RECORD: Allen, Grant. 1882. Obituary: Charles Darwin. The Academy vol. 21 No. 521 (29 April): 306-7.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned by John van Wyhe, transcribed (single key) by AEL Data. RN2
THE news that Charles Darwin was no more fell upon the world like a thunderclap. It is true, his years might have led us to suspect that he had no long span of life yet before him; but his scientific activity was still so ceaseless, his powers were still so fresh and vigorous, his old age was still so green and vital, that we all put off the end in fancy to an indefinitely distant and unrealised future. We could not think, we could not bear to think, that that untiring and fertile brain, that simple, kindly heart, could cease to work in our midst for many a year yet to come. We looked forward to many another of the familiar green-bound volumes, rich with teeming facts and marvellous applications of minute discovery. Even now it is hard to speak of him as one gone from us, hard to realise that the world is bereft of one among the noblest and purest lives it ever nurtured. Yet it may console us in what is, even to many who never saw his face, a personal sorrow that at least he had fairly completed the great work of his life, and reaped the full reward of his patient and enduring labours. For fame, indeed, he cared but little; that last infirmity of noble minds hardly touched a mind so noble as his; but he had none the less a guerdon of his own which no man could fail to appreciate—the happiness of seeing his own thought incorporated with all the thought of the world, and working out a thousand new results in the minds of millions whom he had never himself known. The revolution of ideas which he symbolised for us all was not altogether of his own making; it was itself a natural evolution from the current knowledge and the current philosophy of the age; but he, more than any one man who ever lived, put the coping-stone upon the work of centuries, and impressed the whole coinage of thought with his own mint-mark. Even without his vast and varied labours; evolutionism would still be a power in our midst; but it would be a young and struggling power, slowly working its way upward, and gaining but a few converts here and there among the picked intellects of the age. Charles Darwin brought to its aid his immense stores of knowledge, his magnificent grasp of method, his luminous insight, his transparent honesty of purpose, his guileless simplicity; and he made evolutionism at once into the dominant philosophy of modern Europe and America, the key-note of all the fruitful and effective thinking of the present time. Without neglecting the importance of the environment, we may yet pay full homage to the individual greatness of the man and his work. A thinker and teacher has passed away from our midst whom all respected, and, one may truthfully add, whom all loved. So much intellectual greatness, allied to so much simplicity of soul and goodness of heart, the world has seldom, if ever, seen.
It would be a poor tribute to such a man as Charles Darwin to write of him as one writes of the lesser men who come and go from week to week. We need no outline of his life, seeing that all its chief landmarks are fresh and familiar in every mind already. Sprung, in the best sense of a misused phrase, from two historical families, an eminent man of science from his earliest manhood onward, a writer of famous books whose every word the whole world has eagerly scanned and debated, he has lived, practically, in spite of his personal retirement, in the full light of the public eye his whole life long. His history is the history of his work. The grandson of Erasmus Darwin, and the son of a not undistinguished father, Charles Robert Darwin was born at Shrewsbury in 1809. From the Grammar School of his native town he went to Cambridge, which can have taught him very little that he would care to learn. In the very year of his degree (1831) Fitzroy took him as naturalist on his voyage round the world in the Beagle; and his narrative of the expedition was the first book he ever published. For years he worked in silence. The Coral Reefs and Cirrhipedia were almost the only volumes he published before he was fifty; and it is strange indeed to think that, if his life had ended then, he would have been remembered only as the author of some interesting monographs on minor biological and geological subjects. We may indeed thank the caprice of Fate for those twenty-three later years. At an age when many men are retiring from active life, Charles Darwin began the busiest part of his career—to outward seeming at least, for all his previous time had been spent in tacitly and industriously collecting the vast mass of information that he lavished upon us in his later works. In 1859, the Origin of Species at last appeared, under what circumstances all the world knows. It was nothing less than a revolution; it marks the year 1 of a new era, not for science alone, but for every department of human thought—nay, even of human action. We certainly to not underrate the enormous value of the cooperating factors—least of all do we underrate the immense importance of Mr. Herbert Spencer's philosophical method—but the fact still remains that in its immediate influence upon the world the Origin of Species was the real proximate cause of the great mental revolution of the present century. There were many auxiliary forces, but Darwin was the general who led them to victory.
This is not the time, while the sense of loss is still keen upon us, to weigh and appraise and accurately distinguish Charles Darwin's place in the history of science and philosophy. That task is best left to those who have less reason for personal devotion to the great man whom we have lost than the present generation. Yet this much may even now be said with certainty, that the influence of his thought upon the thought of the age has far outweighed any influence ever before exerted by a single man during his own lifetime. He has revolutionised, not biology alone, but all science; not science alone, but all philosophy; not philosophy alone, but human life. Man, his origin and nature, his future hopes and realisable ideals, all seem something different to the present generation from their seeming to the generations that lie behind us in the field of time. The difference is more due to Charles Darwin than to any other man. Before him, evolutionism was weak and almost headless; it lacked the key that was to unlock the secret of organic development, that crux which seemed to most men the impassable barrier in their way towards the evolutionary solution of things. Natural selection was the key needed. Once given, the
acceptance of evolutionism became universal. The broader and best adapted minds jumped at the offered solution; the laggerds came in slowly behind. Darwin's work bore fruit suddenly in many directions. Its implications were universal; it affected the very foundations of every science and every creed. In biology, evolutionism rose to be dominant at once. Genealogy became the great problem of zoology and botany, of palaeontology, and of all allied studies. The mighty maze of organic life was no longer without a plan. So much all might have expected, though, perhaps, even the master-workman himself could hardly have hoped to see his designs furthered during his own lifetime by so many able journeymen. But it was the lateral results of his thinking that were the most astonishing. The best men in every line saw at once that their own special sciences must needs be affiliated upon the general evolutionary scheme, and an outburst of intellectual activity ensued unparalleled since the Renaissance, it paralleled; even then. Philology was remodelled; ethnology took a new face; sociology, as a complete science, first really began to be. Even such studies as law and history felt the remote effects of the great Darwinian wave. Nay, political life itself has been indirectly affected by it, for whatever cause works great changes in men's sentiments and feelings must at length react upon their corporate being. Allow all we will for the general movement of the time—allow for the nascent interest in primitive man, for the independent growth of philology, for the natural rapprochement that had gradually been growing up between the sciences once widest apart—and we must yet recognise that the largest share in immediately producing all this stir and ferment of the human mind was due to that solitary thinker, pacing alone through his garden on the windy Kentish hill-side. Even those of us who are by nature inclined to make most of the underlying causes, and least of the individual great man—to think relatively much of the force that impels the wave, and relatively little of the crest that tops it—even such cannot a fail to recognise that here at least we had a great man worthy of the name, a man who pioneered and directed the best energies of his time into a course that they would mostly have missed without his keen-sighted guidance. Standing on the peak and summit of his age, he saw what others saw not; and he led them at once where they might otherwise only have blindly groped and fumbled, perhaps for centuries yet to come. Is it too much to say that, without a Darwin to prepare the way with the people, even a Spencer might never have finally succeeded in gaining a public hearing?
Of his character, many who knew him personally will speak; some who did not know him, know enough to say that his very name brought always a smile of pleasant recollection to their lips. His goodness of heart, his sterling honesty of purpose, his consuming love of truth, are all clear enough, even in his books; of his more private and endearing characteristics, all of us have heard or learnt something. This much in particular, we may add, that to young writers and scientific thinkers he was always exceptionally kind and considerate. In spite of his manifold labours, he could always find time to read what they had to say, to give cordial and generous praise where he thought it due, to criticise and point out erroneous or doubtful statements with a minute care which was worth far more than any mere conventional poilteness could possibly have been. In dealing with younger men, he seemed to be (and was) unconscious of his own greatness, anxious only to hear what new thing they might have to say, and to weigh its merits with impartial yet ever kindly and almost fatherly consideration. There is scarcely a biologist of the newer generation in England who did not feel that the hope of obtaining his approbation was one genuine stimulus to higher exertion, and that with the loss of that stimulus science has become, for the time at least, less rich in living impetus to action.
On the day when these lines are written, all that remains of Charles Darwin is being consigned with fitting solemnity to its last home in Westminster Abbey; and yet not all that remains, for his voice is with us still, and will be as long as the English speech is yet spoken upon earth—ay, and longer. There he will rest beside the greatest previous name in the annals of science—the name of Newton. But it cannot be unsafe to anticipate to-day the verdict of after-ages, and to declare that, even so, among all the mighty dead who lie beneath those fretted vaults the great minster does not hold a greater than Charles Darwin.
NOTES OF TRAVEL.
AT a council meeting of the Royal Georaphical Society held last Monday, the royal medals for the year were awarded as follows:—The Founder's modal to Dr. Gustav Nachtigal for his great journey in the years 1869-75 through the Eastern Sahara, during which he explored the previously unknown regions of Tibesti and Baghirmi, added much to our knowledge of Lake Chad, and returned by a route previously untrodden by Europeans through Wadai and Dafur to Upper Egypt; also for the carefully prepared narrative of his travels now in course of publication, which is illustrated by many maps, and contains a large amount of original information regarding the countries he visited and their inhabitants; and the Patron's medal to Sir John Kirk, K.C.M.G., H.M.'s agent and consul-general at Zanzibar, for his long-continued and unremitting services to geography—first as naturalist and second in command to Dr. Livingstone in the Zambeze expedition of 1858-63—during which he took a prominent part in all the new discoveries and explorations, enriching the results by his scientific observations; and secondly by the great assistance he has since rendered to successive expeditions in East Africa during his fifteen years' residence as consul-general at Zanzibar, and in none more signally than in the last sent out by the committee of the African Exploration Fund, under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society.
A. GERMAN traveller, Dr. Obst, has lately returned to St. Petersburg from a journey in the Russian Transcaspian territory, in the course of which he traversed the Akkhal Tekke oasis from end to end. He received the greatest assistance in his scientific researches from the various Russian officials he met with.
THE French Government have laid before the Chamber of Deputies a credit of 70,000 frs. (£2,800) for the new expedition which Dr. Crevaux intends to undertake in South America. Starting from Buenos Ayres, he proposes to ascend the Paraguay River as high as possible, and then to strike across to some of the lessknown sources of the Amazon. Dr. Crevaux himself will descend the Tapajos, of which the upper waters are entirely unknown; while a companion. M. Billet, chosen for his astronomical qualifications, will similarly descend the Tocantin, another tributary of the Amazon.
THE Rev. T. Duke, of the South American Missionary Society's station on the Rio Purûs has lately written home to say that he was about to undertake a journey up the river with Dr. Melrose, an American gentleman, his more immediate object being to explore the Panyny tributary, and also to reach the Indian tribes living along some of the other aflluents.
TWO young Belgian officers, MM. Storms and Constant, have just started from Zanzibar to join the expeditions of the International African Association in East Central Africa.
New Carboniferous Fishes from the South of Scotland.—A remarkable collection of fish-remains from Eskdale and Liddesdale has been studied by Dr. Traquair, of Edinburgh. The fossils were obtained from the Calciferous Sandstone series, which appears to be equivalent to part of the lower portion of the Carboniferous Limestone series of England. The collection of fishes contains representatives of a large number of new species, of several new genera, and of one new family. The new family is called the Tarrasiidae, from Tarras Foot in Eskdale, where a typical specimen was discovered by Mr. Macconochie. The genus Tarrasius is described as being “so startlingly novel” that even its subordinate position is altogether problematical. Dr. Traquair's description is published in the last part of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In the same volume, Mr. B. N. Peach, who is acting as palaeontologist to the Geological Survey of Scotland, has described some interesting new forms of phyllopod and decapod crustaceans and some fossil scorpions, many of them being from the same localities which have yielded the new fish-fauna.
Dr. J. COSSAR EWART has been appointed by the Crown to the Chair of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh, vacant by the resignation of Mr. E. Ray Lankester. Prof. Ewart is still a young man. In 1874, he took the degree of M.B. at Edinburgh; from 1875 to 1878 he was conservator of the zoological and anatomical museums in University College, London; and in 1878 he was appointed Professor of Natural History in the University of Aberdeen. In the latter capacity he organised a station for zoological research on the East coast of Scotland, which is the only one of the kind yet established in this country.
THE triennial Ellis prize at Edinburgh University has been awarded to Mr. Patrick Geddes for his essay on “The Relations between Plants and the Surrounding Atmosphere.”
THE completing part of vol. vii. of the Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, which is now in the hands of the printer and will be issued to the members in a week or two, will contain the following papers:—“The Stele of Mentuhotep,” by Mr. E. L. Lushington; “The Assyrian Numerals,” by M. Geo. Bertin; “The Campaign of Rameses II. in his Fifth Year against Kadesh on the Orontes,” by the Rev. H. G. Tomkins; “A Contract Tablet of the Seventeenth Year of Nabonidus,” by the Rev. J. N. Strasmaier; “The Papyrus of Bek-en-Amen, in the Municipal Museum of Bologna,” by Prof. Kmenek-Szedlo; “The Inscribed Stones from Jerabis, Hamath, &c.,” by the secretary, Mr. H. Ryland. Maps and plates will illustrate these papers; and there will also be issued ten plates of photographs and drawings of the inscribed stones discovered at Hamath, Jerabis, &c, of which either casts or the originals are now in this country—inscriptions which have been decided by many to be the writings of the Hittites.
THE French Minister of Public Instruction has laid before the Chamber of Deputies a credit of 79,000 frs. (£3,160) for the purchase of the entire library of books and MSS. belonging to the late Mariette-Pasha. One portion of the books, numbering 3,000 volumes, is said to form
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
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