RECORD: Anon. 1882. [Obituary of Charles Darwin]. The Argus (Melbourne), (22 April): 13.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 8.2022. RN1

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[page] 13

CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN.

No scientific man of his own generation has exercised so profound an influence upon contemporary thought as Charles Robert Darwin, whose death we announce to-day; for the theory of evolution, which he presented to the world with such a powerful array of accurately-observed and systematically arranged facts to support it, has brought about a complete revolution in men's ideas upon the subjects of ontology, anthropology, and organic nature generally. The theory itself dates from the times of classic antiquity and oven earlier, for the terms of it are to be found in the pantheistic religions of India and Egypt. It was professed by the Ionic and Eleatic philosophers; vaguely apprehended by Parmenides; more fully understood by Empedocles, who enunciated the doctrine of the survival of the fittest, adopted by the School of Epicurus; and explicitly set forth by Lucretius in his great poem. In France, Buffon and Lamarck were the precursors of Darwin, as Charles Bonnet had been in Switzerland; while in England the theory of natural selection had been already promulgated by Malthus, to whom the deceased scientist frankly acknowledged his obligation in a letter to Haeckel, the distinguished exponent of Darwinism in Germany; while Mr Alfred Wallace also avows that took his point of departure in the independent course of reasoning and inquiry which led him simultaneously to the same conclusions as those arrived at by his distinguished contemporary from the law of population laid down by Malthus. But it was the good fortune, the patient achievement, and the enduring glory of Darwin to have developed the idea with such transcendent ability, to have clothed it in language so lucid and precise, and to have Illustrated and sustained it by such an immense accumulation of scientific facts, and by such a masterly knowledge of physiology, that for all time to come he will be recognised as the originator of the most fruitful idea of the present century and at the same time the most revolutionary, as regards the origin of species, the organisation of all forms of life, and the development of every variety of intelligence.

Charles Robert Darwin was born at Shrewsbury on the 12th of February 1809. He was the son of Dr. Robert Darwin, F.R.S., and grandson of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, author of the Botanic Garden, Zoonomia, &c.; while the deceased naturalist's grandfather, on his mother's side, was Josiah Wedgewood, F.R.S., the founder of the famous porcelain works at Etruria, in Staffordshire, and it is interesting to remark that George Darwin, the naturalist's son, has already achieved distinction in some of the branches of science in which his father made himself so great a name. From Shrewsbury Grammar School, at which he was educated by Dr. Butler, Charles Darwin proceeded to the University of Edinburgh in 1825, where he remained until 1827. He was afterwards entered at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he took his degree of B.A. in 1831, and of M.A. in 1837. But between these two dates he accepted the invitation of Captain Fitzroy, of H.M.S. Beagle, to accompany him in a scientific expedition round the world. It sailed from England on the 27th of December, 1831, and did not return to it until the 22nd of October, 1836. Darwin's Journal of Researches, made during that long voyage, is one of the most interesting books of travel in the language, and it was while he was studying the distribution of the organic beings peopling South America, and the geological relations which exist between the present and former inhabitants of that continent, that the first idea seems to have occurred to him of the origin of species as subsequently elaborated in his memorable work on that subject, while the evidences which presented themselves to his vigilant observation of several distinct centres of evolution will be found enumerated at pp. 173, 327, 387, and 391 of that book. Darwin's Journal formed vol. 3 of Fitzroy's Narrative, which was published in 1839. During the next three years he edited the Zoology of the Voyage, and he contributed a number of papers on geological, zoological, botanical, and palæontological subjects to the transactions of the various learned societies between 1839 and 1859. But in the meantime he had been preparing, and in the last-named year he published his most celebrated work, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." Its appearance constituted an epoch in the science of natural history, and gave rise to innumerable controversies both in Europe and America. The theory that all varieties of organism can be traced back to some primordial type, and that they have become what they are by the incessant operation of a principle of natural selection, and by the influence of surrounding conditions, during an indefinite period of time, was one which seemed to be so completely at variance with the commonly received notions of  mankind, and especially with those which have been derived from the Mosiac narrative of the creation of the world, that it was combated with the utmost vigour, and with not a little acrimony, by orthodox believers in general and by theologians in particular. On the other hand, the hypothesis fascinated men of science by its unity, its simplicity, and its grandeur; and it was warmly espoused in England, France, Germany, and the United States, where it has found numerous able and enthusiastic exponents; and in the 20 years and upwards which have elapsed since the first publication of the "Origin of Species," it has passed through half a dozen editions in the mother country, has been sold by tens of thousands in America and has been translated into all the principal languages of Europe.

The subsequent works of the deceased naturalist appeared in the following order:—"The various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilised by Insects," 1862; "On the Movement and Habits of Climbing Plants," 1865; "The Venation of Animals and Plants under Domestication," 1868; "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex," 1871; "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," 1872; "The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs," 1874; "Insectivorous Plants," 1875; "The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation on the Vegetable Kingdom," 1876; "The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species", 1877; "The Formation of Vegetable Mould," 1881. Some of these works, it may be necessary to remark, had previously been given to the world in the publications of the  scientific societies of which Darwin was a member. But all of them bear the impress of a powerful and original mind; all of them denote unwearying research, calm reflection, indefatigable industry in the collection of data, an admirable method of arranging them, and a rare faculty for generalisation. And they are remarkably free from dogmatism. The mind of the great naturalist was always open to the reception of new light upon any of the subjects which occupied his attention, and he was ready to modify his views and reconsider his opinions upon them upon sufficient reasons being given. One who knew him has spoken of him as the most free and communicative of philosophers. "Without an atom of scientific jealousy," we were told, "he is always ready to expound his views, to narrate the result of the delicate experiments on which he is perpetually occupied, and to assist other investigators from the stores of experience that has rained over the whole field of natural science and the conclusions of a mind trained to reason closely on such facts as have been ascertained by actual observation. No naturalist of this or any other time has confined himself more strictly to well-ascertained facts and devoted more labour to original investigation. The reason of this excessive care is to be found in the keystone of the Darwinian philosophy—La vérité quand meme, the pursuit of truth through all difficulties and without regard to consequences. To this object, he has devoted his entire life, saving, of course, the cheerful hours spent in his family circle—one of the most united and affectionate in England—and with his oldest friends, Sir Joseph Hooker and Professor Huxley. Perhaps no merrier trio of philosophers ever gathered together and enlivened abstruse subjects with quaint quip and crank, but neither of his two friends, genial companions though they be, can approach Mr Darwin's pitch of hilarity." United in marriage to his cousin, Miss Emma Wedgwood, the deceased naturalist spent many years of his happy and busy life at a prettily situated country house at Doun, in Kent, where he pursued his investigations in the midst of such peaceful and congenial surroundings as were peculiarly favourable to his philosophical studies, and his sociable and domestic habits, moving tranquilly through a cheerful old age towards

"A quiet grave,

 With cross and garland over its green turf,

And his grandchildren's love for epitaph."


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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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