Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/242

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238
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SOME EIGHTEENTH CENTURY EVOLUTIONISTS.
By Professor ARTHUR LOVEJOY.

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY.

A SATISFACTORY history of the theory of descent is a chapter in the records of human opinion that is still to be written. Meanwhile the subject is one about which persistent errors and illusions of historical perspective prevail. The popular mind appears to be firmly possessed by the belief that the doctrine of the evolution of species was a scientific innovation first promulgated, or at all events first cogently defended, by Darwin; the fame of the natural-selection hypothesis has become so great that its author figures, in the eyes of the great public, as the parent of the whole transformist system, while the earlier half century of controversy in behalf of that doctrine, under the leadership of Lamarck and of Geoffroy St. Hilaire, is forgotten. How far even instructed persons may suffer from this illusion of perspective was illustrated in the recent commemorations of the Emerson centenary. More than one of the eulogists of the great moralist of New England descanted upon his very un-Darwinian lines which tell how—

striving to be man, the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form,

as a remarkable 'anticipation of Darwin' and an example of the power of the poetic imagination to divine scientific truth. But the lines in question, added to the editions of Emerson's 'Nature' after 1849, are, of course, merely an epigrammatic versification of the main doctrine of Robert Chambers's 'Vestiges of Creation,' published in 1844; and the conception they express could hardly have been a very original one at any time after the appearance of Lamarck 's 'Philosophic Zoologique' in 1809. The same confusion is illustrated again in the persistency with which writers on Tennyson take it for granted that the famous passage in 'In Memoriam' about nature,

so careful of the type,
So careless of the single life,

is an echo of the 'Origin of Species,' which in reality did not appear until at least fifteen years after this part of the poem was written. Even Mr. Frederic Harrison has—as Mr. Lang has pointed out—fallen into this error; and Mr. G. K. Chesterton has recently written about Tennyson in a way calculated to give the error fresh currency. But