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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

What the Doctrine of Evolution is

What the Doctrine of Evolution is.

It may be taken for granted that every one here has a general notion of what is meant by the scientific doctrine of Evolution. But probably not every one has learned how comprehensive and far reaching, as a theory of the universe, that doctrine is. Evolution undertakes to account for the origin not merely of man, but of all animal page 2 organisms, of all terrestrial life, animal and vegetable, of the planet itself, of the solar system of which it is a member, of other systems, the central luminaries of which are known to us only as fixed stars; in short, of the physical universe. It runs back the ancestry of animal forms till their root is indistinguishable from Out of vegetal life. It finds the beginnings of both, according to some of its exponents, in what is called the "primordial slime"—the Urschleim of German evolutionists—an albuminous substance existing in deep sea bottoms, which is said to be alive. "This living slime, "says a German writer,* "the so-called Bathybius, does not even exhibit individuality, or the definiteness of a separate existence; it resembles the shapeless mineral substances, each particle of which bears the characteristics of the whole." The origin of the planet and of the solar system it refers to the condensation of diffused nebulous matter, such as is now discernible in various parts of the stellar universe. We have a compendious statement of the doctrine of Evolution in Tennyson's "Princess:"

This world was once a fluid haze of light,
Till toward the centre set the starry tides,
And eddied into suns, that wheeling cast
The planets; then the monster, then the man
Tattooed or wended, winter-clad in skins,
Raw from the prime, and crushing down his mate,
As yet we find in barbarous isles, and here
Amongst the lowest.

That is bow the lady professor lectures her "sweet girl-graduates," and there are few professors of the other sex who could put the matter more neatly or concisely. Think what we will of the truth or falsehood of Evolution, it cannot be denied that it is a magnificent generalization. The law it affirms is as comprehensive as the law of gravitation—equally with gravitation includes in its grasp the animalcule and the star—but is more wonderful, in proportion as its effects are more various and more intrinsically marvellous.

* "The Doctrine of Descent and Darwinism," by Oscar Schmidt, p. 26. English evolutionists are sceptical as to the vital qualities of this albuminous slime. Professor Huxley is said to have surrendered the point. See "Popular Science Review" for April; Review of Haeckel.