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peared now, it would meet with a very different reception from that which greeted it in 1859. One-and-twenty years ago, in spite of the work commenced by Hutton and continued with rare skill and patience by Lyell, the dominant view of the past history of the earth was catastrophic. Great and sudden physical revolutions, wholesale creations and extinctions of living beings, were the ordinary machinery of the geological epic brought into fashion by the misapplied genius of Cuvier. It was gravely maintained and taught that the end of every geological epoch was signalised by a cataclysm, by which every living being on the globe was swept away, to be replaced by a brandnew creation when the world returned to quiescence. A scheme of nature which appeared to be modelled on the likeness of a succession of rubbers of whist, at the end of each of which the players upset the table and called for a new pack, did not seem to shock anybody. I may be wrong, but I doubt if, at the present time, there is a single responsible representative of these opinions left. The progress of scientific geology has elevated the fundamental principle of uniformitarianism, that the explanation of the past is to be sought in the study of the present, into the position of an axiom ; and the wild speculations of the catastrophists, to which we all listened with respect a quarter of a century ago, would hardly find a single patient hearer at the present
day. No physical geologist now dreams of seeking, outside the range of known natural causes, for the explanation of anything that happened millions of years ago, any more than he would be guilty of the like absurdity in regard to current events.
The effect of this change of opinion upon biological speculation is obvious. For, if there have been no periodical general physical catastrophes, what brought about the assumed general extinctions and re-creations of life which are the corresponding biological catastrophes And, if no such interruptions of the ordinary course of nature have taken place in the organic, any more than in the inorganic, world, what alternative is there to the admission of evolution 2
The doctrine of evolution in biology is the necessary result of the logical application of the principles of uniformitarianism to the phenomena of life. Darwin is the natural successor of Hutton and Lyell, and the “Origin of Species” the logical sequence of the “Principles of Geology.”
The fundamental doctrine of the “Origin of Species,” as of all forms of the theory of evolution applied to biology, is “that the innumerable species, genera, and families of organic beings with which the world is peopled have all descended, each within its own class or group, from common parents, and have all been modified in the course of descent.”
* Origin of Species, ed. 1, p. 457.
And, in view of the facts of geology, it follows that all living animals and plants “are the lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Silurian epoch.” It is an obvious consequence of this theory of descent with modification, as it is sometimes called, that all plants and animals, however different they may now be, must, at one time or other, have been connected by direct or indirect intermediate gradations, and that the appearance of isolation presented by various groups of organic beings must be unreal. No part of Mr. Darwin's work ran more directly counter to the prepossessions of naturalists twenty years ago than this. And such prepossessions were very excusable, for there was undoubtedly a great deal to be said, at that time, in favour of the fixity of species and of the existence of great breaks, which there was no obvious or probable means of filling up, between various groups of organic beings. For various reasons, scientific and unscientific, much had been made of the hiatus between man and the rest of the higher mammalia, and it is no wonder that issue was first joined on this part of the controversy. I have no wish to revive past and happily forgotten controversies; but I must state the simple fact that the distinctions in the cerebral and other characters, which were so hotly affirmed to separate man from all other animals in 1860, have all been demonstrated to be non
* Origin of Species, p. 458.
existent, and that the contrary doctrine is now universally accepted and taught. But there were other cases in which the wide structural gaps asserted to exist between one group of animals and another were by no means fictitious; and, when such structural breaks were real, Mr. Darwin could account for them only by supposing that the intermediate forms which once existed had become extinct. In a remarkable passage he says“We may thus account even for the distinctness of whole classes from each other—for instance, of birds from all other vertebrate animals—by the belief that many animal forms of life have been utterly lost, through which the early progenitors of birds were formerly connected with the early progenitors of the other vertebrate classes.” " Adverse criticism made merry over such suggestions as these. Of course it was easy to get out of the difficulty by supposing extinction; but where was the slightest evidence that such intermediate forms between birds and reptiles as the hypothesis required ever existed And then probably followed a tirade upon this terrible forsaking of the paths of “Baconian induetion.” But the progress of knowledge has justified Mr. Darwin to an extent which could hardly have been anticipated. In 1862, the specimen of Archaeopteryx, which, until the last two or three years, has remained unique, was discovered; and it is an animal which, in its feathers and the greater part of its organisation, is a veritable bird, while, in other parts, it is as distinctly reptilian. In 1868, I had the honour of bringing under your notice, in this theatre, the results of investigations made, up to that time, into the anatomical characters of certain ancient reptiles, which showed the nature of the modifications in virtue of which the type of the quadrupedal reptile passed into that of a bipedal bird; and abundant confirmatory evidence of the justice of the conclusions which I then laid before you has since come to light. In 1875, the discovery of the toothed birds of the cretaceous formation in North America by Professor Marsh completed the series of transitional forms between birds and reptiles, and removed Mr. Darwin's proposition that “many animal forms of life have been utterly lost, through which the early progenitors of birds were formerly connected with the early progenitors of the other vertebrate classes,” from the region of hypothesis to that of demonstrable fact. In 1859, there appeared to be a very sharp and clear hiatus between vertebrated and invertebrated animals, not only in their structure, but, what was more important, in their development. I do not think that we even yet know the precise
* Origin of Species, p. 431.