In this extended view, nebulae and luminous stars are but the infantile and adolescent stages of the life history of the cosmic individual; the dark star, its adult stage, or time of true virility. Or we may think of the shrunken dark star as the germ-cell, the pollen-grain, of the cosmic organism. Reduced in size, as becomes a germ-cell, to a mere fraction of the nebular body from which it sprang, it yet retains within its seemingly non- vital body all the potentialities of the original organism, and requires only to blend with a fellow-cell to bring a new generation into being. Thus may the cosmic race, whose aggregate census makes up the stellar universe, be perpetuated--individual solar systems, such as ours, being born, and growing old, and dying to live again in their descendants, while the universe as a whole maintains its unified integrity throughout all these internal mutations--passing on, it may be, by infinitesimal stages, to a culmination hopelessly beyond human comprehension.
III. THE NEW SCIENCE OF PALEONTOLOGY
WILLIAM SMITH AND FOSSIL SHELLS
Ever since Leonardo da Vinci first recognized the true character of fossils, there had been here and there a man who realized that the earth's rocky crust is one gigantic mausoleum. Here and there a dilettante had filled his cabinets with relics from this monster crypt; here and there a philosopher had pondered over them--questioning whether perchance they had once been alive, or whether they were not mere abortive souvenirs of that time when the fertile matrix of the earth was supposed to have
"teemed at a birth Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms, Limbed and full grown."
Some few of these philosophers--as Robert Hooke and Steno in the seventeenth century, and Moro, Leibnitz, Buffon, Whitehurst, Werner, Hutton, and others in the eighteenth--had vaguely conceived the importance of fossils as records of the earth's ancient history, but the wisest of them no more suspected the full import of the story written in the rocks than the average stroller in a modern museum suspects the meaning of the hieroglyphs on the case of a mummy.
It was not that the rudiments of this story are so very hard to decipher--though in truth they are hard enough--but rather that the men who made the attempt had all along viewed the subject through an atmosphere of preconception, which gave a distorted image. Before this image could be corrected it was necessary that a man should appear who could see without prejudice, and apply sound common-sense to what he saw. And such a man did appear towards the close of the century, in the person of William Smith, the English surveyor. He was a self-taught man, and perhaps the more independent for that, and he had the gift, besides his sharp eyes and receptive mind, of a most tenacious memory. By exercising these faculties, rare as they are homely, he led the way to a science which was destined, in its later developments, to shake the structure of established thought to its foundations.
Little enough did William Smith suspect, however, that any such dire consequences were to come of his act when he first began noticing the fossil shells that here and there are to be found in the stratified rocks and soils of the regions over which his surveyor's duties led him. Nor, indeed, was there anything of such apparent revolutionary character in the facts which he unearthed; yet in their implications these facts were the most disconcerting of any that had been revealed since the days of Copernicus and Galileo. In its bald essence, Smith's discovery was simply this: that the fossils in the rocks, instead of being scattered haphazard, are arranged in regular systems, so that any given stratum of rock is labelled by its fossil population; and that the order of succession of such groups of fossils is always the same in any vertical series of strata in which they occur. That is to say, if fossil A underlies fossil B in any given region, it never overlies it in any other series; though a kind of fossils found in one set of strata may be quite omitted in another. Moreover, a fossil once having disappeared never reappears in any later stratum.