Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/24

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14
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

CLEWS IN NATURAL HISTORY.
By Dr. ANDREW WILSON.

IN the exercise of his scientific attainments, there is one aspect in which the naturalist of to-day bears a certain likeness to the detective officer. The latter is perpetually endeavoring to "strike the trail" of the offender through his dexterity in the discovery of clews to the movements of the pursued, and attains his end most surely and speedily when the traces he has selected are of trustworthy kind. The naturalist, on his part, has frequently to follow the history of an animal or plant, or it may be that of a single organ or part in either, through a literal maze of difficulties and possibilities. His search after the relationship of an animal may be fraught with as great difficulty as that which attends the discovery of a "missing heir" or lost relative in actual life; and his success in his mission is found to depend, as does that of the detective's work, simply on the excellence and trustworthiness of the clews he possesses, and on the judicious use to which he puts his "information received." It can not be denied, however, that modern aspects of science and present-day tendencies in research have largely increased the resemblance between the enforced duties of the criminal investigator and the self-imposed task of the biologist. When, formerly, the order of nature was regarded as being of unaltering kind and of stable constitution, naturalists regarded animals and plants simply as they existed. There was of old no looking into the questions of biology in the light of "what might have been," because the day was not yet when change and evolution were regarded as representing the true order of the world. When, however, the idea that the universe both of living and non-living matter had an ordered past dawned upon the minds of scientists, the necessity for tracing that past was forced upon them as a bounden duty. With no written history to guide them, the scientific searchers were forced to read the "sermons in stones" which Nature had delivered ages ago. Without clear and unmistaken records to point the way, they had to seek for clews and traces to nature's meaning in the structure and development of animals and plants; and, as frequently happens in commonplace history, the earnest searcher often found a helping hand where he least thought it might appear, and frequently discovered an important clew in a circumstance or object of the most unlikely kind.

Readers whose tastes are not materially scientific have doubtless heard much of "missing links" of nature, especially in connection with the gaps which exist between the human territory and ape-land. Indeed, the phrase has come to be understood as applying almost entirely and specifically to the absence of connecting forms between man and the apes — forms for which, in one sense, no necessity exists, inasmuch as Mr.