페이지 이미지
PDF

duced by a distinct creative act. The second position is obviously incapable of proof or disproof, the direct operations of the Creator not being subjects of science; and it must therefore be regarded as a corollary from the first, the truth or falsehood of which is a matter of evidence. Most persons imagine that the arguments in favour of it are overwhelming; but to some few minds, and these, it must be confessed, intellects of no small power and grasp of knowledge, they have not brought conviction. Among these minds, that of the famous naturalist Lamarck, who possessed a greater acquaintance with the lower forms of life than any man of his day, Cuvier not excepted, and was a good botanist to boot, occupies a prominent place. Two facts appear to have strongly affected the course of thought of this remarkable man—the one, that finer or stronger links of affinity connect all living beings with one another, and that thus the highest creature grades by multitudinous steps into the lowest; the other, that an organ may be developed in particular directions by exerting itself in particular ways, and that modifications once induced may be transmitted and become hereditary. Putting these facts together, Lamarck endeavoured to account for the first by the operation of the second. Place an animal in new circumstances, says he, and its needs will be altered; the new needs will create new desires, and

[graphic]

the attempt to gratify such desires will result in an appropriate modification of the organs exerted. Make a man a blacksmith, and his brachial muscles will develop in accordance with the demands made upon them, and in like manner, says Lamarck, “the efforts of some short-necked bird to catch fish without wetting himself have, with time and perseverance, given rise to all our herons and long-necked waders.” The Lamarckian hypothesis has long since been justly condemned, and it is the established practice for every tyro to raise his heel against the carcase of the dead lion. But it is rarely either wise or instructive to treat even the errors of a really great man with mere ridicule, and in the present case the logical form of the doctrine stands on a very different footing from its substance. If species have really arisen by the operation of natural conditions, we ought to be able to find those conditions now at work; we ought to be able to discover in nature some power adequate to modify any given kind of animal or plant in such a manner as to give rise to another kind, which would be admitted by naturalists as a distinct species. Lamarck imagined that he had discovered this vera causa in the admitted facts that some organs may be modified by exercise; and that modifications, once produced, are capable of hereditary transmission. It does not seem to have occurred to him to inquire whether there is any reason to believe that there are any limits to the amount of modification producible, or to ask how long an animal is likely to endeavour to gratify an impossible desire. The bird, in our example, would surely have renounced fish dinners long before it had produced the least effect on leg or neck. Since Lamarck's time, almost all competent naturalists have left speculations on the origin of species to such dreamers as the author of the “Vestiges,” by whose well-intentioned efforts the Lamarckian theory received its final condemnation in the minds of all sound thinkers. Notwithstanding this silence, however, the transmutation theory, as it has been called, has been a “skeleton in the closet” to many an honest zoologist and botanist who had a soul above the mere naming of dried plants and skins. Surely, has such an one thought, nature is a mighty and consistent whole, and the providential order established in the world of life must, if we could only see it rightly, be consistent with that dominant over the multiform shapes of brute matter. But what is the history of astronomy, of all the branches of physics, of chemistry, of medicine, but a narration of the steps by which the human mind has been compelled, often sorely against its will, to recognise the operation of secondary causes in events where ignorance beheld an immediate intervention of a higher power” And when we know that living things are formed of the same elements as the inorganic world, that they act and react upon it, bound by a thousand ties of natural piety, is it probable, may is it possible, that they, and they alone, should have no order in their seeming disorder, no unity in their seeming multiplicity, should suffer no explanation by the discovery of some central and sublime law of mutual connection 2 Questions of this kind have assuredly often arisen, but it might have been long before they received such expression as would have commanded the respect and attention of the scientific world, had it not been for the publication of the work which prompted this article. Its author, Mr. Darwin, inheritor of a once celebrated name, won his spurs in science when most of those now distinguished were young men, and has for the last twenty years held a place in the front ranks of British philosophers. After a circumnavigatory voyage, undertaken solely for the love of his science, Mr. Darwin published a series of researches which at once arrested the attention of naturalists and geologists; his generalisations have since received ample confirmation and now command universal assent, nor is it questionable that they have had the most important influence on the progress of science. More recently Mr. Darwin, with a versatility which is among the rarest of gifts, turned his attention to a most difficult question of zoology and minute anatomy; and no living naturalist and anatomist has published a better monograph than that which resulted from his labours. Such a man, at all events, has not entered the sanctuary with unwashed hands, and when he lays before us the results of twenty years' investigation and reflection we must listen even though we be disposed to strike. But, in reading his work, it must be confessed that the attention which might at first be dutifully, soon becomes willingly, given, so clear is the author's thought, so outspoken his conviction, so honest and fair the candid expression of his doubts. Those who would judge the book must read it : we shall endeavour only to make its line of argument and its philosophical position intelligible to the general reader in our own way. The Baker Street Bazaar has just been exhibiting its familiar annual spectacle. Straight-backed, small-headed, big-barrelled oxen, as dissimilar from any wild species as can well be imagined, contended for attention and praise with sheep of half-a-dozen different breeds and styes of bloated preposterous pigs, no more like a wild boar or sow than a city alderman is like an ourang-outang. The cattle show has been, and perhaps may again be, succeeded by a poultry show, of whose crowing and clucking prodigies it can only be certainly predicated that they will be very unlike the aboriginal Phasianus gallus. If the seeker after

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
« 이전계속 »