Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/401

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397
ORIGIN OF THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION

tion}}," almost the whole materials for which works had been collected, and to a large extent systematized, during that twenty years.

So far back as 1844, at a time when I had hardly thought of any serious study of nature, Darwin had written an outline of his views, which he communicated to his friends Sir Charles Lyell and Dr. (now Sir Joseph) Hooker. The former strongly urged him to publish an abstract of his theory as soon as possible, lest some other person might precede him—but he always refused till he had got together the whole of the materials for his intended great work. Then, at last, Lyell's prediction was fulfilled, and, without any apparent warning, my letter, with the enclosed essay, came upon him, like a thunderbolt from a cloudless sky! This forced him to what he considered a premature publicity, and his two friends undertook to have our two papers read before this society.

How different from this long study and preparation—this philosophic caution—this determination not to make known his fruitful conception till he could back it up by Overwhelming proofs—was my own conduct. The idea came to me, as it had come to Darwin, in a sudden flash of insight: it was thought out in a few hours—was written down with such a sketch of its various applications and developments as occurred to me at the moment,—then copied on thin letter-paper and sent off to Darwin-—all within one week. I was then (as often since) the "young man in a hurry"; he, the painstaking and patient student, seeking ever the full demonstration of the truth that he had discovered, rather than to achieve immediate personal fame.

Such being the actual facts of the case, I should have had no cause for complaint if the respective shares of Darwin and myself in regard to the elucidation of nature's method of organic development had been thenceforth estimated as lieing, roughly, proportional to the time we had each bestowed upon it when it was thus first given to the world—• that is to say, as twenty years is to one week. For, he had already made it his own. If the persuasion of his friends had prevailed with him, and he had published his theory, after ten years'—fifteen years'—or even eighteen years' elaboration of it—I should have had no part in it whatever, and he would have been at once recognized, and should be ever recognized, as the sole and undisputed discoverer and patient investigator of the great law of "natural selection" in all its far-reaching consequences.

It was really a singular piece of good luck that gave to me any share whatever in the discovery. During the first half of the nineteenth century (and even earlier) many great biological thinkers and workers had been pondering over the problem and had even suggested ingenious but inadequate solutions. Some of these men were among the greatest intellects of our time, yet, till Darwin, all had failed; and it was only