IT is a familiar observation with people who have reached middle age that their chronological conception of their own time is often far more defective than their chronological conception of written history in which they have not themselves participated. Men of our own generation may remember exactly the relative dates of Pharsalia and Philippi; they may be clearly aware of just how Raphael stood in time to Perugino or to Titian; they may know precisely how long Napoleon, Byron, and Talleyrand survived the Restoration. But about the events of their own lifetime they are always asking themselves, "In what year did Lord Beaconsfield die?" "How long did the Prince Imperial go on living after Sedan?" "Was Carlyle still among us when Mr. Gladstone was denouncing the Bulgarian atrocities?" — and so forth perpetually. Even the sequence of events in one's own life often similarly deceives one. We forget whether Tom went to Australia before or after Lucy's marriage; whether we had or had not made McFarlane's acquaintance at the time when Kingston was engaged in painting his first Academy picture. We remember events, but not their order. Daily facts of life, crowding in upon us too thickly for due note, defy all accurate chronological organization. We recall them disconnectedly; the occurrences impress themselves more or less upon our brains, but their infinite concatenation with all other circumstances escapes us. Hence we are often more surprised at learning a little later how events really stood to one another in our own time than at anything which comes to us from unremembered periods.
Especially is this the case with slow organic or psychological movements — movements which grow unseen, and gain but gradual recognition. Cataclysmal events — the Déchéance of the Second Empire, the Italians in Rome, the assassination of the Czar — often fix themselves by their very vividness and unexpectedness on the memory, with their date and relations ineffaceably attached. But where we have to deal with the growth of opinion, most people fall into serious mental errors of chronology. Either they believe a movement began when they themselves first happened to hear of it; or else they date it from the appearance of some startling and much-discussed publication.
Mr. Edward Clodd's new volume. Pioneers of Evolution, brings this truth into strong relief. In this interesting and careful work Mr. Clodd has been at the pains to investigate thoroughly the part borne in the evolutionary revolution, both by the early precursors — Buffon, Lamarck, Laplace, and others — and by the three