The Ascent of Man. By Mathilde Blind. (Chatto and Windus.)
—Miss Blind's theme is the physical, mental, and moral evolution of man. It would be unfair to ask of a poet that complete account of the theory which men of science themselves do not find them- selves competent to give. Nor can the method be the same as that which is followed in strictly philosophical discussions. The scientific thinker who would trace the pedigree of man to pro- tozoon or protoplasm, must, of course, work backward, like other pedigree-makers ; and the further he goes from the present, the less firm are his footsteps. This is a method which does not suit the poetical treatment of the subject. The poet is bound to follow the accepted order of all cosmogonies, and begins with chaos, which he pictures as developing itself into order, law, and life. Hence he has to begin with the assumptions with which the man of science ends. There are enormous gaps in evolution, approach it as we will. But these are more easily passed when we are led up to them by a long succession of proofs drawn from acknowledged facts, than when we start with the absolutely unknown, with such vague entities, or non-entities, as "dim fluctuant forces," "shocks of electrical vapour," "auroral pulsa- tions," and the like. The origin of life is a problem which has not been settled to the satisfaction of any one, except it be Mr. Grant Allen, and we are not any the wiser when Miss Blind sings :—
"Enkindled in the mystic dark
Life built herself a myriad forms, And, flashing its electric spark Through films and cells and pulps and worms, Flew shuttlewise above, beneath, Weaving the web of life and death.
And multiplying in the ocean, Amorphous, rude, colossal things Lolled on the ooze in lazy motion, Armed with grim jaws or uncouth wings Helpless to lift their cumbering bulk They lurch like some dismasted hulk."
Nor is the origin of thought made clearer when we are told that-
The twilight mazss of his brain, Like embryos within the womb. Thought pushes feelers through the gloom."
The fact is that, as is not unfrequently the case with philosophical poems, we are better pleased when we escape from the philosophy. Without doubt the finest thing in the volume is "The Pilgrim Soul," a poem which has, indeed, a relation to the subject of the volume, but which might well stand, and indeed would stand with more advantage to the author, by itself. Miss Blind has risen here to a power of expression and a command of melodious verse which we do not find elsewhere.