The Age of Innocence or Darwin Moralized

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… and therefore you must not grudge to find the same soul in an Emperor, in a Post-horse, and in a Mushroom, since no unreadiness in the soul, but an indisposition in the organs works this. And therefore though this soul could not move when it was a Melon, yet it may remember and now tell me, at what lascivious banquet it was served. And though it could not speak when it was a spider, yet it can remember, and now tell me, who used it for poison to attain dignity.
JOHN DONNE

“That was the Eocene, the Golden Age;
On the vast plains of that lost continent”
—the Lecturer coughed and paused to turn a page—
“Swarmed the first men, hairy and innocent,
And browsed and bred and slept and were content,
Their only speech short cries of joy and rage.

“Observe this skull: they were, as you can see,
Small-brained and simple-hearted, largely thewed.
Recent research in archaeology
Has proved the males magnificently endued
With virile force, the females handsome, nude,
Generous and quite devoid of coquetry.

“A touch, a nod and Nature did the rest:
Their loins were fruitful and the world was wide.
If I may be allowed a simple jest,
They could not count, but how they multiplied!
The earth with prodigal hand their wants supplied;
We might suppose them, then, supremely blest.

“Alas, we would be wrong: the state of man
Has never known uncomplicated bliss.
Like other species since the world began,
Natural selection makes him what he is.
The great Darwinian hypothesis
Knows no exception to its general plan.

“Nature provides a process of control
On her own limitless fecundity;
Each kind evolves to its mysterious goal
Thanks to some ruthless natural enemy.
The fittest to survive, survive. We see
In this the explanation of the soul.

“In these primordial men, I should explain,
Two types of primitive soul distinguished two
Species, and each a pure Mendelian strain;
The evidence suggests that each bred true.
One type was white and dazzling to the view;
One a soft black—” the Lecturer paused again,

Took off his spectacles and gazed around,
Then, delicately polishing each glass,
Replaced them magisterially and frowned.
“The soul of modern man,” he told the class,
“Occurs in various shades of grey. Alas,
The old pure strains today are rarely found.

“But let us contemplate the Eocene
As it would be if we could travel back:
Men in unnumbered millions rove the green
And flowery lap of earth. Some have the knack
To hunt and snare small prey: their souls are black.
(Doubtless, some melanism in the gene.)

“They showed more wit than the albino kind,
Whose habits, strictly vegetarian,
Prove them more brutish, while the blacks inclined
More to the brutal: but at best we can
Hardly allow them, placed by modern man,
More than a rudimentary sort of mind.

“Over the heads of this dumb, wandering horde,
Darkening the sky, filling the reach of space,
Clouds of voracious spirits wheeled and soared,
Following their natural prey, the human race:
Angels, descending with rich cries of grace,
Exulted in the bounty of the Lord;

“While swarms of demons flocking to the spot,
Swooped down, with hideous shrieks of rage and hate,
To seize and rend their victims as they squat
At meat, or tear them while they copulate.
Yet, delicate feeders these, no flesh they ate,
Sucked the sweet souls and left the rest to rot.

“That crude black taste, the demons’ chief delight,
Is something that the angels all detest;
While the bland milky flavours of the white
Sicken a healthy demon at the best.
But none for the rare greys showed any zest,
Fruit of mischance or blunders of the night.

“It follows, gentlemen, you will observe”
—the Lecturer beamed around the class and winked—
“That, following an asymptotic curve,
Both the pure species soon became extinct.
The Chain of Cause, inexorably linked,
Laid bare by that great science which we serve,

“Thus demonstrates the Progress of the Soul.
Throwbacks to black or white, indeed, arise;
But Nature in ourselves attains her goal:
The triumph of Adaptive Compromise!
In the grey eye of Science alone it lies
To see life steadily and see it whole.”

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