CHAPTER I. THE WORLD INTO WHICH DARWIN WAS BORN.
Charles Darwin was a great man, and he accomplished a great work. The Newton of biology, he found the science of life a chaotic maze; he left it an orderly system, with a definite plan and a recognisable meaning. Great men are not accidents; great works are not accomplished in a single day. Both are the product of adequate causes. The great man springs from an ancestry competent to produce him; he is the final flower and ultimate outcome of converging hereditary forces, that culminate at last in the full production of his splendid and exceptional personality. The great work which it is his mission to perform in the world is never wholly of his own inception. It also is the last effect of antecedent conditions, the slow result of tendencies and ideas long working unseen or but little noticed beneath the surface of opinion, yet all gradually conspiring together towards the definitive revolution at whose head, in the fulness of time, the as yet unborn genius is destined to place himself. This is especially the case with those extraordinary waves of mental upheaval, one of which gave us the Italian renaissance, and another of which is actually in progress around us at the present day. They have their sources deep down in the past of human thought and human feeling, and they are themselves but the final manifestation of innumerable energies which have long been silently agitating the souls of nations in their profoundest depths.
Thus, every great man may be regarded as possessing two distinct lines of ancestry, physical and spiritual, each of which separately demands elucidation. He owes much in one way to his father and his mother, his grandfathers and his grandmothers, and his remoter progenitors, from some or all of whom he derives, in varying degrees and combinations, the personal qualities whose special interaction constitutes his greatness and his idiosyncrasy; he owes much in another way to his intellectual and moral ancestors, the thinkers and workers who have preceded him in his own department of thought or action, and have made possible in the course of ages the final development of his special revolution or his particular system. Viewed as an individual, he is what he is, with all his powers and faculties and potentialities, in virtue of the brain, the frame, the temperament, the energy he inherits directly from his actual ancestors, paternal and maternal; viewed as a factor or element in a great movement, he is what he is because the movement had succeeded in reaching such and such a point in its progress already without him, and waited only for such and such a grand and commanding personality in order to carry it yet a step further on its course of development.
No man who ever lived would more cordially have recognised these two alternative aspects of the great worker's predetermining causes than Charles Darwin. He knew well that the individual is the direct cumulative product of his physical predecessors, and that he works and is worked upon in innumerable ways by the particular environment into whose midst he is born. Let us see, then, in his own case what were these two main sets of conditioning circumstances which finally led up to the joint production of Charles Darwin, the man and the philosopher, the thinking brain and the moving energy. In other words, what was the state of the science of life at the time when he first began to observe and to speculate; and what was the ancestry which made him be born a person capable of helping it forward at a single bound over its great restricting dogmatic barrier of the fixity of species?
Let us begin, in the first place, by clearing the path beforehand of a popular misconception, so extremely general and almost universal that, unless it be got rid of at the very outset of our sketch, much of the real scope and purport of Darwin's life and work must, of necessity, remain entirely mis