Now the principle of gradation throughout organic Nature may, of course, be interpreted upon other assumptions than those of Darwin’s hypothesis—certainly upon quite other than those of a materialistic philosophy, with which we ourselves have no sympathy. Still we conceive it not only possible, but probable, that this gradation, as it has its natural ground, may yet have its scientific explanation. In any case, there is no need to deny that the general facts correspond well with an hypothesis like Darwin’s, which is built upon fine gradations.
We have contemplated quite long enough the general presumptions in favor of an hypothesis of the derivation of species. We cannot forget, however, while for the moment we overlook, the formidable difficulties which all hypotheses of this class have to encounter, and the serious implications which they seem to involve. We feel, moreover, that Darwin’s particular hypothesis is exposed to some special objections. It requires no small strength of nerve steadily to conceive, not only of the diversification, but of the formation of the organs of an animal through cumulative variation and natural selection. Think of such an organ as the eye, that most perfect of optical instruments, as so produced in the lower animals and perfected in the higher! A friend of ours, who accepts the new doctrine, confesses that for a long while a cold chill came over him whenever he thought of the eye. He has at length got over that stage of the complaint, and is now in the fever of belief, perchance to be succeeded by the sweating stage, during which sundry peccant humors may be eliminated from the system. For ourselves, we dread the chill, and have some misgivings about the consequences of the reaction. We find ourselves in the “singular position” acknowledged by Pictet—that is, confronted with a theory which, although it can really explain much, seems inadequate to the heavy task it so boldly assumes, but which, nevertheless, appears better fitted than any other that has been broached to explain, if it be possible to explain, somewhat of the manner in which organized beings may have arisen and succeeded each other. In this dilemma we might take advantage of Mr. Darwin’s candid admission, that he by no means expects to convince old and experienced people, whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all regarded during a long course of years from the old point of view. This is nearly our case. So, owning no call to a larger faith than is expected of us, but not prepared to pronounce the whole hypothesis untenable, under such construction as we should put upon it, we naturally sought to attain a settled conviction through a perusal of several proffered refutations of the theory. At least, this course seemed to offer the readiest way of bringing to a head the various objections to which the theory is exposed. On several accounts some of these opposed reviews especially invite examination. We propose, accordingly, to conclude our task with an article upon “Darwin and his Reviewers.”