Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/570

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566 THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

extremely few passages which give some plausibility at least to the theory that Buffon was continuously working towards an unqualified transformism and actually arrived at that position in his later life. But if he reached it (which his language just quoted does not quite justify us in declaring) he did so only in a transient mood. For, as we have already seen, in 1779, in the " Epoques de la Nature," we once more find him asserting — though no longer upon the ground of the sterility of hybrids — that the " constitutive form " of each separate species is the same to-day as in " the earliest ages."

5. It is more important, and it is commonly easier, to determine what opinions a man's writings tended to encourage than to determine what opinions he actually held. Mind-reading is perhaps no essential part of the history of science. If, then, in conclusion, we raise the more important question with respect to Buffon, it is evident that his work both fostered and hindered the propagation of evolutionary ideas in biology. Earlier than any other except Maupertuis, he put the hypoth- esis of organic evolution before his contemporaries in a clear and defi- nite form. He called to their attention, also, the facts of comparative anatomy which constitute one of the principal evidences for that hypothesis. Throughout the rest of the century we never cease to hear about the wonderful " unity of type " characteristic of the vertebrates and perhaps of all living things. It was this consideration which led Kant as near to evolutionism as he ever came; Herder and Goethe are full of it, though the former never admitted its full evolutionary con- sequences; and all, it is evident, learned it directly from Buffon. He, says Goethe, was the first to recognize eine ursprungliche und allge- meine Vorzeichnung der Tiere. Buffon, moreover, once and for all in- scribed upon the program of natural history, as its primary problems, the reduction of the number of separate species to a minimum, the derivation of highly divergent forms from a common origin through nat- ural descent, and the discovery of the causes and methods of modifica- tion. He, finally, did more than any one else to habituate the mind of his time to a vastly (though not yet sufficiently) enlarged time-scale in connection with the history of organic nature, a necessary prereq- uisite to the establishment of transformism.

These were great steps in the progress of evolutionism. But it is equally true that Buffon probably did more than any other eighteenth century writer to check the progress of evolutionism. He did so partly by the authority which, for his contemporaries, attached to those per- sonal utterances of his favorable to the doctrine of immutability. These utterances were far more numerous and more categorical than those which could be quoted on the other side; and they certainly were not taken as ironical by the average reader of the period. But, what is still more important, Buffon put into currency what passed for a scientific and serious argument against any wholesale theory of descent. In the

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