Back to Methuselah eBook

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occurs naturally (in Darwin’s sense) too:  that, for instance, a hard winter will kill off a weakly child as the bucket kills off a weakly puppy.  Then there is the farm laborer.  Shakespear’s Touchstone, a court-bred fool, was shocked to find in the shepherd a natural philosopher, and opined that he would be damned for the part he took in the sexual selection of sheep.  As to the production of new species by the selection of variations, that is no news to your gardener.  Now if you are familiar with these three processes:  the survival of the fittest, sexual selection, and variation leading to new kinds, there is nothing to puzzle you in Darwinism.

That was the secret of Darwin’s popularity.  He never puzzled anybody.  If very few of us have read The Origin of Species from end to end, it is not because it overtaxes our mind, but because we take in the whole case and are prepared to accept it long before we have come to the end of the innumerable instances and illustrations of which the book mainly consists.  Darwin becomes tedious in the manner of a man who insists on continuing to prove his innocence after he has been acquitted.  You assure him that there is not a stain on his character, and beg him to leave the court; but he will not be content with enough evidence:  he will have you listen to all the evidence that exists in the world.  Darwin’s industry was enormous.  His patience, his perseverance, his conscientiousness reached the human limit.  But he never got deeper beneath or higher above his facts than an ordinary man could follow him.  He was not conscious of having raised a stupendous issue, because, though it arose instantly, it was not his business.  He was conscious of having discovered a process of transformation and modification which accounted for a great deal of natural history.  But he did not put it forward as accounting for the whole of natural history.  He included it under the heading of Evolution, though it was only pseudo-evolution at best; but he revealed it as a method of evolution, not as the method of evolution.  He did not pretend that it excluded other methods, or that it was the chief method.  Though he demonstrated that many transformations which had been taken as functional adaptations (the current phrase for Lamarckian evolution) either certainly were or conceivably might be due to Circumstantial Selection, he was careful not to claim that he had superseded Lamarck or disproved Functional Adaptation.  In short, he was not a Darwinian, but an honest naturalist working away at his job with so little preoccupation with theological speculation that he never quarrelled with the theistic Unitarianism into which he was born, and remained to the end the engagingly simple and socially easy-going soul he had been in his boyhood, when his elders doubted whether he would ever be of much use in the world.


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