“THE more I think of it,” says Mr. Ruskin, “I find this conclusion more impressed upon me—that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way.” In these pages an attempt is made to tell “in a plain way” a few of the things which Science is now seeing with regard to the Ascent of Man. Whether these seeings are there at all is another matter. But, even if visions, every thinking mind, through whatever medium, should look at them. What Science has to say about himself is of transcendent interest to Man, and the practical bearings of this theme are coming to be more vital than any on the field of knowledge. The thread which binds the facts is, it is true, but a hypothesis As the theory, nevertheless. with which at present all scientific work is being done, it is assumed in every page that follows.
Though its stand-point is Evolution and its subject Man, this book is far from being designed to prove that Man has relations, compromising or otherwise, with lower animals. Its theme is Ascent, not Descent. It is a History, not an Argument. And Evolution, in the narrow sense in which it is often used when applied to Man, plays little part in the drama outlined here. So far as the general scheme of Evolution is introduced—and in the Introduction and elsewhere this is done at length —the object is the important one of pointing out how its nature has been misconceived, indeed how its greatest factor has been overlooked in almost all contemporary scientific thinking. Evolution was given to the modern world out of focus, was first seen by it out of focus, and has remained out of focus to the present hour. Its general basis has never been re-examined since the time of Mr. Darwin; and not only such speculative sciences as Teleology, but working sciences like Sociology have been led astray by a fundamental omission. An Evolution Theory drawn to scale, and with the lights and shadows properly adjusted—adjusted to the whole truth and reality of Nature and of Man—is needed at present as a standard for modern thought; and though a reconstruction of such magnitude is not here presumed, a primary object of these pages is to supply at least the accents for such a scheme.
Beyond an attempted readjustment of the accents there is nothing here for the specialist—except, it may be, the reflection of his own work. Nor, apart from Teleology, is there anything for the theologian. The limitations of a lecture-audience made the treatment of such themes as might appeal to him impossible; while owing to the brevity of the course, the Ascent had to be stopped at a point where all the higher interest begins. All that the present volume covers is the Ascent of Man, the Individual, during the earlier stages of his evolution. It is a study in embryos, in rudiments, in installations; the scene is the primeval forest; the date, the world’s dawn. Tracing his rise as far as Family Life, this history does not even follow him into the Tribe; and as it is only then that social and moral life begin in earnest, no formal discussion of these high themes occurs. All the higher forces and phenomena with which the sciences of Psychology, Ethics, and Theology usually deal come on the world’s stage at a later date, and no one need be surprised if the semi-savage with whom we leave off is found wanting in so many of the higher potentialities of a human being.
The Ascent of Mankind, as distinguished from the Ascent of the Individual, was originally summarized in one or two closing lectures, but this stupendous subject would require a volume for itself, and these fragments have been omitted for the present. Doubtless it may disappoint some that at the close of all the bewildering vicissitudes recorded here, Man should appear, after all, so poor a creature. But the great lines of his youth are the lines of his maturity, and it is only by studying these, in themselves and in what they connote, that the nature of Evolution and the quality of Human progress can be perceived.