Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/403

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399
ORIGIN OF THEORY OF NATURAL SELECTION

when, as in the case of Darwin and myself, the collectors were of a speculative turn of mind, they were constantly led to think upon the "why" and the "how" of all this wonderful variety in nature—this overwhelming, and, at first sight, purposeless wealth of specific forms among the very humblest forms of life.

Then, a little later (and with both of us almost accidentally) we became travellers, collectors and observers, in some of the richest and most interesting portions of the earth; and we thus had forced upon our attention all the strange phenomena of local and geographical distribution, with the numerous problems to which they give rise. Thenceforward our interest in the great mystery of how species came into existence was intensified, and—again to use Darwin's expression—"haunted" us.

Finally, both Darwin and myself, at the critical period when our minds were freshly stored with a considerable body of personal observation and reflection bearing upon the problem to be solved, had our attention directed to the system of positive checks as expounded by Malthus in his "Principles of Population." The effect of this was analogous to that of friction upon the specially-prepared match, producing that flash of insight which led us immediately to the simple but universal law of the "survival of the fittest," as the long-sought effective cause of the continuous modification and adaptation of living things.

It is an unimportant detail that Darwin read this book two years after his return from his voyage, while I had read it before I went abroad, and it was a sudden recollection of its teachings that caused the solution to flash upon me. I attach much importance, however, to the large amount of solitude we both enjoyed during our travels, which, at the most impressionable period of our lives, gave us ample time for reflection on the phenomena we were daily observing.

This view, of the combination of certain mental faculties and external conditions that led Darwin and myself to an identical conception, also serves to explain why none of our precursors or contemporaries hit upon what is really so very simple a solution of the great problem. Such evolutionists as Robert Chambers, Herbert Spencer and Huxley, though of great intellect, wide knowledge, and immense power of work, had none of them the special turn of mind that makes the collector and the species-man, while they all—as well as the equally great thinker on similar lines, Sir Charles Lyell—became in early life immersed in different lines of research which engaged their chief attention.

Neither did the actual precursors of Darwin in the statement of the principle—Wells, Matthews or Prichard—possess any adequate knowledge of the class of facts above referred to, or sufficient antecedent interest in the problem itself, which were both needed in order to per-