Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/595

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.

 

SEPTEMBER, 1891.


 

THE DOCTRINE OF EVOLUTION: ITS SCOPE AND INFLUENCE.[1]
By JOHN FISKE.

IF you take up almost any manual or compendium of history written before the middle of the present century, you will generally find it to be a lifeless catalogue of events, and more likely than not an undiscriminating catalogue in which important and trivial events are jumbled together in utter obliviousness of any such thing as historical perspective. Of great and admirable books of history there were indeed many by illustrious writers of ancient and modern times, in which the men, the measures, and the social features of particular epochs were portrayed with life-like reality and often illustrated and criticised with a wealth of practical wisdom. But the insight into the underlying causes and the general drift of the endlessly complicated mass of human affairs was dim and uncertain, and of the essential unity of history, the solidarity in the multifarious career of mankind, there was hardly a suspicion. Three great books in narrative form, which reached out toward a presentation of the unity of history, may be cited in illustration of the difficulty under which all such attempts necessarily labored in the absence of such broad scientific conceptions as have been gained only within recent times. Bossuet's Discourse on Universal History was a work of noble design; but, being necessarily limited by the narrow theology of the time, it could only see the vast importance of the work of the Hebrew race, and, seeing no further, could not properly estimate even this; while as for any appreciation of natural causes, its perpetual appeal to the miraculous made anything of the sort quite impossible. In Voltaire's Essay on the Manners and Morals of Nations there


  1. Address before the Brooklyn Ethical Association, May 31, 1891.