RECORD: Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1928. Charles Darwin. In ibid., Impressions of great naturalists. New York, London: Charles Scribner.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned by John van Wyhe, transcribed (single key) by AEL Data 12.2008. RN1

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COPYRIGHT, 1913, 1924, 1928,




Printed in the United States of America

Published October, 1924

Reprinted December, 1924; May, 1925

Second Edition, October, 1928

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…those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence: live
In pulses stirr'd to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man's search
To vaster issues.


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Simplicity and transparency of vision—Intellectual environment of a mid-Victorian student—Analysis of human nature—Darwin, supreme observer and natural philosopher—Wallace, observer rather than philosopher—Huxley, great proponent of Evolution—Roosevelt, dominant naturalist.



Apostle of freedom of truth—Dominant heredity—Favorable environment—Observation and interpretation on the Beagle voyage—Intensive research on the barnacle—"The Origin of Species"—Prolonged creative period—The "lucky American"—True significance of Darwinism—Modern dissent from Darwinism—Our Darwinian heritage.


Ancestry and boyhood—Early studies and interests—Characteristics and temperament—Self-education and travel—Discovery of Natural Selection—Life work—Natural Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology.


England, France, and Germany in science—Unique heredity, education and characteristics—Biologist and philosopher—Contest with Richard Owen—Battles for Darwin—Impressions in Huxley's laboratory and lecture-room—Meeting with Darwin—Genius in expression and in conversation—The bogie of materialism—Reverence for true religion—Summary of personality, philosophy, and life work.


Founder of American palæontology—Contrast between Cope, Leidy and Marsh—Leidy a pre-Darwinian evolutionist—Notharctus a pivotal point to man—Power of intellectual environment—Genius and immortality of Leidy's work—Eminence and aspiration of palæontology.

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Early intellectual environment—Genius pronounced in youth—Paramount zoologist—Founder of American palæontology—Production unhampered by material matters—Characteristics—Great contribution to science.


Evangelist of Osler's "third gospel"—Union of Religion and Nature—Survery of the spiritual and intellectual history of man—The Church's scepticism toward Nature—A new order of sainthood.


A student's impression—Brilliant scientific observation, accuracy and generalization—Characteristics—"In memoriam."


Dominant traits of character—Explorer, observer and historian—Interpreter and adviser of America.


Crusader of exploration of the East—Genius in leadership—Idealism—Immortality.


The children's poet—"The two Johns"—Heredity—Manifestation of genius—The essential factor in expression—The racial soul—Reciprocity between man and his environment.

The personality of trees and flowers—Predominant love of nature—Notes from Osborn's diary of 1911—World wanderings—"John o' the Mountains."


The boy naturalist—The ornithologist—Breadth and precision of his information—The Romanes Lecture—Analogies between carnivores and politicians—The African expedition—Knowledge and discipline of his own powers—The South American expedition—The New York State Roosevelt Memorial.


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[page] 1


The Darwin chapter is a compound of three papers: THE LIFE AND WORKS OF DARWIN, an address delivered at Columbia University on February 12, 1909, the hundredth anniversary of Darwin's birth, as the first of a series of nine lectures on Charles Darwin and his influence on science; THE DARWIN CENTENARY, an address in reply to the reception of delegates at Cambridge University; and A PRICELESS DARWIN LETTER, published in Science, November 12, 1926.

The chapter on Huxley is built up from A STUDENT'S REMINISCENCES OF HUXLEY, a lecture delivered at the Marine Biological Laboratory of Wood's Hole in the summer session of 1895, and REMINISCENCES OF HUXLEY, an article in the North American Review in 1925. The address on Joseph Leidy was originally delivered at the Joseph Leidy Centenary, Philadelphia, December 6, 1923, and was later published in Science. The address on James Bryce was delivered at the memorial service to Viscount Bryce at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, March 5, 1922. The article on Howard Crosby Butler was an address delivered at the Graduate College of Princeton University, October 31, 1922; this address was afterward published in the Butler memorial volume by the Princeton University Press. The chapter on John Burroughs is an address which was delivered at the John Burroughs memorial meeting, American Academy of Arts and Letters, on November 18, 1921. The Roosevelt impression includes the author's contribution to ROOSEVELT AS WE KNEW HIM.

Other chapters of this book are based on articles published in the following magazines: Popular Science Monthly, Science, The Century, The Sierra Club Bulletin.

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Simplicity and Transparency of Vision—Intellectual Environment of a Mid-Victorian Student—Analysis of Human Nature—Darwin, Supreme Observer and Natural Philosopher—Wallace, Observer Rather Than Philosopher—Huxley, Great Proponent of Evolution—Roosevelt, Dominant Naturalist.

AMONG the greatest men of all time are the creative naturalists, from Aristotle to Darwin, whose enduring works and self-effacing lives are our most precious possessions. I prefer the naturalist to the scientist, because there is less of the ego in him. In the truly creative naturalist the ego entirely disappears, and through his impersonal vision we see nature with the least human aberration.

These "Impressions" may reveal to the young and aspiring naturalists of our day that in the highest creative vision there is the least of self and the most of nature. This essential characteristic is displayed unfailingly by the naturalist—we find it in what we know of the life of Aristotle and other Greeks, and in high

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degree in Charles Darwin, in Alfred Russel Wallace, in William Henry Hudson, in Jules Fabre, in Gregor Mendel, in the poet William Wordsworth, and today in Edward Grey of Falloden. Darwin, after returning from the five-year voyage of the Beagle, lived a home life similar to that of Jules Fabre, who explored the world immediately around him and made some of this greatest discoveries among the simplest and commonest forms of life. Of Darwin I have written1 that he "seems greatest in the union of a high order of genius with rare simplicity and transparency of thought. Dwelling on this lucid quality and on the vast range of his observation from the most minute to the grandest relations in nature, does not the image arise of a perfected optical instrument in which all personal equation, aberration, and refraction are eliminated and through which, as it were, we gaze with a new vision into the marvelous forms and process of the living world?"

This simplicity and transparency of vision was exhibited in rare degree by the biologist Louis Pasteur, who, like the poet Wordsworth, felt the spiritual and moral force of

1 Compare p. 62.

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nature, as well as the infinite interrelationship of all its elements. Would that it had been my privilege to have conversed with Goethe, one of the greatest naturalists of all time, who in his apostrophe to nature,1 showed the same lucidity of vision.

In these "Impressions" I am not in any case attempting to portray the whole man, but only some of the principal aspects of each life. The nearest approach to a full biographic treatment is the centenary address on the life and works of Charles Darwin and the memorial address on his comrade, Alfred Russel Wallace. It was an appreciation which I received in a letter from Wallace, reproduced in facsimile in this volume, also most cordial letters from Mrs. Huxley and her son Leonard, that first led me to believe that these biographic sketches would be helpful to young men and young women who aspire to greatness along different lines of intellectual endeavor.2

I have omitted many of my other biographic essays3 because I was not confident that they would be of interest to laymen, to whom this

1 Goethe: Die Natur. Translated by T. H. Huxley as "Nature: Aphorisms by Goethe" in Nature, vol. 1, no. 1, November 4, 1869.

2 Compare "Creative Education," Vol. IV of this Biological Series.

3 The author has written eighty-four biographic sketches, the titles of which are listed at the end of this volume.

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work is addressed, as well as to young scientists. The twelve here included were chosen carefully, for these personal reasons: I studied a year under Balfour and Huxley; I met the veteran Joseph Leidy; I worked for seventeen years in close association with Cope; Muir became one of my closest friends; I frequently enjoyed observing the characteristics of Burroughs; I never met Pasteur but I class him among the greatest naturalists of all time; I missed meeting Wallace, but a great event of my life was a brief conversation with Darwin in Huxley's laboratory; I cannot pass by two of my great palæontological predecessors, Joseph Leidy and Edward Drinker Cope, because two men are especially illuminating in scientific life, and I include from personal recollection Theodore Roosevelt, James Bryce and Howard Crosby Butler because as intrepid explorers and observers they show some of the highest qualities of the naturalist. From these varied and distinguished sources are gathered these impressions of the qualities which constitute greatness in a naturalist.

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I had the good fortune to lead my student life between 1873 and 1880 under the spiritual, moral, and intellectual influence of the great men of the Victorian age—the poets Wordsworth and Tennyson, as well as the natural philosophers Wallace, Darwin, Huxley, and Cope. The scientific thought of the first half of the nineteenth century was permeated with the theism of the special creation theory of the universe. In those fateful days of intellectual doubt between the false theism of Special Creation and the true theism of Evolution, I fortunately came under the influence of broad-minded natural philosophers. When my six American student years were drawing to a close, the question of whether I should go to Germany or to England was decided by a letter from Kitchen Parker, the distinguished English comparative anatomist and friend of Huxley, who personally advised me to go to London to study Huxley and to Cambridge to study under Francis Balfour.

In the autumn of 1879 I moved to London to listen to the lectures of Huxley, to work in

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his laboratory, to study the wonderful collections in the Royal College of Surgeons and in the Natural History Museum under Sir William Flower. London was then in the full and glorious tide of Victorian life. Not a member had fallen out of the great ranks. I had the good fortune to hear in the scientific societies some of these great men, such as Clerk-Max-well in physics, to meet all the leading biologists of the day, expecting Wallace, and especially to come under the commanding personal influence of Huxley.

On returning to America as a young comparative anatomist I was privileged to work as a comrade with men with whom I had started as a disciple. I became more intimate than ever with the Scotch philosopher James McCosh and enjoyed his eager freshness of mind and ever youthful desire to gain new ideas. For a gift on his eightieth birthday his students paraphrased the lines of Aristophanes:

Honor to the old man who in the declining vigor of years seeks to learn new subjects and to add to his wisdom.

I had great reverence for another Scotch friend of later years, James Bryce, with his en-

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thusiasm, his broad learning and experience, his eager reception of new ideas to the very end of his life; finally, for that very unique Scotch-American, John Muir. From their simple and hardy mode of living the Scotch contribute to the students of life enduring impressions of energy, vigor, youthfulness, and of the most genial and whole-hearted friendship.


Long years of observation have given me deepening penetration into the sources of human character and personality. This penetration is due to my prolonged studies in heredity and my observations on the difference in races and racial characteristics, such, for example, as separate the Scotch soul from the English soul and both from the Irish. Such penetration is carried as far as I am able to do at present in comparing the peculiar racial genius of John Muir with that of John Burroughs. In contrasting these two friends I asked myself the question; "Why are they so much alike and why so different?" I believe I have party answered this question in my address "The Racial Soul of John Burroughs," but in the fu-

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ture we shall go much further in the sympathetic analysis of the racial soul.

Since I wrote the first1 of my biographic studies, the principal title of which are included in the appendix of this volume, I have been attempting to penetrate into human nature along a number of paths: first, along studies of heredity, already alluded to; second, along studies of the men of the Old Stone Age and their forebears, with the increasing conviction that our intellectual, moral, and spiritual reactions as displayed in the lives of naturalists and others are extremely ancient and that they have been built up not in hundreds but in thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousand—of years.

It would, however, take me far beyond the limits of a foreword to enter upon this deeper interpretation of the impressions and influences which great minds of great men of different kinds have exerted upon me.

Few of us are single in our personalities; most of us are dual, and some rare men like Roosevelt are multiple. Cope, too, was not a single but a multiple personality; he presents the widest possible contrast to a retiring na-

1 Francis Maitland Balfour (younger brother of Arthur Balfour).

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ture like that of Alfred Russel Wallace. Among great naturalists Darwin, Wallace, Fabre, and Pasteur were men of single natures, whose whole lives were devoted to single great purposes, to the attainment of which all other objects in life gave way. They were neither combatant nor militant, nor did they ever seek to force their theories or opinions by militant methods. They sought seclusion, avoided public meetings and controversies, and were astonished by the world-wide acclaim of their discoveries. It is told of Darwin that after meeting Gladstone he expressed surprise that such a very great man had paid him so much attention. It appears that this simplicity of life and avoidance of renown are most favorable to that creative state of mind which most frequently engenders renown. On the other hand, Huxley and Cope, as combatants in the new social and philosophical arena of Evolution, found seclusion almost impossible.


To Huxley I owe the greatest biological impression that came to me in England, namely,

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a few words with Charles Darwin in Huxley's laboratory. From the large number of students working there at the time, Huxley singled me out, perhaps because I was the only American, perhaps because of my early palæontological writing. I realized that I must make the most of the rare opportunity, and for a few moments I gazed steadily into Darwin's face and especially into his benevolent blue eyes, which were almost concealed below the overhanging brows, eyes that seemed to have a vision of the entire living world and that gave on the impression of translucent truthfulness.

In my address at the Darwin Centenary1 at Cambridge I endeavored to convey this profound impression of translucent truthfulness. Darwin arrived at the law of evolution not because he desired to do so, but because he was forced into it by his own observations of nature. He came of a long line of compellingly truthful ancestors, and certainly "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" is a distinctly English and Scotch trait. In my fifty years' experience I have found scientific men neither more nor less truthful than other

1 "The Darwin Centenary." Address in reply to the reception of delegates, June 23, 1909.

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men, because truthfulness does not go on all fours with genius or with powers of observation and of generalization. Darwin always kept in the realm of fact; he was equally sincere in the realm of opinion and of theory. If in the relatively small part of his life that he devoted to speculation and to hypothesis his contributions are less permanent, it is because, after all, Nature is unreasonable and irrational in her methods.


Wallace, the last survivor of the great trio of British naturalists of the nineteenth century, survived by only a few months another member of the Victorian group, Sir Joseph Hooker, who introduced the famous Darwin-Wallace papers on natural selection to the Linnæan Society in 1858. Lyell, Darwin, and Wallace were three successive but closely kindred spirits, whose work began and ended what will be known as the second great epoch of evolutionary thought, the first being that of the precursors of Darwin and the third that in which we live. They demonstrated the law of evolution through a continued line of at-

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tack by precisely similar methods of observation and reasoning over an extremely broad field.

As to the closeness of the intellectual sequence between these three men, those who know the original edition of the second volume of Lyell’s "The Principle of Geology," published in 1832, must regard it as the second biologic classic of the nineteenth century—the first being Lamarck’s "Philosophie Zoologique," of 1809—on which Darwin through his higher and much more creative vision built up his "Journal of Researches." When Lyell faltered in the application of his own principles of evolution Darwin went on and was followed by Wallace. The two older men may be considered to have united in guiding the mind of Wallace, because this young naturalist, fourteen years the junior of Darwin, took both "The Principles" of Lyell and "The Journal" of Darwin with him on his journey to South America, during which his career fairly began.

From his record of observations during his life in the tropics of America and of Asia Wallace will be remembered not only as one of the independent discoverers of the principle of natural selection but next to Darwin as one of

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the great naturalists of the nineteenth century. His range and originality are astounding in these days of specialization. His main lines of thought, although in many instances suggested to his mind somewhat suddenly, were developed and presented in deliberate and masterly way through the series of papers and books extending from 1850 to 1913. The highest level of his creative life was, however, reached at the age of thirty-five, when with Darwin he published his sketch of the theory of natural selection. This outburst of original thought, on which his reputation will chiefly rest, came as an almost automatic generalization from his twelve years of observation in the tropics.


Besides my good fortune as a young American palæontologist in being singled out of the class of one hundred students for a brief introduction to Charles Darwin on the only occasion in which he visited Huxley’s laboratory, I also received the hospitality of Huxley’s delightful home at a time when his family circle was still unbroken. I treasure the visiting card

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on which he sketched the location of his home, 4 Marlborough Place, and invited me to come every week to his Sunday evening high-teas, as he called them. This gave me the opportunity of meeting Mrs. Huxley and all the members of the talented family of sons and daughters, as well as the many clever and interesting artists and men and women of letters who surrounded the hospitable table. Here I saw the real personality of the man with all the cares and responsibilities of life thrust aside for the thorough enjoyment of conversation on every subject, rich and full of kindly humor, and with an inexhaustible fund of experience and wise counsel. He loved to imagine that he was entirely ruled by his family and spoke of himself as chicken-pecked as well as hen-pecked. No one could have foreseen that he was so soon to break down in health and to be compelled to relinquish the load of scientific and public service, which was too great even for his broad shoulders and indomitable will and energy.

I saw Huxley later on two occasions and recall an ever memorable talk upon his views as to the immortality of the soul. In Oxford in 1894, at the garden party of the British Association, we met for the last time; he was

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very much broken in health and said to me sadly: "I am no longer able to keep up with the progress of biology; it has now gone far beyond me."

When called to Princeton in 1880 as assistant professor of comparative anatomy, I introduced the Huxley method of extemporaneous lectures and laboratory verification to my college classes, and ten years later when called to Columbia University to lay the foundations of the Department of Zoology, I introduced the same method to the larger graduate and under-graduate classes. Thus through my under-graduate and graduate courses between the years 1880 and 1908, the broad Huxleyan method has been widely extended over the United States not only to my own students, such as McClure, Strong, Matthew, McGregor, Gregory, Lull, Osburn, Bensley, Forster-Cooper, Beebe, and many others, but to my grand-students, as I like to term the many able and forceful young men and women whom my own students are turning out from year to year. I cannot give exact figures, but I know that more than six hundred students are now profiting annually by this Huxleyan method in anatomy, neurology, embryology,

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and palæontology, in American, Canadian, and British universities.

Huxley imparted scientific breadth, grasp and perspective of the subject as a whole, the force and value of expression, the wisdom and perception that come survey of a very broad field, from both the philosophical and the anatomical standpoint. His sense of humor was delightful and brightened many of the most difficult passages in his discourses. By his way of living and by his unlimited personal sacrifices he taught me that we men of science must do our part in public education. To public service Huxley sacrificed his life, for not long after his great lecture course of 1879–1880, which I attended and of which I took the fullest notes, he broke down in health.

Huxley's world-wide fame rest partly on his defense of freedom of thought and of research and on the brilliance of his rapier-like thrusts at some of the shams and hypocrisies of the special creation exponents of his day. There is no measuring what Huxley might have done if he had enjoyed the repose that was granted to Darwin. His genius lay in polemics, in criticism, in exposition, rather than in creative discovery and generalization; it is a

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striking fact that he did not add a single new principle to the philosophy of evolution. His life was one of enforced activity and public service, which left him little or no repose for creative thought, yet he added to anatomy a number of very important generalizations.

I have endeavored to show in how many ways Huxley was a model for us of the younger generation. My memorial address before the New York Academy of Sciences, delivered November 11, 1895, revised and delivered as "A Student's Reminiscences of Huxlay" to the assembly of students at the Marine Biological Laboratory of Wood's Hole, Massachusetts, called forth, a warm appreciation from Mrs. Huxley, which I have placed among my cherished letters, also from Leonard Huxley, who wrote the following letter of acknowledgment:

12 July 1897


I have still to thank you, & that most warmly, for your admirable "Lecture at Wood's Hole." It is not merely a pleasant reminder of my meeting with you seven years ago, but one of the very best memorial sketches of my father which have yet

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appeared, & so written as somehow to succeed in touching one’s personal feelings beyond the ordinary. Indeed if I had written to you immediately after my first reading of it, what I wrote might have appeared a trifle exaggerated. So you will forgive my apparent remissness in not acknowledging the receipt of it before. I do hope you will allow me to quote from your lecture, in the Life I am working upon—a long task, of which I am now somewhere about the middle.

Will you also be kind enough to tell me to what precisely you refer when you speak of my father’s forming a wrong generalization about the phylogeny of the horse? His views before or after his American visit of 1876? I do not know enough of the subject first-hand.

Once more, let me thank you for your dear & sympathetic piece of work & believe me

Sincerely yours,


Natural history in all its branches was the first and last love of Theodore Roosevelt, and his observation of birds and mammals in their native habitat constituted the greatest pleasure of his life. He had unusual ability as a field naturalist, which would have led to a distinguished career in science had he not been turned to history, politics, and government. In this "Impression" I endeavor to show that

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the scientific side of his life is to be taken seriously. Above all he desired to be truthful and strictly accurate, and he took infinite pains not to exaggerate but to present the real facts.

An outstanding trait of Roosevelt’s character was his courage in facing obstacles, his dominance in overcoming difficulties of all kinds. There was no "I can’t" in his vocabulary; rather "I can" and "I will." Close contact with him enforced the life motto which became my own:

Whatever is right can be done, and shall be done.

Powerful in leadership, he always sought the counsel of his friends and was likely to be governed by it, unless it was the counsel of timidity or of irresolution. He was not dominant in the sense that Woodrow Wilson was dominant and autistic—to use the professional phrase. He won the devoted friendship and admiration of hundreds of men and women and he made many enemies. He was intensely patriotic and willing to make any sacrifice, however great, for his country. He was deeply religious and was guided by an unfaltering faith in Divine Providence. Most surprising was his humility in the field of nature; I never observed a trace

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of vanity in him. His assurance and self-confidence in critical and commanding moments were part of the great game of life; leaders must have broad shoulders, firm necks, and confident and determined faces when the world is full of doubting Thomases, as it always is. Contrasting with his power of command was his simplicity, unselfish devotion to friends, and his love of children and fascination for them.

Summing up the characteristics of great naturalists, they seem to me to be: simplicity and even humility in the presence of Nature; persistence in observation of objects, whether remote or near by; passion for truthfulness of description and statement; caution rather than impulsiveness in theory and in generalization; avoidance of controversy because it beclouds clarity of vision. We find that the naturalist is animated first of all by the joy of observation, without initial hope or thought of discovery but surely in the end leading to discovery; leading also to creative thought if observation is pursued with a single eye and unfaltering purpose, regardless of all obstacles or dangers and of the greatest impediment of all, namely, interest in self and in self-advancement.

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I met Darwin in Huxley's laboratory and my impression of his personality is described in my address on the "Life and Works of Darwin," which was delivered at Columbia University on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, as an introduction to a series of nine lectures on Charles Darwin and his influence in science. My address at the Darwin Centenary at Cambridge was delivered at the request of my American colleagues, in reply to the reception of the delegates. It was strictly limited as to time, presenting the problem of speaking of Darwin to the men who knew him personally, who recalled almost every detail of his life—to sum up in comparatively few words the outstanding facts of his influence.

The fact that Lincoln and Darwin were born on the same day, February 12, 1809, brought together these two great men, so widely different in their vocations, so similar in their reverence for the truth, in their simplicity and directness of life.

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Apostle of Freedom of Truth—Dominant Heredity—Favorable Environment—Observation and Interpretation on the Beagle Voyage—Intensive Research on the Barnacle—"The Origin of Species"—Prolonged Creative Period—The "Lucky American"—True Significance of Darwinism—Modern Dissent from Darwinism—Our Darwinian Heritage.

IN the year 1809 many illustrious men1 were born, among them Darwin and Lincoln on February 12. So widely different in their lives, Darwin and Lincoln were yet alike in simplicity of character and of language, in love of truth, in abhorrence of slavery, and especially in unconsciousness of their power. Both were at a loss to understand their influence over other men. "I am nothing and truth is everything," once wrote Lincoln. In concluding his autobiography Darwin wrote:

With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that I should have influenced to a considerable extent the belief of scientific men on some important points. My success as a man of science has been determined as far as I can judge,

1 Alfred Tennyson, Edgar Allan Poe, Felix Mendelssohn, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Ewart Gladstone.

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by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of these, the most important have been the love of science, unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject, industry in observing and collecting facts, a fair share of invention as well as of common sense.


Lincoln's greatest single act was his deathblow to slavery. Man had been fighting for centuries for freedom, in labor, in government, in religion, and in mind. It is certainly notable that the final victory for bodily liberty was won during the very years that witnessed the final emancipation of the mind. I do not see that Darwin's supreme service to his fellow-men was his demonstration of the law of evolution—man could have lived on quite as happily and perhaps more morally under the old notion that he was specially made in the image of his Creator. Darwin's supreme service was that he won for man absolute freedom in the study of the laws of nature; he literally fulfilled the saying of St. John, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

It is difficult for the college student in this day of liberty, if not of license, to realize that "we breathe cheaply in the common air

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thoughts that great hearts once broke for." When we look back upon the very recent years of 1858–59, the years of revolution, we see that we were far from free either to study nature or to reason about it. Our intellectual chains were from the forges of theology, both Catholic and Protestant. The Bible was read as a revelation of natural law rather than as an epic of righteousness and spiritual law. Theology while in power was itself in a most critical position, in a cul-de-sac of antagonism to reason and common sense, and this despite the warnings of Augustine and of Bacon. As early as the fifth century, Augustine, the wise theologian of Numidia, had said:

Leave questions of the earth and the sky and the other elements of this world to reasoning and observation. Perceiving that you are as far from the truth as the east from the west the man of science will scarce restrain his laughter.

Similarly Bacon, the great founder of the inductive method, observed:

Do not excite the laughter of men of science through an absurd mixture of matters human and divine. Do not commit the consummate folly of building a system of natural philosophy on the first chapter of Genesis or on the Book of Job.

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From the borders of Poland in 1543, or just three centuries before Darwin, Copernicus had published his "Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies" and thus fired the first shot in a three hundred years' war for freedom to observe nature. In 1611 the telescope of Galileo demonstrated the truth of the Copernican law that the earth moves around the sun; and the most impressive object today in Florence is the model of the finger of this great astronomer as he held it up before the examiners of the Inquisition, with the words, "It still moves."

As time advanced the prison gave way to the milder but effective weapons of ostracism and loss of official rank. In biology Linnæus, Buffon, Lamarck, St. Hilaire, in turn discovered the evidences of evolution, but felt the penalty and either recanted or suffered loss of position. The cause of supernaturalism had never seemed stronger than in 1857; the masterly works of Paley and Whewell had appeared; the great series of Bridgewater Treatises to demonstrate the wisdom and goodness of God in the special creation of adaptations had just been closed; men of rare ability—Cuvier, Owen, Lyell and Agassiz—were on the side of special creation; yet at the very time

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this whole system of natural philosophy was rotten at the foundation because it was not the work of free observation.

When, in 1844, Darwin communicated to the botanist Hooker under promise of secrecy his outline of evolution, he well knew the opprobrium it would bring, for he subsequently added (1846):

When my notes are published I shall fall infinitely low in the opinion of all sound naturalists, so this is my prospect for the future.

Where his great predecessors Buffon and Lamarck had failed, Darwin won through the absolutely irresistible force of the facts he had assembled and through the simplicity of his presentation. Lacking the literary graces of his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, and the obscurity of Spencer, Darwin was understood by every one, as every one could understand Lincoln. It is true the cause was immediately championed by the vehement and radical Haeckel nor yet by the masterly fighter Huxley, but through the resistless power of the truth as Darwin saw it and presented it. It

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was not a denial, as had been the great sceptical movement of the end of the eighteenth century, but an affirmation. Darwin was not destroying but building; yet at the time good and honest men trembled as if passing through an earthquake, for in the whole history of human thought there had been no such cataclysm.

In what he achieved Darwin is so entirely alone that his place in the history of ideas is next to Aristotle, the great Greek biologist and philosopher who preceded him by over two thousand years.


The biographers of Lincoln are at a loss to explain his greatness through heredity. Darwin belonged to an able family, and his ancestors are singularly prophetic of his career. He was near of kin to Francis Galton, who shares with Weismann the leadership in the study of heredity during the nineteenth century. By a happy combination of all the best traits of the best of his ancestors coupled with the no less happy omission of other traits, Darwin was a Far greater man than any of his forebears. Kindliness, truthfulness and love of nature were part of his birthright. From his grand-

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father Erasmus, Charles surely inherited his vividness of imagination and his strong tendency to generalize, as well as his innate sympathy for evolution.

Countless hypotheses flitted through his mind. "Without speculation there is no good and original observation," he wrote to Wallace. Still more interesting is the fact that the inheritance of his grandfather's tendency toward speculation took the direction of evolution, for before the close of the eighteenth century Erasmus Darwin gave the world in poetical form his belief in a complete evolutionary system as well as the first clear exposition of what is now known as the Lamarckian hypothesis. But in the grandson hypotheses were cautiously held in check by the determination to put each to the severe test of observation. Darwin speaks of his father as the most acute observer he ever saw, and attributes to him his intense desire to understand the reasons of things; from him also came caution and conservatism.


If the "poet is born not made," the man of science is surely both born and made. Rare as was Darwin's genius, it was not more rare

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than the wonderful succession of outward events which shaped his life. It is true that Darwin believed with his cousin Francis Galton that education and environment produce only a small effect upon the mind of any one, but Darwin underestimated the force of his educational advantages just as he underestimated his own powers, and this because he thought only of his book and classroom life at school, at Edinburgh and at Cambridge, and not of his broader life.

It was true of education in the year 1817, as today, that few teachers teach and few educators educate. It is true that those were the dull days of classical and mathematical drill. Yet loot at the roster of Cambridge and see the men it produced. From Darwin's regular college work he may have gained but little, yet he was all the while enjoying an exceptional training. Step by step he was made a strong man by a mental guidance which is without parallel, by the precepts and example of his father, for whom he held the greatest reverence, by his reading of the poetry of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Milton, and of the scientific prose of Paley, Herschel and Humboldt, by the subtle scholarly influ-

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ences of old Cambridge, by the scientific inspiration and advice of Henslow, by the masterful inductive influence of the geologist Lyell, and by the great nature panorama of his voyage on the Beagle.

The college mates of Darwin saw more truly than he himself what the old university was doing for him. Professor Poulton of Oxford believes that the kind of life which so favored Darwin's mind has largely disappeared in English universities, especially under the sharp system of competitive examinations; yet this is still more truly the atmosphere of old Cambridge today than of any of our American colleges.

It would be an interesting subject to debate whether we Americans could nurture such a man—whether a Darwin, where he entered at a Columbia, a Harvard, a Princeton, could develop mentally as Charles Darwin did at Cambridge in 1828. I believe that conditions for the favorable nurture of such a mind are not with us. These conditions are repose, time for continuous thought, respect for the man of brains and of individuality and of such peculiar tastes as Darwin displayed in his avidity for collecting beetles, freedom from mental

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convention, general sympathy foe nature, and above all, ardor in the world of ideas. If the genial mind cannot find the kindred mind it cannot develop. Many American school and college men are laughed out of the finest promptings of their natures. In short, I believe the intellectual environment of our day would be distinctly against a young Darwin.

Thus event after event in Darwin's life was singularly propitious. None but a Darwin would have reflected these events as he did, but grand and rare they certainly were.

At the age of nineteen he entered Christ's of Cambridge, the small college which two hundred years before had sheltered John Milton, the great poet of "Paradise Lost," that epic of the special creation theory which it was Darwin's destiny to destroy. His passion for sport, shooting, hunting, cross-country riding, his genial enjoyment of friends of his own age, did not prevent delightful excursions with older men. He was known as "the man who walks with Henslow," and close personal intercourse with this learned and genial botanist (Reverend John S. Henslow) affected him more than any other feature of his college life. After graduation this personal association ex-

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tended through Henslow to the geologist Sedgwick, who prepared him for the next step in his career. It was Henslow who secured for him his place on the exploring ship Beagle and the voyage round the world (1831–1836), by far the most influential experience in his education.


No graduate course in any university can compare for a moment with the glorious vision which passed before young Darwin on the Beagle, but here again fortune smiled upon him, for this vision required the very scientific spirit and point of view which came to him through the reading of the "Principles of Geology" of Lyell, the masterly teacher of the uniformitarian doctrine of Hutton. That nature worked slowly in past as in present time and that the interpretation of the past is through observation of the present gave the note of Darwin's larger and more original interpretation, because the slow evolution which Lyell piously restricted to geology and the surface of the earth Darwin extended to biology and all living beings. If during the voyage

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Lyell's arguments convinced Darwin of the permanence of species, Lyell's way of looking at nature also gave him the means of seeing that species are not permanent. In his own words, he "saw through Lyell's eyes," and with the admiration of others always so characteristic of him his tribute to Lyell is without reserve. The Second edition of "The Journal" is dedicated:

With grateful pleasure as an acknowledgment that the chief part of whatever scientific merit this Journal and the other works of the author may possess has been derived from studying the well known and admirable "Principles of Geology."

The five years of the voyage filled the twenty-second to twenty-seventh years of Darwin's life, the period now ordinarily given to professional studies. In reading the simple but fascinating "Journal," which stands quite by itself in literature, we see how Darwin through his own genius and through the methods successively impressed upon him by his father, by Henslow, by Sedgwick and by Lyell was unconsciously preparing his mind for the "Origin of Species" and the "Descent of Man," the two most influential books of science that have ever appeared.

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From the islands of the Atlantic and the Pacific we follow his delightful comments on animals and plants of all kinds, on sea and land, through forests, pampas and steppes, up the dry slopes of the Andes, along the salt lakes and deserts of Chili and of Australia. The dense forests of Brazil, pendant with orchids and gay with butterflies, contrast with those of Tierra del Fuego and of Tahiti, and with the deforested Cape de Verde Islands. On these islands, the first he visits, he is enormously impressed by the superiority of Lyell's method. He visits other islands of all kinds, inhabited and uninhabited, the non-volcanic St. Paul's rocks, half-submerged volcanic cones, coral reefs and islands of the south Pacific. He observes live glaciers, as well as the contrasting action of active and of dead volcanoes. Along the rivers of Patagonia he unearths great extinct or fossil mammals; in Peru he studies the extinct races of man; the aborigines of Tierra del Fuego and of Patagonia make the most profound impression upon his mind. In brief, he sees the great drama of nature in all its lesser scenes and in all its grander acts. He begins the voyage a firm believer in the fixity of species, but doubts

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begin to enter his mind when in the sands of the pampas of South America he perceives that the extinct forms are partly ancestral to the living, and when on the isolated Galapagos Islands he finds the life not that of a special creation but that detached from the continent of South America, six hundred miles distant.

Darwin says of these five years on the Beagle:

I owe to the voyage the first real training and education of my mind. That my mind had developed is rendered probable by my father’s first exclamation on my return, "why the shape of his head is quite altered."


It is characteristic of the life of every great man that his genius and his own self-analysis instinctively guide him to discover his mental needs and pilot his own education. Until the age of forty-five Darwin in his own opinion had not completed his education, in the sense that education is a broad and exact training. He proceeded to fill one gap in his training by devoting the eight years of his life between thirty-seven and forty-five to a most laborious research upon the barnacles, on Cirripedia.

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This gave him the key to the principles of the natural or adaptively branching and divergent arrangement of animals through the laws of descent as set forth in the "Origin," which he certainly could not have secured in any other way. The value he placed on his work on the barnacles is of especial import today when systematic work is so lightly esteemed by many biologists young and old.

Darwin subsequently, in the words of Hooker, "recognized three stages in his career as a biologist, the mere collector at Cambridge, the collector and observer on the Beagle and for some years afterward, and the trained naturalist after, and only after, the Cirripede work."


At the age of twenty-eight Darwin began his career as a Darwinian. In July, 1837, he commenced his notes on the transmutation of species, based on purely Baconian principles, on the rigid collection of facts which would bear in any way on the variations of animals and plants under domestication and in nature. Rare as was his reasoning power, his powers of observation were of a still more distinct order.

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He persistently and doggedly followed every clew; he noticed little things which escaped others; he always noted exceptions and at once jotted down facts opposed to his theories. On the voyage the marvelous adaptations of animals and plants had been his greatest puzzle. Fifteen months later, in October, 1838, in reading the work of Malthus, "Population," there flashed across his mind the threefold clew of the struggle for existence, of constant variability, and of the selection of variations which happen to be adaptive.

There are three memorable features of Darwin's greatest work, "The Origin of Species": first, that he was twenty-one years in preparing it; second, that, although by 1844 he was a strongly convinced evolutionist and natural selectionist, he kept on with his observations for fifteen years; even then the volume would have been still longer postponed but for a wonderful coincidence, which constitutes the third and not the least memorable feature. This coincidence was that Wallace had also become an evolutionist and had also discovered the principle of natural selection through the reading of the same essay of Malthus. It is further remarkable that of all persons Wallace selected

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Darwin as the one to whom to send his paper. It was then through the persuasion of the great botanist Hooker, who had known Darwin's views for thirteen years, that these independent discoveries were presented jointly on July 1, 1858.

All the finest points of Darwin's personal character were displayed at this time; in fact, the entire Darwin-Wallace history, up to and including Wallace's noble and self-depreciatory tribute to Darwin, is one of the brightest chapters in the history of science. Wallace himself pointed out the very important distinction that while the theories contained in the two papers were nearly identical, Wallace had deliberated only three days after coming across the passage in Malthus, while Darwin had deliberated for fifteen years. He modestly declared that the respective credit should be in the ratio of fifteen years to three days.

The day of publication of the immortal volume entitled "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life" was November 24, 1859. On the same day Charles Darwin, who at the time appears to have been taking the cure at Ilkley, wrote

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the following highly characteristic letter1 to his friend Huxley:



My dear Huxley

I have heard from Murray today that he sold whole edition of my Book the first day, & he wants another instantly, which confounds me, as I can make hardly any corrections. But a friend writes to me that it ought to be Geoffroy DE St. Hilaire: my memory says no. Will you turn to a title-page & tell me soon and forgive me asking this trouble.

Remember how deeply I wish to know your general impression of the truth of the theory of Natural Selection.—only a short note—at some future time if you have any lengthy criticisms, I sd be infinitely grateful for them. You know well how highly I value your opinion.—In Haste, for I am bothered to death by this new edition.

Ever yours

The letter reveals many of Darwin's characteristics: first, his modesty regarding his work, expressed indirectly in his surprise that his publisher sold the whole edition on the first

1 Darwin's priceless letter of November 24, apparently published for the first time in Science, November 12, 1926, was most generously presented by Leonard Huxley to Professor Osborn during his visit to London in 1926; it will ultimately find its way to Down House, but in the Darwin Hall in the American Museum of Natural History a facsimile will be placed beside the statue of Darwin near the equally priceless manuscript page from the "Origin" presented to the Museum by Major Leonard Darwin.

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day; second, his difficulty in writing, as shown in the abbreviated style of this letter and in his feeling "confounded" by the demand for certain corrections; third, his feeling of hesitation in putting forth the theory of natural selection and his desire to secure Huxley's general impression as to its truth; fourth, his thoughtfulness in asking Huxley "only a short note" and at some future time lengthy criticisms, if they were forthcoming; fifth, the very high value he placed upon Huxley's opinion, in contrast to his doubt as to his own opinion; finally, his dismay at the thought of corrections for a new edition, which "confounded" him and "bothered him to death."

This letter evidently crossed in the mails Huxley's letter of criticism of the "Origin," dated November 23,1 from which a few a quotations may be interesting here:

I finished your book yesterday [advance copy], a lucky examination having furnished me with a few hours of continuous leisure. …

As to the first four chapters, I agree thoroughly and fully with all the principles laid down in them. I think you have demonstrated a true cause for the production of species, and have thrown the onus

1 Printed in full in "Life and Letters."

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probandi that species did not arise in the way you suppose, on your adversaries. …

The only objections that have occurred to me are, 1st that you have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty in adopting Natura non facit saltum so unreservedly. … And 2nd, it is not clear to me why, if continual physical conditions are of so little moment as you suppose, variation should occur at all. …

Looking back over my letter, it really expresses so feebly all I think about you and your noble book that I am half ashamed of it; but you will understand that, like the parrot in the story, "I think the more."

To this letter Darwin replied on November 25:

My dear Huxley,—Your letter has been forwarded to me from Down. Like a good Catholic who has received extreme unction, I can now sing "nunc dimitts." I should have been more than contented with one quarter of what you have said. Exactly fifteen months ago, when I put pen to paper for this volume, I had awful misgivings; and thought perhaps I had deluded myself, like so many have done, and I then fixed in my mind three judges, on whose decision I determined mentally to abide. The judges were Lyell, Hooker, and yourself. It was this which made me so excessively anxious for your verdict. …

My dear Huxley, I thank you cordially for your letter.

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The first printing and edition of the "Origin" may be recognized, according to Professor Edward B. Poulton of Oxford University, a leading disciple of Darwin, by the presence on page 184 of the following passage, which was omitted in subsequent printings:

In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.

Subsequent editions of the "Origin" were materially improved by the omission of this fabulous story of the habits of the black bear, which probably goes back to an early period of the development of natural history in North America.


Soon after Darwin's return from the voyage of the Beagle he moved to London for the

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two most active years of his life, to care for his collections and to write up his observations. At this moment came the third of the great turning-points in his life, which as a mysteriously disguised blessing was brought about through ill health. In London he was entering official duties and public scientific service which would undoubtedly have increased his work and have interfered more and more seriously with it. We can only count it as one of the most fortunate circumstances in the history of science that Darwin at the age of thirty-three was forced to leave London and to move to Down. Here for forty years he never knew for one day the health of an ordinary man; his life was one long struggle against the strain of sickness. But unrealized by him there was the compensation of a mind undisturbed by the constant interruption of outside affairs, such interruption as killed Huxley and is killing so many fine and ambitious men today. When I saw Huxley and Darwin side by side in 1879, the one only fifty-four, the other seventy, the younger man looked by far the more careworn of the two. In earlier years Huxley was solicitous of Darwin's strength, and often alluded to himself as "Darwin's bull dog." Yet

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Huxley, the strong man, broke down mentally at fifty-six, while Darwin, the invalid, was vigorous mentally at seventy-two.

Darwin's writings fall into three grand series. In the nine years after he returned from the voyage, or between his twenty-seventh and thirty-sixth years, he wrote the first series, including his pre-evolutionary geological and zoological works, his "Coral Reefs" (1842), his "Zoology and Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle" (1844–1846), his "Journal of Researches," the popular narrative of his voyage (1845). Darwin's ill health thereafter shut him off from geology, although his last volume, "The Earthworm," was in a sense geological.

Three of Darwin's succeeding volumes are a filling out of the "Origin." "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication" (two volumes, 1868) presents the entire fabric of the notes begun twenty-one years before on the transmutation of species. "The Descent of Man" (1871) was another logical outcome of the "Origin," yet it was only faintly adumbrated by a single allusion in that work to the fact that the transmutation of species necessarily led to the evolution of man. The "De-

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scent" marks the third of the great dates in the history of thought, as the "Origin" marks the second, because it is the final step in the development of ideas which began with Copernicus in 1543. The world-wide sensation, the mighty storm produced by this bold climax of Darwin's work, is so fresh in the memory of all that a mere allusion suffices. The evolutionary or genetic basis for modern psychology as stated in "The Descent of man" was given still more concrete form in Darwin's succeeding and most delightful volume, "The Expression of the Emotions" (1872).

The knowledge of zoology and anatomy displayed in these four evolutionary volumes came from direct observation, vast and systematic reading and note-taking from the simple materials which Darwin could collect at Down. Always penetrating as these observations are, they are still, in my opinion, surpassed in beauty and ingenuity by his marvelous work on plants, published between 1862 and 1880. Here the principles of co-adaptation of plants and insects in cross- and self-fertilization, in climbing plants and insectivorous plants, in forms of flowers, in movements of plants, are all brought forth in

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support of the theory of natural selection and the operation of unknown laws. Darwin's most precise observation and some of his most brilliant discoveries recorded in these volumes laid the foundations of modern experimental botany.

Darwin was already past fifty years of age when he published "The Origin of Species" (November, 1859), and despite ill health, between the ages of fifty and seventy-three he produced the nine great volumes which expand and illustrate the views expressed in this epoch-making work.

A parallel to this remarkable late productiveness is that of Kant, who also put forth his greatest work after fifty. Let those past the five decades take heart, for it appears that while in this regard there are inborn differences between men, imagination, observation, reasoning and production do not necessarily dim with age. Darwin's mind remained young and plastic to the end; his latest and one of his most characteristic works, "The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Earth Worms," was published at the age of seventy-two, after forty-four years of observation. It contained another and perhaps the most ex-

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treme demonstration of Lyell's principle that vast changes in nature are brought about by the slow operation of infinitesimal causes.

The only work which Darwin wrote deductively was his "Coral Reefs." Every other volume came through the inductive-deductive process, that is, through an early assemblage of facts followed by a series of trial hypotheses, each of which was rigidly tested by additional facts. The most central of these trial hypotheses was that of the building up of adaptations through the "selection" of the single adaptive variation out of the many fortuitous variations, and this Darwin was unable to rigidly test by facts but was obliged to leave for verification or disproof by work after him.

Of his inductive method Darwin writes:

From my early youth I had the strongest desire to understand or explain whatever I observed, that is, to group facts under some general laws. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts. …

I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis (however much beloved), and I cannot resist forming one on every subject, as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.

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On December 8, 1879, when Darwin was in his seventieth year and I in my twenty-second, I had the rare privilege of meeting him and looking steadily in his face during a few moments' conversation. It was in Huxley's laboratory, and I was at the time working upon the anatomy of the Crustacea. The entry in my journal is as follows:

This is a red letter day for me. As I was leaning over my lobster (Homarus vulgaris) this morning, cutting away at the brain, I raised my head and looked up to see Huxley and Darwin passing by me. I believe I never shall see two such great naturalists together again. I went on apparently with skill, really hacking my brain away, and cast an occasional glance at the great old gray-haired man. I was startled, so unexpected was it, by Huxley speaking to me and introducing me to Darwin as "an American who has already done some good palæontological work on the other side of the water." I gave Darwin's hand a tremendous squeeze (for I never shall shake it again) and said, without intending, in an almost reverential tone, "I am very glad to meet you." He stands much taller than Huxley, has a very ruddy face, with benevolent blue eyes and overhanging eyebrows. His beard is quite long and perfectly white and his hair falls partly over a low forehead. His features are not good. My general

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impression of his face is very pleasant. He smiled broadly, said something about a hope that Marsh with his students would not be hindered in his work, and Huxley, saying "I must not let you talk too much," hurried him on into the next room.

I may add, as distinctly recorded in my memory, that the impression of Darwin’s bluish-gray eyes, deep-set under the overhanging brows, was that they were the eyes of a man who could survey all nature.

Another memory of interest is that the instant Huxley closed the door I was mobbed as the "lucky American" by the ninety less fortunate students of Great Britain and other countries.


Darwin passed away in the year 1882, at the age of seventy-three. Out of the simple and quiet life at Down he had sent forth the great upheaval and revolution of the thought of the entire world.

On this centenary,1 when we are honoring Darwin, many may ask, exactly what is Darwinism? Failure to know leads some to doubt, others to predict a decline, especially where

1 This address was delivered at Columbia University in 1909.

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"the wish is father to the thought." Nothing could be less true than to say that there is the least abatement in the force of the main teaching of this great leader, namely, of the evolutionary law of the universe. The vitality of this idea is shown by his invasion of the physical world.

Again, Darwinism is the sum of Darwin's observations on the prehistory of earth structure, on plants, animals and man. This vast body of truth and of interpretation still so far surpasses that brought forward by any other observer of nature, and these facts and interpretations are so far confirmed that they have become the very foundation-stones of modern biology and geology.

Looking at Darwinism as the sum of his generalizations as to the processes of evolution, we again find a vast body of well-established laws which are also daily becoming more evident. As to the laws of evolution, there is no single biological principle more absolutely proved by the study of living and extinct things since Darwin's time than the broad law of natural selection: certainly the fittest survive and reproduce their kind, the fittest of every degree, all classes, orders, genera, spe-

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cies, individuals and even the fittest organs and fittest separate parts of organs.

Finally, Darwin still gives us the only explanation which has ever been suggested of hundreds of thousands of adaptations of which neither Buffon's view of direct action of environment nor Lamarck's view of the inheritance of bodily modifications even approaches an explanation worthy to be considered. Take the egg of the murre or guillemot, which is so much larger at one end than the other that it cannot roll of the cliff on which it is laid, or the seasonal changes of color in the ptarmigan, every one of which is protective.

When we put together all the concrete cases which Darwin gave to illustrate his views of Selection we see that he includes both continuous and discontinuous variations, both the shades of difference of kind and proportion and the little leaps or saltations from character to character. For example, certain cases of immunity to disease are now known to be "unit characters" in Bateson's sense, or "mutants" in the De Vries sense; Darwin repeatedly referred to immunity as a variation which would be preserved by selection.

In 1869 and in the latest edition of the

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"Origin" Darwin speaks of "individual differences" as of paramount importance, but he illustrates these differences by such instances as the selection of passenger pigeons with more powerful wings, or the selection of the lightest colored birds in deserts.

Moreover, Darwin's own repeated assertion of his profound ignorance of the laws of variation certainly pointed the way to the investigation of these laws, and it is this very study which is modifying the application of his selection hypothesis. From first to last Huxley maintained that it would require many years of study before naturalists could say whether Darwin had been led to overestimate the power of natural selection. Darwin's mind was always also open on this point. Through every edition of the "Origin" we find the salient passage:

The laws governing the incipient or primordial variations (unimportant except as the ground-work for selection to act on and then all important) I shall discuss under several heads. But I can come, as you may well believe, to only very partial and imperfect conclusions.

There can be no question, however, that Darwin did love his selection theory and

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somewhat overestimated its importance. His conception of selection in nature may be compared to a series of concentric circle constantly narrowing from the largest groups down to the minutest structures. In the operations of this intimate circle of minute variation within organisms he was inclined to believe two things: first, that the fit or adaptive always arises out of the accidental, or that out of large and minute variations without direction Selection brings direction and fitness; second, as a consistent pupil of Lyell, he was inclined to believe that the chief changes in evolution are slow and continuous.


There is some lack of perspective, some egotism, much one-sidedness in modern criticism; the very announcement, "Darwin deposed," attracts such attention as would the notice "Mt. Blanc removed"—does it not bespeak courage to attack a lion even when deceased? Preoccupation in the study of one great law, as in the case of Bateson on Mendelism and De Vries on Mutation, blinds to every other law. To be dispassionate, let us remember that Darwin's Selection hypothesis was framed in

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1838. Are the two great Cambridge men, Newton and Darwin, lesser men because astronomy and biology are progressive sciences? Secondly, to know your Darwin you must not judge him by single passages but by all he wrote. Darwin is not to be known through the extremes of those of his followers with whom an hypothesis has become a creed. Reading him afresh and through and through we discover that his "variation" and "variability" are very broad and elastic terms. Every actual example he cites of his Selection hypothesis, such as the speed of the wolf or the deer, or the long neck of the giraffe, embodies a variation both heritable and of adaptive value.

The psychology of Darwin was in a reaction state from the prevailing false teleology; logical or even orthogenetic laws of variation would be discovered. William James has expressed and indorsed the spirit of Darwinism as a new natural philosophy in the following words:

It is strange, considering how unanimously our ancestors felt the farce of this argument [that is, the teleological], to see how little it counts for

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since the triumph of the Darwinian theory. Darwin opened our minds to the power of the chance-happenings to bring forth "fit" results if only they have time to add themselves together. He showed the enormous waste of nature in producing results that get destroyed because of their unfitness.

The question before us naturalists today is whether this non-teleological spirit of Darwinism as expressed by William James corresponds with the actual order of evolution in nature. This really involves renewed research as to whether the intimate or minute parts of living things are operating under natural laws like non-living things or are really lawless. Before expressing my individual opinion based on my own extensive researches I may summarize the general modern dissent: in three points it may be said that Darwin's teachings are not accepted today.

First, his slowly developed belief in the inheritance of bodily modifications and the provisional "assemblage theory" of heredity which he called pangenesis has been set aside for Weismann's law that heredity lies in the continuity of a specific heredity plasm, and for want of evidence of the Lamarckian transmission of acquired characters.

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Second, while his prevailing belief that changes in organisms are in the main slow and continuous is now positively demonstrated to be correct by the study of descent in fossil organisms, there is also positive evidence for the belief which he less strongly entertained that many changes are discontinuous or mutative, as held by Bateson and De Vries.

Third, his original belief that out of fortuitous or undirected variations in minute characters arise direction, purpose and adaptation through Selection still lacks proof by either observation or experiment. Fossil and other descent series entirely unknown in Darwin's time prove beyond question that law rather than chance is prevailing in variation. It is not true, or at least it is not shown, that these variations are a matter of chance; they rather appear to be a matter of law, as indeed Darwin foresaw when he stated that he used the word "chance" merely as a synonym of "ignorance."


What the nature of these laws is it is still too early to say. Personally I am strongly of the opinion that the laws of life, like the ulti-

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mate laws of physics, may eventually prove to be beyond analysis.

To allow myself just one flight of fanciful statement drawn from personal observation and reflection, I may say there is a likeness between the unit forces working in a single organism, as revealed both by microscope and in fossil series, and the individual soldiers composing a giant army. The millions of well-ordered activities in the body correspond with the millions of intelligently trained men who compose the army; the Selection process or the survival of the fittest is like the competition between two armies. It is an outward and visible competition between two internally prepared and well-ordered hosts of units and groups of units. Selection is continuously working upon the army as a whole and also upon every unit which affects survival—an immunity unit, an intelligence unit, a speed unit, a color or group of color units; just as in the army it is working upon units of courage, of strategy, of precision of fire, of endurance, of mass. In this sense it is perfectly true to say with Darwin "that selection works upon certain single variations."

In the present state of biology we are study-

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ing the behavior of the thousands of parts, sometimes of blending, sometimes of separate, sometimes of paired or triplicate units, which compose the whole and make up the individual organism. Natural selection determines which organism shall win; more than this, it determines which serviceable activities of each organism shall win. Here lie the limits of its power. Selection is not a creative but a judicial principle. It is one of Darwin's many triumphs that he positively demonstrated that this judicial principle is one of the great factors of evolution. Then he clearly set our task before us in pointing out that the unknown lies in the laws of Evolution, and a stupendous task it is. At the same time he left us in his inductive and experimental methods a torch by which we may blaze our trail.

Therefore, in this anniversary year, we do not see any decline in the force of Darwinism but rather a renewed stimulus to progressive research. As Huxley says:

This one thing is perfectly certain—that is, it is only by pursuing his method, by that wonderful single-mindedness, devotion to truth, readiness to sacrifice all things for the advance of definite knowledge, that we can hope to come any nearer

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than we are at present to the truths which he struggled to attain.


To the present author, Darwin, more perhaps than any other naturalist, seems greatest in the union of a high order of genius with rare simplicity and transparency of thought. Dwelling on this lucid quality and on the vast range of his observation from the most minute to the grandest relations in nature, does not the image arise of a perfected optical instrument in which all personal equation, aberration and refraction are eliminated and through which, as it were, we gaze with a new vision into the marvelous forms and processes of the living world?

With this wondrous new lens our countrymen, Cope and Marsh, penetrated far deeper into fossil life than their predecessor Joseph Leidy, and the arid deserts of the Rocky Mountain region gave up their petrified dead as proofs of Darwinism. Through its new powers Hyatt, Morse, Packard and Brooks saw far more than their master Louis Agassiz and drew fresh testimonies of development

1 Abstract from "The Darwin Centenary," address in reply to the reception of delegates at Cambridge in 1909.

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from the historic waters of New England. From the very end of the New World, where the youthful Darwin received his first impressions of the mutability of the forms of life, we enjoy a clearer vision of the ancient life of Patagonia, as from the Old World we have a clear vision of the ancient life of Mongolia.

What of Darwin’s future influence?

While it is doubtful it human speculation about life can ever again be so tangential as in our pre-Darwinian past of fifty years ago, it is probable, in fact it is daily becoming more evident, that the destiny of speculation is less the tangent than the maze—the maze of innumerable lesser principles, with as many prophets calling to us to seek this turning or that. There are those who in loyal advocacy of his system feel that we shall not get much nearer to life than Darwin did, but this is to abandon his example of progressive leadership, for if ever a master defined the unknown and pointed the way of investigation, certainly it was Darwin. In a critical study today of his life and writings, the recognition that he opened the way for centuries of discovery comes to many with the force of new information.

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It is true that Darwin left a system of nature philosophy and that he loved it as his own, but his forceful, self-unsparing and suggestive criticism shows that if he had lived in the days of Waagen, of Weismann, of Mendel and of De Vries, he would have been in the front line of inquiry, armed with matchess assemblage of fact, with experiment and verification, and, not least, with incomparable candor and good-will.

This bequest of a noble biological method is hardly less precious than the immortal content of the "Origin of Species" itself.

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I never had the pleasure of meeting Wallace, but I felt rewarded for the time I devoted to the study of his works and the influences which shaped his great career in preparing this "Impression" by his letter of acknowledgment:

"I thank you very much for the complete and careful account of my scientific work and for the great honour you have done me in linking my name with that of Lyell, Darwin and Galton. Your article is by far the best account of my work and of the various influences which determined its direction and the conclusions at which I have arrived.

"I beg to assure you that I am much gratified by the generous appreciation of so competent a biologist as yourself."

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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 2 July, 2012