Back to Methuselah eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 408 pages of information about Back to Methuselah.
to the conclusion.  Goethe said that all the shapes of creation were cousins; that there must be some common stock from which all the species had sprung; that it was the environment of air that had produced the eagle, of water the seal, and of earth the mole.  He could not say how this happened; but he divined that it did happen.  Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, carried the environment theory much further, pointing out instance after instance of modifications made in species apparently to adapt it to circumstances and environment:  for instance, that the brilliant colors of the leopard, which make it so conspicuous in Regent’s Park, conceal it in a tropical jungle.  Finally he wrote, as his declaration of faith, ’The world has been evolved, not created:  it has arisen little by little from a small beginning, and has increased through the activity of the elemental forces embodied in itself, and so has rather grown than come into being at an almighty word.  What a sublime idea of the infinite might of the great Architect, the Cause of all causes, the Father of all fathers, the Ens Entium!  For if we would compare the Infinite, it would surely require a greater Infinite to cause the causes of effects than to produce the effects themselves.’  In this, published in the year 1794, you have nineteenth-century Evolution precisely defined.  And Erasmus Darwin was by no means its only apostle.  It was in the air then.  A German biologist named Treviranus, whose book was published in 1802, wrote, ’In every living being there exists a capacity for endless diversity of form.  Each possesses the power of adapting its organization to the variations of the external world; and it is this power, called into activity by cosmic changes, which has enabled the simple zoophytes of the primitive world to climb to higher and higher stages of organization, and has brought endless variety into nature.’  There you have your evolution of Man from the amoeba all complete whilst Nelson was still alive on the seas.  And in 1809, before the battle of Waterloo, a French soldier named Lamarck, who had beaten his musket into a microscope and turned zoologist, declared that species were an illusion produced by the shortness of our individual lives, and that they were constantly changing and melting into one another and into new forms as surely as the hand of a clock is continually moving, though it moves so slowly that it looks stationary to us.  We have since come to think that its industry is less continuous:  that the clock stops for a long time, and then is suddenly ‘put on’ by a mysterious finger.  But never mind that just at present.


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