Everything Has a History and Other Essays

JBS Haldane

Allen and Unwin: London, 1951.

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I should have liked to call this book The History of England, and other essays. Had I done so I should merely have deceived my readers. A history of England generally turns out to be the history of a few of the better known people of England in each century of the last two thousand years. I think it should mean the history of our Land, and should include what we know of the history of its people before any written records were made.

Most of these essays appeared in the Daily Worker, others in the Modern Quarterly, the Rationalist Annual, Coal and British Ally. I have to thank the King in Parliament for permission to republish them, though I have no doubt that permission would have been granted me even had I no legal right to republish. The last essay in the book was delivered, as an evening discourse, at a Conference on Genetics, Paleontology, and Evolution held at Princeton University as part of the commemoration of its bicentenary. I should have preferred to have spoken on a more specialized and less speculative topic. But I am sensible of the honour done to me in asking me to speak to a wider audience than that of our more strictly scientific meetings. In this case I certainly have to thank Princeton University for permission to republish. The essay in question has appeared in Genetics, Paleontology and Evolution. But owing to the economic situation, this book will probably not have wide sales in Britain, though I cordially recommend it. I therefore asked, and obtained, leave to publish my contribution on this side of the Atlantic.

It will be seen that the central idea running through the book is that everything has a history, often a very strange one, and that most things have a future, often a very strange one too. My ideas as to this future clearly colour my account of the present, and of course they may be wrong. But the notion fhat the future will be like the present, or the past which we remember in our own lives, is certainly wrong.

I have tried to give this book a certain unity by confining, it to astronomy, geology, and biology. So I have not included a number of articles on medicine, hygiene, politics, and so on, published in recent years. I have then proceeded to destroy this unity by adding two articles attacking Mr. C. S. Lewis. Some people will regard these articles as in bad taste. They are at least in the central tradition of English literature, and in much better taste than, for example, some of Milton’s polemics. Besides which, Mr. Lewis, if he chooses to reply, has two considerable advantages over me. He is, as befits a student of literature, a better stylist than I. And he will be able to show, without serious difficulty, that I have contradicted myself repeatedly. I certainly have, because my thought (or if he prefers that expression, my prejudice) has developed, and I think some statements are false which I formerly thought were true.

I shall be criticized for trying to compress geology into five thousand words, and classificatory zoology into eight thousand. The answer is that some people may read these sketches who would not read a textbook of these subjects, and that if I have not failed completely in my intention, some who have read what I have written will go on to read textbooks. If they do they might do worse than remember that even textbooks leave a great deal out.

There is a need to present the results of science to every possible audience, at every level of education. I hope that I have done so in a way which will interest one of the many possible audiences.