But a more serious error than all these pervades what we may call the drawing-room view of the evolutionist theory. So far as Society with a big initial is concerned, evolutionism first began to be talked about, and therefore known (for Society does not read; it listens, or rather it overhears and catches fragmentary echoes) when Darwin published his ‘Origin of Species.’ That great book consisted simply of a theory as to the causes which led to the distinctions of kind between plants and animals. With evolution at large it had nothing to do; it took for granted the origin of sun, moon, and stars, planets and comets, the earth and all that in it is, the sea and the dry land, the mountains and the valleys, nay even life itself in the crude form, everything in fact, save the one point of the various types and species of living beings. Long before Darwin’s book appeared evolution had been a recognised force in the moving world of science and philosophy. Kant and Laplace had worked out the development of suns and earths from white-hot star-clouds. Lyell had worked out the evolution of the earth’s surface to its present highly complex geographical condition. Lamarck had worked out the descent of plants and animals from a common ancestor by slow modification. Herbert Spencer had worked out the growth of mind from its simplest beginnings to its highest outcome in human thought.
But Society, like Gallio, cared nothing for all these things. The evolutionary principles had never been put into a single big book, asked for at Mudie’s, and permitted to lie on the drawing-room table side by side with the last new novel and the last fat volume of scandalous court memoirs. Therefore Society ignored them and knew them not; the word evolution scarcely entered at all as yet into its polite and refined dinner-table vocabulary. It recognised only the ‘Darwinian theory,’ ‘natural selection,’ ‘the missing link,’ and the belief that men were merely monkeys who had lost their tails, presumably by sitting upon them. To the world at large that learned Mr. Darwin had invented and patented the entire business, including descent with modification, if such notions ever occurred at all to the world-at-large’s speculative intelligence.
Now, evolutionism is really a thing of far deeper growth and older antecedents than this easy, superficial drawing-room view would lead us to imagine. It is a very ancient and respectable theory indeed, and it has an immense variety of minor developments. I am not going to push it back, in the fashionable modern scientific manner, to the vague and indefinite hints in our old friend Lucretius. The great original Roman poet—the only original poet in the Latin language—did indeed hit out for himself a very good rough working sketch of a sort of nebulous and shapeless evolutionism. It was bold, it was consistent, for its time it was wonderful. But Lucretius’s philosophy, like all the philosophies of the older world, was a mere speculative idea, a