YOU remember -- it's not so long ago -- the talk there was about Dredge's "Arrival of the Fittest"? The talk has subsided, but the book of course remains: stands up, in fact, as the tallest thing of its kind since -- well, I'd almost said since "The Origin of Species."
I'm not wrong, at any rate, in calling it the most important contribution yet made to the development of the Darwinian theory, or rather to the solution of the awkward problem about which that theory has had to make such a circuit. Dredge's hypothesis will be contested, may one day be disproved; but at least it has swept out of the way all previous conjectures, including of course Lanfear's magnificent attempt; and for our generation of scientific investigators it will serve as the first safe bridge across a murderous black whirlpool.
It's all very interesting -- there are few things more stirring to the imagination than that sudden projection of the new hypothesis, light as a cobweb and strong as steel, across the intellectual abyss; but, for an idle observer of human motives, the other, the personal, side of Dredge's case is even more interesting and arresting.
Personal side? You didn't know there was one? Pictured him simply as a thinking machine, a highly specialized instrument of precision, the result of a long series of "adaptations," as his own jargon would put it? Well, I don't wonder -- if you've met him. He does give the impression of being something out of his own laboratory: a delicate scientific instrument that reveals wonders to the initiated, and is absolutely useless in an ordinary hand.
In his youth it was just the other way. I knew him twenty years ago, as an awkward lout whom young Archie Lanfear had picked up at college, and brought home for a visit. I happened to be staying at the Lanfears' when the boys arrived, and I shall never forget Dredge's first appearance on the scene. You know the Lanfears always lived very simply. That summer they had gone to Buzzard's Bay, in order that Professor Lanfear might be near the Biological Station at Wood's Holl, and they were picnicking in a kind of sketchy bungalow without any attempt at elegance. But Galen Dredge couldn't have been more awe-struck if he'd been suddenly plunged into a Fifth Avenue ball-room. He nearly knocked his shock head against the low doorway, and in dodging this peril trod heavily on Mabel Lanfear's foot, and became hopelessly entangled in her mother's draperies -- though how he managed it I never knew, for Mrs. Lanfear's dowdy muslins ran to no excess of train.
When the Professor himself came in it was ten times worse, and I saw then that Dredge's emotion was a tribute to the great man's proximity. That made the boy interesting, and I began to watch. Archie, always enthusiastic but vague, had said: "Oh, he's a tremendous chap -- you'll see -- " but I hadn't expected to see quite so clearly. Lanfear's vision, of course, was sharper than mine; and the next morning he had carried Dredge off to the Biological Station. And that was the way it began.
Dredge is the son of a Baptist minister. He comes from East Lethe, New York State, and was working his way through college -- waiting at White Mountain hotels in summer -- when Archie Lanfear ran across him. There were eight children in the family, and the mother was an invalid. Dredge never had a penny from his father after he was fourteen; but his mother wanted him to be a scholar, and "kept at him," as he put it, in the hope of his going back to "teach school" at East Lethe. He developed slowly, as the scientific mind generally does, and was still adrift about himself and his tendencies when Archie took him down to Buzzard's Bay. But he had read Lanfear's "Utility and Variation," and had always been a patient and curious observer of nature. And his first meeting with Lanfear explained him to himself. It didn't, however, enable him to explain himself to others, and for a long time he remained, to all but Lanfear, an object of incredulity and conjecture.
" Why my husband wants him about -- " poor Mrs. Lanfear, the kindest of women, privately lamented to her friends; for Dredge, at that time -- they kept him all summer at the bungalow -- had one of the most encumbering personalities you can imagine. He was as inexpressive as he is to-day, and yet oddly obtrusive: one of those uncomfortable presences whose silence is an interruption.
The poor Lanfears almost died of him that summer, and the pity of it was that he never suspected it, but continued to lavish on them a floundering devotion as uncomfortable as the endearments of a dripping dog -- all out of gratitude for the Professor's kindness! He was full, in those days, of raw enthusiasms, which he forced on any one who would listen when his first shyness had worn off. You can't picture him spouting sentimental poetry, can you? Yet I've seen him petrify a whole group of Mrs. Lanfear's callers by suddenly discharging on them, in the strident drawl of Western New York, "Barbara Frietchie" or "The Queen of the May." His taste in literature was uniformly bad, but very definite, and far more assertive than his views on biological questions. In his scientific judgments he showed, even then, a remarkable temperance, a precocious openness to the opposite view; but in literature he was a furious propagandist, aggressive, disputatious, and extremely sensitive to adverse opinion.
Lanfear, of course, had been struck from the first by his gift of accurate observation, and by the fact that his eagerness to learn was offset by his reluctance to conclude. I remember Lanfear's telling me that he had never known a lad of Dredge's age who gave such promise of uniting an aptitude for general ideas with the plodding patience of the accumulator of facts. Of course when Lanfear talked like that of a young biologist his fate was sealed. There could be no question of Dredge's going back to "teach school" at East Lethe. He must take a course in biology at Columbia, spend his vacations at the Wood's Holl laboratory, and then, if possible, go to Germany for a year or two.
All this meant his virtual adoption by the Lanfears. Most of Lanfear's fortune went in helping young students to a start, and he devoted his heaviest subsidies to Dredge.
"Dredge will be my biggest dividend -- you'll see!" he used to say, in the chrysalis days when poor Galen was known to the world of science only as a perpetual slouching presence in Mrs. Lanfear's drawing-room. And Dredge, it must be said, took his obligations simply, with that kind of personal dignity, and quiet sense of his own worth, which in such cases saves the beneficiary from abjectness. He seemed to trust himself as fully as Lanfear trusted him.
The comic part of it was that his only idea of making what is known as "a return" was to devote himself to the Professor's family. When I hear pretty women lamenting that they can't coax Professor Dredge out of his laboratory I remember Mabel Lanfear's cry to me: "If Galen would only keep away!" When Mabel fell on the ice and broke her leg, Galen walked seven miles in a blizzard to get a surgeon; but if he did her this service one day in the year, he bored her by being in the way for the other three hundred and sixty-four. One would have imagined at that time that he thought his perpetual presence the greatest gift he could bestow; for, except on the occasion of his fetching the surgeon, I don't remember his taking any other way of expressing his gratitude.
In love with Mabel? Not a bit! But the queer thing was that he did have a passion in those days -- a blind, hopeless passion for Mrs. Lanfear! Yes: I know what I'm saying. I mean Mrs. Lanfear, the Professor's wife, poor Mrs. Lanfear, with her tight hair and her loose figure, her blameless brow and earnest eye-glasses, and her perpetual attitude of mild misapprehension. I can see Dredge cowering, long and many-jointed, in a diminutive drawing-room chair, one square-toed shoe coiled round an exposed ankle, his knees clasped in a knot of red knuckles, and his spectacles perpetually seeking Mrs. Lanfear's eye-glasses. I never knew if the poor lady was aware of the sentiment she inspired, but her
children observed it, and it provoked them to irreverent mirth. Galen was the predestined butt of Mabel and Archie; and secure in their mother's virtuous obtuseness, and in her worshipper's timidity, they allowed themselves a latitude of banter that sometimes turned their audience cold. Dredge meanwhile was going on obstinately with his work. Now and then he had queer fits of idleness, when he lapsed into a state of sulky inertia from which even Lanfear's admonitions could not rouse him. Once, just before an examination, he suddenly went off to the Maine woods for two weeks, came back, and failed to pass. I don't know if his benefactor ever lost hope; but at times his confidence must have been sorely strained. The queer part of it was that when Dredge emerged from these eclipses he seemed keener and more active than ever. His slowly growing intelligence probably needed its periodical pauses of assimilation; and Lanfear was marvellously patient.
At last Dredge finished his course and went to Germany; and when he came back he was a new man -- was, in fact, the Dredge we all know. He seemed to have shed his blundering, encumbering personality, and come to life as a disembodied intelligence. His fidelity to the Lanfears was unchanged; but he showed it negatively, by his discretions and abstentions. I have an idea that Mabel was less disposed to deride him, might even have been induced to softer sentiments; but I doubt if Dredge even noticed the change. As for his ex-goddess, he seemed to regard her as a motherly household divinity, the guardian genius of the darning needle; but on Professor Lanfear he looked with a deepening reverence. If the rest of the family had diminished in his eyes, its head had grown even greater.
FROM that day Dredge's progress continued steadily. If not always perceptible to the untrained eye, in Lanfear's sight it never deviated, and the great man began to associate Dredge with his work, and to lean on him more and more. Lanfear's health was already failing, and in my confidential talks with him I saw how he counted on Galen Dredge to continue and amplify his doctrine. If he did not describe the young man as his predestined Huxley, it was because any such comparison between himself and his great predecessors would have been repugnant to his taste; but he evidently felt that it would be Dredge's role to reveal him to posterity. And the young man seemed at that time to take the same view of his calling. When he was not busy about Lanfear's work he was recording their conversations with the diligence of a biographer and the accuracy of a naturalist. Any attempt to question or minimize Lanfear's theories roused in his disciple the only flashes of wrath I have ever seen a scientific discussion provoke in him. In defending his master he became almost as intemperate as in the early period of his literary passions.
Such filial dedication must have been all the more precious to Lanfear because, about that time, it became evident that Archie would never carry on his father's work. He had begun brilliantly, you may remember, by a little paper on Limulus Polyphemus that attracted a good deal of notice when it appeared in the Central Blatt; but gradually his zoological ardour yielded to an absorbing passion for the violin, which was followed by a sudden plunge into physics. At present, after a side-glance at the drama, I understand he's devoting what is left of his father's money to archaeological explorations in Asia Minor.
"Archie's got a delightful little mind," Lanfear used to say to me, rather wistfully, "but it's just a highly polished surface held up to the show as it passes. Dredge's mind takes in only a bit at a time, but the bit stays, and other bits are joined to it, in a hard mosaic of fact, of which imagination weaves the pattern. I saw just how it would be years ago, when my boy used to take my meaning in a flash, and answer me with clever objections, while Galen disappeared into one of his fathomless silences, and then came to the surface like a dripping retriever, a long way beyond Archie's objections, and with an answer to them in his mouth."
It was about this time that the crowning satisfaction of Lanfear's career came to him: I mean, of course, John Weyman's gift to Columbia of the Lanfear Laboratory, and the founding, in connection with it, of a chair of Experimental Evolution. Weyman had always taken an interest in Lanfear's work, but no one had supposed that his interest would express itself so magnificently. The honour came to Lanfear at a time when he was fighting an accumulation of troubles: failing health, the money difficulties resulting from his irrepressible generosity, his disappointment about Archie's career, and perhaps also the persistent attacks of the new school of German zoologists.
"If I hadn't Galen I should feel the game was up," he said to me once, in a fit of half-real, half-mocking despondency. "But he'll do what I haven't time to do myself, and what my boy can't do for me."
That meant that he would answer the critics, and triumphantly affirm Lanfear's theory, which had been rudely shaken, but not displaced.
"A scientific hypothesis lasts till there's something else to put in its place. People who want to get across a river will use the old bridge till the new one's built. And I don't see any one who's particularly anxious, in this case, to take a contract for the new one," Lanfear ended; and I remember answering with a laugh: "Not while Horatius Dredge holds the other."
It was generally known that Lanfear had not long to live, and the Laboratory was hardly opened before the question of his successor in the chair of Experimental Evolution began to be a matter of public discussion. It was conceded that whoever followed him ought to be a man of achieved reputation, some one carrying, as the French say, a considerable "baggage." At the same time, even Lanfear's critics felt that he should be succeeded by a man who held his views and would continue his teaching. This was not in itself a difficulty, for German criticism had so far been mainly negative, and there were plenty of good men who, while they questioned the permanent validity of Lanfear's conclusions, were yet ready to accept them for their provisional usefulness. And then there was the added inducement of the Laboratory! The Columbia Professor of Experimental Evolution has at his disposal the most complete instrument of biological research that modern ingenuity has yet produced; and it's not only in theology or politics que Paris vaut bien une messe! There was no trouble about finding a candidate; but the whole thing turned on Lanfear's decision, since it was tacitly understood that, by Weyman's wish, he was to select his successor. And what a cry there was when he selected Galen Dredge!
Not in the scientific world, though. The specialists were beginning to know about Dredge. His remarkable paper on Sexual Dimorphism had been translated into several languages, and a furious polemic had broken out over it. When a young fellow can get the big men fighting over him his future is pretty well assured. But Dredge was only thirty-four, and some people seemed to feel that there was a kind of deflected nepotism in Lanfear's choice.
"If he could choose Dredge he might as well have chosen his own son," I've heard it said; and the irony was that Archie -- will you believe it? -- actually thought so himself! But Lanfear had Weyman behind him, and when the end came the Faculty at once appointed Galen Dredge to the chair of Experimental Evolution.
For the first two years things went quietly, along accustomed lines. Dredge simply continued the course which Lanfear's death had interrupted. He lectured well even then, with a persuasive simplicity surprising in the slow, inarticulate creature one knew him for. But haven't you noticed that certain personalities reveal themselves only in the more impersonal relations of life? It's as if they woke only to collective contacts, and the single consciousness were an unmeaning fragment to them.
If there was anything to criticize in that first part of the course, it was the avoidance of general ideas, of those brilliant rockets of conjecture that Lanfear's students were used to seeing him fling across the darkness. I remember once saying this to Archie, who, having recovered from his absurd disappointment, had returned to his old allegiance to Dredge.
"Oh, that's Galen all over. He doesn't want to jump into the ring till he has a big swishing knock-down argument in his fist. He'll wait twenty years if he has to. That's his strength: he's never afraid to wait."
I thought this shrewd of Archie, as well as generous; and I saw the wisdom of Dredge's course. As Lanfear himself had said, his theory was safe enough till somebody found a more attractive one; and before that day Dredge would probably have accumulated sufficient proof to crystallize the fluid hypothesis.
THE third winter I was off collecting in Central America, and didn't get back till Dredge's course had been going for a couple of months. The very day I turned up in town Archie Lanfear descended on me with a summons from his mother. I was wanted at once at a family council.
I found the Lanfear ladies in a state of incoherent distress, which Archie's own indignation hardly made more intelligible. But gradually I put together their fragmentary charges, and learned that Dredge's lectures were turning into an organized assault on his master's doctrine.
"It amounts to just this," Archie said, controlling his women with the masterful gesture of the weak man. "Galen has simply turned round and betrayed my father."
"Just for a handful of silver he left us," Mabel sobbed in parenthesis, while Mrs. Lanfear tearfully cited Hamlet.
Archie silenced them again. "The ugly part of it is that he must have had this up his sleeve for years. He must have known when he was asked to succeed my father what use he meant to make of his opportunity. What he's doing isn't the result of a hasty conclusion: it means years of work and preparation."
Archie broke off to explain himself. He had returned from Europe the week before, and had learned on arriving that Dredge's lectures were stirring the world of science as nothing had stirred it since Lanfear's "Utility and Variation." And the incredible outrage was that they owed their sensational effect to the fact of being an attempted refutation of Lanfear's great work.
I own that I was staggered: the case looked ugly, as Archie said. And there was a veil of reticence, of secrecy, about Dredge, that always kept his conduct in a half-light of uncertainty. Of some men one would have said off-hand: "It's impossible!" But one couldn't affirm it of him.
Archie hadn't seen him as yet; and Mrs. Lanfear had sent for me because she wished me to be present at the interview between the two men. The Lanfear ladies had a touching belief in Archie's violence: they thought him as terrible as a natural force. My own idea was that if there were any broken bones they wouldn't be Dredge's; but I was too curious as to the outcome not to be glad to offer my services as moderator.
First, however, I wanted to hear one of the lectures; and I went the next afternoon. The hall was jammed, and I saw, as soon as Dredge appeared, what increased security and ease the interest of his public had given him. He had been clear the year before, now he was also eloquent. The lecture was a remarkable effort: you'll find the gist of it in Chapter VII of "The Arrival of the Fittest." Archie sat at my side in a white rage; he was too clever not to measure the extent of the disaster. And I was almost as indignant as he when we went to see Dredge the next day.
I saw at a glance that the latter suspected nothing; and it was characteristic of him that he began by questioning me about my finds, and only afterward turned to reproach Archie for having been back a week without notifying him.
"You know I'm up to my neck in this job. Why in the world didn't you hunt me up before this?"
The question was exasperating, and I could understand Archie's stammer of wrath.
"Hunt you up? Hunt you up? What the deuce are you made of, to ask me such a question instead of wondering why I'm here now?"
Dredge bent his slow calm scrutiny on his friend's quivering face; then he turned to me.
"What's the matter?" he said simply.
"The matter?" shrieked Archie, his clenched fist hovering excitedly above the desk by which he stood; but Dredge, with unwonted quickness, caught the fist as it descended.
"Careful -- I've got a Kallima in that jar there." He pushed a chair forward, and added quietly: "Sit down."
Archie, ignoring the gesture, towered pale and avenging in his place; and Dredge, after a moment, took the chair himself.
"The matter?" Archie reiterated with rising passion. "Are you so lost to all sense of decency and honour that you can put that question in good faith? Don't you really know what's the matter?"
Dredge smiled slowly. "There are so few things one really knows."
"Oh, damn your scientific hair-splitting! Don't you know you're insulting my father's memory?"
Dredge stared again, turning his spectacles thoughtfully from one of us to the other.
"Oh, that's it, is it? Then you'd better sit down. If you don't see at once it'll take some time to make you."
Archie burst into an ironic laugh.
"I rather think it will!" he conceded.
"Sit down, Archie," I said, setting the example; and he obeyed, with a gesture that made his consent a protest.
Dredge seemed to notice nothing beyond the fact that his visitors were seated. He reached for his pipe, and filled it with the care which the habit of delicate manipulations gave to all the motions of his long, knotty hands.
"It's about the lectures?" he said.
Archie's answer was a deep scornful breath.
"You've only been back a week, so you've only heard one, I suppose?"
"It was not necessary to hear even that one. You must know the talk they're making. If notoriety is what you're after -- "
"Well, I'm not sorry to make a noise," said Dredge, putting a match to his pipe.
Archie bounded in his chair. "There's no easier way of doing it than to attack a man who can't answer you!"
Dredge raised a sobering hand. "Hold on. Perhaps you and I don't mean the same thing. Tell me first what's in your mind."
The request steadied Archie, who turned on Dredge a countenance really eloquent with filial indignation.
"It's an odd question for you to ask; it makes me wonder what's in yours. Not much thought of my father, at any rate, or you couldn't stand in his place and use the chance he's given you to push yourself at his expense."
Dredge received this in silence, puffing slowly at his pipe.
"Is that the way it strikes you?" he asked at length.
"God! It's the way it would strike most men."
He turned to me. "You too?"
"I can see how Archie feels," I said.
"That I'm attacking his father's memory to glorify myself?"
"Well, not precisely: I think what he really feels is that, if your convictions didn't permit you to continue his father's teaching, you might perhaps have done better to sever your connection with the Lanfear lectureship."
"Then you and he regard the Lanfear lectureship as having been founded to perpetuate a dogma, not to try and get at the truth?"
"Certainly not," Archie broke in. "But there's a question of taste, of delicacy, involved in the case that can't be decided on abstract principles. We know as well as you that my father meant the laboratory and the lectureship to serve the ends of science, at whatever cost to his own special convictions; what we feel -- and you don't seem to -- is that you're the last man to put them to that use; and I don't want to remind you why."
A slight redness rose through Dredge's sallow skin. "You needn't," he said. "It's because he pulled me out of my hole, woke me up, made me, shoved me off from the shore. Because he saved me ten or twenty years of muddled effort, and put me where I am at an age when my best working years are still ahead of me. Every one knows that's what your father did for me, but I'm the only person who knows the time and trouble that it took."
It was well said, and I glanced quickly at Archie, who was never closed to generous emotions.
"Well, then -- ?" he said, flushing also.
"Well, then," Dredge continued, his voice deepening and losing its nasal edge, "I had to pay him back, didn't I?"
The sudden drop flung Archie back on his prepared attitude of irony. "It would be the natural inference -- with most men."
"Just so. And I'm not so very different. I knew your father wanted a successor -- some one who'd try and tie up the loose ends. And I took the lectureship with that object."
"And you're using it to tear the whole fabric to pieces!"
Dredge paused to re-light his pipe. "Looks that way," he conceded. "This year anyhow."
" This year -- ?" Archie gasped at him.
"Yes. When I took up the job I saw it just as your father left it. Or rather, I didn't see any other way of going on with it. The change came gradually, as I worked."
"Gradually? So that you had time to look round you, to know where you were, to see you were fatally committed to undoing the work he had done?"
"Oh, yes -- I had time," Dredge conceded.
"And yet you kept the chair and went on with the course?"
Dredge refilled his pipe, and then turned in his seat so that he looked squarely at Archie.
"What would your father have done in my place?" he asked.
"In your place -- ?"
"Yes: supposing he'd found out the things I've found out in the last year or two. You'll see what they are, and how much they count, if you'll run over the report of the lectures. If your father'd been alive he might have come across the same facts just as easily."
There was a silence which Archie at last broke by saying: "But he didn't, and you did. There's the difference."
"The difference? What difference? Would your father have suppressed the facts if he'd found them? It's you who insult his memory by implying it! And if I'd brought them to him, would he have used his hold over me to get me to suppress them?"
"Certainly not. But can't you see it's his death that makes the difference? He's not here to defend his case."
Dredge laughed, but not unkindly. "My dear Archie, your father wasn't one of the kind who bother to defend their case. Men like him are the masters, not the servants, of their theories. They respect an idea only as long as it's of use to them; when it's usefulness ends they chuck it out. And that's what your father would have done."
Archie reddened. "Don't you assume a good deal in taking it for granted that he would have had to in this particular case?"
Dredge reflected. Yes: I was going too far. Each of us can only answer for himself. But to my mind your father's theory is refuted."
"And you don't hesitate to be the man to do it?"
"Should I have been of any use if I had? And did your father ever ask anything of me but to be of as much use as I could?"
It was Archie's turn to reflect. "No. That was what he always wanted, of course."
"That's the way I've always felt. The first day he took me away from East Lethe I knew the debt I was piling up against him, and I never had any doubt as to how I'd pay it, or how he'd want it paid. He didn't pick me out and train me for any object but to carry on the light. Do you suppose he'd have wanted me to snuff it out because it happened to light up a fact he didn't fancy? I'm using his oil to feed my torch with: yes, but it isn't really his torch or mine, or his oil or mine: they belong to each of us till we drop and hand them on."
Archie turned a sobered glance on him. "I see your point. But if the job had to be done I don't see that you need have done it from his chair."
"There's where we differ. If I did it at all I had to do it in the best way, and with all the authority his backing gave me. If I owe your father anything, I owe him that. It would have made him sick to see the job badly done. And don't you see that the way to honour him, and show what he's done for science, was to spare no advantage in my attack on him -- that I'm proving the strength of his position by the desperateness of my assault?" Dredge paused and squared his lounging shoulders. "After all," he added, "he's not down yet, and if I leave him standing I guess it'll be some time before anybody else cares to tackle him."
There was a silence between the two men; then Dredge continued in a lighter tone: "There's one thing, though, that we're both in danger of forgetting: and that is how little, in the long run, it all counts either way." He smiled a little at Archie's outraged gesture. "The most we can any of us do -- even by such a magnificent effort as your father's -- is to turn the great marching army a hair's breadth nearer what seems to us the right direction; if one of us drops out, here and there, the loss of headway's hardly perceptible. And that's what I'm coming to now."
He rose from his seat, and walked across to the hearth; then, cautiously resting his shoulder-blades against the mantel-shelf jammed with miscellaneous specimens, he bent his musing spectacles on Archie.
"Your father would have understood why I've done, what I'm doing; but that's no reason why the rest of you should. And I rather think it's the rest of you who've suffered most from me. He always knew what I was there for, and that must have been some comfort even when I was most in the way; but I was just an ordinary nuisance to you and your mother and Mabel. You were all too kind to let me see it at the time, but I've seen it since, and it makes me feel that, after all, the settling of this matter lies with you. If it hurts you to have me go on with my examination of your father's theory, I'm ready to drop the lectures to-morrow, and trust to the Lanfear Laboratory to breed up a young chap who'll knock us both out in time. You've only got to say the word."
There was a pause while Dredge turned and laid his extinguished pipe carefully between a jar of embryo sea-urchins and a colony of regenerating planarians.
Then Archie rose and held out his hand.
"No," he said simply; "go on."
(from "The Tales of Men" -- 1910)