Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/628

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

fish-scales, "for I would as lief start with vertebrated animals and fresh water as with a universal ocean and the simplest forms of animal life." Perfect loyalty to fact, a complete readiness to accept anything, provided it can be shown to be true, marks Lyell's procedure throughout. It is very clearly seen in the last great work of his life, the "Antiquity of Man." As a matter of taste, it is obvious that Lyell did not relish the application of evolutionism to his own species. But he found that the facts compelled him, and he gave in. No book ever published—not even the "Origin of Species" or the "Descent of Man"—did so much to shake the common belief in the origin of our race: so far as all thinking Europe was concerned, Lyell simply demolished the current cosmogonies. More than that, by incorporating in the book Professor Huxley's remarks about the Neandearthal skull and much similar matter, he advertised the new creed in the animal origin of man with all the weight of his European reputation. The last years of his life were almost wholly spent in investigating this question of antiquity. Fifty years before, when he was at Oxford, he noted the occurrence of certain "pear-shaped flints" at Norwich, which he supposed must have "owed their shapes entirely to animals"; and all through his life he had been especially interested in the glacial period and its remains, the border-land where geology merges imperceptibly into archaeology and history. But from the Darwinian era onward he turned his attention almost entirely to the question of antiquity. He inspected everywhere, and got abundant specimens from abroad, at times not without ludicrous difficulties. Dr. Falconer had procured him a fine cast of a fossil rhinoceros; at Naples the police voted it an infernal machine, and confiscated it accordingly. After a time it was restored, but the priests kept Dr. Falconer's osteological notes, which they declared to be treasonable, as no doubt they were from an ecclesiastical point of view. After some years spent in hunting palæoliths and weighing evidence (which involved some heavy field-work for so old a man, in the Bedford drift, the Liége and Maestricht caves, and so forth), the "Antiquity of Man" finally appeared in February, 1863. In three months he had sold five thousand copies, a remarkable success for such a book. It was his last great serious work. The remaining years of his life, though still actively spent, were devoted mainly to reconsideration and revision of what had been already done.

In February, 1875, his great and useful life closed quietly and worthily. In reviewing the seventy-eight years of his labors, it is impossible to avoid seeing throughout how admirably his opportunities were adapted to the work he had to do. He was the right man, to start with; but the lines also fell to him in the right places. With equal abilities, equal ardor, and equal singleness of purpose, he could not have done so much without the happy conjunction of circumstances as well. On the other hand, the lesson of his valuable life