Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/394

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

nessed the successive volumes of Hegel's masterpiece. All things considered, the physical sciences as we know them now—astronomy, geology, physics and chemistry, as well as mathematics in large part—had hardly begun their latest growth; the biological sciences, in their splendid structure of to-day, were still ahead; while the entire group of human sciences, created mainly by the impetus lent by Hegel himself, in the nature of the case, had not entered upon significant formulation. In a word, the idea of development saturated the intellectual atmosphere; nevertheless, the elaborate and toilsome labor of thinking it through piecemeal for the endless realms of nature, and for the subtlest manifestations of consciousness, lay in the future. Here Darwin, like many another, found his opportunity.

In the second place, he was favored by the situation dominant in the field of science as a whole, no less than by his own preeminently cautious and "concrete" mind. With regard to the latter, we have a characteristic statement from his pen, in the form of a letter to Herbert Spencer, acknowledging a copy of the "Essays." Recall that, not long before, Spencer had been writing to Huxley on the subject of Owen, who was to damn Darwin with faint praise eighteen months after,[1] and had expressed himself as follows:

I am busy with the onslaught on Owen. I find on reading, the "Archetype and Homologies" is terrible bosh—far worse than I had thought. I shall make a tremendous smash of it, and lay the foundations of a true theory on its ruins.[2]

From one point of view, this is still the nineteenth century against the eighteenth. Darwin's letter, dated 25th November, 1858—one year precisely before the "Origin of Species"—runs thus:

Your remarks on the general argument of the so-called Development Theory seem to me admirable. I am at present preparing an abstract of a larger work on the changes of species; but I treat the subject simply as a naturalist, and not from a general point of view; otherwise, in my opinion, your argument could not have been improved on, and might have been quoted by me with great advantage.[3]

If Hegel evinced intuitive grasp upon the general framework of development, Darwin's cautious genius led him to exercise superlative perseverance in conquering difficult provinces of the detailed phenomena incidental to evolution.

At the same time, Darwin valued the aid of generalization and

  1. It is generally understood now that the review of the "Origin of Species" published in the Edinburgh Review for April, 1860, was by Owen. At this time, all who have access to it should refresh their memories by reading it. The tone of Spencer's references explains not a little to be found in this critique, especially its concluding emphasis upon the superiority of Cuvier.
  2. "Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer," D. Duncan, Vol. I., p. 112,
  3. Ibid., p. 113.