In the first volume of his book The Legend of Perseus which appeared in 1894, in which the 'world-wide-story-incident of Supernatural Birth' was examined, Hartland made the suggestion that the myths, stories, superstitions, and incidents relating to supernatural birth originated during that period in the development of human society when the physical relationship between father and child was imperfectly understood, or rather, not understood at all. The suggestion thus made represented a conjecture based upon a large number of accounts of almost universal provenience relating to the belief in supernatural birth. Finding this belief so widely distributed, Hartland further conjectured that it must also at one time have been common to all mankind.1 Both these conjectures were stated in the form of suggestions or hypotheses, which, with the progress of knowledge, it was supposed might some day receive either proof or disproo£ Reasoning of this kind was in the best tradition of the evolutionary school of thought. The methods of thought and investigation which had yielded such rich results with respect to the problem of the origin of species could not fail, it was considered, to be equally fruitful and revealing when applied to problems relating to the origin and development of social institutions. Animal and social structures were regarded as amenable to the same methods of analysis, such differences as they exhibited were thought to be due solely to the differences inherent in the materials from which they were constructed, and in the different organization of that material. In short, the world presented series of recurring phenomena which, allowing for the differences in their structural bases, differed from one another only in respect of the degree of complexity of their organization. The method which had so efficiently solved the problem of organization and development in one field could, it was considered, surely be relied upon to solve the same problem in all other fields. Those who thought thus committed the error of mistaking the result or effect of a method for the method itself, for the principle of evolution is not a method, but a generalization of great heuristic value. Darwin, to whom we owe it, arrived at it by means of a vast number of objective circumstantially detailed historical observations, which when fitted
together gave him his generalization of evolution. The method he used was the method which all those whose work is based upon the observation of facts must use, the objective historical method, which, in brief, consists first of the collection and ordered arrangement of detailed observations off acts, the statement of these, and only secondarily, in the analysis of their meaning. After 1859 (when On the Origin of Species was published), evolution became a catchword, a phrase, and finally a method, the evolutionary method, so that even to-day it is still not unusual to find prominent thinkers speaking and writing of 'the evolutionary method'. But there never was such a thing. No single method applied to the solution of problems so diverse has been as successful as the method used by Darwin in arriving at his generalization of evolution. In the past this has been particularly true of the problems of the experimental sciences, sciences which have become experimental chiefly because they were informed by the heuristic principles of the evolutionary theory. Nineteenth-century sociologists grasping the immense significance of the result of Darwin's method, the principle of evolution, but not the method by which it was arrived at, at once set about showing that human societies had evolved in the same or in a similar manner as animal species. Their method in a sense was indeed evolutionary, for it consisted in forcing all social facts into a framework which would conform with their conceptions of evolution. This practice, of course, may now be recognized as an example of the manner in which the cart should not be put in relation to the horse. * In the social sciences, including ethnology, the use of the so-called 'evolutionary method' has had the effect of stimulating speculation and argumentation about ideas and theories upon the basis of generalization rather than upon the solid groundwork of fact. Since in the social sciences the experimental control of the material is for the most part impossible, it was easy for generalization to take the place of experiment and, in most cases, of fact itself. By the end of the nineteenth century this type ofratiocination had become so endeared to the hearts of thinkers like Herbert Spencer that Huxley could justly remark of them that their idea of a tragedy was a beautiful theory killed by an ugly fact! The great error of such thinkers, it is now obvious, was the assumption that the development of social structures proceeded upon the same mechanistic lines as animal evolution, development, and growth; that every society represented some stage in the process of this development, the exact progression of which could be determined upon analysis, and that human nature being everywhere the same, similar stimuli were naturally productive of similar responses. Upon the basis of such * Or as wittily remarked by one critic ofthe manner in which the evolution of the horse was misconstructed, 'putting the chart before the horse'.