RECORD: Green, John Richard. 1860. [Recollection of Darwin] Letter to W. Boyd Dawkins, 3 July 1860. In Stephen, Leslie ed. 1901. Letters of John Richard Green. London: Macmillan, pp. 43-45.
REVISION HISTORY: Text prepared by Kees Rookmaaker 11.2010. RN1
NOTE: This recollection is reprinted in Thomas Glick, What about Darwin? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2010.
The mention of it reminds me that I saw your "friend" Dr. Falconer the other day. A good-humored, jocular Irishman, whom Lyell styled second as a paleontologist to [Richard] Owen only! So you measure swords with a creditable antagonist. He has not as yet read a paper, but he rose to speak on one of the most notable which
I have as yet heard at the B. A. [British Association for the Advancement of Science] A Mr. C. Moore who lives at Bath, found in a quarry in his neighborhood a small drift-deposit of the Triassic Epoch. He carted two tons of it home, a distance of twenty miles, and spent two years in washing, sorting, and microscopically examining it. He was thus enabled to exhibit about three hatfuls of fish teeth; a similar quantity of scales, etc.,—but what was of real importance some twenty small jawbones, etc., of mammals—unmistakable mammals, judicibus professore Eugeaco et Doctore Auceps (is not that the Latin for Falconer?). This brings them far lower, you see, than even the Stonesfield slate. Some two such remains have been found in the Muschelkalk in Germany—with which this may be about contemporaneous—but they have been fought over and disputed. These twenty put an extinguisher on all question. Lyell made a beautiful speech on the matter. Paucity of remains, he argued, do not argue paucity of animal life. Were we left to infer the animal creation of the present day from the deposits of the Ganges or the Nile, should we be content merely with the few species we might light on? Rather (and here he brought beautifully in the principle of the correlation of life) should we not be bound to infer from these few a large quantity of species as yet unfound? Important too—he said—was the fact that up to that time all the animals thus discovered were very minute, while in this last deposit were found remains which must have been of an animal as large as a polecat, a size which at once sweeps away all hypotheses founded on this fact of minuteness, and gives us an ordinary link in the common series of animal life. Strongly Darwinian, he? and strongly common-sense too. I have (after finishing Lyell) been reading Hugh Miller's* posthumous book, his sketches (originally intended, had he lived, to form the basis of a geologic History of Scotland), and I have been much struck with the utter weakness of the theory to which he clings so very fondly, of the "definiteness"
of organic life, its "dead stops," etc. Such a theory required and justified that dioramic view of geology which Miller adopts—picture succeeding picture in strong contrast—but which seems to me utterly unwarrantable and unscientific. Read after Lyell he strikes me as a man who gathered up the researches of others and gave them a dash of the picturesque. I am afraid I am boring you (I always bore my friends with the subject I have on hand), but now I am on Hugh Miller it reminds me that I have made extracts from him—one of which (of the period of the Tertiaries down to the post-Pliocene and human epochs) seems truthful and good. It will be useful for your sketch of the bone-cave period, as it is drawn out in great detail. His oolite reminded me funnily of yours (a great compliment by the way), but has an Iguanodon in its menagerie which I don't think you possessed. It may be fun to read, so I will bring my notebook down. I was introduced to Robert Chambers (the supposed author of the Vestiges) the other day, and heard him chuckle over the Episcopal defeat. I haven't told you that story, have I? On Saturday morning I met Jenkin going to the Museum. We joined company, and he proposed going to Section D, the Zoology, etc., "to hear the Bishop of Oxford [Samuel Wilberforce] smash Darwin." "Smash Darwin! Smash the Pyramids," said I, in great wrath,and muttering something about "impertinence," which caused Jenkin to explain that "the Bishop was a first-class in mathematics, you know, and so has a right to treat on scientific matters," which of course silenced my cavils. Well, when Professor Draper had ceased, his hour and a half of nasal Yankeeism, up rose "Sammivel," and proceeded to act the smasher; the white chokers, who were abundant, cheered lustily, a sort of "Pitch it into him" cheer, and the smasher got so uproarious as to pitch into Darwin's friends—Darwin being smashed—and especially Professor Huxley. Still the white chokers cheered, and the smasher rattled on. "He
had been told that Professor Huxley had said that he didn't see that it mattered much to a man whether his grandfather was an ape or not. Let the learned Professor speak for himself" and the like. Which being ended—and let me say that such rot never fell from episcopal lips before—arose Huxley, young, cool, quiet, sarcastic, scientific in fact and in treatment, he gave his lordship such a smashing as he may meditate on with profit over his port at Cuddesdon. This was the exordium, "I asserted, and I repeat—that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling, it would rather be a man, a man of restless and versatile intellect, who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice."
John Richard Green (1837-1883), English historian.
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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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