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Here is the context:

As Charles Darwin put it at the end of the Origin of Species, "there is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or one, and that whilst Earth has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Actually cycle on is not only thing I cannot understand there. What is the word being there for. Could you please rephrase the whole sentence for me?

  • evolve is being used transitively there, making that a passive construction. ""endless forms have been [brought forth] and are being brought forth". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 12 '18 at 18:33
  • Ok, well. several first editions do say cycle on. – Lambie Apr 12 '18 at 22:18
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While "cycling on" could be used in a number of contexts to mean "to continue doing" or "to continue through time," the specific meaning here is given by the next clause:

...cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity...

In this instance, Darwin is poetically (and verbosely) referring to the Earth's orbit. The entire phrase could be replaced as follows (replacement in bold):

...and that whilst Earth has orbited, from...

Even more simply, he's referring to the passage of time (the time spent orbiting the sun).

"Being" is used in the passive present continuous tense

"Are being" is the passive present continuous tense, which means it identifies someone or something having started something in the past and continuing that something in the present, perhaps ending in the future. Thus, the last bit could be written:

...endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have evolved and continue evolving.

It is worth noting that Darwin defined evolution as a reaction to the surrounding environment. In the case of this sentence, he is anthropomorphising "the environment." Thus, those endless forms are being evolved by the influence or effect of the environment they live in.

As for rephrasing the whole sentence. It's actually easier to just explain each component.

There is a grandeur in this view of life Thinking about or considering the perspective Darwin presented in his treatise suggests something amazing about the nature of life.

with its several powers His presentation of evolution and adaptation suggest that life has powerful abilities not considered in other views of life.

having originally breathed into a few forms or one This is a bit of a jab at Christianity, whose views on creationism were opposed to Darwin's views of evolution and adaptation. From the Christian perspective, life was "breathed" into Man by God. Darwin's treatise suggests an evolution from a very few simple lifeforms into our complex world of life. He borrowes "breathed" both to make the statement contextually understandable and to poke his detractors a bit.

and that whilst Earth has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity  explained above.

from so simple a beginning Darwin proposes that we evolved from one-celled life, which is the most simple of beginnings.

endless forms most beautiful and wonderful "Endless forms" refers to the complexity of life both today and throughout time, which are, indeed, beautiful and wonderful.

have been, and are being, evolved. Explained above.

  • I was taught that "being" is used in the passive form of the present continuous. So I am confused how endless form of life could be being evolved by someon or something. – Dmytro O'Hope Apr 12 '18 at 18:32
  • It is the passive voice. I apologize for not indicating that. Remember that Darwin's basic theory is that evolution is a reaction to the surrounding environment. Therefore, the "something" causing the evolution is that environment and the influence it has (both positively and negatively) on life. – JBH Apr 12 '18 at 19:11
  • Why doesn't cycle on mean to continue to go through a cycle? – Lambie Apr 12 '18 at 21:15
  • Anyway, it's circle on, not cycle on. That's a mistake. – Lambie Apr 12 '18 at 21:21
  • @Lambie, first of all GOOD POINT! I didn't take the time to verify the quote. As for why cycle on couldn't be as you suggest, it's because "cycle on" (if it were used) is modified by "according to the fixed law of gravity," which must limit the interpretation to only those definitions that involve gravity, which is an orbit. – JBH Apr 12 '18 at 21:26

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