RECORD: Anon. 1859. [Review of] On the origin of species. Saturday Review (London) (24 December): 775-776. [Including 15 October 1859 advertizement for Origin of species]

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned by Angus Carroll, transcribed (single key) by AEL Data, corrections by John van Wyhe 8.2009. RN1

NOTE: From a copy in the collection of Carroll.


[page] 775

REVIEWS.

DARWIN'S ORIGIN OF SPECIES.*

NOT many years have passed since the reading part of the British public was profoundly disturbed by the appearance of an anonymous work called Vestiges of Creation. Few books have at the outset produced more effect. Many readers were fascinated by the boldness, and, as they supposed, the novelty of the author's views. Others, of more serious disposition, were alarmed at the tendency of his theory, which seemed to dispense with the agency of an intelligent Creator in the work of creation. The alarm of the latter class was the greater that, until men of eminence in science buckled on their armour to confront the unknown author of all this confusion, they were sorely in doubt whether any effectual resistance could be offered to the attack that had been made upon established opinions.

To some lookers-on, the most surprising part of the affair was the proof that it gave of the existence of a great unsuspected deposit of ignorance in the very midst of the upper stratum of English society. Except some skill in the exposition of his opinions, and a moderate acquaintance with the results of recent inquiry, the author of the Vestiges added nothing to the "development theory" of Lamarck that could weigh with a mind trained to scientific investigation. Two arbitrary hypotheses, sustained by nothing that deserved the name of argument, furnished the basis of his theory. "The creation of life, wherever it takes place, is a chemico-electric operation, by which simple germinal vesicles are produced." All animated beings, "from the simplest and oldest up to the highest and most recent, are the results, first, of an inherent impulse in the forms of life to advance, in definite times, through grades of organization terminating in the highest dicotyledons and mammalia; secondly, of external physical circumstances, operating reactively upon the central impulse to produce the requisite peculiarities of exterior organization." When it was seen that such flimsy speculations as these were able to unsettle the innermost regions of English thought, it became quite clear that it was time to think of including natural science within the range of our educational systems. After causing an amount of disturbance quite disproportioned to its real importance, the Vestiges of Creation are now nearly forgotten, and the book rests in our libraries on the same shelf with many another clever defence of a shallow theory. It has probably done no permanent harm, and if it has contributed to the spread of a sounder and less empirical mode of teaching natural science than has hitherto been common in this country, the author may be allowed to plead so much in extenuation of the censure which he incurred.

During the entire discussion we had amongst us one who took no part in the strife—a silent labourer, who, for many years before and since the rise and fall of the Vestiges of Creation, had been engaged in observations and experiments bearing upon the precise question at issue, the Origin of Species. Mr. Darwin is known to the scientific public by more than one work of unquestionable value, but his attainments and ability were believed to be superior to any evidence of them he had previously given, and the interest felt in the work upon which he was known to have been long engaged, was increased by a communication made last year to the Linnean Society, which, to the initiated, showed pretty clearly the direction towards which his opinions tended. The great undertaking upon which the labour of nearly a quarter of a century has been expended is still unfinished; but, for reasons explained in the introduction, Mr. Darwin has been led to publish the present volume, which he terms an abstract of his future work. As far as we can pretend to judge, it contains a full statement of the writer's theoretical views, and of the arguments by which he proposes to sustain them. The detail of evidence is, of course, reserved for the complete work; but a sufficient summary is now given to enable the reader to anticipate its character, though not fully to test its value.

When we say that the conclusions announced by Mr. Darwin are such as, if established, would cause a complete revolution in the fundamental doctrines of natural history—and further, that although his theory is essentially distinct from the development theory of the Vestiges of Creation, it tends so far in the same direction as to trench upon the territory of established religious belief—we imply that his work is one of the most important that for a long time past have been given to the public. We have not been amongst the foremost to pass our judgment upon it, for it is a book—we say it deliberately—that will not bear to be dealt with lightly. It is the result of long-continued thought and labour, directed by a man of remarkable ability and wide attainments to construct and to consolidate a theory which has for its basis some undeniable facts. There is scarcely an objection that can be urged that Mr. Darwin has not already anticipated, and to which he has not replied, as far as it admits of reply—and that with a degree of moderation and candour that would be evidence of excellent judgment, if they were not, as we fully believe them to be, entirely unaffected.

Although it is certain that Mr. Darwin's views will cause painful anxiety to many who will regard them as hostile to the truths of Revelation, we cannot share in that anxiety, and are therefore not disposed to discuss the new theory on any other than strictly scientific grounds. Except in a single brief and somewhat obscure paragraph, Mr. Darwin has avoided all reference to the origin of the human race; but in his future work he can scarcely fail to be explicit upon that point. To him, or to any other man of science who should attempt to prove to us that the moral and spiritual faculties of man have been gradually developed by the working of matter upon matter, we should reply by demurring in toto to the applicability of his reasoning. No conceivable amount of evidence derived from the growth and structure of animals and plants would have the slightest bearing upon our convictions in regard to the origin of conscience, or man's belief in a Supreme Being and the immortality of his own soul. Within the proper domain of natural science, which includes the entire visible creation, animate and inanimate, we desire to place no barrier before the spirit of inquiry. We know that there are limits which human reason is unable to overpass, but we believe that those limits will be more surely ascertained and fixed by the right use of reason itself than by the edict of an external authority.

Mr. Darwin's theory may be stated in a few words. All organic beings are liable to vary in some degree, and tend to transmit such variations to their offspring. All at the same time tend to increase at a very rapid rate, and their increase is kept in check by the incessant competition of other individuals of the same species, or that of individuals of other species, or by physical conditions injurious to each organism or to its power of leaving healthy offspring. Whatever variation occurring among the individuals of any species of animals or plants is in any way advantageous in the struggle for existence will give to those individuals an advantage over their fellows, which will be inherited by their offspring until the modified variety supplants the parent species. This process, which is termed natural selection, is incessantly at work, and all organized beings are undergoing its operation. By the steady accumulation, during long ages of time, of slight differences, each in some way beneficial to the individual, arise the various modifications of structure by which the countless forms of animal and vegetable life are distinguished from each other. All existing animals have descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number. Analogy (which Mr. Darwin admits to be a deceitful guide) would even lead him to infer that "all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form into which life was at first breathed."

Easy enough to state, it is impossible to give within much less space than the author has himself employed any idea of the mass of argument by which this startling theory is sustained and defended. With admirable skill and ability, Mr. Darwin has in succession encountered the various and formidable difficulties which the bare announcement of his theory must suggest to the minds of most naturalists. The chapters devoted to Instinct, Hybridism, Geographical Distribution, and to Embryology—though from the nature of the present work necessarily incomplete—are especially remarkable for the amount of learning and research that are brought to bear upon the argument.

So much we have said in bare justice to the author of this new theory; but it may relieve the anxiety of some of our readers if we at once declare that, after the most deliberate consideration of his arguments, we remain unconvinced. To discuss the subject with any approach to completeness would be impossible within ten times the space that can be given to this article. We shall merely point out in a very general way a few of the difficulties encountered by Mr. Darwin in attempting to answer objections which we feel justified in calling insurmountable; for if he has failed to overcome them, it is scarcely likely that any abler advocate of his theory will be found to replace him.

To the present, as well as every other hypothesis which assumes as a fact of organized life the gradual and continued transition from one species through another, to some form widely different in structure, geology opposes the records preserved in the organic remains found in each successive formation. To remove the difficulty which lies in the perfectly definite character of past species even in the earliest geological periods, Mr. Darwin spares no amount of skill and labour to establish, first, the extremely imperfect character of the geological record; secondly, the enormous lapse of time that must

* On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. By Charles Darwin, M.A., &c. &c. London: Murray. 1859.

[page] 776

be allowed for the deposition of each formation, and for the intervals between them. It is only a proof that it is impossible for any man to apply to his own arguments that constant and accurate process of testing which is afforded by independent criticism, and no imputation against the candour of the writer, to say that in this delicate part of his case he has committed some manifest errors, and allowed himself assumptions to which he would scarcely have resorted had his need been less urgent.

Mr. Darwin commences by summing up the maximum thickness of all the sedimentary formations hitherto detected in Great Britain, points out the extreme slowness with which they have been deposited, and the still longer periods intervening during which the area of Great Britain was either at rest or exposed to denudating action, and by way of furnishing a scale by which to estimate the whole, he calculates the time necessary for the denudation of the Weald of Sussex alone at about three hundred millions of years. No wonder that behind such a formidable outwork Mr. Darwin thinks himself free to deal, according to his pleasure, with past ages of time, and that, if a million of centuries, more or less, is needed for any part of his argument, he feels no scruple in taking them to suit his purpose. Let us, however, examine the process by which he has attained to these results. When Professor Ramsay estimates the aggregate thickness of British deposits at 72,584 feet, it is not intended that either in Britain or elsewhere we have reason to believe that such a thickness of sedimentary matter has ever been deposited on any part of the earth's surface. This large figure is obtained by adding together the utmost thickness which each deposit is anywhere known to acquire. But to obtain a probable measure of the time requisite for any deposit to attain its maximum thickness we should compare the maximum rate of deposit now known to occur. We know, indeed, very little of the action of the greatest rivers in this respect; but, if Everest's observations are to be relied upon, the Ganges annually pours into the Bay of Bengal, a mass of sediment which would cover more than 5000 square miles to the depth of half an inch; or, in other words, enough to form a stratum 1000 feet in thickness in 24,000 years. This fact alone, and a moment's thought of the enormous mass of mineral matter which is constantly transported by other great rivers, either to form deltas, or—as with the Amazon—to be swept into the depths of the ocean, far from land, goes some way to modify Mr. Darwin's assumption that formations of considerable thickness can be formed only during periods of subsidence; while, at the same time, it helps to moderate the huge demand that he wishes to establish against the great reserve of geological time. This brings us to his estimate of the period consumed in the denudation of the Weald Valley. As most of our readers know, this is the tract between the North and South Downs, that is crossed in going from London to the Sussex coast. There is sufficient reason to believe that, since the deposition of the chalk, the sea has flowed in the valley between the two ranges of the Downs for a sufficient time to remove not only the chalk, but also a large amount of the underlying strata. In the first instance, though this is but a trifle, Mr. Darwin has forgotten to allow for the fact that the sea would act against both sides of the valley at once, and thus we should begin by reducing his enormous estimate by one-half. The difference between us is, however, more important. He assumes that the sea-action would begin at the upper surface of the chalk, and gradually eat into it, backwards and downwards, at the rate of a yard in twenty-two years; and further than this, he seems to assume that the underlying formations—upper and lower greensand and wealden—would offer the same resistance as the chalk. But surely Mr. Darwin must know what reason there is to believe, or rather to be certain, that the chalk that once covered the Weald Valley was penetrated by faults, and probably by fissures, of considerable depth and breadth. The sea in many places would have worked against the bottom of perpendicular faces of chalk; and, as any one may see at Beachey Head, it will eat away a cliff six hundred feet high nearly as fast as one of sixty feet. But further than this, it is more than probable that during the denudation of the Weald the action of the sea was directed against the soft greensand underlying the chalk; and as this was rapidly eaten away, vast masses of chalk would fall away to seaward. Our conclusion, therefore, is, that in this instance Mr. Darwin has enormously overrated the amount of time which can legitimately be demanded to account for the geological phenomena.

His next step in the career of hypothesis is still more startling. Even the vast roll of ages that he would place between us and the commencement of organic life in the palæozoic rocks does but carry us back to an epoch when there lived in the waters a large number of animals as distinct from each other in their structure as those that the dredger may now take off our western coasts; and, strange to say, at least two genera of mollusks of which the representatives still exist. To obtain the space which he requires in order to account for the existence of this varied fauna, Mr. Darwin does not hesitate to plunge backward in the æons of past time, and to point to a period as far removed from the earliest known palæozoic rocks as these are from our era. Not knowing where to find a shred of evidence for the existence of this enormous mass of pre-Silurian formations, a new hypothesis is produced, certainly ingenious, but to our minds, in the very highest degree improbable. Mr. Darwin fairly admits that his case is difficult, but tries to satisfy the inquirer by the assurance that his witnesses are all drowned. The present continents and oceans, as he tells us, have existed pretty much where they now do ever since the deposition of the oldest fossiliferous beds; but before that epoch other continents existed in the area now filled by oceans; from their waste, formations were formed in the adjoining seas, and in those formations, one after another, throughout millions of ages, the successive forms of the primitive fauna and flora were silently entombed; but no elevatory forces—no volcano, terrestrial or submarine, throughout the countless ages that have since elapsed—have ever brought a single fragment of these buried continents to the light of day.

We leave professed geologists to deal with these and other portions of Mr. Darwin's speculations. Enough has been said to show what a pile of unsupported conjecture has been required to sustain this last and ablest attempt to penetrate the mystery of the origin of species, or, in other words, the Origin of Life. Apart from the innate curiosity that urges all reflecting men at some time to consider this great problem, students of natural history are continually driven to seek some solution of it, in order that they may find some secure basis on which to raise the superstructure of their science. Discussing the subject with men of the most various opinions, we have found them nearly unanimous upon one point—that there must be somewhere discoverable a true criterion of species, and that, although the modus operandi of Creative Power might remain concealed, the general plan of creation would, sooner or later, be made known to us. Upon this ground we venture to dissent as well from those eminent naturalists who, like the late Edward Forbes, endeavour to raise what we may call the orthodox doctrine of the separate creation of species to the rank of a demonstrated scientific truth, as from all those who, under one form or another, cling to the doctrine of development. We simply disbelieve that—at least in its present condition—natural science is entitled to treat any doctrine whatever as either proved or provable.

In regard to that which is peculiar to Mr. Darwin's theory, we are far from thinking that the fruits of his labour and research will be useless to natural science. On the contrary, we are persuaded that natural selection must henceforward be admitted as the chief mode by which the structure of organized beings is modified in a state of nature. We think it very possible that through this agency considerable groups of nearly allied species may have been derived from a single progenitor, but we are convinced that the modifying power rests within defined limits, though those limits may not be discoverable by man. Far as explorers may travel along the shores of the Ocean of Truth, the horizon does but stretch the farther before them, illimitable in its vastness.

THE YOUNG CURATE.*

THE power of writing novels seems likely to become a privilege analogous to the right of petitioning, to which our ancestors attached so much importance. There is no class of men or women which does not make use of them for the purpose of ventilating its special opinions and grievances. The theory which once existed with respect to the inconsistency of novel-reading with the stricter forms of religious belief appears to have been practically exploded; for novels have become theological weapons even in the hands and on the behalf of so rigid a sect as the Baptists. Clergymen—especially in ladies' novels—are more frequently introduced and more respectfully treated than almost any other persons; and all the peculiarities of their position are brought before the public through this machinery oftener than those of other classes of men. One of the consequences of this curious state of things is that the literary interest of novels is in almost every case entirely subordinate to their interest considered as pamphlets. They are in the nature of manifestoes upon some particular point of conduct or business, or some special state of feeling, which happens to have attracted the author's attention; and they ought to be criticised upon that principle.

The Young Curate; or, the Quicksands of Life, is a very perfect illustration of this. It is the remonstrance of a clergyman against the hardships and corruptions of his profession. His lamentations and doleful tale of wrong is to the following effect:—A charming young clergyman, very poor, though of very good family, comes to be curate in a populous market town, where the people at first idolize him on account of his goodness and eloquence. As the incumbent is non-resident and very old, and as the living is in the gift of the college of which the curate is a fellow, and as he stands next in succession, he is a person of considerable importance. In course of time he engages himself to the daughter of a prosperous banker, who turns out, on better acquaintance, to be a vulgar, worldly-minded young woman who cares very little about him. Whilst the engagement lasts, he is called in to visit professionally a beautiful dying woman, whose sister, even more attractive and much younger than herself, is what the author calls the "governess," and what we should call the mistress, of the national school. A good deal of what may be called either flirtation or spiritual intercourse goes on between the curate and the governess; and at about the same time he forms the acquaintance of a beautiful young lady of large fortune,

* The Young Curate; or, the Quicksands of Life. London: Routledge. 1859.

[page break]

THE

SATURDAY REVIEW

OF

POLITICS, LITERATURE, SCIENCE, AND ART.

No. 217, Vol. 8. December 24, 1859. PRICE 6d.
Stamped 7d.

THE PROSPECTS OF ITALY.

THE prospects of Italy appear to be improving, notwithstanding the exertions of the Romish clergy. It would seem that the provinces which desire annexation with Piedmont have, for the moment, no other enemies to oppose. Austria has enough to do in Hungary without interfering, except by verbal protests, for the restoration of her temporal or spiritual dependents. The Emperor NAPOLEON can only choose between an armed suppression of the existing Governments, and a recognition of the actual state of Italy. There is no reason to suppose that he has involved himself in the interminable enterprise of supporting anti-national institutions in a foreign country. To the reproaches of his priestly allies he may give an answer which will be reasonable, if not satisfactory. The evacuation of Bologna and Ferrara by their Austrian garrisons was only an incidental consequence of the war; and if the POPE lost a province by the withdrawal of foreign troops from his territory, his misfortune illustrates in the most forcible manner the abnormal condition of his Government. The Emperor of the FRENCH may add that he has rendered every service to the Holy See which is compatible with ordinary justice, or with the rules of international law. The presence of French troops at Rome would have enabled the POPE to reconquer Romagna at his leisure if his military resources had been sufficient to control even half of his dominions. It might even be urged that the only chance for the maintenance of Italian Catholicism is to be found in the success of the present struggle for national existence. When the crisis has been successfully terminated, the subjects of the North Italian kingdom may possibly forget that priests and bishops in every part of Europe have been agitating, under inspiration from Rome, for the subjugation of Catholic Italians by Frenchmen or by Germans. Remote aliens have declared that the rights of an obnoxious Prince are indefeasibly sacred, and have openly avowed the monstrous doctrine that ecclesiastical sympathies ought to prevail over all considerations of patriotism or secular justice. If the Church is obstinately hostile to the rights of Italy, the Italians will treat the Church as their enemy. A religious schism, undesirable as it is on political grounds, will be imminent from the time at which the power of the POPE shall be restored by the help of foreign bayonets. NAPOLEON III. may remind the Ultramontane agitators that they have repudiated all his plausible promises of improved institutions for the dominions of the POPE. It is an absolute monarchy, and not a modern bureaucracy, which French and Irish bishops declare to be indispensable to the welfare of the Catholic world. The Imperial Reformer is at liberty to declare that the task assigned to him has been made contradictory and impracticable; and, on the whole, there is some reason to hope that, as he cannot satisfy the demands of the hierarchy, he may adopt the simpler course of setting their discontent at defiance. The latest rumours from Paris will not strengthen the moderate confidence which the Church may have reposed in the eldest son whom she has unwillingly adopted. The official pamphleteer who was formerly employed to demonstrate the expediency of an Italian campaign has now proved, with authoritative arguments, that the temporal independence of the POPE must vary inversely with the extent of his dominions. Many plausible reasons might be advanced in support of the paradoxical proposition; and if the champion of the Holy See is satisfied with the conclusion, the validity of the doctrine may be considered as sufficiently established. FARINI, who once held office under PIUS IX., will not fail to congratulate himself on the service which he will have rendered to his former master by his share in the emancipation of a portion of his dominions. Historical critics will henceforth understand the motive of the heretic CASTLEREAGH in rescuing the Legations for the POPE from the orthodox grasp of the Austrian EMPEROR.

M. DE LA GUERRONNIÈRE has only arranged in a lucid form the arguments which have, for many months, been familiar to the readers of the better class of English journals. There is perhaps some inconsistency in the credit which he demands for the efforts of NAPOLEON III. to reclaim the rebellious inhabitants of Romagna by persuasion and influence. If a pensioned Grand Lama in the Vatican is really in a better position than a territorial potentate, all attempts to perpetuate the embarrassing secularities of the Holy See must, at best, be regarded as mischievous results of ill-judged devotion. But it must be remembered that a political apology is not a logical exercise, but an appeal to the reason and sympathy of friends and opponents holding various shades of opinion. Temporal misfortunes are often supposed to improve the character of those whom they affect, to the ultimate increase of their happiness; but the precious jewel which is worn in the head of adversity is seldom received with cordial feelings of gratitude. "The smaller the territory," says M. DE LA GUERRONNIÈRE, "the greater the sovereign;" and yet it may be prudent to deprecate the wrath of a Pontiff who is known by no means to appreciate his own constructive and indirect aggrandizement. "'Rome is so great, because it is so small,' "and, after all, it was not the fault of the French EMPEROR if "it was not larger"—such is the intelligible defence of a policy which is really dictated by a prudent regard to circumstances, although it may be afterwards vindicated by eloquent considerations of the abstract nature of things. It will be easier to prove that a pensioned Pope must be dependent on his paymasters than to point out the means of restoring ecclesiastical despotism in the Romagna without the employment of French or Austrian arms. In practice, facts are stubborn things, although they form the most pliant and manageable elements of controversy.

Following unavoidably in the track of English writers who were at liberty from the first to speak the truth, M. DE LA GUERRONNIÈRE proves, by a process of exhaustion, that the POPE cannot be restored, because there is no power which can restore him. France cannot interfere for the coercion of Italy, Austria cannot be allowed to neutralize the recent victories of France, and the paragraph devoted to an examination of the pretensions of Naples may be considered a superfluous compliment. As the sheep will not come back of their own accord, and as there are no sheep-dogs available to drive them in, the lame old shepherd will do well to content himself with a liberal compensation to be kindly paid by his charitable neighbours. There is, happily, a fair proportion of common-sense in the world, and Englishmen at least have no reason to be ashamed of the judgment which they have generally formed of the Italian difficulty; but when great potentates condescend to perceive that two and two make four, their submission to reason deserves acknowledgment, and even a kind of gratitude. In one respect, the Imperial oracle gives a voluntary response to the question, seldom raised in the discussion, of the fate which is to await the POPE'S remaining Trans-Apennine possessions. It is announced that Ancona, as well as Bologna and Ravenna, adds nothing to the splendour of Rome. The Protestant Regan tacitly allowed the POPE to retain his diminished retinue of provinces; but the orthodox Goneril unkindly asks why he needs

ten, or five,

To follow in a house where twice so many

Have a command to tend him?

A hundred or two hundred millions of Catholics are said by the agitating bishops to require no command to wait on their spiritual Father. The inference that a separate Papal household is unnecessary will scarcely satisfy either PIUS IX. or

[page] 465

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Also, Now Ready, with Portraits, Part VIII. (to be completed in 10 Parts), 8vo, 1s. each.

BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON, including the Tour to the Hebrides. Edited, with Notes, by Mr. CROKER.

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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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