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Luck or Cunning?   By: (1835-1902)

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Transcribed by David Price, email from the 1922 Jonathan Cape edition



This second edition of Luck, or Cunning? is a reprint of the first edition, dated 1887, but actually published in November, 1886. The only alterations of any consequence are in the Index, which has been enlarged by the incorporation of several entries made by the author in a copy of the book which came into my possession on the death of his literary executor, Mr. R. A. Streatfeild. I thank Mr. G. W. Webb, of the University Library, Cambridge, for the care and skill with which he has made the necessary alterations; it was a troublesome job because owing to the re setting, the pagination was no longer the same.

Luck, or Cunning? is the fourth of Butler's evolution books; it was followed in 1890 by three articles in The Universal Review entitled "The Deadlock in Darwinism" (republished in The Humour of Homer), after which he published no more upon that subject.

In this book, as he says in his Introduction, he insists upon two main points: (1) the substantial identity between heredity and memory, and (2) the reintroduction of design into organic development; and these two points he treats as though they have something of that physical life with which they are so closely associated. He was aware that what he had to say was likely to prove more interesting to future generations than to his immediate public, "but any book that desires to see out a literary three score years and ten must offer something to future generations as well as to its own." By next year one half of the three score years and ten will have passed, and the new generation by their constant enquiries for the work have already begun to show their appreciation of Butler's method of treating the subject, and their readiness to listen to what was addressed to them as well as to their fathers.



This book, as I have said in my concluding chapter, has turned out very different from the one I had it in my mind to write when I began it. It arose out of a conversation with the late Mr. Alfred Tylor soon after his paper on the growth of trees and protoplasmic continuity was read before the Linnean Society that is to say, in December, 1884 and I proposed to make the theory concerning the subdivision of organic life into animal and vegetable, which I have broached in my concluding chapter, the main feature of the book. One afternoon, on leaving Mr. Tylor's bedside, much touched at the deep disappointment he evidently felt at being unable to complete the work he had begun so ably, it occurred to me that it might be some pleasure to him if I promised to dedicate my own book to him, and thus, however unworthy it might be, connect it with his name. It occurred to me, of course, also that the honour to my own book would be greater than any it could confer, but the time was not one for balancing considerations nicely, and when I made my suggestion to Mr. Tylor on the last occasion that I ever saw him, the manner in which he received it settled the question. If he had lived I should no doubt have kept more closely to my plan, and should probably have been furnished by him with much that would have enriched the book and made it more worthy of his acceptance; but this was not to be.

In the course of writing I became more and more convinced that no progress could be made towards a sounder view of the theory of descent until people came to understand what the late Mr. Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection amounted to, and how it was that it ever came to be propounded. Until the mindless theory of Charles Darwinian natural selection was finally discredited, and a mindful theory of evolution was substituted in its place, neither Mr. Tylor's experiments nor my own theories could stand much chance of being attended to. I therefore devoted myself mainly, as I had done in "Evolution Old and New," and in "Unconscious Memory," to considering whether the view taken by the late Mr... Continue reading book >>

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