RECORD: Balfour, John Hutton. 1882. Obituary Notice of Charles Robert Darwin. Transactions & Proceedings of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh 14: 284-8.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by AEL Data; corrections by John van Wyhe 11.2005. RN2


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Obituary Notice of Charles Robert Darwin. By JOHN HUTTON BALFOUR, M.D., Hon. Sec.

(Read 11th May 1882.)

We have to lament the death of the late Charles R. Darwin, M.A., LL.D. Cantab., F.R.S., Hon. F.R.S.E., F.L.S., and Honorary Member of the Edinburgh Botanical Society. Darwin was born at the Mount, Shrewsbury, on 12th February 1809. His father, Dr Robert Waring Darwin, F.R.S., was an eminent physician in that town. His mother was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood. His grandfather, Dr Erasmus Darwin, was a very eminent man of science, whose earliest publication was entitled The Botanic Garden. He was author likewise of the Temple of Nature and Zoonomia.

Charles Darwin was educated at Shrewsbury School under Dr Butler, afterwards Bishop of Lichfield.

In his early days he was a zealous naturalist. He went to the University of Edinburgh in 1825, and he attended a course of Natural History under Professor Jameson, and spent two sessions in Edinburgh. He studied specially marine zoology, and he became a member of the Plinian Society, which embraced all departments of natural history; and he read papers to the Society, one of which was on the Ova of Flustra. He also gave an account of the worm of Ponto della Muricata. One of the eminent young men who met Darwin at the Plinian was Dr Greville. Both made excursions near Edinburgh, specially to Inchkeith and the Isle of May. I had the pleasure of being an associate with Darwin at the meetings of the Plinian. The Society held its meetings in a low room on the north-western side of the University building.

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Darwin, after this, became a pupil of Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge, and he also derived much information on geology from Professor Sedgewick, also at Cambridge.

Darwin was early appointed Naturalist to Her Majesty's ship the "Beagle," under the command of Captain (afterwards Admiral) Fitzroy. The ship sailed in December 1831. It circumnavigated the globe, and did not return till 1836. The Report of the voyage was drawn up by Captain Fitzroy and Mr Darwin; the latter furnishing the geology and natural history of the various countries which had been visited. His publications, on the return from this voyage, of works On the Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, On Volcanic Islands, and on The Geology of South America, at once gave him eminence as a geologist; while The Naturalist's Voyage Round the World, published in 1839, became one of the popular favourites amongst general readers. In The Zoology of the "Beagle" Expedition, issued in 1840, Mr Darwin had the assistance of Professor Owen, Mr Waterhouse, the Rev. L. Jenyns, and Mr Bell. During the progress of the voyage, Darwin had addressed interesting narratives to Professor Henslow from time to time; a printed epitome of which was issued to the members of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. The letters composing this pamphlet date from Rio Janeiro, 18th May 1832; Monte Video, 15th August 1832, and 24th November 1832; Falkland Islands and the Rio Nigro Colorato, 11th April 1833; Monte Video, 12th November 1833; E. Falkland Islands, March 1834; Valparaiso, 24th July 1834, and March and April 1835.

After a long lull in publications, Darwin gave to the world, in 1867 [actually 1859], his Origin of Species, which has given rise to so much discussion. This was followed by numerous monographs, many of them specially botanical, such as On the Fertilisation of Orchids, The Habits of Climbing Plants, Insectivorous Plants, &c. His published writings have been circulated far and wide, and have been translated into various languages.

Darwin was certainly one of the greatest naturalists; and he was endeared to all who had the honour of his

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acquaintance, which included many who were not prepared to accept the doctrine which was associated with his name.

He was a naturalist of great observation, and continued to study natural phenomena during his whole life. His theory of progressive development has received much attention and has given rise to much discussion. As Mr Spottiswoode remarked before the Royal Society, he lived to a good old age, to see the work of his life enthusiastically recognised.

Darwin was highly prized, not only as a physiological botanist, but as an excellent cultivator. Mr Isaac Anderson-Henry corresponded with him for many years, and I have perused with much interest and pleasure the excellent and kind replies sent by Darwin. I subjoin extracts from some of these letters:—

"January 20, 1863.—…. I may mention that this past spring I tried again two crosses on Primula, with the same result rather more strongly marked, and that I have gone on now for three generations, breeding them what I call homomorphically, with some curious results, which I shall publish whenever I have time. I have sent a paper on Linum to Linn. Soc.; when it is published I will do myself the pleasure of sending to you a copy, and it will, I should think, be in good time for your experiments. I cannot say how glad I am that you will make some experiments on this subject. It does not absolutely follow, in making a cross between distinct species, that the same rule would follow in the fertility of the pollen. I hope that you will try and mark separately (excluding insects, as you know better than I do the necessity), the two kinds of pollen of one species on the stigma of the other, and see in making hybrids what the difference is in fertility, and in the character of the hybrid seedlings.

"This would be an entirely new field for observation and discovery. You will see in my paper that some species of Linum are not dimorphic, and are self-fertile; and so it is in some other genera.

"You refer to L. rubrum; I am not a botanist, and have called one of the species on which I have experimented

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L. grandiflorum, which is crimson, and not uncommon in flower gardens; I hope I have not made a mistake in name….

"My few crosses in Pelargonium were made to get seed from the central peloric or regular flower (I have got one from peloric flower by pollen of peloric), and this leads me to suggest that it would be very interesting to test fertility of peloric flowers in three ways—peloric pollen on peloric stigma, common pollen on peloric stigma, peloric pollen on common stigma of same species. My object is to discover whether, with change of structure of flower, there is any change in fertility of pollen or of female organs. This might also be tested by trying peloric and common pollen on stigma of distinct species and conversely. I believe there is a peloric and common variety of Tropæolum, and a peloric or upright and common variety of some species of Gloxinia, and medial peloric flowers of Pelargonium, and probably others unknown to me.

"To recur to Linum; if you cross distinct species it would, I think, be advisable to take two dimorphic species, and not one dimorphic and the other self-fertile. I have reason to suspect L. trigynum is dimorphic, but it has not yet flowered with me."

In another letter Darwin says:—

"I do not know whether you have used the microscope much, yet it adds immensely to the interest of all such work as ours, and is indeed indispensable for such work. Experience, however, has fully convinced me that the use of the compound without the simple microscope is absolutely injurious to the progress of natural history (excepting of course with Infusoria). I have as yet found no exception to the rule, that when a man has told me he works with the compound alone, his work is valueless."

Mr Poole, in his Index of Periodical Literature, gives an extensive list of Darwin's publications, which is reproduced in The Athenœum for 13th May 1882, along with remarks on Darwin.

Mr Darwin, after his return from the voyage of the "Beagle," was very much a life-long dyspeptic invalid, able to work continuously at most only three hours daily. And

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this was because of the constant, watchful ministering care of his wife (his own cousin). He received the Royal and Copley Medals from the Royal Society; the Wollaston Palladium Medal from the Geological Society; as well as honorary titles from the Prussian Government, and from the Academy of Vienna.

His extreme candour was an outstanding characteristic. This was well shown by an annual contribution to the funds of the South American Missionary Society; the result, it is said, of a discussion on the futility of such missions between himself and a pious young lieutenant, during the voyage of the "Beagle;" his opponent having shown him, after thirty years, what good had been done by Christian missions amongst these savages.

Darwin's death took place on Wednesday, 19th April 1882, at his house near Fanborough, in Kent, in his seventy-fourth year. His funeral took place on the 26th April, and his body was interred in Westminster Abbey. Amongst the numerous mourners present were dukes, earls, lords, baronets, knights, canons, clergymen, professors, naturalists, students.


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