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The Evolutionist at Large


Dear Mother, take this English posy, culled.
In alien fields beyond the severing sea:
Take it in memory of the boy you lulled
One chill Canadian winter on your knee.

Its flowers are but chance friends of after years,
Whose very names my childhood hardly knew;
And even today far sweeter in my ears
Ring older names unheard long seasons through.

I loved them all—the bloodroot, waxen white,
Canopied mayflower, trilliums red and pale,
Flaunting lobelia, lilies richly dight,
And pipe-plant from the wood behind the Swale.

I knew each dell where yellow violets blow,
Each bud or leaf the changing seasons bring;
I marked each spot where from the melting snow
Peeped forth the first hepatica of spring.

I watched the fireflies on the shingly ridge
Beside the swamp that bounds the Baron's hill;
Or tempted sunfish by the ebbing bridge,
Or hooked a bass by Shirley Going's mill.

These were my budding fancy's mother-tongue:
But daisies, cowslips, dodder, primrose-hips,
All beasts or birds my little book has sung,
Sit like a borrowed speech on stammering lips.

And still I build fond dreams of happier days,
If hard-earned pence may bridge the ocean o'er;
That yet our boy may see my mother's face,
And gather shells beside Ontario's shore:

May yet behold Canadian woodlands dim,
And flowers and birds his father loved to see;
While you and I sit by and smile on him,
As down grey years you sat and smiled on me.

Grant Allen


These Essays originally appeared in the columns of the 'St. James's
Gazette,' and I have to thank the courtesy of the Editor for kind
permission to republish them. My object in writing them was to make the
general principles and methods of evolutionists a little more familiar
to unscientific readers. Biologists usually deal with those underlying
points of structure which are most really important, and on which all
technical discussion must necessarily be based. But ordinary people
care little for such minute anatomical and physiological details. They
cannot be expected to interest themselves in the flexor pollicis
, or the hippocampus major about whose very existence
they are ignorant, and whose names suggest to them nothing but
unpleasant ideas. What they want to find out is how the outward and
visible forms of plants and animals were produced. They would much
rather learn why birds have feathers than why they have a keeled
sternum; and they think the origin of bright flowers far more
attractive than the origin of monocotyledonous seeds or exogenous
stems. It is with these surface questions of obvious outward appearance
that I have attempted to deal in this little series. My plan is to take
a simple and well-known natural object, and give such an explanation as
evolutionary principles afford of its most striking external features.
A strawberry, a snail-shell, a tadpole, a bird, a wayside flower—these
are the sort of things which I have tried to explain. If I have not
gone very deep, I hope at least that I have suggested in simple
language the right way to go to work.

I must make an apology for the form in which the essays are cast, so
far as regards the apparent egotism of the first person. When they
appeared anonymously in the columns of a daily paper, this air of
personality was not so obtrusive: now that they reappear under my own
name, I fear it may prove somewhat too marked. Nevertheless, to cut out
the personal pronoun would be to destroy the whole machinery of the
work: so I have reluctantly decided to retain it, only begging the
reader to bear in mind that the I of the essays is not a real
personage, but the singular number of the editorial we.

I have made a few alterations and corrections in some of the papers,
so as to bring the statements into closer accordance with scientific
accuracy. At the same time, I should like to add that I have
intentionally simplified the scientific facts as far as possible. Thus,
instead of saying that the groundsel is a composite, I have said that
it is a daisy by family; and instead of saying that the ascidian larva
belongs to the sub-kingdom Chordata, I have said that it is a first
cousin of the tadpole. For these simplifications, I hope technical
biologists will pardon me. After all, if you wish to be understood, it
is best to speak to people in words whose meanings they know. Definite
and accurate terminology is necessary to express definite and accurate
knowledge; but one may use vague expressions where the definite ones
would convey no ideas.

I have to thank the kindness of my friend the Rev. E.
Purcell, of Lincoln College, Oxford, for the clever and
appropriate design which appears upon the cover.

Grant Allen.

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Grant Allen