the question which from Homer’s days has been put to the wayfarer in strange lands—is likewise the all-absorbing question which man is ever asking of the universe of which he is himself so tiny yet so wondrous a part. From the earliest times the ultimate purpose of all scientific research has been to elicit fragmentary or partial responses to this question, and philosophy has ever busied itself in piecing together these several bits of information according to the best methods at its disposal, in order to make up something like a satisfactory answer. In old times the best methods which philosophy had at its disposal for this purpose were such as now seem very crude, and accordingly ancient philosophers bungled considerably in their task, though now and then they came surprisingly near what would to-day be called the truth. It was natural that their methods should be crude, for scientific inquiry had as yet supplied but scanty materials for them to work with, and it was only after a very long course of speculation and criticism that men could find out what ways of going to work are likely to prove successful and what are not. The earliest thinkers, indeed, were further hindered from accomplishing much by the imperfections of the language by the aid of which their thinking was done; for science and philosophy have had to make a serviceable terminology by dint of long and arduous trial and practice, and linguistic processes fit for expressing general or abstract notions accurately grew up only through numberless failures and at the expense of much inaccurate thinking and loose talking. As in most of nature’s processes, there was a great waste of energy before a good result could be secured. Accordingly primitive men were very wide of the mark in their views of nature.
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John Fiske was born Edmund Fiske Green at Hartford, Connecticut, March 30, 1842. The largest part of his life was devoted to the study of history, but at an early age inquiries into the nature of human progress led him to a careful study of the doctrine of evolution, and it was through the popularization of Charles Darwin's work that he first became known to the public. He applied himself to the philosophical interpretation of Darwin's work and produced many books and essays on this subject. His philosophy was influenced by Herbert Spencer's views on evolution. In a letter from Charles Darwin to John Fiske, dated from 1874, the naturalist remarks: "I never in my life read so lucid an expositor (and therefore thinker) as you are." Fiske was a popular lecturer on these topics in his early career. Later he turned to historical writings, publishing books such as The Discovery of America. In addition, he edited, with James Grant Wilson, Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography . He died, worn out by overwork, at Gloucester, Massachusetts, July 4, 1901.
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