the history of science that the Scale of Nature doctrine which denied extinction should at the same time have encouraged the comparative anatomical observations which would eventually lead to the discovery of extinction. Even more important, the idea of phylogenetic relationship along the scale of life would emerge almost simultaneously. The attention which perfectly orthodox thinkers were encouraged to give to the ascending ladder of being, their eagerness to trace every degree of continuous relationship in the productions of the divine being, their zealous efforts to show that the apparent missing links in the scale could be found, enormously stimulated the study of taxonomy and variation.

All that the Chain of Being actually needed to become a full-fledged evolutionary theory was the introduction into it of the conception of time in vast quantities added to mutability of form. It demanded, in other words, a universe not made but being made continuously. It is ironic and intriguing that the fixed hierarchical order in biology began to pass almost contemporaneously with the disappearance of the feudal social scale in the storms of the French Revolution. It was France, whose social system was dissolving, that produced the first modern evolutionists. As we look back upon the long reign of the Scale of Being, whose effects, as we shall later see, persisted well into the nineteenth century, we may observe that the seed of evolution lay buried in this traditional metaphysic which indeed prepared the Western mind for its acceptance. "Thus disguised and protected," writes Lois Whitney, "did the hypothesis of evolution have, as it were, a happy seed time, a period in which to germinate and take root, before the orthodox world scented the danger." [2]

III. The Baconian and Humanistic Traditions in Natural History

The documents of the early naturalists contain scattered observations generally left undeveloped by their originators. One finds, for example, that it was apparently Sir Francis Bacon who first proposed the idea that the peoples of Holarctica, that is, the northern circumpolar land mass, tended to dominate the southern areas of the planet because they had greater ruggedness and endurance than the people of the southern continents. Whether he ever realized it or not, Charles Darwin made use of precisely this same idea, extended on a broader evolutionary scale, to account for the frequent dominance of northern faunas over southern ones at such times as faunal movements radiated in a north-south direction. This has appeared often to be the case in Tertiary and Quaternary times, northward movements from southern faunal centers seeming, with occasional exceptions, to be less successful.

Here are Bacon's own words from his essay "Of Vicissitudes of Things" written most probably in the last decade of the sixteenth century: "But North and South are fixed: And it hath seldome or never been seene, that the farre Southern People have invaded the Northern, but contrariwise. Whereby it is manifest, that the Northern Tract of the World, is in Nature the more Martiall Region: Be it in respect of the Stars of that Hemisphere; Or of the great Continents that are upon the North, whereas the South Part, for ought that is known, is al. most all Sea; Or (which is most apparent) of the Cold of the Northern Parts, which is that which without Aid of Discipline, doth make the Bodies hardest, and the Courages warmest."

Charles Darwin's interpretation, unchanged from the first edition of the Origin to the last, runs as follows: "I suspect that this preponderant migration from north to south is due to the greater extent of land in the north, and to the northern forms having existed in their own homes in greater numbers, and having consequently been advanced through natural selection and competition to a higher stage of perfection, or dominating power, than the southern forms," [3] Though this. is said in a context referring to plant life Darwin makes it very clear in later editions that "the same principles apply to the distribution of terrestrial animals and of marine productions," My intention in aligning these two quotations is not, of course, to derive Darwin's biology from Bacon, but to give at least a glimpse of the antiquity of some of the ideas which needed only to be developed and elaborated in order to take a legitimate place in an evolutionary system of thought. Darwin, as a matter of fact, is far more apt to have taken his idea of "polar dominance" from Lyell's Principles of Geology upon which he drew so much. Lyell argued that the cooling state of the earth in recent geo logical times had stimulated a faunal movement in a north-south direction. [4]

Ideas of this character-ideas without which an evolutionary theory could never have been constructed-are surprisingly numerous in the literature of the seventeenth century. In many instances they are confined to a paragraph or so, as when the astronomer Christian Huygens in his posthumous work The Celestial Worlds Discovered (1698) recognizes the principles of comparative anatomy. He is arguing for the likelihood of life basically resembling ours on other planets and, to make his point, he draws on the analogy of the new world of America, "Who doubts; he contends, "but that God, if he had pleased, might have made the animals in America and other distant countries nothing like ours? Yet we see he has not done it."

"They have indeed some difference in Shape; he goes on, "but even in this Variety there is an Agreement, an exact Correspondence in Figure and Shape, the same ways of Growth and new Productions, and of continuing their own kind. Their Animals have Feet and Wings like ours, and like ours have Hearts, Lungs, Guts, and the Parts serving to Generation.... 'Tis plain then that Nature has not exhibited that Variety in her Works that she could...." Pondering at some length over these morphological similarities which yet contain a shade of difference -- "an Argument of no small Weight that is fetched from Relation and Likeness" -- we can see Huygens's thought revolving, all unknowingly, about a mystery which will be resolved only in the Darwinian maxim "descent with modification."

If we return a moment to Sir Thomas Browne whose felicity of phrase so well reveals the cultivated thinking of his era, we find him speaking of two books, two revelations, which have contributed to his religious life. "Besides that written one of God," he speaks of another, Nature, "that Universal and publick Manuscript, that lies expans'd unto the eyes of all: those that never saw him in the one, have discovered him in the other. There was never anything ugly or misshapen, but the Chaos; he continues thoughtfully as he runs a contemplative eye over a toad, a bear, and an elephant "All things are artificial," and "Nature is the art of God." Here, superlatively expressed, is the tolerant and inquiring spirit which, arising out of a growing interest in the natural world, was eventually to soften the harsh orthodoxy of those who regarded the earth and its products as vile. In this view is incorporated that argument from design which reaches a culmination in the Bridgewater Treatises of the early nineteenth century. In Browne's work, however, this philosophy lacks the narrow anthropocentrism which it acquired at the hands of less gifted and more orthodox thinkers.

In English thought since the time of Bacon two in influences have been paramount in the study of living nature. One stems directly from the purely scientific and experimental approach of Bacon, the subjection of nature "to the question," in the grim phrase of the Lord Chancellor. The other more gracious, humane tradition descends through John Ray and Gilbert White, two parson-naturalists, to the literary observers of later centuries, men such as Thoreau and Hudson. The two streams have at times mingled, influenced and affected each other but they have remained in some degree apart in method and in outlook. Though Darwin is generally claimed by the scientists, it is worthy of note that he did not remain uninfluenced by, the literary tradition in natural history which is so strong in England. He was a devoted reader of Gilbert White and once commented to his friend Jenyns that it was a pity foreign periodicals showed no interest in this type of anecdotal natural history. [5] There is little doubt that he received the initial stimulus for his earthworm studies from The Natural History of Selborne (1789) and his debt may be even more extensive. It has not been generally remarked by students of Darwin's Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication that in 1780 White expressed to his friend Pennant the opinion that the small blue rock pigeon is the ancestral prototype of the domestic varieties of this bird. This hypothesis, greatly elaborated by Darwin as part of his marshaling of evidence bearing upon evolution, occurs in both the Origin and in his later treatise upon domestication. Darwin does not claim originality in respect to his views on the subject and we may well suspect that White's comments did not go unstudied when Darwin was combing the biological literature for proofs of his theory.

It is to the labors of innumerable scholars of White's "observational abilities that we owe the accumulation of detail which led eventually to the erection of the major evolutionary hypothesis. Note that in the case we have been discussing there is already a clear recognition of organic variation within the domain of a single species. One hundred and fifty years earlier Browne, musing over his own palm prints, had discovered that "which I could never read of nor discover in another." The wonder of individual variation had struck him. "Even in things alike there is diversity." Genetics was as yet unborn but its essence is contained within that simple statement.

An earlier and greater parson-naturalist than White, [6] John Ray (1627-1705), was a contemporary of Browne. Ray was one of the leading naturalists of the seventeenth century and not least among those whose attempts to class sify and describe the living world were a necessary prelude to the discovery of organic evolution. [7]

An orderly and classified arrangement of life was an absolute necessity before the investigation of evolution, or even its recognition, could take place. Before life and its changes and transmutations can be pursued into the past, the orders of complexity in the living world must be thoroughly grasped. Comparative anatomy must have reached a point of development sufficient to permit the scientist to distinguish a living animal from one no longer in existence. Moreover, the naturalist must be able to recognize affinity and relationship in the midst of difference. He must be able to observe the likeness which reveals the interrelatedness of life across the gulf of time and yet, equally, pointing to distinctions of detail, the student must be able to say "here change is evident." Knowledge of this degree of sophistication could not come in a day. As the great Swedish taxonomist Linnaeus was to remark later, "The first step of science is to know one thing from another. This knowledge consists in their specific distinctions; but in order that it may be fixed and permanent distinct names must be given to different things, and those names must be recorded and remembered." [8] John Ray was a modem in his search for a natural system of classification based upon clear structural affinities.

In this respect Ray anticipated and influenced Linnaeus. Moreover, in his emphasis upon "natural system," in his concern with behavior, he had perhaps a more far-ranging philosophic mind than his successor. He not only helped make possible the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus: he was also the forerunner of Gilbert White, of Paley's Natural Theology and finally of the Origin of Species. The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation (1691), his best-known and most popular work, created a pattern which, in its attempt to expound the mysterious laws of life and co-ordinate a wide range of phenomena, is still to be found in innumerable books of both a vitalistic and mechanistic nature right down to our own day.

In the last decade of his life, writing to his friend Lhwyd (1695) over some puzzling fern leaf impressions in stone, he hesitates and confesses that such an exact similarity to real plants seems hardly ascribable to chemical accident. Sincere Christian that he was, there is a touch of pathos in his penetrating vision of what the full acceptance of the real meaning of fossils might mean to the devout. The consequences, Ray saw, might well result in challenging the whole Christian cosmology as it was then understood. Fossils might raise questions as to the antiquity of the world and the duration of species. "Whatever may be said for ye Antiquity of the Earth itself and bodies lodged in it," Ray argued, retreating from the abyss, "ye race of mankind is new." [10] Nevertheless, he broods a little. He had premonitions that would return to haunt Linnaeus long years later.

IV. Linnaeus

Linnaeus shares, with the Comte de Buffon, whom we will consider in the next chapter, the distinction of being a phenomenon rather than a man. This achievement, though it demands great energies and unusual ability, is, in reality, dependent upon the psychological attitudes of a given period. The genius must receive extraordinary support and co-operation in intellectual circles. Linnaeus wrote and flourished in a time when the educated public had become fascinated with the word, the delight in sheer naming. The natural world, the world of the voyagers, was being described, oriented, classified -- and suddenly, for no clearly apparent reason, the public wanted to participate in the process. It wanted to send packets of seeds to its hero, Carl Linnaeus. It wanted to hear him pronounce a new rolling Latin name to which, if one were lucky, one might find one's own attached.

He was the inspiration of young men like Peter Kalm who, as one of his American correspondents wrote to Linnaeus, "has undergone such great difficulties in travelling through a great part of this vast forest, and risked such dangers in his person from its savage inhabitants, that ... his zeal cannot be sufficiently applauded." [11] Another enthusiast writing from the island of Madeira complains that "all the rare plants grow either on high cliffs near the sea or in horrible deep chasms." [12] Ships fail to make port; precious plants wither in the months of endless voyaging; there are other dangers. "Dr. John Mitchel," reports Linnaeus in 1746, "is returned from Virginia, where he has been closely occupied for six years in collecting plants; but he was plundered in his voyage home by Spanish pirates, to the great misfortune of Botany," [13] In London the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson confided prophetically to the master, "We are very fond of all branches of Natural History; they sell the best of any books in England." [14] In the great parks of English noblemen plants from around the world were beginning to grow, plants and even occasionally animals which had been collected in the gloom of the American forests and nursed homeward in the cabins of rough sea captains. It was at last the full if early morning of the scientific age. All over the world the night was passing and strange beautiful plants were opening their flowers to the sun. In that time of unfolding beauty the purpose of science was still largely to name and marvel. In that art there was none to surpass Carolus Linnaeus.

In 1707, two years after the aged and infirm John Ray had died at Black Notley, Linnaeus was born in southern Sweden. It was a time of marked English influence in Sweden. Many young men of family journeyed to London, and English philosophy and science exerted great influence upon Swedish culture. Linnaeus, being in modest circumstances, took his medical degree in Holland, where he came in contact with the great Dutch scientist Hermann Boerhaave and launched the first edition of his best-known work, the Systema Naturae, in 1735. In 1736 he visited England and made a solid acquaintanceship in learned circles. From that time onward his prestige in English science was enormous -- a genuine mass phenomenon. As his recent biographer Knut Hagberg remarks, "The greatest distinction an Englishman -- whether amateur or academically qualified -- could dream of at that time was to be mentioned in one of Linnaeus's works, and to that end they sent him innumerable suggestions for the alteration of the classification of species in Systema Naturae." [15] That the personal charm of the man contributed to the regard in which he was held, there can be no doubt. When we consider, however, that his influence reached into the New World among men who had never seen him and, moreover, that this adulation persisted into his old age so that upon his death in 1778 he was borne to the tomb like a king, it is evident that he had become in some strange manner the symbol of science itself. Not least among the ironies of Linnaeus's career is the fact that he whose taxonomy had, before his death, come to stand for the sure fixity and eternal order of relationships in the world of life should have entertained discreet doubts as to its reality.

Because Linnaeus became known to the English reader as a taxonomist, as the creator of a system of ordered relationships, much of the poetry of his nature -- his Whitmanesque love of the incredible variety of life -- has escaped attention. Few of his great heaps of manuscripts and only some of his letters have been translated. It was basically this poetic hunger of the mind to experience personally every leaf, flower, and bird that could be encompassed in a single life which explains his gigantic labors. He was the naming genius par excellence, a new Adam in the world's great garden, drunk with the utter wonder of creation. This is revealed in miscellaneous notes and jottings where, like a poet, he catalogues. for the rich joy of the words. "American falcons, divers kinds of parrots, pheasants, peacocks, guinea fowl, American capercaillie, Indian hens, swans, many different kinds of ducks and geese, gulls and other web-footed birds, snipe, American crossbills, sparrows of divers kinds, turtle doves, and other doves together with various other species of birds, with whose cries the garden resounded." [16]

Similarly it is the poet brooding over time and destiny who writes this eulogy for the great botanists: "For even if knowledge of the true and original Tree of Life, which could have postponed the arrival of old age, is lost, the plants nevertheless remain and renew their flowers, and with gratitude enduring through the years they shall always exhale the sweet memory of your names, and make them more lasting than marble, so that they will outlive those of kings and heroes. For riches vanish, the most stately mansions fall into decay, the most prolific families die out sooner or later: the mightiest states and the most flourishing kingdoms may be overthrown: but the whole of nature must be obliterated before the genera of plants disappear and he be forgotten who held the torch aloft in botany." [17]

"The plants remain and renew their flowers" -- in those simple words is the nostalgia and melancholy of a man who, even at the height of his success, knew with preternatural insight that, as he himself wrote, "fate is always against great things." Perhaps he felt, in those lines written to a far-off captain bringing him seeds, a premonition of the future -- his own lapse into senile dementia and the blurring of the sharply precise and ordered system of taxonomy which had been his vision when he wrote the Systema Naturae.

It was Linnaeus's fate to stand on the threshold of the modern world, in fact to spend the better part of his life constructing that threshold, that entrance, to new vistas he would never see. As we have seen, the same year that he went to Holland to complete his medical degree Linnaeus published the first edition of the Systema Naturae. At that time it was only a summary digest of the extensive treatise it was later to become. Coincident with his rise to scientific fame and fortune, he succeeded in later editions of the Systema and other works in imposing the now well-known system of binominal nomenclature upon the scientific public. The naming of plants and animals before Linnaeus had been confused, unsystematic, and verbose. This is not to say that Linnaeus had not been influenced by his forerunners. He knew the work of Ray who had sought to distinguish species from larger indefinite groups and who had seen fully the necessity of rules of nomenclature. But his was the fortunate psychological moment and he had his way. Others had used such ideas before him but never with such pertinacity or success with the public.

Animals and plants were denoted by two names. The first, generic, was such as to indicate a general group of creatures visibly related, such as all doglike forms, for example. The second adjectival name denoted a restricted specific group, a species, as the wolf among canids -- thus Canis lupus. He also recognized larger divisions such as classes and orders. As might be expected in any pioneering attempt, his botanical classification, based largely on the sexual parts, is not totally successful. Artificial systems of arrangement were in contrast to the "natural system" through comparative anatomy which had been sought by Ray.

It should be explained that an artificial system of classification is one in which a single organ -- as in the case of the sexual parts of plants -- is taken as a standard by which to classify a living group. The danger in such a system lies in the fact that some adaptive variation in the particular organ being used as the standard for classification may result in a particular plant's being wrongly classified. A natural system, on the other hand, takes account of all the organ systems and avoids arbitrary arrangements. Since the rise of evolution, taxonomical efforts in both zoology and botany have striven to determine affinity, that is, the relationship of any given group of plants or animals to a common ancestor. This, of course, was not clearly grasped by the first taxonomists.

Nevertheless, it must be said in justice to Linnaeus that as early as 1737 he had commented in a letter to Haller: "I have never spoken of that [his sexual system of botanical arrangement] as a natural method; on the contrary, in my Systema ... I have said, 'No natural botanical sys tem has as yet been constructed, though one or two may be more so than others; nor do I contend that this system is by any means natural.... Meanwhile, till that is discovered, artificial systems are indispensable: And in the preface to my Genera Plantarum, sect. 9: "I do not deny that a natural method is preferable, not only to my system, but to all that have been invented...." [18]

That pure naming and systems of classification got a little out of hand and took on a one-sided emphasis which persisted well into the nineteenth century need not be attributed solely to Linnaeus. He rose to fame in a period of great wonder and eagerness, to explore and catalogue the products of far lands. New words were pouring into European speech. The name was all and Linnaeus, with his gift for precise definition, with his exquisite taste for order, was providing the framework necessary to science before science could proceed to other things.

Further, if Linnaeus pursued the name, the name in its own way led to things no man could foresee. It was in his time, and owing greatly to his influence, that naturalists began to be apportioned posts on voyages of exploration. Cook's voyage on the Endeavor in 1768, to which Sir Joseph Banks contributed so heavily, is a case in point. It set the pattern which led eventually to Darwin's voyage on the Beagle. A letter from John Ellis, another of the English collectors, to Linnaeus in the year the Endeavor sailed speaks volumes on what Linnaeus had done for science, "No people ever went to sea better fitted for the purpose of Natural History," he writes, "nor more elegantly. They have got a fine library of Natural History; they have all sorts of machines for catching and preserving insects; all kinds of nets, trawls, drags, and hooks for coral fishing; they have even a curious contrivance of a telescope by which, put into the water, you can see the bottom to a great depth, where it is clear. They have many cases of bottles with ground stoppers, of several sizes, to preserve animals in spirits. They have the several sorts of salts to surround the seeds; and wax, both beeswax and that of Myrica; besides, there are many people whose sole business it is to attend them for this very purpose. They have two painters and draughtsmen, several volunteers who have a tolerable notion of Natural History; in short Solander [19] assured me this expedition would cost Mr. Banks ten thousand pounds. All this is owing to you and your writings." [20] (Italics mine. L.E.)

Linnaeus was not the uninspired drudge that men began to. regard him after the naming mania had passed. For him, as for all Christians of his era, there had been one act of creation. The modem species were as fixed as on the sixth day of God's labor. But he glimpsed, more than his fellows, the wonderful pattern of creation, the unities as well as the diversities of form that existed in the mind of God. Inspired by him men would die of fevers in Africa, or perish under the knives of Abyssinian bandits, .be pounded among the wreckage on coral reefs, or wander in the cloudland of unmapped mountains. It was for the name, his students thought, the beautiful order and arrangement of the living, the glimpse, as Linnaeus himself once expressed it, into the secret cabinet of God. But to the master himself in later years there must have come secretive glimpses of a wilder and more awe-inspiring wilderness than any through which the boldest of his students scrambled.

In erecting his classificatory system in such a manner as to cover the whole range of life he was unconsciously forecasting the possibility of its physical relationship. Curiously enough, though he had been quick to express the view that there were no new species, and this view in turn had been taken up and reiterated with great confidence in theological circles, there is clear evidence that he later came to doubt his own statements but by then was held fast in a doctrine at least partially of his own making.

V. The Fixity of Species

Scientists have long accused the church of holding back, by its preconceived beliefs, the progress of the evolutionary philosophy. The matter is actually more complicated than this:" Science, in the establishment of species as a fixed point from which to examine the organic world, gave to the concept a precision and fixity which it did not originally possess. Categories of plant and animal life, as we have previously observed, did not, in earlier centuries, possess the clarity that they began to take on at the hands of Ray and Linnaeus. Ail one astute but anonymous writer observed over fifty years ago: "Until the scientific idea of 'species' acquired form and distinctness there could be no dogma of 'special' creation in the modern sense. This form and distinctness it did not possess until the naturalists of the seventeenth century began to substitute exactness of definition for the previous vague characterizations of the objects of nature." [21]

As scientific delight and enthusiasm over the naming of new species grew with the expanding world of the voyagers, the conviction of the stability and permanence of the living world increased. Strict definition, so necessary to scientifically accurate analysis, led in the end to the total crystallization of the idea of order. It is true, as we have observed earlier, that the notion of the fixed Scale of Being and the Christian conception of time, as well as the Biblical account of Creation, all tended to discount the evolutionary hypothesis, but, ironically enough, it was Linnaeus with his proclamation that species were absolutely fixed since the beginning who intensified the theological trend. His vast prestige in both scientific and cultivated circles made it assured that his remarks would be heeded. Henceforth the church would take the fixity of species for granted. Science, in its desire for classification and order, had found itself satisfactorily allied with a Christian dogma whose refinements it had contributed to produce.

Yet no sooner had Linnaeus proclaimed his dogma than, while working in the botanical gardens of his patron Clifford at Hartecamp, he grew aware of the modem ·sportiveness" of nature. He saw varieties appear spontaneously, he saw "abnormal" plants derived from normal ones. Like Ray before him, but perhaps more clearly, he was forced to distinguish between the true species of the Creator and the varietal confusion and disorder of the moment, which might be artificially manipulated by the skill of gardeners. In this way he attempted to cling to his original thesis. He had assumed that all species come from original pairs created on a small island which, in the beginning, had constituted the only dry land, the original Eden of the world.

As one pursues this subject through his multitudinous writings and the ever mounting editions of the Systema Naturae one can trace a growing uncertainty and doubt. He sees the possibility of new species arising through crossbreeding. He confesses that he dare not decide ·whether all these species are the children of time, or whether the Creator from the very beginning of the world had restricted this course of development to a definite number of species." [22] He cautiously removes from later editions of the Systema the statement that no new species can arise. The fixity of species, the precise definition of the term, is no longer secure. "Nullae species novae" had been accepted by the world, but to the master taxonomist who had drawn the lines of relationship with geometric precision all was now wavering toward mutability and formlessness. Only the natural orders now seemed stable. What this actually might have meant to Linnaeus who had placed man along with monkeys in his order of the Primates, it is far too late to determine satisfactorily, but that he toyed with ideas of strange animal mixtures and permutations we know.

There is something awe-inspiringly symbolic about the stroke that destroyed his mental competence. It savors of the divine nemesis of which he had once written and long feared. He who in youth had beheld the beautiful radiating lines of life gleam for an instant like a spider web on a dew-hung morning glimpsed a truth which, as is true of so much human knowledge, was also an illusion. The rainbow bridge to the city of the gods had vanished, leaving an old, memoryless man. The passionate cataloguer of the Systema Naturae no longer knew his book. Finally, and most dreadful fate of all, there passed away from that proud, world-famous man the knowledge even of his own name. There remained in his garden only the dried husk of an old plant among new flowers reaching for the sun.



1. Religio Medici, 1635.

2 Primitivism and the Idea of Progress, Baltimore, 1934, p. 158.

3. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, New York: Philosophical Library, 1951, Chap. 2.

4. Sir Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, Vol. 3, 3rd ed., London, 1834, pp. 84-85.

5. More Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. by Francis Darwin and A. C. Seward, London: John Murray, 1903, Vol. 1, p. 55.

6. Ray was not, of course, so beautiful a stylist as White.

7. Charles E. Raven, John Ray, Naturalist: His Life and Works, Cambridge University Press. 1943.

8. Sir James Edward Smith, A Selection of the Correspondence of Linnaeus and Other Naturalists from the Original Manuscripts. London, 1821, Vol. 2, p. 460.

9. Charles E. Raven, John Ray, Naturalist, p. 452 ff.

10. Robert Gunther, Further Correspondence of John Ray, London, 1928, p. 260.

11. Sir James Edward Smith, A Selection of the Correspondence of Linnaeus and Other Naturalists, London, 1821, Vol. 2, p. 458.

12. Ibid., p. 561.

13. Ibid., p. 399.

14. Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 18-19.

15. Carl Linnaeus, London: Jonathan Cape, 1952, p. 159.

16. Cited from Hagberg, op. cit., p. 100.

17. Hagberg, op. cit., p. 10.

18. J. E. Smith, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 232.

19. Solander was a student and protege of Linnaeus.

20. J. E. Smith. op. cit., Vol. I, p. 231.

21. "Lamarck, Darwin and Weismann," The Living Age, 1902, Vol. 235. p. 519.

22. Cited by Hagberg, op. cit., p. 202.
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Chapter II: The Time Voyagers

The geographical novelties of the earth .... are now exhausted. Our voyages of discovery have become time voyages.
-- Wyndham Lewis

I. The Extraordinary Voyage

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. [1]

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. [2] 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." [3]

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." [4]

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. [5]

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." [6]

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." [7] 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. [8]

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. [9] 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...." [10]

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...." [12] 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." [13]

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...." [14]

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." [15] 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." [16] "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." [17] 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." [18]

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. [19]

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." [20] 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 ...?" [21] 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." [22] 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." [23]

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." [24] 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. [25] 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. [26] 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." [27] 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, [28] 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!" [29] 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." [30] 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." [31] 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." [32] 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. [33] 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." [34]

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. [35] 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. [36] 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. [37] 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. [38] 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.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:31 pm


Chapter III: The Pirate Chart

The locks are rusty; the keys no longer fit, in the mould of time they have become useless.
-- Max

I. Time and Organic Change

From the viewpoint of the historian of evolution the early decades of the nineteenth century are difficult to organize. Seemingly unrelated events, diverse scientific discoveries, industrial trends, and religious outlook can all, in historical perspective, be observed to revolve in a moment of seeming heterogeneity before they crystallize into a new pattern with Darwinism at the center. It is like looking into a chemical retort which is about to produce. some rare and many-sided crystal. One moment everything is in solution; there is a potentiality, no more -- and yet in the next instant a shape has appeared out of nowhere. It is difficult, as we have seen, to assess how much the men of this period influenced each other, for they were active contemporaries and, in many instances, were putting forth their views, either verbally or in letters, long before these were formally published. There is inevitable, therefore, a certain arbitrary quality in the assignment of honors though the leading books and thinkers are well enough known.

The thinkers of the eighteenth century were devoted to their correspondence. Much of what today goes quickly into scientific journals passed back and forth in letters and often did not formally emerge for decades. More than one original idea remained in manuscript until it was finally expressed by someone else. Since letters are less often preserved than published documents, a period such as we are discussing has more than its share of tantalizing minor mysteries even though, for the purposes of formal history, they are pretty generally ignored. Having taken note of our historic limitations I now intend in the pages that follow to examine the question of time in the pre-Darwinian era. No theory of evolution can exist without an allotment of time in generous quantities. Yet it is just this factor which was denied to the questing scientist by the then current Christian cosmology. A change as vast as that existing between the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems of the heavens had to be effected in Western thinking upon the subject of time before one could even contemplate the possibility of extensive organic change; the one idea is an absolute prerequisite to the other. Let us see, therefore, how it was that the change was brought about. We will observe in the process that it involved two demonstrations: first, a proof that the world is old and, second, but without reference as yet to evolution, a proof that there has been a succession of life forms throughout the past history of the planet.

II. Pagan and Christian Time

Ever since man ceased to run like an uncaring beast through the sunlight of his living hours, he has dreamed of eluding time's shadow. He has sought fountains of youth in far lands, believed in some lost golden age before death came among men, some time of the ancestors when things were otherwise. But always the leaf has fallen from the tree, and man has seen his mortal generations descend into the dark. Three views, three insights may be said, therefore, to have characterized the human conception of time until the rise of stratigraphical geology. The first of these we may call primitive. It is the frail knowledge of the wandering hunter who drifts with the seasons but who knows no calendar and who leaves no record but his arrows in the earth. Among these men gray-headed elders may speak of many grasses or, perchance, of innumerable leaf falls, and then, speechless, they can only make a gesture and refer to the "dream time" or the "old ones." It is obvious that on this level of society man feels the touch of time emotionally but he cannot implement his feelings nor grasp the full significance of that vast waste across which today the astronomer and the geologist peer. Primitive man is confined to his own generation and some verbal memories of his father's time. The earth and the stars may be older but no one knows what that means and perhaps the question does not arise. Whether or not it does may depend on the creation myths of a given society.

In the area of the East, however, in the region of the first great cultures which rose and fell many times in the early millennia of civilized consciousness, a different conception arose: notions of vast cycles and undulations in a time stream where things became and passed, perhaps only to come again. In these philosophies one catches the weariness of old civilizations surrounded by the broken monuments of their predecessors and looking with cynical eyes upon the doings of the gods themselves. Marcus Aurelius, one of the last great voices out of the Greco-Roman past, discourses as follows:

"The periodic movements of the universe are the same, up and down from age to age. And either the universal intelligence puts itself in motion for every separate effect, and if this is so, be thou content with that which is the result of its activity; or it puts itself in motion once, and "everything comes by way of sequence in a manner; or indivisible elements are the origin of all things. -- In a word, if there is a god, all is well; and if chance rules, do not thou also be governed by it.

"Soon will the earth cover us all: then the earth, too, will change, and the things also which result from change will continue to change for ever, and these again for ever. For if a man reflects on the changes and transformations which follow one another like wave after wave and their rapidity, he will despise everything which is perishable." With the rise of Christianity a sense of time totally un. like that entertained by the historically shallow primitive or the endless cycles over which Greco-Roman thought had brooded in antiquity took possession of the European mind. The Christian saw time, worldly time, as essentially the divine medium in which a great play-the drama of the human Fall and Redemption-was being played out upon the stage of the world. This drama was unique and not repetitious. Older pagan notions of eternal recurrent cycles were blasphemous to the Christian mind. "God forbid," protested St. Augustine, "that we should believe this. For Christ died once for our sins, and, rising again dies no more." Thus in the words of Professor Lynn White "the axiom of the uniqueness of the Incarnation required a belief that history is a straight line sequence guided by God. ... No more radical revolution has ever taken place in the world outlook of a large area." [1]

Since man's historical knowledge of himself was incomplete, this great drama was estimated as consuming but a few trifling millennia terminated by a day of judgment. Worldly time, in other words, was of short duration. After the last judgment worldly time, historical time, would vanish, leaving that eternity which is the true home of God and the righteous in spirit. This interpretation of time and human destiny has gripped the imagination of the Western World for close to two thousand years. It was a philosophy which could only be sustained in its original version within a Ptolemaic cosmogony and in total ignorance of the facts of geology.

Christian scholars generally assumed for the age of the world a figure of around six thousand years. James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, placed the beginning at 4004 B.C., but, although his date attained particular acceptance after 1650, like figures had been current and had achieved widespread popularity long before Ussher's estimate. These dates were generally worked out on the basis of calculations involving the ages of the post-Adamite generations as recorded in the Bible. [2] The judgment day, ending earthly time, was assumed to be not far distant. Some, in fact, impelled by the symmetry of the "great play," contended that the advent of Christ occupied the precise center of earthly time and that the day of judgment would come as many years after the death of Christ as there had been years before His birth. Others calculated an even shorter duration, so that the more fanatical sects were constantly proclaiming that the hour was at hand and seeking portents and signs to prove their case. Occasionally, even today, such prophecies continue to be heard Perhaps no other people have ever lived in such a curiously disparate time scheme as the Christian, whose material world was ephemeral, yet whose spiritual world, by contrast, was compounded of a kind of timeless eternal, beyond blemish and change.

The rise of the new science was beginning as early as the seventeenth century to erode the foundations of this Christian mythos and the several evolutionary debates of the nineteenth century represent only successive steps in its hastening decline. Although we may recognize the frailties of Christian dogma and deplore the unconscionable persecution of thought which is, one of the less appetizing aspects of medieval history, we must also observe that in one of those strange permutations of which history yields occasional rare examples, it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself. Many things undoubtedly went into that amalgam: Greek logic and philosophy, the experimental methods of craftsmen in the arts as opposed to the aristocratic thinker -- all these things have been debated. But perhaps the most curious element of them all is the factor dwelt upon by Whitehead -- the sheer act of faith that the universe possessed order and should be interpreted by rational minds. [3] For, as Whitehead rightly observes, [4] the philosophy of experimental science was not impressive. It began its discoveries and made use of its method in the faith, not the knowledge, that it was dealing with a rational universe controlled by a Creator who did not act upon whim nor interfere with the forces He had set in operation. The experimental method succeeded beyond men's wildest dreams but the faith that brought it into being owes something to the Christian conception of the nature of God. [5] It is surely one of the curious paradoxes of history that science, which professionally has little to do with faith, owes its origins to an act of faith that the universe can be rationally interpreted, and that science today is sustained by that assumption.

By the seventeenth century hints of geological antiquity no longer completely escaped the attention of devout but attentive thinkers. We can catch the glimmer of this dawning age of science in the remarks of Ray as he stood at Bruges in 1663 marveling over a buried forest which had lain on the sea bottom and then become exposed on dry land once more. He saw "that of old time the bottom of the sea lay deep and that hundred foot thickness of earth arose from the sediments of those great rivers which there emptied themselves into the sea." It is a strange thing, he marveled, "considering the novity of the world, the age whereof, according to the usual account, is not yet 5600 years." [6]

If buried forests trouble him, so do mountains. They are figuratively duplicated in his mind with, as in the words of a Christian poet, all their

cliffs of fall
Frightful no man fathomed.

Since the world has changed but little in the time of recorded history and "if the mountains were not from the beginning, either the world is a great deal older than is imagined, there being an incredible space of time required to work such changes ... or, in the primitive times, the creation of the earth suffered far more concussions and mutations in its superficial part than afterwards." [7]

A correspondent raises the same problem. In 1691 Mr. Edward Lhwyd wrote to him about the fall of a huge stone from a mountain in Wales:

"I gather that all the other vast Stones that lie in our mountainous Valleys have by such accidents as this fallen down: Unless perhaps we may do better to refer the greatest Part of them to the universal Deluge. For considering there are some thousands of them in these two valleys ... whereof there are but two or three that have fallen in the Memory of any Man now living; in the ordinary Course of Nature we shall be compelled to allow the rest many thousands of years more than the Age of the World." [8]

Timidly Ray speculated as to whether certain shells might be those of creatures totally extinct, "a supposition which philosophers hitherto have been unwilling to admit." [9] But the cliff of fall yawns there before him. He cannot resist peering over: "Yet on the other side there follows such a train of consequences as seem to shock the Scripture -- history of the novity of the world; at least, they overthrow the opinion generally received, and not without good reason, among Divines and Philosophers that since the first creation there have been no species of animals or vegetables lost, no new ones produced" (1695). [10] To what new world-vaster, more awe-inspiringly time-worn -- these speculations were to lead, we have already begun to perceive as, on the threshold of the nineteenth century, we leave Lamarck fumbling uncertainly with the question of time and fossils-two parts of an unsolved puzzle.

III. The Chart

We have seen that as early as the middle of the seventeenth century Ray had concluded that "either the world is a great deal older than is imagined" or that at the time of creation the earth "suffered far more concussions and mutations in its superficial part than afterwards." Ray's insight here was almost preternaturally acute. In one small sentence he had unknowingly forecast the two lines of thinking which the geologist was destined to pursue throughout the next century and a half.

Three men it now appears -- and all alive and active in that memorable last decade of the Enlightenment -- possessed essential fragments of the secret of the earth's past, but each was handicapped. They were like treasure· hunters into whose separate hands had come pieces of a pirate's map. One, a great brooding mind that alone might have put the chart together, was old and died two years after his last volume was published; one wandered the roads of England for a lifetime showing his map generously in taverns and speaking of it so simply and practically that no one imagined he had part of the secret of time. The third, a high official and a darling of the greatest court in Europe, possessed the strangest part of the chart and published an eloquent description of it, but if he saw its purport and whither it led, he was bound by the ethics . of his world, and unknowingly or willfully read into it a false latitude and longitude on a coast that never was. James Hutton (1726-97), William Smith (1769-1839), and the Baron Cuvier (1769-1832 ) -- together they possessed the secret of the past but they never sat down in the same tavern to put the chart together. Only James Hutton brooding over a little Scottish brook that carried sediment down to the sea felt the weight of the solid continent slide uneasily beneath his feet and cities and empires flow away as insubstantially as a summer cloud.

IV. The Rise of Catastrophism

If there is one mind that deserves to rank between the great astronomical geniuses of the seventeenth century and Charles Darwin in the nineteenth, it is James Hutton. Though he is spoken of in histories of science as the founder of historical geology, the public has never known his name as it knows that of Newton and Darwin. He discovered an intangible thing against which the human mind had long armored itself. He discovered, in other words, time -- time boundless and without end, the time of the ancient Easterners -- but in this case demonstrated by the very stones of the world, by the dust and the clay over which the devout passed to their places of worship. And James Hutton reaped the rewards of that discovery -- animus and charges of heresy -- or, even more bitter, silence and disdain. If it had not been for his devoted friend and follower John Playfair, he might have suffered the fate of Mendel half a century later and been totally, if temporarily, forgotten. Even as it is, one cannot help feeling that this sad, long face which gazes remotely out of the single portrait that has come down to us already has weighed human fame against the forces that waste continents into oblivion and turned away from man to some nobler inner source of serenity. It is the face of one who has looked so far that man has ceased to interest him, save as one might turn to glance at a strange bird on a pleasant morning stroll.

Up to this point we have been primarily occupied with those who had been investigating the living world and the possible signs of animal transformation and gradation which could be observed there. Before Hutton's contribution can be properly assayed, however, it will be necessary to grasp what geological theory of the earth was held in Hutton's time. As one might have been led to suspect, it represented a compromise between the Biblical account of creation and the slowly growing observations of science. By the end of the eighteenth century catastrophism, as it came to be called, was the orthodox and accepted view of geology upon the past history of the earth.

This catastrophic or cataclysmic geology has two versions, one of which succeeded the other, but both, because of a slowly increasing public awareness of fossils, were forced to take some account of stratigraphy and thus of time. The name of Abraham Werner, a German geologist, is associated with the first version and that of Georges Cuvier, the French paleontologist, with the second. In Hutton's day it was the theories of Werner to which he found himself opposed. This "Neptunist" hypothesis accounted for the stratification of the earth's crust by the assumption that all the layers of rock had been precipitated out of a turbid universal sea which had once covered the entire planet. The primitive azoic rocks had been the first to be laid down, but had been shortly followed by the deposition of other materials containing fossils indicating a successive creation of forms of life. As the waters receded (where, no one was able satisfactorily to explain), advanced forms of mammalian life appeared. Gillispie has pointed out [11] that the scheme had a certain theological appeal because, depending upon one's beliefs, one could either claim a rapid or a slow succession of the Biblical "days of creation." In any case the appearance of life seemed to follow the order given in Genesis and to end with man.

The second catastrophic doctrine which gained public attention shortly after Hutton's death and for a time totally submerged his theories is associated primarily with the name of Cuvier -- although Cuvier never urged successive creations but only migrations of fauna into new regions laid waste by geological upheaval. Catastrophism, so far as its biological aspect is concerned, is essentially a device to preserve the leading tenets of Christian theology and at the same time to give these doctrines a scientific cast. It preserves the assumption of special creation by assuming, instead of the one Biblical event, a multiple series of creations taking place successively in distinct geological epochs. It also, by implication, accepts the Noachian Deluge as the last in a series of tremendous upheavals or catastrophes which have separated one world of prehistoric life from another. At the close of each such revolution life was supposed to be created anew. As the progressive organic advancement in the rocks became better known and read, it was assumed that this stair of life, which was analogous with the Scale of Being in the living world, pointed on prophetically toward man who was assumed to be the goal of the process of creation.

It will thus be seen that there was a powerful supernatural element in this conception which was actually enhanced in early nineteenth-century England. We must be careful to remember, however, that at the time Hutton wrote his Theory of the Earth in 1785 this "progressionist" aspect of catastrophism was by no means fully elaborated. It would reach its culmination only after the contents of the stratified earth became better known.

Peculiarly enough, French catastrophism seems to have arisen out of one of the earliest attempts to avoid supernaturalism in accounting for the past history of the globe. As we have earlier remarked, ideas of cosmic evolution were current in the mid-eighteenth century, mostly having derived from Descartes, and they thus achieved great popularity in France. Buffon in his Theorie de la Terre (1749) attempted to trace the history of our planet from the time when its substance escaped from the sun, through the successive "epochs of nature." He recognized that parallel strata "were not formed in an instant, but were gradually produced by successive sediments," and in spite of a greatly underestimated time scale, he recognized that erosion in its many forms "produced continual changes, which, in a succession of ages, become considerable. "Insensible changes, he came to believe, may over long time periods "cause very great revolutions."

The word "revolution," as Dr. Tomkeieff pointed out a few years ago, meant to Buffon largely great changes and not the world-wide catastrophic upheavals into which it was soon to be translated. [12] Allowing for the state of information at the time he wrote, there is actually a Huttonian cast to Buffon's writing. By contrast, in the days following the French Revolution, Buffon's successor Cuvier gave a genuinely dramatic interpretation to the "revolutions" of the globe. Yet if one studies Buffon's use of the term one can see that he uses it variously as a synonym for change. The work of rivers, for example, he speaks of as inducing very slow "revolutions," whereas a volcanic outburst may produce quick alterations of the landscape. Cuvier, however, because of his work with fossil vertebrates in the Paris Basin was becoming far more conscious of the problem of extinction than his predecessors. Also, working as he was with vertebrates in which it was not easy to trace continuous evolutionary change, he seems to have drawn from Buffon, whom he admired, a somewhat reinterpreted and elaborated series of epochs succeeded in each instance by world catastrophes. After each of these epochs a new fauna and flora were assumed to have appeared.

Although Cuvier himself left open the question of the origin of the new fauna it was not long before pure catastrophism was the reigning geological view. The last cataclysm was assumed to be represented by the Biblical deluge. The earlier epochs of life were generally regarded as equating figuratively with the days of creation. An enormous literature arose upon the subject and some writers projected over a score of successive creations and extinctions all based upon local disconformities of strata which were erroneously assumed to be world wide. The religious appeal of this system, particularly in the days of the conservative English reaction against the French Revolution, was bound to make it widely popular. It accounted for extinct animals and at the same time preserved the essential foundations of contemporary religious belief.

V. James Hutton's World Machine and Uniformitarianism

There is a curious lag between the astronomical discovery of infinite space in the seventeenth century and the discovery of time in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Superficially it might have been expected that the one conception would rapidly force a recognition of the other. Actually, however, it appears that the Christian world retained a conception of the timeless Empyrean Heaven, even after its modification at the hands of science. The timeless Eternal of God was still not quite equated with the events of the mundane earth. Thus the realization of the scope of earthly time was resisted almost in the same manner that the concept of organic evolution lagged in acceptance behind the growing realization of cosmic evolution. Astronomical observations were too remote from reality, too dependent upon the mathematical calculations of a few virtuosi to bring the reality of time home to the average individual whose whole religious training was opposed to the idea. The man in the street, as in the days of the voyagers, was waiting for something he could handle and see with his own eyes -- as he had seen talking parrots from the Indies come ashore on the shoulders of sailors whose caravels were moored at the London docks. With Cuvier he would be granted that final demonstration, but first a theory had to be prepared, a key, a part of the map of time had to he envisaged, else no voyage into that distant region would be possible. James Hutton's triumph was that he proved that vast invisible ocean to exist. He measured its dimensions. The way to its toothed birds and dragons would be provided by other hands.

The eighteenth century had seen, with the rise of the Newtonian doctrines in physics, the accompanying development of a philosophy in which God, the personal Divinity of earlier centuries, was more and more being relegated to the role of a spectator in His own universe. The Newtonian laws were such that the cosmic engine, once set spinning, was very largely self-regulatory. Miracles, providential interferences with the machinery, were no longer particularly acceptable. The passion for mathematical order was intense at the height of the Age of Reason. James Hutton had absorbed this atmosphere and the tone and the evident purpose of his book was to introduce into the history of the earth and the life upon its surface the same order and eternal perfection which Newton had perceived in the heavens. James Hutton, in other words, was the creator of a self-renewing world. machine whose laws of operation were as unswerving as the cosmic engine of the astronomers. In this respect he was following the scientific bent of his time. His misfortune lay in the fact that what had become acceptable in the heavens was still a heresy upon earth.

Before Hutton almost everyone who discoursed upon the configuration of the landscape had felt obligated to assume that its major features were the product of the Hood. The strewn boulders of the glacial advances, often lying hundreds of miles from their point of origin, were thought to have been rolled and tossed by the turbulence of a giant Sea. Since the earth was supposed to have lain almost, if not entirely, under water, it then became a point of ingenuity for these early students of geology to explain into what monstrous caverns beneath the surface the Hood waters had withdrawn. Hutton, by contrast, proposed a reasonable but unorthodox solution. He did not attempt to "drain the pond.- Instead he contended that dynamic forces in the crust of the earth created tensions and stresses which, in the course of time, elevated new lands from the ocean bed even as other exposed surfaces were in the process of erosion. There had never been a universal Hood. There was observable in the buried shell. beds of the continents, which had long been taken as evidences of the Deluge, only the signs of subsidence and renewed uplift which were part of the eternal youth of the world.

"We may perceive; Hutton pondered, "the actual existence of those productive causes, which are now laying the foundation of land in the unfathomable regions of the sea, and which will, in time, give birth to future continents." [13] With a Newtonian joy in his discovery of the principles of a remarkable engine, he informs his audience that the destructive work of winds and frost and running waters would eventually engulf the continents were there not "a reproductive operation, by which a ruined constitution [might] be again repaired." [14] In these words, in his affectionate regard for his "beautiful machine," one can observe the full climate of the Age of Enlightenment, its distaste for "having recourse to any unnatural supposition of evil, to any destructive accident in nature, or to the agency of any preternatural cause, in explaining that which actually appears." [15] The world is made by nature to decay but it is also made to renew itself eternally. "This decaying nature' of the solid earth," Hutton wrote in his later volumes, "is the very perfection of its constitution as a living world." [16]

The restorative force which Hutton visualized from his long examination of solidified strata, and the careful distinction between sedimentary and igneous rock which he drew, was the internal heat of the earth. He observed that tilted and distorted strata implied uplift and wrinklings of the earth's crust in a manner suggesting "a power which has for principle subterraneous heat." Active volcanoes confirmed his view that this force was not a thing of the past but continued as an active agent in the creation of new lands and mountain ranges. In the depths of the sea the materials brought down from the continents are solidified by the subterranean forces into stone only to be again upthrust and to endure once more the forces of erosion. The earth, "like the body of animal, is wasted at the same time that it is repaired."

Hutton's perception of the minute processes of decay is as keen as his eye for the vast movements of continental upheaval. So preternaturally acute was his sense of time that he could foretell in a running stream the final doom of a continent. Yet he saw also that in the long view this wastage foretold new worlds of life. "Thus ... from the top of the mountain to the shore of the sea ... everything is in a state of change; the rock and solid strata slowly dissolving, breaking and decomposing, for the purpose of becoming soil; the soil traveling along the surface of the earth on its way to the shore; and the shore itself wearing and wasting by the agitation of the sea, an agitation which is essential to the purposes of a living world. Without those operations which wear and waste the coast, there would not be wind and rain; and without those operations which wear and waste the solid land, the surface of the earth would become sterile." The man by the trickling brook had heard a roar like Niagara and seen a world go down into the torrent.

In this eternal hurrying of particles across the surface of the land, in the dissolution of previous continents with all their varied life, there emerges once more into Western thought the long shadow of illimitable time as it was known to the Roman thinkers. The result of our present inquiry, wrote Hutton, at the close of his book, "is that we find no vestige of a beginning, -- no prospect of an end." Over sixty years after those words were written Sir Charles Lyell, addressing the annual meeting of the Geological Society of London, confessed that though "we have greatly enlarged the sphere of our knowledge, the same conclusion seems to me to hold true." [17] The way had opened for Darwin.

James Hutton read his Theory of the Earth before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785. It was published in the Proceedings of that society three years later. In 1795 an amplified two-volume edition was issued. His theory had been at first well received in liberal quarters. As he wrote in the edition of 1795: "When I first conceived my theory few naturalists could write intelligibly upon the subject; but that is long ago, and things are much altered since; now there are most enlightened men making observations and communicating natural knowledge. I have the satisfaction, almost every day, to compare the theory, which I had formed from my proper observations, with the actual state of things in almost every quarter of the globe." [18]

The fantastic catastrophism which was to be one of the first products of vertebrate paleontology was then about to obscure his work. Of what he thought of evolution there is no record save that he spoke with interest of De Maillet's "ingenious theory." Its lack of supernaturalism and appeal to natural forces intrigued his interest but he dismissed it as "only a physical romance" though "better founded than most." [19] Hutton's view of time, and this is the one crucial limitation in his work, is essentially cyclical. He recognized its illimitable extent, he knew that throughout the slow obliteration of continents other lands were rising to the surface so that there was no reason to assume complete extinctions and successive creations of life. In the end, however, he did not commit himself upon the nature of the past flora and fauna of the planet. He observed that it could "translate" itself from one locality to another as time and paleo- geography permitted, but like most of the writers of his period, he allowed the similarities existing in early marine shells to deceive him as to the stability of the forms of life from age to age.

Hutton was thus a total uniformitarian. "There are," he admitted, "varieties in those [ocean] species compared with the present animals which we examine, but no greater varieties than may perhaps be found ... in the different quarters of the globe. Therefore the sys- tern of animal life which had been maintained in the ancient sea, had not been different from that which now subsists...." [2] In order to prepare the public for the acceptance of the evolutionary theory two more steps must be taken, two more fragments of the pirate chart must now be fitted to the piece supplied by Hutton. Animal remains must be observed to lie in stratigraphic sequences and to be different in kind for different ages. This in turn demands a kind of anatomical knowledge With which Hutton was unfamiliar.
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Postby admin » Thu Jul 16, 2015 10:31 pm


VI. William Smith

The astronomical theories which had so profoundly influenced Hutton and which had affected his philosophy of the world machine held, essentially, that in the celestial realm all perturbations of orbit tended to oscillate around a mean position so that even in the face of minor variation the solar system remained stable. It was this type of thinking which probably contributed to Hutton's indifference to the possibility of organic mutability. Evidences of change in marine forms were slight enough to be similarly dismissed as the minor variations of life around a standard type, a kind of thinking which, as we have previously seen, was a commonplace in Hutton's time. William Smith was a man of totally different background and a set of practical engineering needs.

We have had previous occasion to remark that several individuals in the eighteenth century, Buffon for one, had suspected that fossils might prove of some use in determining the age of deposits in which they were found. That there was a seeming difference to be observed in the fossils of distinct strata had been noticed by James Woodward as early as 1695, [21] but he had not correctly interpreted the phenomenon, ascribing it to gravitational effects at the time of the universal Flood. That strata themselves had been laid down successively had also been noted or implied by several. [22] There is no doubt that Abraham Werner's views on successive stratification, first promulgated in 1777, stimulated interest in the geological layers of the planet, but they contributed little to the rational solution of the problems thus raised, since Werner's explanations involved chemical deposition in a universal ocean. [23] Werner was instrumental, however, in promoting research to determine the similarity of strata over wide regions. Though his theories are long outmoded, they undoubtedly led to a more rapid recognition of the extent and relationships of certain formations.

This earlier research had largely revolved around the nature of the rocks involved rather than about the organisms contained in them. Smith introduced a totally new approach. The strata, he contended, can be identified by the fossils within them, and of any superimposed strata the lowest levels are also the oldest. This principle, which is now everywhere used in archaeology as well as paleontology, seems, like most great generalizations, amazingly simple once it has been stated. The fact that just as in the case of evolution itself many great minds had toyed unsuccessfully about the edges of the problem suggests what we have intimated so frequently before: an essential ingredient had been missing. Paleontology had lain undeveloped and interest had been less in time than in the mineral composition of deposits presumably laid down with great rapidity in a primeval ocean.

As we have seen, Hutton published his views on time and erosion in 1788. Three years later William Smith seems to have had the secret of stratigraphy worked out though he did not publish his discovery until much later.

The origins of William Smith were quite different from those of the highly literate and philosophically minded Hutton. He was orphaned at an early age and cared for by an uncle who was a farmer. Always attracted to the open fields and to fossils, he became an apprentice surveyor in his youth. By the time canals were being projected for the widespread transport of coal and other. goods in England, Smith had entered upon his professional career as a surveyor and engineer. Before the turn of the century and later, he traveled enormous mileages for canal companies. He reported upon coal deposits, drained swamps, laid out canal routes. He became, in other words, a practical field geologist much in demand for his unparalleled personal knowledge of ground waters and the complete composition of the English terrain. His entire living depended upon the accurate determination of strata and in tracing them successfully over wide areas. In examining exposed strata in commercial and natural deposits, Smith, "Strata Smith," as he came to be called, made the supreme observation that each individual stratum appeared to contain distinct organic ingredients. Smith, though it is unlikely that he fully realized what he had done, had discovered the strange historicity of life. In attempting to arrange sedimentary rocks which he would have been unable to classify on the basis of physical properties, he had selected and brought to attention the one thing on the planet which had consistently and identifiably altered itself throughout the long eras of the past, namely, life itself.

William Smith made no secret of his discovery. In fact it is remarkable, and only because of honest friends, that he received credit for his work at all. Always on the move and detesting, as he did, the process of formal writing, he talked with the freedom of a traveling salesman to any attentive listener about his fragment of the great secret. By 1799 he had circulated an unpublished manuscript on the order of the strata in the vicinity of Bath in which he made use of his new paleontological principle. By 1813 a friend, the Rev. Joseph Townsend, had written a book in which Smith's discoveries are lauded, [24] and by 1815 Smith's real life work, the first geological map of England. was published. There followed a few papers elaborating his views and setting forth the evidence upon which they are based. Probably the best known is entitled The Stratigraphical System of Organized Fossils which was published in London in 1817. Smith flourished in a time when there was an economic demand for his type of specialized knowledge. He himself spoke regretfully of the fact that "the theory of geology was in the possession of one class of men, the practice in another." [25] In the light of these remarks it is most interesting that smith speaks respectfully of Lamarck's work on invertebrates "as most applicable to the arrangement of organized fossils." He was apparently familiar also with the work of Gustavus Brander and Daniel Solander, Fossila Hantoniensia (1766), which Lamarck had used in his pioneer effort to correlate the Tertiary fossil beds of Hampshire with those of France around the beginning of the century.

Smith disclaimed a concern with theory "for," he said, "I have none to support." [26] Yet in this he was not entirely consistent. With others I have the distinct feeling, without having been able to consult all of the original documents, that Smith carried on his early work under uniformitarian influences emanating from Hutton and Lamarck, but that in his later years he turned toward the catastrophism which had become so universally popular after Cuvier's rise to prominence. The stratigraphical essay of 1817, in spite of the disclaimer we have just quoted, assumes that "each layer of these fossil organized bodies must be considered as a separate creation, or is," he also speculates, "an undiscovered part of an older creation."

Although at one time he had evinced distaste for those who invoked unexplained "convulsions" to explain geological events, the conservative bent of the times and all the subtle pressures exerted by friends, position, and his own temperamental leanings led him finally to accept an unseen aspect to the geological past of the planet. "By the use of fossils," he contended, "we are carried back into a region of supernatural events." [27] In those words there is actually epitomized the reigning scientific climate of the early nineteenth century. It is a climate interested in science, increasingly interested in fossils, but firmly intent upon the preservation of religious orthodoxy.

When William Smith, characterized by a contemporary as "a plain and moderately lettered man," directed the attention of science to his law of the superimposition of strata and their contained relics of organic life, the world, for the first time, began to realize the nature of time. All about, in commercial excavations, on seacoasts, and among broken uplands with their exposed formations, had been lying, unknown and uninterpreted, the remnants of the past. [28] Now suddenly the pretty shells in curio cabinets began to take on a vast and mysterious significance. Smith may not have accepted evolution but he had accepted time -- the time, essentially, of Hutton and Lamarck. ]29] Nor was that time any longer abstract and without meaning to the layman. The curious thread of living matter ran through it, unique and always changing, forever unpredictable. Cuvier had found strange bones in the Paris Basin but even the less impressive marine shells were becoming a worthy object of attention for young ladies. [30] Some people complained that Smith, who had no particular gift for writing, did not fulfill his publishing engagements, and they chafed in an irritated fashion over the delays.

Once and for all the study of extinct life had been indissolubly joined to the rocks of the planet. The ladder into the past had been created and no phylogeny of a living creature could be worked upon again without checking against the story in the earth. If, because of the nature of his profession and his times, Smith chose to emphasize the breaks rather than the connections in the fossil record, the mistake would be remedied. He had been generous with his part of the great secret -- generous in a hard, dogged life that might well have led him to behave otherwise.

In the year 1831 he was presented with the first Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London. It was given in recognition of the man who had found the way backward into time, and who had achieved that triumph while trudging over hill and dale in what many would have regarded as a grubby and not very genteel profession. The cloistered Scotch physician and the man whose face had been beaten by all the winds of England had done their solitary work. Apart from Smith but contemporaneous with him had labored a grander and more aristocratic figure, the inheritor of Buffon's mantle, the Baron Georges Cuvier. Hutton and Smith had been primarily physical geologists. Cuvier, who held the third secret of our figurative pirate's chart, was a comparative anatomist. He' was the real founder of vertebrate paleontology.

VII. Cuvier: the Magician of the Charnel House

It is a casual piece of folklore among laymen today that a paleontologist can always reconstruct an entire animal from a single bone. Most students of the science, who know their limitations, would smile and say "it depends on the bone." The public, however, has, for over a century now, been vastly impressed by the huge articulated skeletons erected in museums, and by the restorations of vanished reptiles, winged or bipedal Here is a magic with whose details the common man is little acquainted. Moreover, like the citizen on the London docks in the days of the voyagers, he can gaze upon these great bones, these spoils from the lost coasts of time, and believe more readily by beholding what it was he rejected when he turned away from Hutton and Lamarck. They, it is true, possessed the secret of time but it was lost like the sound of the sea in little shells. Only the huge bones, the saber teeth of cats, the tusks of giant elephants impress us with the marvelous organic diversity which strews the shores of continents that have vanished from the light. Man, convinced at first, in his naive innocence, that the world was made for him, has now been told by the time voyagers that, at a period not very remote, geologically speaking, the human form is no longer to be found. The outlines of this story, even the rearticulation of those giant bodies, we owe to the anatomical diligence of Cuvier and his followers. It is from his exploits, which brought him the title "magician of the charnel house," that the story of the paleontologist and the single bone has descended to us. Before scholars could go beyond the marine fauna and ascertain what type of life had roamed upon Hutton's lost continents, a method had to be perfected which would permit the investigation of a whole animal from a fragment. Land vertebrates, unlike shells, are infrequently found in total articulation. They are apt to have been torn to pieces after death by roving scavengers and birds, or, even if engulfed in muds and quicksands, the long erosion of time may have destroyed the larger part of the carcass before man comes upon it. Nature has no interest in the preservation of the dead; her purpose is to start their elements upon the eternal road of life once more. Thus out of innumerable vertebrate skeletons, here and there one is preserved under satisfactory conditions, and of these man may discover a few. The ability, as a consequence of this situation, to recognize a given form from fragments is tremendously important. It was this art which Cuvier carried to a high degree of perfection so that his exploits have come down to us as folklore.

The beginnings of comparative anatomy like a good many aspects of our subject can be traced all the way back to the Greeks. Aristotle, for example, knew that the large animal groups shared a unity of structure which, in different species, was modified for different ends. [31] The gradations of the Scale of Being itself contributed to the promotion and continuation of such ideas. This does not necessarily imply an understanding of actual physical descent with modification. Rather it had been comprehended that animals were formed on a "plan," or "plans," which extended across whole groups of differing organisms. The plan might thus be seen as immaterial, a kind of Platonic form, a divine order manifesting itself in nature.

As the eighteenth century drew on, however, unity of plan began to be considered as possibly indicating some kind of common physical origin for quite divergent forms. We have seen it emerge hesitantly in Buffon, and various shades or intimations of the same idea are not unknown to other French and German writers of the mid-eighteenth century, [32] considerably prior to Cuvier. Just as in the case of the theory of evolution itself, we may observe that there was a preliminary groping for the precise way in which this information might be used, considerably before the appearance of the master artist, Cuvier.

Without detracting from Cuvier's genius we may point out that by the time he was ready to turn the unity of plan which existed in the living world into a method for probing the past. several things had occurred: (1) Attention, particularly on the continent, was shifting from shells to bones. News of American remains of huge bones were beginning to sift back to the Old World and, in some in stances, the bones themselves had been exhibited in Europe. (2) Smith's discoveries of a stratigraphic sequence in fossils, along with the obviously growing age of the world, heightened public interest as to what forms of land life might have existed contemporaneously along with the rather monotonously uniform invertebrate marine fossils. (3) The continually expanding geographical information upon other world areas now made it extremely unlikely that any large vertebrates were still hidden in unknown portions of the globe. Extinction, at last, was a reality. The past life of the earth, therefore, might offer marvels no living eye had beheld. (4) The rock formations of the Paris Basin were being quarried extensively in the days of the First Empire. There were strata interspersed with others containing fresh water forms, as well as later deposits containing numerous land animals of great size. An anonymous contemporary writer spoke in an awed tone of perished species and the mystery of how new species originated. "The mind is lost," he philosophized mournfully, "amid uncertain lights and gigantic images that pass before it." [33]

It is in the lights and shadows of this vast, unfolding landscape that we find Cuvier like a modern Faust poring over the heaped bones recovered from these excavations. "I found myself as if placed in a charnel house," he once said, "surrounded by mutilated fragments of many hundred skeletons of more than twenty kinds of animals, piled confusedly around me. The task assigned me was to restore them all to their original positions. At the voice of comparative anatomy every bone and fragment of a bone resumed its place." [34]

It is particularly satisfying that this modem magician who resurrected the vanished dead to live once more in the mind of man should have named the Pterodactyls. Like imps the leather-winged flying reptiles would have been most appropriate circling the master magician's head. The scene would have made a suitable painting, for Cuvier had a deep sense of drama. He knew these creatures to be the most extraordinary and outre of any that the spade had then revealed; he knew that they belonged utterly to a long vanished world. Yet he makes no exception of them. They, too, bone by bone and tooth by tooth, are amenable to the discipline of science. Strange- bodied and strangely adapted though they were, they are allied to an ancient reptilian pattern, a plan, a unity, that has come down through the long cycles of change into the present. The biologist could therefore say "Pterodactyls are gone but the pattern remains. They were reptilian vertebrates highly specialized and adapted for flight. In structure, however, they show a clear relationship to modern reptiles."

The man who perfected and popularized this mode of penetration into the past was the son of a Swiss army officer in moderate circumstances. His early education was obtained at Stuttgart where he came under the influence of Kielmeyer. one of the early German students of anatomy. From 1788 to 1794 he was employed as a tutor to the son of a French count in Normandy. He thus escaped the vicissitudes of the revolution but through a fortunate connection was able to go to Paris in 1795. Here he entered upon a brilliant career at the Jardin des Plantes. He came to occupy. in addition, important positions of state, and was a favorite of Napoleon. Beginning in 1800 he published his Lessons in Comparative Anatomy in which he set forth the views he was later to apply so brilliantly In the investigation of the Parisian bone beds which he carried out In association with Alexandre Brongniart. [35] He wrote extensively and such works as Recherches sur Les Ossemens Fossiles (1812), Le Regne Animal (1817), and his Theory of the Earth (1815), which received a wide circulation in English, had a leading role in diffusing knowledge of comparative anatomy. All of these volumes passed through many editions. We have already mentioned his role in the development of the second phase of catastrophic geology; we will here confine ourselves to his "principle of correlation."

Cuvier carefully pointed out that although vertebrate remains offered the hope of extensive insights into the past, they had been neglected because of their fragmentary condition. Few men were sufficiently equipped to read the meaning in bits of bone and their study had been neglected. It was just here that Cuvier, after long effort, produced his part of the lost map of time that fitted so well with the portions that Smith and Hutton had possessed. He said. in effect, "We will take what we have learned of the comparative anatomy of the living and we will use it as a ladder to descend into the past. All our information, scanty though it may be, leads us to assume that the same unity of design of which we observe evidences in the modem world extends also across the enormous time gulfs of the past. My key, my principle, will enable us to restore the appearance of those long vanished beasts and relate them to the life of the present."

In order to perform his feats of identification and restoration Cuvier proceeded upon a principle that today might be labeled organismic or holistic. He regarded organs, in fact all anatomical structures, as so intimately related to the life of the entire creature that no one part can be fitted to perform a certain function without the modification of other related parts. Thus even a footprint may tell us a good deal about the structure of an animal of which we possess no other trace at all, or by a feather we may go on to infer many things about a bird simply because of known correlations of structure in all birds. "Thus," said Cuvier, "we procure astonishing results. The smallest fragment of bone, even the most apparently insignificant apophysis, possesses a fixed and determinate character, relative to the class, order, genus and species of the animal to which it belonged; insomuch, that when we find merely the extremity of a well-preserved bone, we are able by careful examination, assisted by analogy and exact comparison, tp. determine the species to which it once belonged, as certainly as if we had the entire animal before us." [36] So assiduously did Cuvier pursue his studies of the bones of both living and extinct animals that he was able to incite great wonder at his feats of identification.

To give but one example: A fossil-bearing slab which had been secured near Lake Constance had been described by Johann Scheuchzer in 1726 as containing the skeleton of a man who lived before the Flood. This specimen, exhibited at Haarlem, had attracted great interest because of its supposed religious background, but in 1811 Cuvier examined the bones and revealed the creature to be a gigantic extinct salamander. The day had clearly passed when any obscure bone could be ascribed to a human giant or set aside as a saintly relic.

Two other achievements of the Baron deserve mention here as having contributed to clearing the way for Darwin. One of these was his clear break with the Scale of Being hypothesis. It will be remembered that the eighteenth century was, on the whole, addicted to an ascending series of living forms shading by insensible degrees into each other and leading on to man. There was no consideration of the fact that this might be reading into Nature a greater unity than she actually possessed. It led inevitably to some highly questionable taxonomy produced in the effort to compress all life into positions upon a single stairway.

Cuvier broke with this conception by the simple expedient of demonstrating anatomically that certain broad groups represented such divergent anatomical organization that they could not be fitted into a single unilineal ascending system. Instead, he conceived of four great groups: the Vertebrates, the Mollusca, the Articulata, and the Radiata. The last has suffered the most alteration by later work but, in essentials, he greatly improved the, taxonomical classification of animals and showed, even though he did not realize its evolutionary implications, that there were many stairways of life rather than one. The molluscan plan of organs and of adaptations could never be fitted successfully into a vertebrate sequence. Perhaps it was this sharp realization of distinct worlds of organization that caused him to reject evolution as savoring of the old Scale of Being whose clumsy morphology he detested.

At any rate, all unknowingly, Cuvier had opened the way to a conception of divergent evolution which, though glimpsed timidly by Lamarck, had not been logically pursued to its conclusion by the latter. Whatever might be learned later of the original source of all life, it was evident from Cuvier's time on that the Scale of Nature, useful though it may have been in stimulating interest in the natural world while theology still dominated science, was, to a degree, a myth. There were several plans of life on the planet and by no stretch of the imagination, within the world open to man's investigation, could they be placed in an ascending relation to each other. Instead, each was unique and ramifying along its own evolutionary corridor. Man was not the creature toward which the worm was striving. Life was a bush, not a ladder.

Finally, although averse to evolutionary explanations, Cuvier was the first to note of his Parisian studies, "There is a determinate order observable in the disposition of these bones in regard to each other, which indicates a very remarkable succession in the appearance of the different species." [37]He recognized clearly that the younger alluvial deposits contained creatures more similar to those of the present than strata representing more remote ages. He felt that the rocks revealed a gradual advance in the complexity of life through the several "revolutions" of the planet. This Deperet regards as "a fundamental idea," the merit of which has been too often forgotten. [38] Certainly it was the first clear evidence from the rocks of the organic advances in land life, the first satisfactory mammalian sequence from any quarry in the world.

It was Cuvier's discoveries that gave the impetus to biological progressionism which, as will be seen, was the clear prelude to nineteenth- entury evolution. Moreover, Cuvier -- and this is occasionally forgotten by twentieth-century critics -- recognized the empirical quality of his law of correlation. He knew that increasing knowledge of the anatomy of extinct life would enhance our ability to pierce farther into the past and avoid the occasional mistakes which can be made with animal remains most distant from our common knowledge. It is perfectly true that a few of his correlations would not hold in the case of transitional or peculiarly divergent specimens we possess today. This does not, however, justify the dismissal of a method that has opened the doorway of the past.

A bird like Archaeopteryx with feathers and teeth he would not have anticipated, but his own philosophy would have quickly adjusted to such exceptions for, as he himself wrote in advance of his critics, "our theoretical knowledge of these relations of forms is not sufficient to guide us, unless assisted by observation and experience." [39] He himself identified most successfully creatures who had reasonably similar living relatives. Furthermore, the man who in youth had laboriously painted in color the animal pictures in a treasured set of Buffon may, like a quiet child, have retained some private thoughts. Once he wrote cryptically, "Observation alone, independent entirely of general principles of philosophy, is sufficient to show that there certainly are secret reasons for all these relations of which I have been speaking." [40] When he wrote those lines, "descent with modification" was still thirty-five years away. The Baron Georges Cuvier was a proud and sometimes arrogant man of state. He was discreet. He had come a long road since the quiet days on the Normandy shore while the heads were falling in Paris. Perhaps he had his moment of hesitation, perhaps not. In any case he was one of the first great time voyagers.



1. Lynn White, "Christian Myth and Christian History," Journal of the History of Ideas, 1942, Vol. 3. p. 147.

2. Paul Kocher in his Science and Religion in Elizabethan England, San Marino, California, 1953, p. 152, points out, however, that the orthodox were sometimes harried by atheistical or doubting mathematicians who, in the words of Thomas Nashe, "will proove men before Adam."

3. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Mentor Book ed.. 1948, pp. 4-15.

4. Ibid., p. 17.

5. Ibid., p. 14.

6. Charles E. Raven, John Ray, Naturalist, cited p. 421.

7. Ibid., p. 425.

8. W. Derham, Philosophical Letters Between the Late Learned Mr. Ray and Several of His Ingenius Correspondents, Natives and Foreigners, London, 1718, p. 256.

9. Charles E. Raven, John Ray, Naturalist, cited p. 425.

10. Ibid., p. 437.

11. Genesis and Geology, Harvard University Press, 1951, p. 46.

12. S. J. Tomkeieff, "Geology in Historical Perspective," The Advancement of Science, 1950, Vol. 7, p. 65.

13. Essay of 1788, p. 293.

14. Ibid., p. 216.

15. Ibid., p. 285.

16. Theory of the Earth, Edinburgh, 1795, Vol. 1, p. 208.

17. Anniversary Address of the President, Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 1851, Vol. 7, p. Ixxiv ff.

18. Theory of the Earth, 1795, Vol. 1, p. 306.

19. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 271.

20. Theory of the Earth, 1795, Vol. 1, pp. 175-76.

21. Essay Toward a Natural History a the Earth.

22. For a recent account of some of Smith's more obscure fore runners see C. J. Stubblefield's "The Relation of Paleontology to Stratigraphy," The Advancement of Science, 1954, Vol. 11, pp. 149-59.

23. F. D. Adams, Birth and Development of the Geological Sciences, Baltimore, 1938, p. 221 ff.

24. The Character of Moses established for Veracity as an Historian. Recording Events from Creation to the Deluge, Bath, 1813.

25. H. B. Woodward, The History of the Geological Society of London, London, 1907, p. 53.

26. Paper of 1817, cited above. p. vi.

27. F. J. North, "Deductions from Established Facts In Geology, by William Smith: Notes on a Recently Discovered Broadsheet," Geological Magazine, 1927, Vol. 64, p. 534.

28. the English series of formations was, for so small an area, remarkably complete.

29. Lamarck thought readily In terms of millions of years. See A. S. Packard, Lamarck, the Founder of Evolution, London, 1901, pp. 132-33.

30. Anonymous, "An Earnest Recommendation to Curious Ladies and Gentlemen Residing or Visiting In the Country, to Examine the Quarries, Cliffs, Steep Banks, etc., and collect and Preserve fossil shells as highly curious objects in Conchology, and, as most Important Aids in Identifying Strata in Distant Places; on which Knowledge the Progress of Geology in a principle degree if not Entirely Depends," The Philosophical Magazine and Journal, 1815, Vol. 45, pp. 274-80.

31. E. S. Russell, Form and Function, New York, 1917, p. 3 ff.

32. For a more lengthy account of these writers than can be attempted here the reader may consult E. S. Russell, op. cit., A. S. Packard, op. cit., pp. 136-39, and A. O. Lovejoy, "Some Eighteenth Century Evolutionists," Popular Science Monthly, 1904, Vol. 65.

33. Edinburgh Review, 1812, Vol. 20, p. 382.

34. Edinburgh Review, 1837, Vol. 65, p. 23.

35. Essai sur la geographia minerologique des environs de Paris, 1811.

36. Essay on the Theory of the Earth, Edinburgh, 1815. p. 101.

37. Op. cit, 1815. p. 109.

38. C. Deperet, The Transformations of the Animal World, New York, 1909, pp. 9-10.

39. Op. cit., 1815. p. 95.

40. Ibid. (Italics mine. L.E.)
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Chapter IV: Progressionism and Evolution

How could Sir Charles Lyell ... for thirty years read, write, and think on the subject of species and their succession, and yet constantly look down the wrong road?
-- Hewett Watson

I. Geological Prophecy

A bone, to Cuvier, was never just a bone, because it told, in its curvatures and varied processes, the story of an organized being whose every other bone and organ could be expected to be in harmonious proportion and accord with the solitary fragment. Thus, within a certain degree, a claw should ordinarily disclose a particular type of tooth, or a tooth the necessary nature of a shoulder blade. A landscape, to James Hutton, was not a given thing, shaped once and forgotten, but rather a page from a continuing biography of the planet. The scene had been written by frost and a light wind that blew for ages, by the hidden touch of subterranean fires, by a plant that grew and held a little patch of soil from being carried away by a stream. Whatever else it was also, this landscape was natural. It had not been wrought by convulsive and mythical events or by the hand of a wrathful Divinity. Instead, it was a part of the long intricate interplay between the forces that waste away the land and the forces that produce uplift and renewal. A countryside is above all a biography, the only visible biography left by time, Similarly a stratum, to William Smith, was not a thick layer of indifferent rock, but a ladder descending into the. unknown darkness of the past. Caught and preserved like insects in amber, there were, at every rung of that ladder, animals, to use Smith's own phrase, "materially different from those now in existence." As we survey these tremendous contributions to human knowledge, contributions to which we have grown so accustomed by long familiarity that the genius of the men who made them escapes us, we wonder what ingredient was still lacking to convince the general public that organic, as well as stellar, evolution was a reality.

We are, however, if we think in this manner, still unconsciously projecting back upon the first decade of the nineteenth century accumulations of information which did not then exist. Let us look a little more closely at this situation. In 1788 Hutton's first and most compactly literate account of his discovery had been published. It had come at a time when the German geologist Werner had been at the height of his teaching popularity and when the public, by its own Christian tradition, preferred stories of a great Flood. Hutton had grasped the significance of fossils, but unfortunately he came too early to quite realize the fact of animal difference and extinction on the scale science was later to discover. Extinction, by its nature, could not be inferred. It had to be found out by empirical means. As a consequence, though Hutton saw illimitable vistas of time and the natural forces which worked to mold the surface of the planet, his uniformitarianism is total. He did not visualize organic change; he was content with having perceived the main outlines of the way in which the world machine persisted and renewed itself. About life· he asked few questions. There is thus an oriental flavor of eternal changelessness in his system. All things pass only to come round again in the great year, in the march of waves that are forever similar. A system of this sort does not, by itself, attract followers in· a culture dedicated to a unique drama in the sense that the Christian world was so dedicated.

William Smith, shortly after Hutton's death, in feeling his way down through the strata began to recognize change, but it was, on the whole, petty molluscan change. Smith was working mainly in marine beds and was concerned with tracing similar strata over considerable areas of England. The ideal organisms for this purpose are marine molluscs and similar creatures, which appear in constant profusion. Vertebrate fossils tend to be too sparsely distributed to be useful. In addition, as we have seen, Smith was a practical engineer, not a student of philosophical anatomy like Cuvier. In later writings he speaks of vertebrate fossils but it is largely because of the work of Cuvier with which he had become acquainted. Though there is a genuine rise in public interest which heightened after Cuvier's brilliant exploits in vertebrate paleontology, of which he is the recognized founder, we can, if we look sharply, see pretty clearly that the true continuity of evolution has not quite been attained.

The reason lies in the fact that, though between the achievements of Smith and Cuvier the public had finally become excited and convinced that a past world existed, it was not, in actuality, impressed by the continuity of that past. It had accepted the sharply demarcated and successive organic worlds of Smith and Cuvier while, at the same time, it had rejected the continuous and permeating time flow of Hutton. It took the superimposed strata, just as Smith had taken them, to be as distinctly defined in time as they appeared in the rock formations.

Each stratum with an organic content differing in a major way from one above or below represented a distinct creation which was then, after a variable period of time, destroyed by convulsive upheavals and floods over the surface of the globe. Instead of the smooth flow of life through long eons in which certain forms became extinct and others evolved and changed, the public was really enjoying, not a motion picture of the planet's past, but a series of still photographs extracted from their context.

The knowledge of the layman had been deepened and broadened, but both he and most contemporary scientists still preferred at least some aspects of a cosmology with which they had been familiar since childhood. The genuine unity of organic design which could be traced from the present into these worlds of the past was assumed to be an immaterial, spiritual connection emanating from the designer of the universe. It was not believed to represent in the least a physical connection. When Cuvier succeeded in demonstrating a progressive aspect, particularly to land life, this was quickly transformed in the minds of the more traditional thinkers into an increasingly complex prologue leading on toward man who in the words of one of these thinkers was "foreknown and prefigured from the beginning."

One can note that this type of "progressionism," as it was termed, has some of the qualities of the Scale of Being still lingering about it. For one thing the progressivist doctrine is man-centered. Man is believed to be the goal of the process and everything points in his direction or prophesies his appearance. At the same time we may note that the progressionist doctrine clearly demonstrates the fact that it was possible to temporalize the Chain of Being and extend it into the past without making it a truly evolutionary philosophy. Here, instead, we have a succession of organic worlds, each terminated by catastrophic and probably supernaturally induced geological disturbances. The unity of design which connects the flora and fauna of these worlds is, as one of the leading proponents of progressionism states. "nothing like parental descent." He makes it quite clear that the link is "of a higher and immaterial nature." [1] Spiritual evolution, it might be said, thus precedes a belief in actual physical change.

Here, in the pre-Darwinian portion of the nineteenth century, we encounter what is really a combination of traditional Christianity overlaid by a wash of German romantic philosophy. Elements of the new science and the new discoveries are being fitted into what is regarded as the "foreordained design of the Creator." Much of this thought derives from late eighteenth-century German romantic writers, but in England the Christian element becomes pronounced. As Gode-von Aesch has pointed out, a whole philosophical school in Germany came to regard the world "as a gigantic system of hieroglyphics, as the language of God or the book of nature." [2]

Interesting in this connection is the fact that Karl Kielmeyer, Cuvier's early friend and anatomy instructor, seems to have been the earliest formulizer (1793) of the biogenetic law which was regarded by the romantic philosophers as the dawn of a new era in science. [3] It will be remembered that the biogenetic law, which in the post-Darwinian period is widely associated with the name of Ernst Haeckel, expresses the idea that there is a parallelism between the stages of embryonic growth in the individual and the succession of fossil stages in the phylogeny of the species. In its earlier pre-evolutionary idealistic expression among the German philosophers it reflected the conception that man was a microcosm or reflection of the rest of the organic kingdom and that his embryonic development reflected the fact that "animals are merely foetal stages of man." [4]

This conception can be found reflected in some of the racial thinking even of post-Darwinian days in which it is assumed that the Caucasian, as the highest type of man, reflects in embryonic or infantile stages the other lower races. This German philosophy is, of course, closely allied to, and in some degree is developed from, reflections upon the Scale of Being. [5] When, in the English progressionist philosophy, a revised scale of being was actually projected into the past, it was inevitable, under the circumstances, that there should emerge a system of "geological prophecy." The fossils were true hieroglyphs, signs from earlier ages as to God's intention and design. There is, moreover, a continuing unilineal trend to the whole scheme which ignores Cuvier's divergent classes. Everything points prophetically toward man. The fossil footprints of Chirotherium, an extinct reptile, had a vaguely human appearance. They are read as "mute prophecies of the coming being." [6] The philosopher James McCosh and his collaborator George Dickie argued that bipedal fossil footprints of birds (actually dinosaurs) were a sign of human appearance "in a subsequent and still distant epoch." [7]

It is obvious, as we find statements of this kind in the writings of eminent biologists, that this transcendental emphasis among the progressionists was bound to inhibit in some degree the understanding of ecology, divergence and adaptation. Instead, attention is concentrated upon the "prophetic scroll" of geology. The books of Hugh Miller went through numerous editions. Certain of his ideas were drawn from Louis Agassiz who survived to combat Darwin and remain to the end a convinced adherent of the progressionist point of view. Many passages reveal that this type of anthropocentric concentration made the assumption inevitable that with the appearance of man the geological story was complete. Thus as late as 1866 Louis Agassiz expressed himself as follows: "Coming to the noble form of Man we find the brain so organized that the anterior portion covers and protects all the rest so completely that nothing is seen outside, and the brain stands vertically poised on the summit of the backbone. Beyond this there is no further progress, showing that man has reached the highest development of the plan upon which his structure was laid." [8]

In another earlier volume he stated even more explicitly that "by anatomical evidence" man is "the last term of a series, beyond which there is no material progress possible in accordance with the plan upon which the whole animal kingdom is constructed...." [9] The italics are mine. They are intended to draw attention to the typical transcendental implication of a prefigured order, and the emphasis placed upon man as the creature for whom, or toward whom, the entire creation had labored. The passage is, basically, merely another repetition of Oken's remark that animals are foetal stages of man. It should now be apparent that, in spite of certain interesting ideas carried into British biology from German sources, what had emerged was still not a true evolutionary system of thought. Rather it represents a type of biological supernaturalism linked with a similarly supernatural geology. It remained to be seen what the renewed attempt to introduce uniformitarian conceptions into this system would bring forth.

II. Sir Charles Lyell and the Re-emergence of Uniformitarianism

James Hutton, as we have seen, was one of the first men to ignore the flood hypothesis in a full-fledged and comprehensive study of the mechanics of physical geology. [10] He had argued that the continents were built from the ruins of more ancient land surfaces and that these past worlds had been continuous and unbroken in their history with the eras which had succeeded them. Not many were attracted by the vast impersonal spectacle he presented and his followers were few. Among them, however, was John Playfair who, in 1802, undertook to present to the public in his Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth a lucid and less prolix account of his friend's work. There is no doubt that this book -- a very elegantly written treatise -- did something to keep Hutton's name faintly alive in the thirty years during which catastrophism was the reigning geological doctrine. The conservative English reaction to the French Revolution, however, submerged Playfair almost as effectively as his predecessor.

Then, at a time when Cuvier was at the height of his fame, and the leading geologists of both England and France were catastrophists, a young unknown man, Charles Lyell (1797-1875), published a book, Principles of Geology, which was destined to destroy the reigning geological doctrine and introduce unlimited time and the play of natural forces once more into geology. Lyell must be accorded the secure distinction, not alone of altering the course of geological thought, but of having been the single greatest influence in the life of Charles Darwin. Moreover, he introduced Lamarck's theories to the British reading public and, although he opposed them, he gave Lamarck a fair dispassionate hearing. Lyell had originally been trained for the law. He knew how to marshal the facts of an argument, to weigh evidence and to present it well. [11] Stylistically his writing was distinguished. His book was widely read not only by professional geologists but by the cultivated public whose curiosity about the secrets of the earth was growing. Without the public revision of attitude on the subject of time and natural forces working over Inconceivably long intervals Darwinism would have had little chance of acceptance. Moreover, it is unlikely that without the influence of Lyell's book Darwin would have conceived or put forth his theory.

Curiously, though Lyell won in the geological field a victory similar to the one Darwin was later to achieve in biology, he did not become an evolutionist until his last years, although today it seems to us that evolution was the normal consequence of the system he presented. It remained, instead, for Darwin to demonstrate that the successive organic worlds of the progressionists were actually moving with the steady invisibility of a clock hand. The astronomer Halley in 1717 had demonstrated our solar system to be adrift in some great star- swirl rather than anchored securely at a fixed spot in space. Darwin was about to reveal that, not man alone, but the whole world of life was similarly unfixed in position. Rising, falling, evolving, changing, it was anything but the stable system visualized by the reigning philosophy of the eighteenth century, or the directed progression toward man envisaged by the majority of thinkers in the early nineteenth century.

Before turning to Darwin, however, it is necessary to examine the nature of Sir Charles Lyell's biological thinking. He was eleven years older than Darwin and his great work was achieved at an earlier age. Darwin read the first edition of the Principles of Geology while on the voyage of the Beagle and became Lyell's devoted admirer upon his return. In fact, as early as 1836 Darwin wrote to a friend, "Amongst the great scientific men, no one has been nearly so friendly and kind as Lyell." [12] Darwin never made any secret of his debt to Lyell -- he dedicated the Journal to him-but there are few, nevertheless, who realize the extent of this relationship. Geology and biology, in spite of certain mutual interests, are now far more divergent and specialized than they were in 1830. As a consequence, Sir Charles Lyell's biological writings tend to remain unread because they are contained in an old textbook of geology and his geological successors are inclined to occupy themselves historically only with Sir Charles's contributions to geology. In the course of time a legend has arisen that Darwin drew his geological uniformitarianism from Lyell, but that his knowledge of biological matters is derived from other sources.

No one would deny that Darwin was an inveterate reader and observer, but an examination of Lyell's early writings reveals that in the Principles he came very close to Darwin's position. Consequently, one can scarcely resist the observation that the Origin could almost literally have been written out of Lyell's book, once the guiding motif of natural selection had been conceived. Lyell circled again and again about the leading idea that eluded him, but perhaps the fact that he was older than Darwin by more than a decade produced in him, both by background and temperament, a greater aversion toward the last inevitable step. His long reluctance to declare himself, which at times irritated Darwin, is suggestive of the hesitation which may have partially blocked his insight upon the matters which he discussed so thoroughly and with such toleration and objectivity in the Principles. [13] Later we shall examine this problem at more length.

In Darwin's first brief sketch of his theory, written in 1842, there is a phrase about Augustin de Candolle's "war of nature." [14] This reference to the French botanist also occurs in the Origin. Now it is often said that Darwin took the phrase "struggle for existence» from Malthus, and Malthus is accorded a high place by Darwin in leading him to his great discovery. Malthus, in Darwin's essay of 1842, is mentioned along with De Candolle, but not in such a manner as to suggest that Darwin was unaware of other writings upon the struggle for existence. Instead, Malthus's doctrine of geometric increase seems to have caught his fancy as graphically indicating the great pressure of life against its resources. When glancing at the reference to De Candolle I noted that Darwin gave no direct source and remembering Darwin's own admission that he did not read French with facility, I was curious as to where he had found this reference. Knowing that Darwin had occasionally drawn upon Lyell's Principles for facts, I re-examined my copy of the third edition (1834).

In the third volume (p. 35) I came upon the quote from De Candolle, the source again unindicated. "All the plants of a given country; remarked the French botanist, "are at war with one another." Lyell then quotes De Candolle at some length upon the struggle for living space until "the more prolific gradually made themselves masters of the ground...." There can be no doubt then as to where the De Candolle reference was secured. Indeed, Darwin himself in the first edition of the Origin remarks that "the elder De Candolle and Lyell have largely ... shown that all organic beings are exposed to severe competition." [15] Lyell, in another place, after speaking of un" healthy plants being the first to be destroyed and choked out by more vigorous individuals, uses the phrase which was afterwards to become world famous, "the struggle for existence." [16] Tradition has often maintained that Darwin drew it direct from Malthus, but of this there is no evidence. Lyell himself in after years reiterated to the biologist Haeckel his early treatment of certain of the ideas which went into natural selection and once more gives credit to DeCandolle for the idea of the struggle for existence. [17] "Most of the zoologists," he added a little wearily (this was 1868), "forget that anything was written between the time of Lamarck and the publication of our friend's Origin of Species." We have, of course, already seen that the idea of struggle, and even selection within varietal limits, is far older than De Candolle, but it is equally clear that Darwin probably drew more heavily upon Lyell in regard to this subject than upon Malthus.

Lyell's work, directly concerned with animals as it is, contains much extensive ecological discussion. He speaks of the changes that can ensue from the introduction of a new species in a given region. He recognizes that "the changes caused indirectly would ramify through all classes of the living creation, and be almost endless." [18] There is clear evidence that Lyell actually anticipated Darwin in the recognition of ecological change which could promote extinction. The intricate relations between species, including the unconscious effects wrought by man, were all carefully considered and elaborated, Lyell was not prepared to recognize the creative aspect of the changes he observed in nature, yet he saw clearly that disturbances of natural balance might easily lead to extinctions and readjustments of the fauna over wide areas.

Such a succession of species did not have to wait upon geological convulsions but were a constant product of natural selection! Ironically enough, Sir Charles Lyell had fully recognized the negative aspects of the principle and had passed beyond Lamarck in recognizing its part in the elimination of species. His failure lay in his inability to grasp the principle in its full creative role. He was still under the Linnaean spell that the amount of variation which could be produced was limited.

There is much in Lyell's career that served as an outright model for Darwin's activities. In addition, Lyell accumulated in his book stores of information from some of the sources we have previously discussed. They were thus conveniently summarized and brought to the direct attention of Darwin, and Darwin's co-worker Wallace, by the hand of a man directly interested in the same problems which confronted them. In fact, one might well say he composed and set forth for them the problem which they eventually solved. He advocated a geological continuity based on Huttonian principles, but built upon much more extended geological information that had accumulated since the days of Hutton and Playfair. In successfully overthrowing by degrees the old catastrophic doctrine, he was inevitably destroying also the precise, serried, and advancing worlds of the progressive creationists. Instead, it became apparent, in the light of Lyell's careful examination of the struggle for existence and the interlinked web of nature, that the succession of species had always been going on throughout past time and was even now continuing.

No item was too small for its significance to escape him as it might relate to the demonstration of the persistence of natural forces similar to those active upon the globe today. He drew from Buckland's investigation of the eyes of trilobites the observation that "the ocean must then have been transparent as it is now; and must have given a passage to the rays of light, and so with the atmosphere; and this leads us to conclude that the Sun existed then as now and to a great variety of other inferences." [19] He was one of the first to investigate fossil rain marks, "the drops of which resembled in their average size those which now fall from the clouds." He argued on the basis of this evidence "that the atmosphere of one of the remotest periods known in geology corresponded in density with that now investing the globe." [20] It was this type of long, careful mustering of evidence which led to the final fading of the catastrophic doctrines. As one impressed reviewer put the matter as early as 1835, "the concession of an unlimited period for the working of the existing powers of nature has permitted us to dispense with the comets, deluges and other prodigies which were once brought forward, ad libitum, to solve every difficulty in the path of the speculating geologist." [21]

It was from Lyell that Darwin drew his now well-known argument as to the imperfection of the geological record. It was to Lyell, as late as the writing of the Descent of Man (1871), that Darwin had recourse in the attempt to explain how a comparatively weak-bodied primate could have survived until his cultural development made him a match for the formidable carnivores of the primitive world. Here is Lyell's statement:

"... for if a philosopher is pleased to indulge in conjectures on this subject [i.e., the birthplace of humanity], why should he not assign, as the original seat of man, some one of those large islands within the tropics, which are as free from wild beasts as Van Dieman's Land or Australia? Here man may have remained for a period peculiar to a single isle, just as some of the large anthropomorphous species are now limited to one island within the tropics. In such a situation, the new born race might have lived in security, though far more helpless than the New Holland savages, and might have found abundance of vegetable food." [22]

A similar expression, save for the added element of natural selection, is to be found in the closing paragraph o. Chapter II of the Descent of Man. Darwin had been attacked critically by the Duke of Argyll, and it is interesting that in this period of his mature scholarship Darwin still sought his old friend's speculations when he found himself in a tight spot.

Although such evidences of Lyell's influence upon Darwin as I have given here could be multiplied, their general bearing is plain: Lyell, far more extensively than Buffon, possessed in 1830 all of the basic information necessary to have arrived at Darwin's hypothesis but did not. Granted some emotional aversion to a family connection with Lamarck's orang (a relationship to which he jokingly referred), Lyell was, nevertheless, a cool, objective reasoner, as well informed biologically as he was geologically. Studies of his letters have led to a few accusations that he equivocated, that he assumed a conservative pose in public and speculated privately upon the possible mutability of species. [23] I think that this charge of timid vacillation is in some degree unjust to the man who marshaled the evidence and took the stand which eventually destroyed the catastrophic doctrine which, in the words of a contemporary historian of science, William Whewell, "held almost undisputed sway in geological circles." [24] It is true his work was later to become a conservative classic, but at the time it was launched Lyell stood courageously alone as much as Darwin did when the Origin was given to the press. Lyell cannot, therefore, be easily called, in spite of a pleasant uncontroversial temperament, a truckler to public opinion.

As a matter of fact, even his biological observations received laudatory attention shortly after the publication of the second volume of the Principles -- that volume which was so to excite Darwin when it reached him in South America. "Nothing," maintained Whewell, who reviewed it in the conservative Quarterly Review, [25] "can be more striking than the picture given by our author of the mutual wars of the different tribes of plants and animals, their struggles for food, their powers of diffusion ... and the wide and sweeping changes which these phenomena have produced and are producing in the face of animated nature." Whewell dwells upon the "ingenious reasoning" by which Lyell accounts for extinctions. "The author," he says admiringly, "urges that when new species multiplying widely, and requiring large supplies of food, are introduced into a country, the older tenants of the soil must necessarily be reduced by want, and some classes must be destroyed." This is just how close to evolution Lyell was in 1830 and this is the way in which certain, though not all, of his ideas were being received by a leading scholar in a widely read review.

What then were the inhibiting factors which contributed to drawing Lyell's attention away from a subject to which he had devoted much space in his great book? I think they lie, much more than has been realized, in the philosophical background of uniformitarianism and, curiously enough, in the progressionism which, at first glance, seems to have been moving in an evolutionary direction. The situation is a complex one, demanding considerable analysis. Moreover, it has been further obscured through the unconscious simplification of motives activating those, including Lyell and Huxley, who survived the progressionist period to become full-fledged Darwinists. There is always a desire, after such a great intellectual triumph as Darwinism represented, to submerge the account of one's past hesitations and to appear to have been a disciple who, from the first, had never doubted the direction events were to take.

In 1868, when Darwin was riding the full wave of his fame, Lyell wrote to the German biologist Ernst Haeckel acknowledging the gift of the latter's latest book. In a discussion of some of the historical background of the evolutionary philosophy and his own contribution to it, Lyell remarks, and the remark in and of itself is honest enough, "I had certainly prepared the way...." [26] The intriguing thing about this statement, however, and a few others of comparable character, is the fact that right up to the time, almost, of the publication of the Origin of Species, Lyell was advocating, though with no great success and not by any really extended publication, a doctrine which he himself once termed "non-progressionism." In the commotion attendant upon the publication of the Origin, and in the ensuing debates, non-progressionism died quietly, never to be resurrected by its author. Lyell, as is evident from his later modest claims to have been one of Darwin's predecessors, was content to let his ill-starred theory perish without being acknowledged by its author.

Yet it is this theory which was actually expressed in his Anniversary Address given before the Geological Society of London in 1851. The speech is of particular interest because facts in this address were once referred to by Lyell in connection with his claims to having promoted the way for Darwin. Again he is not wrong in detail, but he chose not to be wholly candid about this-forgotten episode. With the death of progressionism -- and progressionism began to die more rapidly after the glacial theory was developed at the hands of Agassiz and others in the forties [27] -- non-progressionism ceased to have meaning. Since it is one of the obscurer and shorter-lived episodes in nineteenth-century thought it has not been investigated nor its meaning in relation to larger events examined, This doctrine, however, irrational though it may now seem, is perfectly consistent and logical for a Huttonian and a uniformitarian to have advocated. It is no aberration on the part of Sir Charles Lyell. It is, instead, the logical outcome of pure uniformitarianism when that system is kept fully divested of progressionist elements. Evolution, by contrast, is a system which contains material derived from both philosophies. It is a hybrid, a product, really, of two distinct lines of thought which had to merge to become completely successful. All this the world has forgotten and Lyell for very human reasons helped in the forgetting. It is now necessary to examine non-pro- gressionism and the intellectual atmosphere out of which it arose.

III. Non-progressionism

We have observed, in our discussion of James Hutton, that he had seen the world as a self-adjusting, self-renovating engine, surviving through illimitable vistas of time. Cosmological speculation, theories of earth formation, of which there had been many before him, he viewed with distrust. They were, he felt, essentially speculative and unverifiable. He wished to confine geology to its proper province -- the earth -- and to the facts which could be elicited from her formations and deposits. It was essential to the regularity of Hutton's system that there be no mysterious and supernatural, or unaccountable, powers at work in the earth. The erosive forces shaping the surface of the planet were to be seen as those at work around us constantly in the shape of winds and frost and running water, along with the somewhat more mysterious but natural forces of heat in the earth's interior. Life did not particularly occupy his attention -- he saw it merely as extending into the indefinite past. There was as yet no sure evidence of vast extinctions or the progressive advancement of living forms.

By the time Lyell came to write the Principles of Geology, he was, though drawn to the uniformitarian philosophy, presented with a somewhat different situation than had confronted Hutton in the 1780s. There were evidences pointing to extinction of animal forms, to the past existence of unknown animals, and, above all, there existed in the transcendental, man-centered progressionism of the catastrophists a philosophy which was the very antithesis of the Huttonian approach. Progressionism may very well be regarded today as a long step toward evolution. Looked at in another light, from Lyell's position in the 1830s, it could be viewed, like catastrophism itself, as a retreat from scientific principles and an introduction of supernaturalism into geology. Lyell, in defending the uniformitarian geology, could scarcely at the same time be expected to embrace progressionism which, as we have seen, is really the biological equivalent of catastrophism. As a consequence, from the very beginning Lyell's philosophical position was somewhat ambiguous if not contradictory.

In spite of his great victory over the "convulsionists" he was never entirely happy with the situation in which he found himself. He had come upon the scene too late to ignore the accumulated information upon organic change, but was philosophically committed to secondary causes and the reign of natural law. What was easy for the progressionist to account for by special creation and divine edict was a constant embarrassment to the man whose whole work had been opposed to epochs of extinction and re-creations of fauna. As a later writer has observed of this period, "The aim of naturalists seemed to be to create a world as unlike that of today as it was possible to have it." [28] Lyell, when he challenged the validity of catastrophism, was inevitably confronted with a far more unanswerable problem. Unlike Hutton he had to account in uniformitarian terms, not alone for change in the inorganic world, but in the world of life as well. If he was forced to admit supernaturalism in the successive creations of life, then his geological opponents could readily say, and they did say:

"When we find that such events as the first placing of man upon the earth, and the successive creation of vast numbers of genera and species, are proved to have occurred within assignable geological epochs, it seems to us most natural to suppose, that mechanical operations also have taken place, as different from what now goes on in the inorganic world as the facts just mentioned are from what we trace in organic nature." [29]

Lyell, in other words, was being challenged either to explain the mysterious changes in the world of life or accept the fact that the planet also has been shaped by unknown forces.

It was a shrewd and formidable challenge. Lacking the Darwinian principle only one recourse was possible. In taking this way out Lyell was not able to remain wholly consistent and his thinking on the subject wavered from time to time. In essence, however, he clung to a slightly modified Huttonian position: he accepted time as being boundless as space and he denied, admittedly in a rather cautious fashion, that major organic changes could be proved.

As part of his geological treatment of the subject he extended and elaborated Hutton's work upon erosion, but where Hutton had contented himself with physical geology, Lyell called paleontology to his aid. He pointed out that the unity of plan, which could be traced from living forms back into the past, itself bespoke an unbroken continuity and connection. He strove successfully to show that the catastrophic discontinuities supposed to be world-wide in extent were frequently local and that animal forms claimed for a single catastrophic interval could be traced, in many instances, straight though successive strata, thus raising serious questions as to the total obliteration of successive faunas. He made use of the argument from the imperfection of the geological record to claim that we do not have sufficient evidence to prove the type of biological progression which so many writers demanded.

"The only negative fact," Lyell contended in the Principles, "remaining in support of the doctrine of the imperfect development of the higher orders ... in remote ages, is the absence of birds and mammalia. The former are generally wanting in deposits of all ages." Land mammals could not be expected in oceanic deposits. For the more remote ages, therefore, there was "scarcely any means of obtaining an insight into the zoology of the then existing continents." [30] Man, Lyell was forced rather unwillingly to admit, did seem to be a recent introduction and an exception to his system.

Lyell was not so foolish as to deny that there had been organic change of a sort on the planet. It is here that his system and his writings, scattered over some twenty or more years, are not always consistent. Essentially, however, his position, which, rather than weakening, was being more strongly asserted by its author at mid-century, can be summarized about as follows.

He recognized that faunas altered and changed, but by using inferences drawn from peculiarities of modem distribution he seems, like Cuvier before him, [31] to suggest that many of the differences between one age and an- other are not the result of newly generated species. Instead, they may represent influxes from other areas, influxes made possible by shifts in the position of land and sea along with climatic alterations. Thus he pointed out that even in the nineteenth century one could find a dominant marsupial fauna in Australia, a reptilian fauna in the Galapagos, and a bird fauna in New Zealand. If we knew of these facts only from geological evidences we might claim some kind of progressive succession which actually represents only geographical distinctions. In like manner there may have been periods in the past when reptiles, for example, dominated wider areas than today without there being a succession of forms "governed by any law of progressive development." [32] Similar arguments were used in the field of paleobotany.

By Lyell's time it was not, of course, possible to deny the extinction of certain forms of life, but the great geologist was intent upon discrediting the notion of progressive succession which constituted a threat to his uniformitarian geology. Nor, incidentally, can he be labeled as totally wrong. When the older catastrophic notions began to give way because it was being discovered that the supposedly separate creations overlapped, what was more natural at first than a reaction like Lyell's? Animals whose time of origin was supposedly known began to be found further back in time than had been anticipated. Even the most clearly established, recent form of all -- man -- began to be eyed with more suspicion.

Lyell dismissed the doctrine of successive development as untrue. "By the creation of species," he said, "I simply mean the beginning of a new series of organic phenomena, such as we usually understand by the term 'species:" As to how these species came into existence he offered no conjecture, though he hinted that he did not believe "the renovating power" totally suspended.

It can now be seen, glancing 'back at the intellectual climate of Lyell's period, that a great deal of his energy, thought, and effort had to be devoted to the support of the Huttonian conception of time and natural process. The one idea of what we might call "evolutionary'" advance which stood in popular favor was basically Imbued with a supernatural aura which Lyell felt obliged to reject. This led him, ironically, into a position where he was in some danger of rejecting organic change at the same time that he tried to account for it by natural means. His position was, from the first, an uneasy and ambivalent one. It forced him into extended investigations which were of great value to Darwin and Wallace, for he had concentrated upon the forces making for organic change in order to explain these naturally. His comments upon animal distribution, the struggle for existence, extinction, and related topics were, on the whole, judicious and painstaking. Without them it may well be that neither Darwin nor Wallace would have stumbled upon the final secret. That this position was not purely an idiosyncrasy of Lyell's can be seen from Huxley's Anniversary Address of 1861 before the Geological Society of London. [33] In it he took a firm stand against the progressionist doctrine. There is, he admits like Lyell, "abundant evidence of variation -- none of what is ordinarily understood as progression."

There is a sort of oscillation principle in some of this writing, a willingness to admit the fact that the great classes of life have thrown off variable forms in different ages and that these forms may become extinct and new ones arise by means unknown. The system, in principle, however, is too uniform for modem taste. It is almost like the self-correcting aberrations that occur in the cosmic systems of the eighteenth-century astronomers. This attitude stems naturally from the eighteenth-century influence of Hutton. The uniformitarians were, on the whole, disinclined to countenance the intrusion of strange or unknown forces into the universe. They eschewed final causes and all aspects of world creation, feeling like their master Hutton that such problems were confusing and beyond human reach. The uniformitarian school, in other words, is essentially a revolt against the Christian conception of time as limited and containing historic direction, with supernatural intervention constantly immanent. Rather this philosophy involves the idea of the Newtonian machine, self- sustaining and forever operating on the same principles.

For this school to have introduced progressive biological change into its schema would, as we have seen, been an abandonment of its own principles. In terms of nineteenth-century science it would have smacked of the supernatural, of forces not susceptible to investigation and hence suspect. The only thing that the uniformitarian hypothesis did lend in the direction of evolutionary thought was continuity of action. Lyell augmented this Huttonian observation by attempts to account naturally for extinction, faunal shifts, and similar topics. He retained, however, a bias toward cyclic rather than Indefinitely progressive change. Here, however, he is not always consistent. His position, and the facts, made total consistency impossible.

By contrast, the philosophy of catastrophism was frankly supernatural in essence, and progressive. The world was not regarded as always shaped by the forces of today, and the biological record in the rocks was read as progressive though its material continuity is interrupted. There is a mixture of both change and Platonism Involved in this point of view. Life is prophetic from its first appearance and points on to man. Cosmology held no terrors for the catastrophist. Thus progressionism was better prepared, in a sense, to accept the mysterious origins of life and the apparition of new forms in the rocks than the uniformitarian who wanted to believe only in forces he could see and interpret in terms of existing knowledge. [34]

The final victory of uniformitarian geology over catastrophism, and the fact that Lyell, its leading proponent, became a Darwinian, has led to the unconscious assumption that uniformitarianism nourished the evolutionary hypothesis. Actually, however, this can be observed to be only a partial truth. Uniformitarianism was, in some respects, rigid and uncompromising. It was wary of anything which could be regarded as an upward trend in the organic world although it was soon obvious that the fact of such a trend, irrespective of its explanation, could not be evaded. Lyell felt pressed by this problem and it led to some. of his ambiguous and uneasy evolutionary remarks, which, to use the words of his great pupil Darwin out of context, are master wrigglings" rather than prophetic insights.

We may thus say briefly that evolution, to a very considerable extent, arose out of an amalgamation or compromise which partook largely of progressionism, but drew the important principle of continuity and adaptive response largely from uniformitarianism. Darwin, by an astute application of Malthusian selection, supplied the observable "natural" principle demanded by the uniformitarians and this relaxed their fears of supernaturalism. Progressionism and uniformitarianism in their extreme forms began to fade from men's minds. What emerged -- Darwinism, developmentalism, evolutionism -- was the intellectual offspring of two distinct schools of biological thought.



1. Hugh Miller, The Testimony of the Rocks, Edinburgh, 1869, p. 192.

2. Alexander Gode-von Aesch, Natural Science in German Romanticism, Columbia University Press, 1941, p. 219.

3. Ibid., p. 121.

4. Oken cited by Gode-von Aesch, op. cit., p. 122. For a detailed discussion of the German transcendental school of biology one should consult E. S. Russell's excellent work Form and Function, New York, 1917.

5. Russell, op. cit., p. 214.

6. Miller, op. cit., p. 193.

7. Typical Forms and Special Ends in Creation, New York, 1857, p. 330.

8. The Structure of Animal Life, New York, 1866, pp. 108-9.

9. An Essay in Classification, London, 1859, pp. 34-35.

10. Among the propositions which Buffon had been forced to recant by the Sorbonne was the view that the surface features of the earth were due to secondary causes which, in time, would destroy them and produce others of similar character.

11. Professor C. F. A. Pantin in speaking of the Origin of Species says that its style reminds him of Lyell's Principles of Geology "to which unquestionably it was indebted." Lyell's early training as a barrister, he goes on to say, has certainly benefited mankind. "Darwin's Theory and the Causes of its Acceptance," The School Science Review, June, 1951, p. 313.

12. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. by Francis Darwin, London: John Murray, 1888, Vol. 1, p. 277.

13. Lyell himself once remarked, "You may well believe that it cost me a struggle to renounce my old creed." Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, ed. by Mrs. Katherine Lyell, London: John Murray, 1881, Vol. 2, p. 376.

14. Foundations of the Origin of Species, ed. by Francis Darwin, Cambridge University Press, 1909. p. 7.

15. O, p. 53.

16. PG, 1834, Vol. 2, p. 391.

17. LLL. Vol. 2, p. 436.

18. PG, Vol. 3, p. 52.

19. Sir Charles Lyell, Eight Lectures on Geology, New York, 1842, pp. 41-42.

20. Sir Charles Lyell, "On Fossil Rain-Marks of the Recent, Triassic, and Carboniferous Periods," Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 1851, Vol. 7, p. 247.

21. Anonymous, "Lyell's Principles of Geology," Quarterly Review, 1835, Vol. 53. p. 410. The paper is unsigned but attributable to William Whewell.

22. PG, Vol. 3. pp. 17-18.

23. Darwin's pseudonymous biographer, Geoffrey West, has taken this point of view. See Charles Darwin, A Portrait, Yale University Press, 1938, pp. 103, 123.

24. Quarterly Review, 1835. Vol. 53. p. 407.

25. 1832, Vol. 47, pp. 118, 120.

26. LLL, Vol. 2, p. 436. See also LLD, Vol. 2, p. 190.

27. Ice advances explained away the glacial erratics which had been previously used to bolster the position of the catastrophists.

28. Science, 1883, Vol. 1. p. 69.

29. Quarterly Review, 1832, Vol. 47. p. 126.

30. PG, Vol. 2, pp. 396-97.

31. The Idea Is implied In Hutton (1788) but was not developed.

32. Anonymous, "Sir Charles Lyell on Progressive Development," Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 1852, Vol. 52, pp. 358-59.

33. Frequently reprinted among his essays under the title "Geological Contemporaneity and Persistent Types of Life."

34. It should be noted, of course, that It was possible, at least theoretically, to be a catastrophist without inclining toward supernatural forces. The bent of the school, however, runs otherwise.
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Chapter V: The Minor Evolutionists

If man was to think beyond what the senses had directly given him, he must first throw some wild guess-work into the air, and then, by comparing it bit by bit with nature, improve and shape it into a truth.
-- William Smith, Thorndale, 1859

I. Branching Evolution

One thing that contributed to the failure of the early attempts to gain consideration for evolution -- even from scientists -- was the arrangement of life in terms of a single scale with man at its head. If one attempts to change the scale into a moving chain one is confronted by gaps. Lamarck was not able to connect invertebrates to vertebrates. An attempt by Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, an early nineteenth-century transcendental morphologist and tentative evolutionist, to span the gap between the invertebrates and the vertebrates by introducing the cephalopods as a transitional form, a sort of "bent vertebrate; was easily refuted by Cuvier. [1] This famous controversy is sometimes described as an early, evolutionary debate. Actually, though the argument had some potential evolutionary overtones, it revolved about Geoffroy's transcendental unity of plan. Unity of structure did not then necessarily imply what it does today, namely, actual physical descent of related forms from a common ancestor.

The rising interest in the similarities and dissimilarities of structure existing in the animal and plant kingdoms stimulated philosophical discussion in both Germany and France. With the rise of the romantic movement in philosophy and literature this thinking was not slow in seeping into England. Though Cuvier is often castigated as having crushed the evolutionary position in his attack on Geoffroy, the truth is that his rejection of a universal plan for all organisms, [2] and his insistence upon unrelated structural types no, longer arranged in a unilineal series with man at the head, was a necessary preliminary to the kind of branching evolutionary phylogeny which is now everywhere accepted. The attempts to fill in all the gaps represented in the old Scale of Being were bound to fail and to stand as an impediment to evolutionary thinking. Until the vast riches of the paleontological record were revealed, and until human embryology became better known, biologists were bound to regard the creation of man by successive slow transformations as, in the words of a contemporary thinker, "the most complex and circuitous method imaginable" -- a "dream of the imagination."

One can understand this reasoning. The advocates of the development hypothesis were fond of speaking of the simplicity of nature, and the fact that the Deity, in the last analysis, controlled the powers behind nature. Why then, a devout' scholar could reasonably argue, should God not have chosen to create man simply and immediately? So long as one accepted the premise that man was preordained in the beginning it was difficult to account for the rationale of such a roundabout way of bringing him upon the scene. Only the emergence of a totally different way of looking at man and the forms of life related to him would offer a reasonable explanation for this seemingly unanswerable question.

II. William Wells

The major tenet of Darwinian evolution, the struggle for existence, is, as we have seen, an old principle. For it to be comprehended as a leading factor in organic change, other assumptions are necessary. Among these, variation which is capable of indefinite extension beyond specific and generic bounds is paramount. Plenty of people, from the time of conscious improvement of domestic stocks, understood the value of artificial selection but few had attempted to apply that principle to wild nature. Fewer still had glimpsed that mutability over long time periods might cause the slow disappearance of one fauna and the rise of another genetically related to but continuing to diverge from the first.

The complex of ideas which later went to make up Darwinism was widely enough diffused in the eighteenth century that finding an unknown or forgotten evolutionist has about it something of the fascination of collecting rare butterflies. Moreover, writings involving the Scale of Nature and progressionism, both of which have faded out of general knowledge, are sometimes misinterpreted by naive investigators as true expressions of evolution. The occasional similarity of phrases results from the fact that we, with our modem evolutionary ideas, have unwittingly inherited so much from this preceding era of thought. Thus the Darwinian precursors have to be scanned with some care. There remain a few, however, who present us with interesting minor problems and upon whom we have not touched. All wrote before Darwin published, and of these men, four in England [3] and one in America glimpsed at least faintly the principle of natural selection. Alfred Russel Wallace, in no sense a minor figure, I shall treat of later for purposes of convenience. He shares with Darwin the leading role in the discovery and demonstration of natural selection as a leading factor in organic change.

As one examines the second decade of the nineteenth century -- a time when catastrophism held the field and Lyell was a young man quietly accumulating the data for his book -- one comes upon the name of an expatriate American physician who was at that time resident in England. William Wells delivered before the Royal Society of London in 1813 a paper which contains an almost complete anticipation of Darwin's major thesis, natural selection. The event is of particular Interest for two reasons. The paper was not given in obscure circumstances, yet its significance seems to have been totally ignored until it was resurrected by a correspondent of Darwin's in the 1860s. A reference to it was incorporated Into the latter's historical preface to later editions of the Origin. [4] Wells's paper was entitled "An Account of a White Female, Part of Whose Skin Resembles that of a Negro." There is no record that the paper aroused any particular attention and it was not published again until 1818 after the author's death. Nevertheless, there are Some strange aspects to this story.

First of all, there can be no doubt that Wells did clearly indicate in. his discussion of the piebald woman who was the subject of his discourse the relation between artificial and natural selection. He put together, in other words, two essential ingredients of what was later to become Darwin's theory. "What is here done by art; he says, speaking of artificial selection in domestic animals, "seems to be done with equal efficacy, though more slowly, by nature, in the formation of varieties of mankind, fitted for the countries they inhabit." As a physician he visualized that some stocks might better resist disease and multiply at the expense of others in particular areas.

The case of Wells has aroused extensive discussion as to why his observations failed to attract the attention of scientists. He had gained considerable attention for some of his scientific work, including his memorable Essay on Dew, and was a member of the Royal Society. Darwin admitted that Wells's statement appeared to be the first published recognition of natural selection but he commented that so far as he could see Wells had applied the idea only to the human races. This objection of Darwin's has often been challenged of late years. It has been pointed out -- for example, by Kofoid [5] -- that Wells had in reality paid attention to animals since he had said that "amongst men, as well as among other animals, varieties of a greater or less magnitude are constantly occurring." Thus it has been generally argued that Darwin's restriction will not hold, and that Wells's briefly, though much too timidly, expressed conjecture is actually a full anticipation of the Darwin-Wallace thesis.

My own interpretation differs in some degree from that of other writers. I introduce it here simply because it serves to illustrate some of the more subtle and elusive aspects in the growth of the Darwinian hypothesis and how easy it is to read back into this material something that may not have been present in the mind of its author. Darwin, obviously and naturally a little on the defensive about his originality, couched his analysis of Wells in terms of the human races. In this he was bound to lose because it is perfectly true that Wells mentions that varieties of great or small magnitude occur in animals. Moreover, he is perfectly cognizant that what today we would call a mutation can descend to posterity. There is no doubt that he is perfectly informed upon selective breeding.

We have observed that Wells put together two essential ingredients of the Darwinian hypothesis-that he saw clearly the similarity between artificial and natural selection. There is, however, a third ingredient which has to be present before we are really dealing with a full-blown evolutionary system. It is the principle, or conception, of unlimited organic change in time. Try as one will, it is impossible from Wells's phraseology to make out whether this element had entered his thought. Darwin apparently sensed this lack but attributed it to Wells's treatment of human races alone. It is perfectly true that he mentioned animals, but, just as in the case of men, only in a varietal sense. There is no clear expression of unrestricted deviation in unlimited time.

Let us recall what we have learned previously of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At that time there was considerable recognition of variation within circumscribed limits. Struggle, in nature, was supposed to be a sort of pruning device promoting strong and vigorous stock. It will now be seen that Wells's view, as expressed, is far more commonplace than it appears at first glance. His facts are set down with sharp analytical precision but without the specific expression of an extension of change through the species barrier; hence his remarks are not nearly so unique as they have been regarded as being. Just to re-establish the conclusions which we have already drawn from Lamarck and others, and which could readily be fortified from Zirkle's study of the early history of natural selection, [6] it is perhaps worth mentioning Joseph Townsend. [7] Townsend's paper once more forecasts the Malthusian problem, clearly recognizes the struggle for existence and the selection of the fittest, He tells the story of dogs and goats introduced on Juan Fern6ndez Island to illustrate his principles and describes how the weak under harsh conditions were destroyed while the fittest survived. As with most of the eighteenth-century writers there is no evidence that Townsend perceived that the perfecting principle could carry a stock beyond its normal range of Variability. In the case of Wells there is no doubt that his statement, brief though it is, contains a very clear analysis of principles which in some of these other writers are loosely and diffusely stated. For this reason it catches the modern eye. In its essence, however, it still lacks a clear expression of the principle of endless deviation which lies at the heart of the evolutionary philosophy. Wells's remarks, therefore, sound more iconoclastic to us than they actually were. As a matter of fact, I strongly suspect that this Is one of the reasons, though perhaps not the only one," why the public was not stirred by Wells's paper. His sentiments simply were neither unusual nor startling to that public without the time factor. Almost one hundred and fifty years later we are reading back into Wells's essay, because of its apt presentation of two of the necessary points out of the possible three which constitute Darwinism, a full- blown anticipation of Darwin which cannot be established.

There is another curious side to the vicissitudes of this remarkable little paper which throws light on the labyrinthine ways of ideas and the way they may pass, like elusive and slippery fish, close to the hands that are groping for them and yet escape. Sir John Herschel's book, A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (London, 1833), is one of the best-known treatises on scientific method of the first half of the nineteenth century. We know that Darwin studied this book assiduously. In it Dr. Wells's Essay on Dew is referred to as a very beautiful specimen of inductive scientific logic. Ironically, in the light of after events, Herschel earnestly recommended this work to the student of natural philosophy -as a model with which he will do well to become familiar." [9] The little volume contains, in its 1818 version, the case history which preserves Wells's account of natural selection. There is no record that Darwin took Herschel's advice.

Once more, however, and in a quite astonishing manner, this elusive essay was destined to pass across the Darwinian horizon. It came this time as Darwin was proposed by Hugh Falconer. for the Copley Medal of the Royal Society in 1864. Falconer, the distinguished paleontologist, was just Darwin's age, but was destined to die shortly after his letter was dispatched to the secretary of the society. In it he drew up a list of Darwin's scientific achievements, among them mentioning the study of coral reefs. "It may be compared," said Falconer, "with Dr. Wells's 'Essay on Dew' as original, exhaustive and complete -- containing the closest observation with large and important generalizations." [10]

Here was a foremost scholar lauding, among other papers, Darwin's "great essay" on the Origin of Species. Yet Falconer, acquainted with Wells's work, seems never to have read the supplementary essay or, if he had, not to have perceived that he held in his hand a partial anticipation of the very friend he was later to propose for the Copley Medal. Moreover, Sir John Herschel himself, friend and correspondent of Lyell and Darwin, as well as the admirer of Wells's incisive scientific logic, seems never to have realized, or at least never to have voiced, the fact that this interesting anticipation of Darwin existed in the papers of a man not unknown to British science. [11] Darwin, instead, received that information in 1860 from an unknown American.

William Wells's prize-winning Essay on Dew was, in a sense, perhaps, his downfall. It was regarded as a model of scientific method and it diverted attention from his all too brief formulation of natural selection. As Professor Shryock observes, Wells did not appear to grasp the significance of what he had done and this in itself suggests that the third important factor, time, had not received his serious consideration. Nevertheless, the lonely and embittered American royalist had come within a hairsbreadth of the greatest discovery of the age. The fact is revelatory of the endless flux of ideas which, in the social mind, await their moment of crystallization. Wells did not possess even a fragment· of that pirate chart which was then in the possession of William Smith of Bath. Wells loved to visit suburban gardens at full moon to study and tramp in the wet dew. It is thus that he passes from our sight, an exile who saw some kind of elusive shadow by moonlight but was unsure of what he saw.

III. Patrick Matthew and Robert Chambers

In 1831 an obscure Scotch botanical writer, Patrick Matthew by name, published a book entitled On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. Although Matthew was a contemporary of Darwin nothing seems to be known of his life or of his birth and death dates. [*] This is unfortunate because Patrick Matthew is the first clear and complete anticipator among the progressionists of the Darwinian theory of evolution. Unfortunately his book is now exceedingly rare. This has led to a tendency merely to repeat what Darwin said in his introduction to the Origin and let it go at that. As has been remarked by many students of the period, however, Darwin's little venture into, the history of the subject is meager and not particularly generous. In addition, Darwin was not in a position to look at his subject with the perspective we can bring to it today.

Patrick Matthew was not, from all accounts, a very tactful man. He bristled over the failure of the world to recognize him, after the publication of the Origin. He had cards printed announcing himself as the discoverer of the principle of natural selection and he so nettled Darwin that the latter was obviously happy to announce, after the discovery of Wells, that Matthew had lost his own claim to priority. The truth is that Matthew never really lost his claim. One essential of the complete theory -- indefinite divergence through time - was not expressed by Wells, whatever his personal thoughts may have been. [12] Matthew, on the other hand, is precise on this point, and his remarks, though briefly expressed in the appendix to his treatise on tree-growing, are clear enough to make any confusion impossible. Darwin, it is true, said in his historical sketch prefixed to the Origin that he did not understand some passages, and that Matthew "attributes much influence to the direct action of the conditions of life."

Nevertheless, Darwin was forced to admit that Matthew had anticipated both himself and Wallace. Matthew, he wrote to De Quatrefages in 1861, "most expressly and clearly anticipated my views." [18] In 1860 he had written similarly to Wallace, italicizing the statement, "He gives most clearly but very briefly ... our view of Natural Selection. It is a most complete case of anticipation." [14] Wallace, in a letter to Samuel Butler, who explored the subject and gave an extended series of quotations from Matthew in his Evolution, Old and New, confessed, "To my mind your quotations from Mr. Patrick Matthew are the most remarkable things in your whole book, because he appears to have completely anticipated the main ideas of the Origin of Species...." [15]

It is now important, if we are to understand Matthew and his role, to remember that his book was published in 1831 at a time when the catastrophist doctrine In geology was at its height. It tends to bear out my contention, expressed previously, that the intellectual climate of catastrophism and its accompanying biological analogue, progressionism, was peculiarly favorable to the eventual development of the idea of evolution. The only obstacle standing in the way of this modification was the physical break supposed to exist between one biological world and its succeeding one. It is, therefore, of great interest to observe that Matthew, a geological catastrophist, succeeded In evading this difficulty.

Darwin and the men who were to become his disciples and publicists, Wallace, Huxley, Hooker, and Lyell, were all uniformitarians who clung to continuity of action, but finally introduced a modified organic progressionism into their philosophy. Patrick Matthew, by contrast, clung to geological catastrophism but introduced a kind of faint uniformitarian continuity into his organic system. In both cases it is evident that some compromise between the two schools was necessary before a real evolutionary philosophy could emerge.

Matthew's system perished, not only because it had been published obscurely by an obscure man but because uniformitarian geology at the hands of Lyell was about to weaken and overthrow the catastrophist philosophy. Over and over in the works of the post-Lamarckian evolutionists it is made abundantly clear that a compromise on one or the other side of the two extreme wings of the opposed geological schools was necessary in order for a true evolutionary philosophy to emerge.

Patrick Matthew seems to have been the only genuine evolutionist produced from the ranks of the English catastrophist school. It is thus regrettable that no published information exists, beyond what we can gain from his book, as to the intellectual life history of this crotchety but perceptive man.

"As nature in all her modifications of life has a power of increase," Matthew wrote, "beyond what is needed to supply the place of what falls by Time's decay, those individuals who possess not the requisite strength, swiftness, hardihood, or cunning, fall prematurely without reproducing- either a prey to their natural devourers; or sinking under disease ... their place being occupied by the more perfect of their own kind who are pressing on the means of subsistence." [16]

Here, of course, we have, clear and well stated, what the eighteenth century had already observed. Remove the struggle for existence, Bruckner had long ago commented, and "a universal inundation would ensue." [17] So far we are at the position of Wells almost twenty years before. Matthew did not stop here, however, as did Wells, leaving his evolutionary position unclear. Instead, he turned directly to geology, and we are thus in a position to see how a catastrophist attempted to handle the evolutionary succession in the rocks.

"Geologists," he maintained, "discover a like particular conformity -- fossil species -- through the deep deposition of each great epoch, but they also discover an almost complete difference to exist between the stamp of one species or stamp of life, of one epoch from that of every other. We are therefore led to admit either of a repeated miraculous creation; or of a power of change, under a change of circumstances, to belong to living organized matter, or rather to the congeries of inferior life, which appears to form superior. The derangements and changes in organized existence, induced by a change of circumstance from the interference of man, affording us proof of the plastic quality of superior life and the likelihood that circumstances have been very different in the different epochs, though steady in each, tend strongly to heighten the probability of the latter theory." [18]

Matthew, to put the matter briefly, observed that species and varieties under artificial selection "soften into each other." [19] He took this as proof of the "plastic quality" of life and what he called the "circumstance-suiting power of organisms," that is, adaptability. He noted in his book several types of ecological adaptation and he went on to observe that when changed circumstances occur the struggle for existence may be enhanced. Under such conditions individuals of superior adaptive power and "greater power of occupancy" eliminate the less well adapted. All of this is very Darwinian; it is, in fact, pure Darwinism.

As a catastrophist, however, Matthew upheld the usual belief in periods of calm alternating geologically with great convulsions and upheavals of the earth's surface, His evolutionism is adjusted to the convulsionist doctrines in the following manner:

1. He appears to have believed in a vast destruction of fauna at each upheaval but with a few low forms surviving so that the chain of life remains unbroken.

2. At each such interval the destruction of life is so great that new corridors, new adaptive zones, to use a modern term, are opened for exploitation. There is thus a re-radiation and evolution of life, the world fills up once more, but the new forms are never precisely like the old. As a consequence, each great period in the rocks is different though the continuity of life on a low level remains. What Matthew upholds, therefore, is the comparative stability of life in the calm intervals when the world is filled up and, on the other hand, he appears to visualize marked rapidity of evolution by selective principles when the amount of life on the globe is greatly reduced by catastrophic events. The idea is really another version of Cuvier's notion of the new fauna, which replenishes a damaged area, coming from elsewhere. In Matthew's case this fauna evolves and there is even a hint, never developed, of spontaneous generation.

We may now observe that such a catastrophist evolution, if Matthew had ever gone on to elaborate it, would have had to account for an extremely rapid ability to evolve high forms within the course of a single geological epoch. He might also have been called upon to explain why the results differed so much from one era to another. Actually Matthew, in embryonic form, had answers prepared to both these questions. They are worth giving because they reveal a remarkable parallelism of thought existing between himself and Darwin on one point where Darwin, when he wrote his historical sketch, thought himself and Matthew to be the furthest apart.

Matthew, as Darwin was later to do, believed that natural selection operated ·upon the slight but continued natural disposition to sport in the progeny." [20] Unlike the usual progressionist he does not appear to have been particularly man-centered, although he makes a kind of polite perfunctory exception in his discussion of the human race. With the exception of man, he observes, "there does not appear to have been any particular engrossing race, but a pretty fair balance of powers of occupancy, or rather, most wonderful variation of circumstance parallel to the nature of every species, as if circumstance and species had grown up together." [21] Matthew, in other words, here intimated that life is in a kind of dynamic balance which is never twice the same from one era to another because the web of living things is both subject to chance, in the shape of fortuitous variation, and to natural law, in the guise of selective survival. In this respect life is undirected, chanceful, and will never emerge twice the same on the planet after any great catastrophe. Matthew thus ignores the supernatural metaphysics of the progressionists: geological prophecy and the conception of a divinely inspired series of events leading step by directed step to the human emergence. In all these respects Matthew appears to have had as purely a naturalistic outlook as Darwin.

"But," said Darwin, "it seems that he attributes much influence to the direct action of the conditions of life." This Lamarckian factor was played down in the first edition of the Origin, though as we will have occasion to see in a later chapter, Darwin was forced to fall back upon it when heavy criticism and a reduced allowance of geological time sorely beset him. Now Matthew, as we have observed, was confronted with a peculiar problem in developing his views. Unlike the uniformitarian Darwin, he had to account for, not the evolution of life upon one world, but in reality a succession of worlds. I say this because, if one had to explain the almost total rise of a new fauna and flora after each catastrophic episode in the earth's history, one was, in actuality, explaining the rise of life within a series of almost unrelated worlds. The continuity in Matthew's system is reduced, in other words, to a bare minimum of primitive organisms. His system, therefore, demands great and rapid malleability on the part of the organism, yet the selective aspect of the theory emphasizes slight but continuous variation.

It is apparent that Matthew, even though he did not feel impelled to justify himself to the extent that the writer of a longer work might have, felt some concern over the relation of time to his natural selection theory. He needed, to put it briefly, an accessory principle which might speed the process of organic change. Thus we find that Matthew "does not preclude the supposed influence which volition or sensation may have over the configuration of the body." [22] At this point we are back with Erasmus Darwin and Jean Lamarck. This fact threatened for a time to make fortuitous and undirected evolution a logical impossibility. Darwin, after earlier dissociating himself from Matthew's thought along these lines, was forced to move in the same direction and for what was, basically, the same reason -- a restriction of the amount of free time at his disposal.

One other interesting observation can be made: in some of Matthew's phrases, such as the familiar "millions of ages," and in his emphasis upon "volitions and sensations" one can perceive the ghost of Erasmus Darwin. There would seem to be an actual continuity of intellectual descent here. so far as the inheritance of acquired characters is concerned. There is, however, no doubt, also, of the genuine originality of Patrick Matthews thinking. It is a great tragedy that he did not bring his views into the open because the amount of ground he was able to cover in a few paragraphs suggests that he might have been able to sustain a longer treatise. As the record stands, neither Matthew nor Wells can be said to have advanced the subject. Their words were obscure flashes in the dark, firefly indications that some kind of intellectual ferment was working behind the orthodox surface of things. [23] It was time for something weightier to appear.

The hour came in 1844 with the publication of The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. The book was written by a scientific amateur and published anonymously for reasons of discretion. Condemned by the critics as immoral and godless, it promptly took the public by storm. Four editions appeared in seven months and by 1860 some 24,000 copies had been sold." Two hundred copies of the first edition were distributed to prominent scientists in the attempt to arouse interest. The result of this effort to bring attention to the subject is of extreme interest to the scientific historian.

Robert Chambers, the anonymous author, had hoped for a scientific hearing but was promptly shouted down. Thomas Huxley, who was later to become Darwin's chief defender, attacked the book with the utmost savagery. Phrases such as "foolish fancies," "charlatanerie," "pretentious nonsense," "work of fiction," "mean view of Nature" rolled from his pen. None of Huxley's reviews of anti-Darwinian opponents equal the ferocity of this onslaught upon the Vestiges. Ironically, the review defends men like Owen and Sedgwick who were later to assault Darwin mercilessly. Chambers was berated for every possible minor error -- and they were admittedly numerous -- that could be found in his work.

"It is surprising," remarked Persifor Frazer at a later date, "that the influence of the Vestiges ... which appeared anonymously should be so rarely and slightingly alluded to (if not entirely ignored) by masters like Huxley." [25] Any reading of Huxley's review of the tenth edition of the Vestiges in 1854 will give one an idea of why he preferred later that the book be forgotten.

The scientists as well as the theologians, however, overdid their case. The disputatious and vindictive storm they aroused made evolution public property. Thus, as Draper commented many years ago, "happily the whole subject was brought Into such prominence that it could be withdrawn into obscurity no more." [26] The increasing growth of literacy among the working classes was contributing to a widespread Interest In the new ideas of science. While the critics fulminated, the public, in which Chambers had placed little faith, read his book with eagerness and enthusiasm. Years later Francis Darwin was to write, "My father's copy [of the Vestiges] gives signs of having been carefully read a long list of marked passages being pinned In at the end." Francis Darwin points out that Charles, seeing the difficulties Chambers got Into with certain attempts to explain phylogenetic lines, wrote, "I will not specify any genealogies -- much too little known at present." [27]

It is customary among biographers of Darwin to speak of the excitement which greeted the appearance of the Origin and of Huxley's able defense of Darwin at Oxford In his clash with Bishop Wilberforce. Actually, however, by the time Darwin published, Robert Chambers had drawn much of the first wrath of the critics and the intelligent public was at least reasonably prepared to consider a more able, scientific presentation of the subject. Not least among the curious realignments of forces which took place In 1860 is the fact that it was Robert Chambers who persuaded Huxley to attend the meeting at which he became engaged with Wilberforce. Huxley had had no Intention of listening to the bishop, and had expressed an aversion to being "episcopally pounded." Chambers ad urged Huxley not to desert the evolutionists In their hour of need and as a consequence he had finally consented to go. [28] If it had not been for the urging of Chambers the episode which, more than any other, dramatized Huxley's powers as a public speaker and defender of the Darwinian cause would never have taken place. In his willingness to forget the assaults to which he had been subjected, Robert Chambers showed a rare quality of mind for which he was little enough rewarded even by those whom he helped to defend. To understand more fully his position in the controversies of his time a short resume of the leading ideas of the Vestiges is now necessary. Through aI1, it must be borne in mind that Chambers, as part owner of a successful publishing house, had to remain anonymous in order to protect the business interests of himself and his brother William. This is a measure of the damage which threatened a man who transgressed established views in the first half of the century. [29]

Robert Chambers (1802-71) was not a trained scientist but a philosophically minded journalist who had become convinced of the reality of both cosmic and organic evolution-another illustration, if one were needed, of the ideas which were beginning to emerge from the works of the geologists. Chambers had absorbed many diverse ideas and some of his own errors are partly the result of eclectic gatherings from a variety of sources. The essentials of his position are as follows: (1) He adopted from the progressionist philosophy the idea that there is an advance in the complexity of life as one traces it upward through the sedimentary rocks of the planet. (2) He rejected with the Huttonian geologists the idea of total breaks in stratigraphy and recognized that certain forms appeared to extend from one era to the next. He believed in the world's great age and rejected the notion that the entire surface of the planet had been under water. "Time," he said, "and a succession of forms in gradation and affinity, become elements in the idea of organic creation. It must be seen," he continued, "that the whole phenomena thus pass into a strong analogy with those attending the production of the individual organism."

It is only fair to recognize at this point something which, except for the observations of Professor Lovejoy, [30] has rarely been clearly assigned to Robert Chambers. It is this: He actually put the separate pieces of the lost chart of Hutton, Cuvier, and Smith together and came up with the idea that organic as well as cosmic evolution was a reality.

The time of his publication, and the fact that he was a highly intelligent amateur, justifies my comment that so ar as the accumulation of ideas was concerned it was not necessary to sail around the globe to develop a theory of evolution. The voyagers had already provided much of the necessary information. Rather it was necessary to break out of a particular, man-centered way of looking at the world. Chambers has often been castigated for the uncritical acceptance of naive ideas upon the spontaneous generation of such complex organisms as plants and insects. It should be said in fairness, however, that while he held such reports favorable to his hypothesis, he saw that these creations were not indispensable to a theory of evolution. Although this conception of spontaneous generation led to accusations of atheism the truth is that Chambers never totally escaped the religious aspects of the old progressionism. He took rudimentary structures, as did the transcendental French and German anatomists, merely as evidences of continuing plan, "evidences of the manner in which the Divine Author bas been pleased to work."

On the other hand, like Lamarck, he believed that the original life impulse could be modified or adapted to particular environmental circumstances. He recognized, in other words, that there may be numerous branches or radiations within the ascending phyla. The marked rises in organization, as when a more advanced class like the Vertebrata appears, Chambers thought (and we' cannot differ from him on this today), were very rare events in the course of untold millions of years.

At the same time he believed that varietal and species differentiation was constantly occurring in a wild state. In this respect his botanical examples sound very much like the macro-mutations of De Vries, which will be discussed in a later chapter. Although Chambers was perfectly aware, like so many before him, of struggle in nature, he seems to have retained the eighteenth century teleological conception that it was a method of keeping the forms of life in proper balance. Carnivores were a necessary policing accompaniment "to the weaker tribes, the fertility of which would otherwise produce complete anarchy." Like Lamarck he saw two principles at work. an inner "gestative" or internal developmental principle which brought about according to divine plan the greater advances in organization, and a second "variative power connected with the will and ... working to minor effects." The Vestiges retains also elements of geological prophecy. "It might have been seen, ere man existed," commented Chambers, "that a remarkable creature was coming upon the earth."

We may now observe that the Vestiges is a revised progressionism with Lamarckian and Huttonian elements. It was actually as progressionism that it was attacked by Huxley who was, prior to his Darwinian affiliation, apparently an adherent of Lyell's non- progressionism. The weakness of the Vestiges lay in the inability of its author to produce a vera causae for evolution outside the metaphysical field of final cause. He is, in detail, occasionally ambiguous and uncertain as to the precise method of emergence of new forms. Nevertheless, as both Millhauser and Lovejoy have observed, he had made out a very impressive case for the reality of evolution, irrespective of the precise nature of the process. He recognized unity of structure, the significance of the fossil record and its genuine continuity. He was intensely, even exaggeratedly, aware of variation. Pathetically he had personal reasons for this knowledge. Both he and his brother William had been born full hexadactyls, that is, with six digits on both hands and feet. he attacks which the scientific world launched upon the Vestiges have, in retrospect, a: quite unreal character. They belabor minutiae and amateurish minor errors as though there was some subconscious recognition that the heart of the thesis was unassailable. This attitude is revealed in the letter of an educator to William Whewell in 1846. "You have read," writes this principal of an English school, "the sequel to the Vestiges. [31] ... It was well that he [Chambers] began to write in the fullness of his ignorance and presumption for, had he begun now, he would have been more dangerous." [32]

The principal was wrong on just one point. The work was destined to become more dangerous, not less so. With its publication and success as a best seller, the world of fashion discovered evolution. The restricted professional worlds of science and of theology both lost their ability to suppress or intimidate public thinking upon the matter. The cause lay partly in the very anonymity of the author. Public curiosity was aroused. Speculation as to the name of the author was widespread. As is always apt to occur under such circumstances, names higher and higher in the ranks of society began to be mentioned. Finally it was whispered about that Prince Albert, Victoria's con- sort, who was known to be interested in science, had written the volume.

People who might never have read the book otherwise now did so. In the words of G. M. Young, the distinguished English historian, "The Vestiges of Creation, issued with elaborate secrecy and attributed by a wild surmise to Prince Albert, was a national sensation; translated into golden verses by Tennyson, evolution almost became a national creed." [33]

Darwin, as we have seen, pored carefully over the book. Wallace and his fellow collector Bates perused it before setting forth for the Amazon. Many an unconverted biologist had to scurry hastily through his papers seeking information to resist the harsh questions being asked by the uninitiated and irreverent public. There was a great bustling, and dusting off of half-forgotten facts and fossils.

By 1859, when the Origin of Species was published, an aroused and eager audience was considerably prepared for the revelations of Charles Darwin. The great amateur disputant and the great professional scholar should always be remembered as having together won the public mind to evolution. It was one of those events, beautifully timed by accident, which rarely occurs in the history of thought.

Those who are unwilling to accord Chambers a place in the history of evolution because he was not a professional biologist and because, in a confused time, he was guilty of errors should remember what Chambers himself remarked of his own work, "It may prove to be a true system, though one half the illustrations presented by its first explicator should be wrong." [34] Darwin himself asked for no more. "I have only opened a path," he once ventured modestly, "that others may turn into a high road." Robert Chambers, who first drew the lightning upon himself in England, deserves, better than most men, the tolerance and affection of posterity. Even Huxley lived to express regret over the impetuous cruelty of his review.



1. Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire's importance as an early evolutionist has been somewhat exaggerated. The English reader will find a very able discussion of his views on morphology and evolution in Chapter V of E. S. Russell's Form and Function, New York, 1917.

2. "There is, philosophically speaking," Geoffroy once wrote, "only a single animal. He aimed to link insects, crustacea, and molluscs with the vertebrates in terms of anatomical pattern.

3. Wells, Blyth, Matthew, Wallace. For Grimes, the American, see pp. 314-15. For Edward Blyth, a recent discovery, see my "Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth and the Theory of Natural Selection" Proc. Am. Philosophical Society, 1959, Vol. 103, pp. 94-158.

4. For an excellent historical treatment of this episode the reader is urged to consult Dr. Richard Shryock's "The Strange Case of Wells s Theory of Natural Selection" In Studies and Essays In the History of Science and Learning In Honor of George Sarton, Cambridge, 1946. Charles Kofoid's "An American Pioneer in Science, Dr. William Charles Wells, 1757-1817," Scientific Monthly, 1943, Vol. 57, pp. 77-80, supplies some interesting personal details of Wells's life.

5. Op. cit., p. 78.

6. Op. cit.

7. A Dissertation on the Poor Laws, By a Well-Wisher to Mankind, London, 1786.

8. See Shryock for additional material and a very able discussion.

9. Op. cit., p. 163.

10. MLD, Vol. 1, p. 254.

11. It should be noted that there were several editions of the Essay on Dew which did not incorporate the evolutionary paper.

* Since the above was written Sir Gavin de Beer has established his dates as 1790 to 1864.

12. As a physician Wells was, of course, acquainted with the Zoonomia.

13. MLD, Vol. 1, p. 187.

14. James Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and and Reminiscences, New York. 1916, p. 118.

15. A. R. Wallace, My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions, New York, 1905. Vol. 2, p. 84.

16. Op. cit., p. 365.

17. Bruckner, op. cit., [as cited In text p. 38.] p. 149.

18. Matthew, op. cit., pp. 381-82.

19. Ibid., p. 381.

20. Op. cit., p. 385.

21. Ibid., p. 387. (Italics mine. L.E.)

22. Op. cit., p. 385.

23. Grant Allen, one of Darwin's earliest biographers, wrote, in 1892, "Long before Charles Darwin published his epoch-making work, conjecture and speculation were rife in England as to the origin of species and the evolution of organic life." Fortnightly Review, 1892, Vol. 58, p. 799.

24. A. R. Wallace, The Wonderful Century, New York, 1898, p. 138.

25. "Was the Development Theory Influenced by The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation?" The American Geologist, 1902, Vol. 30, p. 262.

26. John W. Draper. "Evolution: Its Origin, Progress and Consequences," Popular Science Monthly, 1877, Vol. 12. p. 181.

27. LLD. Vol. 1. p. 333.

28. E. B. Poulton, "A Hundred Years of Evolution," Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1931, pp. 72-73.

29. Anyone interested in a full and sympathetic treatment of Chambers is urged to consult Milton Millhauser's unpublished doctoral dissertation, Robert Chambers, Evolution, and the Early Victorian Mind (1951), a copy of which is on file in the Columbia University Library. A microfilm copy of this thesis is also possessed by the Library of the American Philosophical Society In Philadelphia.

30. A. O. Lovejoy, "The Argument for Organic Evolution before the Origin of Species," Popular Science Monthly, 1909, Vol. 75. pp. 499-514; 537-49.

31. Explanations: A Sequel to the Vestiges, London, 1846.

32. Popular Science Monthly, 1874, Vol. 5, p. 247.

33. Early Victorian England, Oxford University Press, 1934, Vol. 2, p. 477.

34. Cited by Millhauser, op. cit., p. 246.
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Chapter VI: The Voyage of the Beagle

The force of impressions generally depends on preconceived ideas.
-- Charles Darwin

I. The Age of Giants

When Thomas Huxley, young, ambitious and competitive, glanced around him in 1851, he saw two men who impressed him as standing head and shoulders above the rest of the English naturalists. Richard Owen and Edward Forbes, he observed to a friend, were of superior learning, originality, and grasp of mind. Of Darwin, his coming master, he added charitably, almost as an afterthought, that he "might be anything if he had good health." [1]

There is an element of humor in this impulsive judgment. Within three years, Forbes was dead and the saturnine and devious Owen lived on to become Huxley's and Darwin's mortal antagonist. "I have no reparation to make," Huxley said in reference to their quarrels, on the occasion of Owen's death in 1892; "if the business were to come over again, I should do as I did." Following which, in the typical Huxley fashion, he aided in promoting a memorial for Owen. "The man did honest work," he said gruffly, "enough to deserve his statue, and that is all that concerns the public." [2]

In so speaking, he rang down the curtain on the age of giants. Darwin and Lyell were long gone. Huxley was about to go. On one point only, Huxley was mistaken: he had said, still speaking of Owen, "The thing that strikes me most is how he and I and all the things we fought about belong to antiquity. It is almost impertinent to trouble the modern world with such antiquarian business," a Huxley's deprecation of his role was unwarranted. He was, like his great associate Darwin, already a legend in his own lifetime. The little, brilliant band of men who by their united endeavor had swung world thought into a new channel had taken on something of the quality of myth, like the Knights of the Round Table. As long as Science lasts their story will be remembered. And because great deeds demand great obstacles, their enemies also stand immortal in the light of that legend -- perhaps even a little more formidable than in life.

The period of hesitant groping, of the patient piling up of facts had ended in 1859 with the publication of The Origin of Species. The master synthesis had finally been achieved. Yet even here the historian must proceed cautiously. The Origin and its author have a history which runs silently and mysteriously through twenty years of ill health, lone effort, and corroding doubt. The sources of such long continued mental effort are not always easy to discern, and it is unlikely that Darwin himself preserved to the end of his life clear memories of all his multiform activity during the years when he was engaged upon his book.

Although we possess a great quantity of his correspondence, owing largely to the fact that he was recognized as a genius in his own lifetime, there are, unfortunately, serious gaps in the letters which he preserved from his circle of colleagues -- Hooker, Lyell, Owen, and others. Some of these missing letters we know to be important from the responses which Darwin made to them, but we can only infer their content, and often not clearly, from Darwin's preserved correspondence. Though Darwin's life is far more elaborately documented than that of many world figures, there are, nevertheless, some annoying gaps in the huge mass of private papers. Even more material has apparently perished among associates whose family lines ended in the Victorian period and whose possessions were destroyed or dissipated long ago.

To the extent that it is possible, the student of the Darwinian epoch will want to know with what intellectual furniture or preconceptions Darwin began his task, what led him to undertake it, and, finally, what shape his hypothesis took after it had been subjected to the harsh critical battering of the theologians and his brother scientists. The evolutionary hypothesis known as Darwinism was not conceived in a day and Darwin himself was anything but a fanatical dogmatist. As a consequence, there is a certain amount of give-and-take, hesitations persisting through long periods, and, finally, a retreat toward the Lamarckian position. Darwin, as is apt to be the case with any thinker who has opened up extensive new horizons of thought, was in no position to explore personally all of the ramifications of his own discovery. It is an idea open at the peripheries and still being modified and reviewed, as its originator knew quite well that it would be. Our purpose is merely to examine the way in which the hypothesis was put together. To do so we must return once more to the early part of the nineteenth century among ideas with which we are now reasonably familiar. It is here that the youthful Darwin began the researches with which he was to transform the nineteenth-century world view. We know also that scientific innovators are not born into a vacuum. We shall want to learn, therefore, something of Darwin's family background, his schooling, and the state of scientific thought at the time, in 1831, when young Charles Darwin made his memorable decision to accept the position of naturalist on H.M.S. Beagle for a five-year voyage 'around the world. Most of this story is common knowledge, but there are a few intriguing points of mystery remaining even today.

II. The Influence of Erasmus Darwin

There were two separate channels by which Charles Darwin was familiarized with the general idea of evolution in his youth. Though the little autobiography which he wrote at the urging of his children in his declining years is not particularly explicit upon such points as this, one such channel can be documented, and the other, though not extensively discussed by Darwin, can scarcely be ignored as an almost certain source of information.

One, the more certain channel, lies in the poetry and prose of grandfather Erasmus Darwin, which achieved sufficient world renown as to make it very certain that the ideas of Erasmus would be discussed in family circles. Moreover, the schoolboy who boasted of a fondness for Shakespeare would surely have tried the wares of a poet within the immediate confines of the family. In fact, Darwin himself tells us that he had read his grandfather's prose work, the Zoonomia, and though he maintains it had no effect on him, it is not without interest that Darwin's first trial essay on the road to the Origin he entitled Zoonomia. Furthermore, in one of the unconsciously revelatory statements of which Darwin was sometimes capable he tells us, right after disclaiming that the Zoonomia had affected him, that "at this time I admired greatly the Zoonomia." [4]

We need not at this point, however, raise the question of what the youth believed -- quite possibly he did not know himself. It is sufficient to establish the fact that such ideas were likely to have been assimilated early enough as to have had a familiar ring. The theory of evolution would thus have lost the shocking and heretical implications that it had for the uninitiated.

Darwin himself at one point confesses, albeit a little reluctantly, that "it is probable that the hearing rather early in life such views maintained and praised may have favored my upholding them under a different form in my Origin of Species." Believing or unbelieving, young Charles had been raised in a family of somewhat unconventional and free-thinking traditions. We know further that he had a passionate attachment to nature and an equal revulsion against the conventional classical education of the time. At length he was packed off to Edinburgh in the hope that he would follow a medical career as his father and grandfather had done before him. Luckily for science, the sensitive youth could not endure the more ghastly aspects of medical practice and his stay at Edinburgh was short. In that brief period, however, he made the acquaintance of Dr. Robert Grant (1793-1874). Their relation was for a short time pleasant, but subsequently a coolness arose which persisted throughout their later years. [*] Grant was something of an anomaly in the Scotland of that day. In Paris he had picked up an acquaintance with Lamarckian evolution and was immensely enthusiastic about it. One day, walking with Darwin, he expounded the Lamarckian philosophy. Once more young Darwin listened, so he says, "in silent astonishment," again disclaiming any effect on his mind. Yet he listened, and listened well enough apparently to remember the episode into remote old age. He was then but a youth of sixteen; the voyage of the Beagle was still six years away.

It is not without interest also that while Darwin was at Edinburgh savoring the joys of zoological observation with Robert Grant, a quite remarkable paper appeared in the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, a scientific magazine contributed to by some of Darwin's professors, and edited by one of them. There is little doubt that Darwin was acquainted with the journal in the year of its foundation. In his later life he made extended use of it.

The paper of which we speak is remarkable in that it upholds the evolutionary hypothesis in the year 1826. [5] That the unknown author knew his views to be extravagantly heretical there can be no doubt. One suspects that he must have been well known to the editors in order to secure even anonymous publication. We know of one such likely person in the Edinburgh of that day: Robert Grant. Curiously enough the paper, perhaps because of its misleadingly innocent title, seems to have gone unnoticed by scientific historians. The writer apparently lays no claim to originality but upholds Lamarck.

"The doctrine of petrifactions, even in its present imperfect condition, furnishes us with accounts that seem in favor of Mr. Lamarck's hypothesis. We, in fact, meet with the more perfect classes of animals, only in the more recent beds of rocks, and the most perfect, those closely allied to our own species, only in the most recent; beneath them occur granivorous, before carnivorous, animals; and human remains are found only in alluvial soil, in calcareous tuff, and in limestone conglomerates." [6]

Referring to Lamarck as "one of the most sagacious naturalists of our day," this pioneer evolutionist continues: "The distinction of species is undoubtedly one of the foundations of natural history, and her character is the propagation of similar forms. But are these forms as immutable as some distinguished naturalists maintain; or do not our domestic animals and our cultivated or artificial plants prove the contrary? If these, by change of situation, of climate, of nourishment, and by every other circumstance that operates upon them, can change their relations, it is probable that many fossil species to which no originals can be found may not be extinct, but have gradually passed into others." [7] Here, early in English scientific literature -- before Lyell had attempted to elucidate the theories of Lamarck for the English public-the suspicious changeability of domesticated forms has been drawn to the attention of the public. It will re-emerge in the succession of Darwin's writings.

Perhaps, considering that this essay was written in the heyday of catastrophism, one of its most astonishing features is its rejection of this point of view. "Out of the vast number of animal remains; our author tells us, "but few belong to species now living, and these only in the most recent rock formations.... [*] May this destruction, as is commonly received, have been the result of violent accidents and destructive revolutions of the earth, or does it not rather indicate a great law of nature, which cannot be discovered by reason of its remote antiquity?" [8]

The unknown author is sure that "petrifactions" contain the history of the organic world and that this science along with the study of plant and animal distribution -- "organic geography" he calls it -- will reveal whether the ancient populations were controlled by the same distributional laws as those of the present. The paper is restrained and well-reasoned. Darwin himself was later to pay the most precise attention to distribution. Of interest, further, is the fact that Darwin was actively associated with the scientific life of Edinburgh in the same year that the anonymous essay appeared. There can be no doubt that he was acquainted with the just launched Edinburgh Journal, His biographer West, while failing to note the magazine specifically, makes quite clear that the subject of evolution hovered in the Edinburgh air. It is West's belief, certainly not belied by the material we have quoted, that it was here at Edinburgh that evolution became for Darwin "a living and potentially credible doctrine." [9]

Yet this pleasant society was not to last. Tiring of the medical. round, Darwin drifted to Cambridge with the thought of entering the ministry, but he continued to cultivate naturalists, to dabble in geology, and to fear the wrath of his exasperated father who had grown weary of his eternal hunting and his lack of scholarly application. One thing, however, is significant: the boy attracted and held the attention of distinguished older men. They sensed something unexpressed within him. Through the good offices of the botanist Henslow and the winning over of his father by his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood, he was permitted to go as naturalist on the voyage of the Beagle, The ship sailed in 1831.

III. Darwin's Intellectual Background

One can, in a sense, regard the voyage of the Beagle as a romantic interlude. One can point out that every idea Darwin developed was lying fallow in England before he sailed. One can show that sufficient data had been accumulated to enable a man of great insight to have demonstrated the fact of evolution and the theory of natural selection by sheer deduction in a well-equipped library. All of this is. doubtless true. Yet it is significant that the two men who actually fully developed the principle of natural selection, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, were both travelers to the earth's farthest reaches, and both had been profoundly impressed by what they had seen with their own naked eyes and with the long thoughts that come with weeks at sea. It cannot be denied, however, that both had the additional advantage of literary counsel.

Because of the impact their discovery made, there has been a tendency to think, in the case of Darwin in particular, that he personally devised all of the experiment and thought which went into the Origin of Species. Without wishing in the least to subtract from his greatness, let us continue our examination of the state of European thought in the year 1831.

Darwin, in after years, sometimes spoke contemptuously of his Cambridge education, forgetting apparently that despite his opinion of the formal course work, he had been privileged to know there some of the finest scientific minds of the day and that the botanist Henslow had made his voyage on the Beagle possible. [10] One of these men, Adam Sedgwick, whom Darwin had accompanied on geological field trips, gave a surprising presidential address before the Geological Society of London early in 1830. It was surprising in that Sedgwick, who remained opposed to the evolutionary hypothesis throughout his life, really forecast the eventual triumph of uniformitarianism in geology, and organic evolution in biology. His remarks, perhaps, did not go unnoted by the youthful scholar who was soon to become a disciple of Lyell.

Consider, for example, the following statement: "Each succeeding year places in a stronger point of view the importance of organic remains, when we attempt to trace the various periods and revolutions in the history of the globe. Crystalline rocks are found associated with the strata of almost every age; and the constant laws of combination which have produced a certain mineral form in the rocks of one era, may produce it again in another.... The great barriers, which the fancy or ingenuity of geologists has at different times set up between the mineral productions of successive periods, have been thrown down one after another...." [11]

Here Sedgwick is confessing that one can no longer, as in earlier years, claim that the actual mineral composition of the strata differ from one past "world" to another. Instead, to discern accurately the nature of the lost creations one must rely upon the organic remains in the strata. It is at this point that Sedgwick, in a manner which he was to repeat more than once, comes to the very verge of the evolutionary abyss and then draws back. He writes: "When we examine a series of formations which are in contact, we constantly find them passing into each other: and when we place the groups of fossils derived from the successive terms of the series in the order of superposition, their passage is still more striking. 1 do not mean by this to vindicate the transmutation of species; because that doctrine is opposed by all the facts of any value in determining such a question.... I only wish to state a fact of general observation." (Italics mine. L.E.)

First minerals had failed to differentiate separate, distinct episodes in the world of the past. Now, Sedgwick implies, the very fossils themselves suggest transitions rather than breaks in the record. From this he recoils, but feels constrained to venture: "I only wish to state a fact of general observation."

That observation, which Sedgwick and most of his generation could not face, was to lead directly to the only possible explanation; that is, uniformitarianism in both geology and biology, the recognition that the successive worlds of the past were one continuous world which had been changing and evolving since time began. Thus, in one form or another, Darwin had unknowingly taken aboard the Beagle the three fragments of the lost chart of Smith, Cuvier, and Hutton. Particularly, he had taken them in the shape of Lyell's book, The Principles of Geology. The second volume containing the material on animal life and Lamarck's theories would reach him in South America.

One other thing happened before he left. An anonymous but learned reviewer wrote in June of 1831 (Darwin would not leave until fall) a lengthy account of Sir John Richardson's Fauna Boreali Americani for the Edinburgh Review. Entitled "The Geography of Animal Life," [12] it gives in a succinct' summary all that was then known about the mystery of life on oceanic islands. The Edinburgh Review was a Whig organ and the Darwin family espoused the Whig point of view. There can be little doubt that Darwin was acquainted with this article. It might also be noted by way of anticipation that the Review was a strong advocate of the views of Thomas Malthus, and that William Paley, whose Natural Theology had been extensively studied by Darwin, was a convert to Malthusianism. The significance of this will concern us later. Here it will suffice to examine the essay on animal distribution.

Although the anonymous writer, who obviously knows his subject, discreetly comments that the mode by which the distribution of animals has been effected "will probably remain forever concealed from human knowledge," he cannot resist encouraging a program to pierce this barrier of ignorance. He urges the assiduous collection of facts and he points out that it is most important to ascertain "the limits which nature has assigned to the variation in the specific characters of animals." He asks what may cause a peculiar variety of bird to be confined to the island of Madeira and what the significance of this fact may be. "Why," he continues, "are the pampas of the New World inhabited by quadrupeds entirely different from the species which occur in the plains of Tartary?"

Returning in fascination to the subject of islands he puzzles over how "a mere speck in the vast world of waters" has received its flora and fauna. He recognizes, using the Mascarene archipelago as an example, that certain of these islands are volcanic and younger than the continents nearest to them, yet they are clothed with life. He discusses the possibility of oceanic transport of living seeds, or the dissemination of seeds by birds -- all subjects to be much written upon by Darwin. At last he confronts the puzzled reader with a total mystery. "Finally, that monstrous and extraordinary bird, the dodo, indigenous to the island under consideration, and which so greatly astonished the early settlers, could not have been carried from any other quarter of the world, because it was neither known previously, nor has it ever since been seen or heard of elsewhere."

To this mystery there is only one key: evolution under conditions of isolation. During the next few years Darwin would examine with fascinated interest every island he came upon. In the Galapagos he would find a similarly rare and localized fauna. He would grasp there facts essential to the development of his theory. This Review article makes quite plain the kind of questions beginning to be asked in biology as Darwin sailed away in the Beagle. Remote archipelagoes had been found to contain species and even 'genera not to be found on the continents, yet some of these islands had been found to be geologically of much more recent origin than the continents. "Some recent speculators," the anonymous author confesses, "have argued from this the necessity of admitting the possibility of a comparatively modern creation of animal and vegetable life." English thought, one observes, is still couched in terms of creation rather than change. The dodo, for example, has not yet been seen to be a strangely altered member of the pigeon family. Nevertheless, it is questions of this nature which will lead inevitably in the direction of an evolutionary hypothesis.

Among the other influences at work in young Darwin's mind was that of Alexander Humboldt. Humboldt was one of the last of the great travelers. As Ackerknecht has recently pointed out, Humboldt, to his contemporaries, was not a mere scientist, "he was the 'symbol' of science." [13] A man of wide-ranging intellect, he was an adept synthesizer and played a major role in the creation of what might be called the "religion" of science which "came to dominate nineteenth-century intellectual circles. "In thus popularizing science," Ackerknecht maintains, "Humboldt created the atmosphere in which later scientific mass movements like Darwinism could thrive." [14] Darwin himself had been so impressed by the Personal Narrative that he had investigated the possibility of voyaging to Teneriffe before the Beagle opportunity had presented itself.

Humboldt's volume, in spite of its detailed observations, urges upon the reader a sweeping range of facts which can be systematically correlated. "The most curious geological phenomena are often," he says, "repeated at immense distances on the surface of the continents ... the accidental concurrence of the same causes must have everywhere produced the same effects; and amidst the variety of nature, an analogy of structure and form is ob- served in the arrangement of brute matter, as well as in the internal organization of plants and animals."

Later the "rents on coasts," "the sinuosities of valleys," and the "aspects of mountains" will preoccupy Darwin in South America. Humboldt, also, is an observer of seed transport. He speaks of the Gulf Stream, depositing on the western shores of Ireland and Norway "the fruit of trees, which belong to the torrid zone of America." "On these same coasts, various kinds of tortoises," he claims, "are sometimes found that inhabit the waters of the Antilles." Humboldt is also quite aware of the part played by man in changing the face of the planet: "The naturalist is ex· posed to a thousand errors, if he loses sight of the changes which the intercourse between nations produces on the surface of the globe, We might be led to say, that man expatriating himself, is desirous that everything should change country with him, Not only plants, insects, and different species of small quadrupeds, follow him across the ocean; his active industry covers the shores with rocks that he has torn from the soil in distant climes." Once more we find Darwin at a later date observing in his Journal the spread of huge Old World thistles on the pampas, and the alteration of plant and animal life under European contact.

Humboldt also called attention to the fact that the science of his day was "under great obligations to navigators who have accumulated an immense number of facts.. "But," Humboldt adds, "[we] must regret that hitherto naturalists have made so little use of their journals, which when examined anew may yield unexpected results." (Italics mine. L.E.) When Darwin turned to the amassing of factual material for his great work on the origin of species, he spent much time and effort combing in just this way the accounts of the early voyagers for data bearing on plant and animal diffusion and the peculiarities of island faunas. It is, therefore, perhaps not without significance that one of the books which the youthful Darwin so much admired should have contained this excellent advice.

Humboldt's narrative is really something of a model for the Naturalist's Voyage around the World. We glimpse this in Darwin's transports of delight over the tropical scenery of Bahia. "I am," he wrote in his diary, "at present fit only to read Humboldt; he like another sun illumines everything I behold." [15] Curiously enough, Ackerknecht's observation that Humboldt's "great synthetic picture of the world ... omits nothing but one single item: man" has also been expressed of his scientific descendant, Darwin. One such critic has said of Darwin, "His was a world of insects and pigeons, apes and curious plants, but man as he exists had no place in it." That Darwin attempted to treat of man physically, did treat him from the evolutionary point of view, we know, but there is, nevertheless, considerable justice to the charge that he was a poor ethnologist. Whether the parallelism to Humboldt can be sustained this far as more than fortuitous there is no way of estimating. Like Ackerknecht, one can only wonder what the history and influence of ethnology might have been if Humboldt, the scientific idol of the early nineteenth century, had expressed more interest in its welfare.

The writings which we have just examined have been selected merely to emphasize once more what we have observed in earlier chapters -- that great acts of scientific synthesis are not performed in a vacuum. The influences, the books, the personalities surrounding a youthful genius are always of the utmost interest in terms of the way his own intellectual appetites come to be molded. Darwin's impact upon biology was destined to be so profound that much of what he absorbed from others was remembered as totally his own achievement. This happened because many of the biological works written before the Origin of Species became old-fashioned and ceased to be read.

The still widespread notion that Darwin drew all of his ideas from pure field observation has been furthered perhaps by Darwin's own seeming indifference to the history of the ideas with which he worked. Actually, however, he was a voracious and inquiring reader [16] as well as a good field observer. It was this combination that produced his master synthesis. Having glimpsed a youth already perfectly cognizant of the evolutionary hypothesis, whatever his own personal viewpoint may have been at the time he boarded the Beagle, we have every reason to assume that he was intellectually equipped to make the most of his opportunities from the start. There was the stimulus of an evolutionary tradition stemming from his own grandfather and, from across the Channel, the more extended speculations of Lamarck which be at least knew by hearsay. In addition, he was under the spell of a great voyager, Humboldt, who emphasized observation and the synthesis of related facts into broad generalizations wherever possible.

It would be easy to get the impression from the first edition of the Origin of Species that Darwin conceived of the evolutionary theory solely by field observation in South America. That his belief in its possible truth had been strengthened in this manner is likely enough, but it does not negate the fact that he went aboard the Beagle already aware of an existing hypothesis which he might have the opportunity of testing in the field. His genius lay in the fact that he was willing to test it; no preconceived emotional revulsion hindered him, no appetite for any existing evolutionary theory prevented his development of a more satisfactory mechanism by which to explain its effects. Having made this background clear, we can now proceed to an examination of the events of the voyage itself.

IV. The Voyage

The development of the theory of natural selection is often dated casually from the time of the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859. Actually, however, its inception occurred far earlier than this date. Since Darwin discussed the subject with his intimates over a long period and it was rather widely known in professional circles that he was working on the "species problem," it is even difficult in some instances to know how far his influence extended before he published. There are hints in the Naturalist's Voyage which might well have been pondered over by a thoughtful man. Wallace had read the Voyage and knew by personal correspondence with Darwin that he entertained original ideas on the subject. In fact, the more one examines the relationship of the two men the more one is impressed with the likelihood that without the stimulus of Darwin, there might have been no Wallace, just as, without the stimulus of Wallace, Darwin might never have got around to formal publication. This episode is less one of independent invention than of what A. L. Kroeber has called "stimulus diffusion." There is no question that Wallace worked out the idea of natural selection independently but he might be said to have sensed perspicaciously that Darwin was entertaining a new theory of his own -- in fact, Darwin practically told him as much -- and thus his own eagerness was whetted. Furthermore, like Darwin, his writing shows the influence of Sir Charles Lyell.

As a result of this web of relationships between Darwin and his friends, as well as some contradiction in the enormous array of documents which confront us, it is not always easy to pursue a simple and straightforward. narrative of events. Another complication lies in the fact that Darwin, hurrying ahead at the last under the pressure of Wallace's competition, maintained, at least to himself, that the Origin was merely an abstract of a longer work which would contain names, documentation, and historical references which he did not have the time or space to include in the Origin. As a consequence, since the "real" Origin remained a dream, its "Abstract," the published Origin, is, by modern standards, inadequately footnoted. In many instances we are left without a clue as to where Darwin secured his ideas, yet it is obvious in certain in stances that there were sources close at hand upon which he might have drawn. Darwin was generous in expressions of appreciation to such men as Lyell, for example, yet since these mostly occur as book dedications or in letters, they often throw inadequate light upon the use of specific ideas. Beginning with the diary kept by Darwin on the voyage, therefore, we shall try to make out what influences from the world around him he specifically records. In doing so, however, we must keep carefully in mind that Darwin, the naturalist observer, is looking on with a mind fresh from the European geological and biological controversies of his just completed student days. He is not, in other words, to be considered as a lonely genius of the Hudson or Thoreau literary type. "Rat catcher" though his father may have exasperatedly called him, this young man had impressed professors of the stature of Sedgwick and Henslow; he had bathed his mind in the intellectual currents that were beginning to stir the society of his day. Solitary by nature, it is probable that he never consciously realized the full debt he owed to his Edinburgh and Cambridge background.

As we turn to the diary of the voyage and to Darwin's autobiography, we encounter almost immediately a contradiction between the statements contained in these documents and his late reminiscences to a correspondent of 1877. To this individual he had written, "When on board the Beagle I believed in the permanence of species, but as far as I can remember vague doubts occasionally flitted across my mind." Keeping this statement in mind let us examine both Darwin's little autobiography and the diary and notebooks of the voyage. They give quite a different picture. Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle, in addition, once said that he had often remonstrated with Darwin for expressing doubts upon the first chapter of Genesis. Let us take first the actual day-to-day references in the diary. We need not look for evolutionary statements directly expressed. They would have annoyed Fitzroy, and Darwin's log was part of the official record of the expedition and open by right to Fitzroy. Some of the entries, however, are most provocative. We must also bear in mind as we examine Darwin's remarks that they can be divided into two categories: those bearing on the proof that evolution has occurred, and those concerned with the actual search for the mechanism by which organic change is produced. It is the confusion between these two points which is probably responsible for some of Darwin's own contradictory statements of later years. Apparently he came to equate, in some instances, the discovery of natural selection with his belief in the reality of evolution. Actually, however, the diary and notebooks of the voyage, as well as one of Darwin's own remarks in his autobiography, suggest that he began with an evolutionary suspicion which grew stronger with his continued observations and led, finally, to the discovery of the principle of natural selection and its accompanying law of divergence.

Darwin's diary, as early as 1832, records observations which clearly indicate his concentration upon subjects of primary significance to an evolutionist. He observes a snake with rudimentary hind limbs marking "the passage by which Nature joins the lizards to the snakes." [17] A month later he examines a serpent whose tail "is terminated by a hard oval point" which it "vibrates as those possessed with a more perfect organ are known to do." [18] Again, he is quick to note the various modifications among "three sorts of birds which use their wings for more purposes than flying, the Steamer (duck) as paddles, the penguin as fins, and the Ostrich (rhea) spreads its plumes like sails to the breeze." [19] The close observation of the diverse uses to which the same organ can be put by modification absorbed his fascinated attention.

There can be little doubt, however, that Darwin's acceptance of the uniformitarian geology of Lyell and, finally, in November of 1832, his reception in Montevideo of Lyell's second volume of the Principles of Geology, which dealt with biological problems, enormously influenced his further development. In fact, as we have earlier seen, Lyell comes so close at times to the evolutionary viewpoint, including natural selection, that one is almost exasperated by his failure to make the connection. It is no wonder that Darwin, years after, expressed agreement with Judd that without the Principles of Geology the Origin of Species would not have been written. [20]

Around Darwin as the voyage progressed were living illustrations of all his books had told him, along with many additional and unrecorded marvels to further stimulate his imagination. On the night watches aboard the Beagle or traveling through the thin desert air of the Andean uplands he tells us that "the whole of my pleasure was derived from what passed in my mind." [21] Five years in the great solitudes, shut out by the wall of illiteracy or prejudice from the possibility of being able to talk freely with his companions, whether the seamen of the Beagle or the gauchos amused by the mysterious doings of the naturalista, were destined to strengthen his patience and at the same time to promote those aloof and lonely habits which were to characterize him until the end of his life. Long afterward his son Francis was to speak of Darwin's winter morning walks in Kent -- walks taken so early that he used to meet the foxes trotting home at dawn.

It is possible from the information Darwin has left us, and again making allowance for the educational back. ground that as a naturalist he already possessed, to interpret the successive stages of his thought in the development of the evolutionary hypothesis. There are, as we have earlier shown, two aspects of the problem: the demonstration of evolution itself as a process taking place in time and, second, the nature of the mechanism controlling it. So far as the voyage is concerned, Darwin succeeded in solving only the first aspect of the problem, that is, the actual demonstration of the likelihood that evolution had taken place. Nevertheless, as we shall see, he came, in the Galapagos, upon a key to the mechanism itself.
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V. South America

As the Beagle had proceeded southward from Brazil, Darwin had participated in numerous landings and had also made long journeys on more than one occasion into the interior. He had become impressed, he informs us in the autobiography, "by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards." [22] He had come to see, in other words, a moderate amount of varietal distinction among animals upon a single time level and differing only in their geographical location. Such distinctions suggested quite powerfully the local modification of a single species, rather than the separate independent creation of a new form differing only in a quite moderate fashion, or in a few insignificant characters, from a previously observed species farther to the north. Later, this impression was to be powerfully intensified upon his examination of the Galapagos fauna.

Upon reaching and exploring the pampas, Darwin was struck by the presence in the Pampean geological formation of huge fossil Edentates possessing a kind of skin armor comparable to that of the existing armadillo from the same region.28 In other anatomical aspects, also, these animals seemed to bear some mysterious resemblance to their existing relatives. Still later, after Owen's identifications, he noted that this principle seemed to hold as well in the case of an extinct llama whose remains he discovered in Patagonia. In the first edition of the Journal of Researches he commented that "the most important result of this discovery is the confirmation of the law that existing animals have a close relation in form with extinct species." [24]

Darwin in his Journal called this phenomenon "the law of the succession of types" and commented cryptically that it "must possess the highest interest to every philosophical naturalist." [25] His comment that this type of succession was first noted in Australia shows that he undoubtedly drew the idea from Sir Charles Lyell, who commented with interest on finds of extinct marsupials in Australian caves as proving that "the peculiar type of organization which now characterizes the marsupial tribes has prevailed from a remote period in Australia." [26] The idea itself originated with William Clift and was so acknowledged by both Lyell and Darwin. [27] Some confusion has arisen on this point because Wallace in his evolutionary paper of 1855 made considerable use of this idea in terms of suggesting evolutionary relationships. As a consequence. the development of the idea of succession has sometimes been attributed to him.

There exists in the files of the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine the summary of a paper given by Darwin before the Geological Society28 shortly after his return from the voyage of the Beagle. Part of the summary contains the following: "The author [C.D.] finally remarked, that although several gigantic land animals, which formerly swarmed in South America, have perished, yet that they are now represented by animals confined to that country; and which though of diminutive size. possess the peculiar anatomical structure of their great extinct prototypes." This statement is followed by a footnote which reads: "The relation between the extinct and living animals confined to America was first noticed ... by Mr. Brayley, in some remarks on a fossil vertebra from Eschscholtz Bay; probably referable to a species of Megatherium."

Brayley, contemporaneously with Clift, had. grown interested in the regional succession of faunas and had raised the question "whether the Megatherium was coextensive on both continents with the extinct elephant or whether, like the sloths, and the ant-eaters ... to which it is allied, it was confined to the New World, where. alone the bones of the Megatherium also have yet been discovered." [29] Darwin, when he wrote Lyell about the law of succession in 1859 protesting Owen's claim to having originated the principle, [30] had apparently forgotten his own early paper and the reference to Brayley. The latter cannot be said to clearly formulate a principle, but there is no doubt that in the time it was written, and considering the paucity of reliable paleontological data from the Americas, Brayley had raised a legitimate and important question.

Clift, in examining some cave remains sent him for identification from Australia, came to a more clear-cut decision. "New Holland [Australia] was, at a former period," he wrote, "distinguished from other parts of the world, by the same peculiarities in the organization of its animals, which so strikingly characterize it at the present day." [31] Clift points out in addition that certain of his marsupials were larger than present-day forms -- a fact which Darwin later observed to hold true for South America.

We have seen that Darwin in his Journal of Researches (1839) had hinted cryptically that this phenomenon of successive related faunas in a given region was of great importance. He was aware of its evolutionary significance when he wrote, but at this early date chose to remain silent. In 1855, four years before the publication of the Origin of Species and before Wallace himself had discovered the principle of natural selection, the latter published "On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species," [32] It was the most elaborate statement of the principle that had been given up to that time, or, for that matter, since. Every species, Wallace says, can be shown to have "come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species." Though Wallace expresses himself cautiously, he makes it plain that in the light of this principle, and taking due note of other phenomena such as rudimentary organs, new forms of life emerge gradually rather than by special creation. This paper, while not quite so original on the "law of succession" as some have imagined, is, nevertheless, an early indication of the direction in which Wallace's thought was flowing. Moreover, in its use of apt data upon animal and plant distributions and the significance of oceanic islands in relation to the geological past, it already reveals the interests which would bring fame to Wallace as one of the foremost students of animal distribution.

In going forward to 1855 we have been forced to anticipate in order to give the full history of the law of succession. Darwin in South America had earlier grasped the resemblance existing between modem animals and those extinct forms lying beneath them in geological time. He expressed it as a question in his unpublished essay of 1842, the first prelude to the Origin. [33] "Although [the] creationist can, by the help of geology, explain much, how can he explain the marked relation of the past and present in [the] same area?" Darwin had grasped this principle of relationship between living and dead faunas as early as 1837, for he says in his first unpublished notebook, "Propagation explains why modern animals same type as extinct, which is law almost proved." [34]

This question had become steadily more important as world research yielded evidence that the extinct faunas of the main continental areas differed from each other, but bore a marked relationship to the living inhabitants of the same continent. Brayley had raised the suspicion in connection with the Americas. Clift, using the cave discoveries of Major Thomas Mitchel, had demonstrated its reality in Australia.

In 1844, in his second essay prior to the Origin, Darwin gives a remarkably full exposition of the evolutionary significance of this principle: "This general and most remarkable relation between the lately past and present mammiferous inhabitants of the three main divisions of the world is precisely the same kind of fact as the relation between the different species of the several subregions of anyone of the main divisions. As we usually associate great physical changes with the total extinction of one series of beings, and its succession by another series, this identity of relation between the past and the present races of beings in the same quarters of the globe is more striking than the same relation between existing beings in different subregions: but in truth we have no reason for supposing that a change in the conditions has in any of these cases supervened, greater than that now existing between the temperate and tropical, or between the highlands and lowlands of the same main divisions, now tenanted by related beings. Finally, then, we clearly see that in each main division of the world the same relation holds good between its inhabitants in time as over space." [35]

Darwin, during his South American experience, saw in the case of both geographical variation and paleontological sequence the possibility of modification by organic change, but not dramatic special creations by supernatural means. The evidence for change was reasonably clear but not the mechanism; of this the Galapagos would supply a subtle hint.

VI. The Galapagos

After rounding the Horn the Beagle sailed a leisurely course northward along the west coast of South America. While Captain Fitzroy pursued the mapping and other observational activities for which the Beagle had been sent out by the Admiralty office, Darwin continued to make geological and zoological observations. He visited offshore islands and made short, high journeys into the Andes. Collecting shells in the valley of Copiapo he commented: "It was amusing to hear discussions concerning the nature of the fossil shells- whether or not they had been thus 'born by nature,' carried on almost in the same terms as were used a century before in Europe." [36]

He noted that the Andean Cordillera constitutes a great natural barrier to life and that differences between the flora and fauna on opposite sides of the range were to be expected. By the time the Journal was published he was willing to hint obscurely in a footnote that "the changes might be considered as superinduced by different circumstances in the two regions during a length of time," provided one did not assume the immutability of species. [37]

In September of 1835 the Beagle reached the Galapagos Archipelago 600 miles off the coast of South America and directly upon the Equator. These burnt-out volcanic chimneys, parched and blackened as an iron foundry, made a profound impression upon Darwin. The sequence of his travels had been such that his arrival could not have been better timed to impress upon his mind a series of facts, both geological and biological, which were necessary to the formulation of his theories.

Many times over, in the later years, Darwin, in letters to correspondents and in his autobiography, was to emphasize the importance of the facts brought to his attention among the islands of this obscure archipelago. He wrote to his co-discoverer Wallace in 1859: "Geographical distribution and geological relations of extinct to recent inhabitants of South America first led me to the subject: especially the case of the Galapagos Islands." [38] He reiterated to Moritz Wagner in 1876 that "it would have been a strange fact if I had overlooked the importance of isolation, seeing that it was such cases as that of the Galapagos Archipelago, which chiefly led me to study the origin of species." [39]

What Darwin has to say in his autobiography will gain in emphasis if we first place ourselves under the conditions encountered by the young naturalist in 1835 and try, as nearly as we can, to see the Galapagos fauna as he first saw it. He came to the islands already impressed by the similarity of the extinct armored glyptodonts to their living relative, the armadillo. He had seen the slow variation in the form of related species as one moved along the great distances of the South American coasts, or passed from one side of the great Andean mountain barrier to the other. He had obtained an impression of creatures, both from times remote and from the diverse conditions of the present, showing surprisingly similar types of structure-surprising, that is, if one had to assume the orthodox view that they were all totally distinct creations and in that sense unrelated to each other. He had stared at a penguin's wing and had perceived that by certain modifications a wing could be made to beat its way through either water or air. Was it logical to suppose that all these clever adaptations to circumstance had been plucked out of a vacuum? Were not these remarkable structures built on what was basically the same plan? And could not this plan be, perhaps, pulled this way or that way, distorted, remolded, made to fit the animal to some difficult environment? But if so, what influence was at work? Did life in some manner respond to the environment? Did the climate, the surroundings of an animal, in some manner impinge upon his protoplasm and slowly draw these modifications of structure out of him? It seemed fantastic. How could climate, about which people talked so glibly, adapt a woodpecker for climbing trees or a hummingbird to probe into a flower?

By great good fortune we possess two letters which Darwin mailed from the west coast of South America shortly before the Beagle pressed on to the Galapagos. They give us some excellent glimpses into his state of mind just before entering upon his last great intellectual adventure of the voyage. Writing to his sister Susan from Valparaiso in the latter part of April 1835, Darwin describes some of his experiences in the high Andes. He tells her of procuring fossil shells at elevations of 12,000 feet. He is confident that specimens "will give an approximate age to these mountains, as compared with the strata of Europe." Furthermore, he is convinced that the Andes are young as mountains go in the world's time scale. "If this result shall be considered as proved," he continues, only half concealing his eagerness, "it is a very important fact in the theory of the formation of the world; because if such wonderful changes have taken place so recently in the crust of the globe, there can be no reason for supposing former epochs of excessive violence. [40] Here we see that young Darwin has totally abandoned the catastrophic doctrines which were still the orthodox viewpoint of English geology. There is no finer evidence of Darwin's many-sided abilities as an observer than his geological work among the Andes.

Two months later he wrote to his friend and cousin, the Rev. W. D. Fox, that he had "become a zealous disciple of Mr. Lyell's views, as known in his admirable book." Then, as if it did not content him merely to proclaim himself a uniformitarian in geology, he adds mysteriously, "I am tempted to carry parts to a greater extent even than he does." [41]What remains so intriguing about this cryptic remark is that only a sentence or two later we discern for the first time in his thought a slight falling away of interest in pure geology. "I have a considerable body of notes together; but," he says, "it is a constant subject of perplexity to me, whether they are of sufficient value for all the time I have spent about them or whether animals would not have been of more certain value." [42]

Charles Darwin, on that July day in Lima, had arrived at the crossroads of his career. With almost preternatural sensitivity he suddenly writes, "I look forward to the Galapagos with more interest than any other part of the voyage." [43] That he fully shared Lyell's views is evident, but what is of paramount interest is the fact that Lyell failed to go as far as Darwin at just one point in his system, and that was in the application of natural forces to explain the evolution of life. "I am tempted to carry parts to a greater extent even than he does," hinted Darwin and then, in the same paragraph of the same letter, his thoughts begin to turn to animals and whether he might better have devoted his attention to them. It is the only place in his writings where he shows signs of abandoning for a moment his lifelong interest in geology. This neglected communication is pregnant with the unspoken excitement which even after the passage of over a century can be felt hovering at the tip of Darwin's pen.

Darwin landed at Chatham Island in the Galapagos on the seventeenth of September, 1835. He had looked forward to the adventure with eagerness, but it was largely because, freshly impressed with the paleontological record in South America, he had hoped to find Tertiary fossil beds in the islands. The expectation proved short-lived.

The rocks of black lava were heated like a stove. "The country," he comments, "was compared to what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be:" In addition, the islands swarmed with reptiles. Meeting some Galapagos tortoises for the first time, he observes that "they were so heavy, I could scarcely lift them off the ground. Surrounded by the black lava, the leafless shrubs and large cacti, they appeared most old-fashioned antediluvian animals or rather inhabitants of some other planet." [45]

In this strange little isolated world Darwin set immediately to work collecting all the animals, plants, insects, and reptiles he could locate. He visited several of the islands and collected upon all of them. In this work he made one serious mistake: he did not, until late In his visit, attempt to keep similar species from individual islands separately labeled in his collections.

This situation quite clearly came about because Darwin -- although impressed from his South American experience with the evidence pointing toward plant and animal evolution -- had not as yet fully grasped the possibility of dissimilar paths of development being taken by related organisms In close proximity on nearby islets. Darwin was, In other words, still seeking for the key to evolution In the exterior environment, In climate, in the natural surroundings of a given area. He had not expected to observe, In this score of islands clustered together and containing less than 2,800 square miles all told, much In the way of regional distinctions. That the fauna might differ from that of the neighboring continent was to be expected, but scarcely this strange divergence over little patches of sea In a totally similar climate.

Slowly, as Darwin talked with the local Inhabitants, a different and strange impression grew upon him-an impression destined to be confirmed and heightened after his return home, when the Intensive examination of his specimens was to begin. In one of his notebooks of 1835 he dwells on the fact that the Spaniards could distinguish from which island the huge tortoises had been brought, and he similarly notes, "Islands In sight of each other ... tenanted by ... birds but slightly differing in structure." [46] From this time on, the full force of his wide-ranging mind is turned upon the archipelago. Such facts as these, he grows powerfully aware, "would undermine the stability of species." [47]

By the time that the first edition of the Journal of Researches was published, Darwin, when he came to the subject of the Galapagos, was willing to throw out several evolutionary hints. "There is a rat," he records, "which Mr. Waterhouse believes is probably distinct from the English kind; but I cannot help suspecting that it is only the same altered by the peculiar conditions of its new country." [48] The finches in particular fascinated him. They differed remarkably in the structure of their beaks. Some had small beaks like warblers, some had thick, massive beaks. In the end, Darwin wrote regretfully of his many species of finches that although he suspected certain of the distinct types were confined to separate islands, he "was not aware of these facts till my collection was nearly completed." [49] "It never occurred to me," he explained, "that the productions of islands only a few miles apart, and places under the same physical conditions would be dissimilar. [50] I therefore did not attempt to make a series of specimens from the separate islands."

This statement is extremely revelatory. As we have previously intimated, Darwin had, up to this point, been looking at variation largely over the great vertical distance of past time or horizontally over wide geographic areas. Under such circumstances one was apt to invoke climatic change as the primary mechanism involved in evolution. Here, in the Galapagos, Darwin was brought up short by a new series of facts: variation in form under isolation with the physical environment remaining precisely the same. As Darwin himself was later to observe, "One might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago one species had been taken and modified for different ends." [51] Darwin at last was face to face with the greatest of the evolutionary mysteries. If life varied on the individual islands of an archipelago subjected to the same climatic conditions, what determined this variation?

Darwin did not come to this problem by any great flash of insight. It was not his way. He tells us, more particularly in the later editions of the Naturalist's Voyage, that the Vice-Governor of the islands, Mr. Lawson, an Englishman, first called his attention to this puzzling inter-island variation. "I did not for some time pay sufficient attention to this statement," he confesses. As a consequence, most of Darwin's collections had been assembled and he was almost on the point of departure when the full import of this observation struck his attention. "It is the fate of every voyager; he complained in his Journal, "when he has just discovered what object in any place is worth his attention to be hurried from it." [52]

Lest in the light of modem biology Darwin's reaction may appear slow, the following comment by Sir Joseph Hooker, one of England's outstanding botanists, may better reveal the state of knowledge upon species during this period. As late as 1843, having examined some of Darwin's plant collections; Hooker wrote to him, "I was quite prepared to see the extraordinary difference between the plants of the separate islands from your Journal, a most strange fact, and one which quite overturns all our preconceived notions of species radiating from a centre...." [53]

It was upon that strange fact that Darwin was to meditate for the next twenty years after his return from the voyage of the Beagle. "It may be asked," he wrote in the first edition of the Origin of Species, "how has it happened, in the several islands situated within sight of each other, having the same geological nature, the same height, climate, etc., that many of the immigrants should have been differently modified, though only in a small degree. This long appeared to me a great difficulty, but it arises in chief part from the deeply seated error of considering the physical conditions of a country as the most important for its inhabitants...." [54]

No clearer statement of the significance of the Galapagos experience could have been made by Darwin. The subject, he confesses, "haunted me." It haunted him around the world and back to England, where he opened his first notebook on the subject in 1837. He had passed beyond the environmentalism of Buffon and the earlier evolutionists, but the island mystery, that "great difficulty" of bird beaks and turtle shells continued to baffle him. "I worked on true Baconian principles," he tells us, "and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale." [55] The result of those efforts would be the making of the Origin of Species and to that labor we will now proceed. The voyage of the Beagle had turned a pleasant, somewhat idle youth into a man. It had given the man of uncanny and perceptive insight a chance to exercise his thought upon armadillos and glyptodonts, stones falling and falling without end in the Andean torrents, turtles and volcanoes and bird beaks. At home in England he would piece them together into a new synthesis and the thought of the world would never be the same afterwards. It would come about because he had excavated the carapace of an Edentate, watched, in an earthquake, the Andes pumping themselves higher, and had also read Lyell and Humboldt. The origins of his thought were as diverse as the fragments of the puzzle which he at last fitted together. It could scarcely have been otherwise.



1. Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, ed. by Leonard Huxley, London, 1913, Vol. 1, p. 137.

2. Op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 273.

3. Ibid., p. 321.

4. LLD, Vol. 1, p. 38.

5. P. H. Jesperson, "Charles Darwin and Dr. Grant," Lychnos, 1948-49. Vol. 1, pp. 159-67.

5 Anonymous, "Observations on the Nature and Importance of Geology: Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 1826, Vol. 1. pp. 293-302.

6. Ibid., pp. 297-98.

7. Op. cit., p. 298.

* An Intriguingly similar remark in phrase and idea occurs in the next to the final paragraph of the Origin.

8. Ibid., p. 298. (Italics mine. L.E.)

9 .Geoffrey West, Charles Darwin, A Portrait, Yale University Press, 1938, p. 66. See also J. H. Ashworth, "Charles Darwin as a student in Edinburgh 1825-1827." Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1935, Vol. 55. pp. 97-113. Professor Ashworth's data fully corroborate the views expressed above.

10. It was not that Darwin was ungrateful to these men as individuals. He simply failed to realize that they had been selected and assembled by a great university, irrespective of whether one approved of the curriculum of the time.

11. The Philosophical Magazine, 1830, Series 2, Vol. 7. pp. 306-307.

12. 1831, Vol. 53. pp. 328-60.

13. Erwin H. Ackerknecht, "George Forster, Alexander von Humboldt and Ethnology," Isis, 1955, Vol. 46, pp. 83-95.

14. Ibid., p. 92.

15. Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. "Beagle," ed. by Nora Barlow, Cambridge University Press. 1933. p. 39.

16. In a letter to Huxley written In 1858 Darwin confides: "I have so repeatedly required to see old Transactions and old Travels, etc. that I should regret extremely, when at work at the British Museum, to be separated from the entire library." MLD, Vol. 1, p. 111.

17. D, p. 83.

18. Ibid, p. 106.

19. Ibid., p. 126.

20. John W. Judd, The Coming of Evolution, Cambridge University Press, 1912, p. 73.

21. H. E. Litchfield, A Century of Family Letters, 2 vols., Cambridge University Press, 1904, Vol. 1, p. 438.

22. LLD, Vol. 1, p. 82.

23. As bearing again upon the curiosity of the voyagers, it is interesting to note that almost one hundred years earlier Thomas Falkner had left us the following account of a glyptodont: "I myself found the shell of an animal, composed of little hexagonal bones, each bone an inch in diameter at least; and the shell was near three yards over. It seemed, in all respects, except its size, to be the upper part of the shell of the armadillo; which, in these times, is not above a span in breadth. Some of my companions found also, near the river Parana, an entire skeleton of a monstrous alligator.... Upon an anatomical survey of the bones, I was pretty well assured that this extraordinary increase [in size of bones] did not proceed from any acquisition of foreign matter; as I found that the bony fibers were bigger in proportion as the bones were larger.... These things are well known to all who live in these countries; otherwise, I should not have dared to write them," Darwin has occasionally been accredited with the first discovery of these creatures. Thomas Falkner, Description at Patagonia and the Adjoining Parts at South America, Hereford, Eng., 1774, p. 55.

24. Journal at Researches (1839), facsimile reprint of the first edition, Hafner Publishing Co., New York, 1952, p. 209.

25. Ibid., p. 210.

26. PG, Vol. 3, p. 421.

27. MLD, Vol. 1, p. 133. Clift, however, probably had gotten the idea from John Hunter. See the latter's Essays and Observations edited by Richard Owen, London, 1861, Vol. 1, pp. 290-91. The paper referred to was published in 1794.

28. A Sketch of the Deposits Containing Extinct Mammalia in the Neighbourhood of La Plata," 1837. Vol. 2, pp. 206-8.

29. E. W. Brayley, "On the Odour Exhaled from Certain Organic Remains In the Diluvium of the Arctic Circle, As Confirmatory of Dr. Buckland's Opinion of A Sudden Change of Climate at the Period of Destruction of the Animals to which they Belonged, etc. etc." The Philosophical Magazine, 1831. Vol. 9. p. 418.

30. MLD, Vol. 1. p. 133.

31. William Clift, "Report by Mr. Clift of the College of Surgeons, London, in Regard to the Fossil Bones Found In the Caves and Bone Breccia of New Holland; Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 1831, Vol. 10, pp. 394-96.

32. This paper, which first appeared in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History is today most generally accessible in A. R. Wallace's Natural Selection and Tropical Nature, Macmillan, London, 1895.

33. FO, p. 33, fn. 1.

34. LLD, Vol. 2, p. 5.

35. FO, p. 176.

36. JR. p. 43.

37. Ibid., p. 400.

38. MLD, Vol 1, pp. 118-19.

39. LLD, Vol. 3. p. 159.

40. LLD, Vol. 1, p. 261.

41. Ibid., p. 263. (Italics mine. L.E.)

42. LLD, Vol. I, (Italics mine. L.E.)

43. Ibid.

44. D, p. 334.

45. D, p. 335.

46. Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the "Beagle," ed. by Nora Barlow, Philosophical Library, New York, 1946, p. 246.

47. N, p. 247. See also Nora Barlow, "Charles Darwin and the Galapagos Islands," Nature, 1935, Vol. 136, p. 391.

48. JR, p. 460.

49. Ibid., p. 474.

50. Ibid. (Italics mine. L.E.)

51. Charles Darwin, A Naturalist's Voyage Around the World, 2nd ed., London: John Murray, 1889, p. 380. The Journal of 1839 does not contain so direct a statement though the implication is clear (p. 462).

52. JR, p. 474.

53. Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Hooker, 2 vols., London, 1918, Vol. 1, pp. 436-37. (Italics mine. L.E.)

54. O, p. 339. (Italics mine. L.E.)

55. LLD, Vol. 1, p. 83.
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