Erasmus Darwin (Zoonomia, 17 94), though a zealous evolutionist, can hardly be said to have made any real advance on his predecessors; and, notwithstanding the fact that Goethe had the advantage of a wide knowledge of morphological facts, and a true insight into their signification, while he threw all the power of a great poet into the expression of his conceptions, it may be questioned whether he supplied the doctrine of evolution with a firmer scientific basis than it already possessed.
The thinker who sees man confronted by the infinite non-moral forces presumed by natural pantheism inevitably predominating over the finite powers of men may appear to the modern Christian theologian or to the evolutionist as a hopeless pessimist, and yet may himself have concluded that, though the future holds out no prospect save that of annihilation, man may yet by prudence and care enjoy a considerable measure of happiness.
Herder was thus an evolutionist, but an evolutionist still under the influence of Rousseau.
That is to say, in tracing back the later acquisitions of civilization to impulses which are as old as the dawn of primitive culture, he did not, as the modern evolutionist does, lay stress on the superiority of the later to the earlier stages of human development, but rather became enamoured of the simplicity and spontaneity of those early impulses which, since they are the oldest, easily come to look like the most real and precious.
The Ideen shows us that Herder is an evolutionist after the manner of Leibnitz, and not after that of more modern evolutionists.