RECORD: Fish, D. T. 1882. [Obituary] Charles Darwin. Garden, an illustrated weekly journal of gardening in all its branches 21 (29 April): 302.

REVISION HISTORY: OCRed and corrected by John van Wyhe 3.2011. RN1


[page] 302

THE GARDEN. [April 29, 1882.

CHARLES DARWIN.

Among the many eulogies that will be written on the life, works, and death of Darwin perhaps few will be more honest or sincere than those that are penned by practical horticulturists. At first sight it might appear that the theory of "Evolution" and the "Origin of Species" had but little relation to practical horticulture. But this would be to take a very narrow view of the scope and aim of the latter. Besides, the wonderful array of facts which Darwin has gleaned from the wide field of botany and horticulture is in itself the most valuable contribution to the advancement of the science and practice of horticulture. Whatever advances our knowledge of vegetable life or enlarges our conceptions of its marvellous a adaptations and forces likewise increases our power over it. Hence Darwin's facts, apart from the theories they establish, and with which his name will be for ever associated, are so much more accumulated force and power over Nature placed within the reach of cultivators. In view of such facts as are marshalled before us in overwhelming force and number in such works as the "Origin of Species" and the "Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication," plants are no more like dead chessmen to be moved hither and thither on an unchangeable road of stereotyped modes of production, but rather so much living raw material to be moulded into new forms and higher types at the bidding of cultural advancement or commercial necessities. If, as seems probable, so much of beauty, usefulness, value have been evolved from the simple and primitive forms of past ages, how much more may yet be developed from the more perfect plants and products of the present day. Granting the truth of the theory of evolution, it follows, as a matter of course, that we have not yet reached the end of it. Hence the horticulturist must never rest and be thankful with present attainments. "Forgetting the things which are behind, reaching forward to those that are before," must ever be his motto. From good to better, from better to yet better still, and on towards an unattainable best, his watchword. Our material is plastic; not fixed. Forms, colours, statures, sizes, substances, qualities, products, all go to be altered, changed, enhanced, improved. This is our first, most valuable, and far-reaching lessons from Darwin's teaching. Well learned it will show that the best of us are only on the threshold, and not on the top stone of our victories over Nature. Plant life and its powers are a great deep in which each of us have been dropping his short line, with which we may have drawn a few prizes. It remained for Darwin to reveal to us how fathomless and wide was the great sea of life from which we have all been trying to filch our finished products.

With this expansion of our views of the nature of the plants we cultivate will come larger knowledge of new and more rapid ways and means of production. The truism that knowledge is power is never more true than when applied to plants and their culture. Ignorance rather than indolence is the most fruitful cause of failure in horticulture. Nor is the possession of knowledge all that is needful. A willingness to learn is almost equally valuable. In this, also, Darwin has shown us a perfect example. Perhaps the most learned man of this or any age, he was to the last one of the most diligent of scholars. He took lessons from everything, anybody. With a store of facts sufficient to stock a cyclopaedia, he was ever gleaning more, from the pure book—Nature. Neither was he ashamed to accept or acknowledge facts from the humblest practical gardener. Beasts, birds, plants, insects were all his instructors. He, whose intellect was so keen and lofty as to grasp the theory of evolution, solve the problem of the origin of species, and propound a great many other theories, could sit quietly down after these marvellous achievements and learn from the earthworm how the bald, bare earth was covered with vegetable mould, and thus prepared for becoming the home of those plants which his wonderful discoveries seem to have clothed with fresh wonders and endowed with new powers. Always learning and never coming to the full knowledge of the truth was his attitude from first to last; and the more we can imitate him in this, the more shall we surely know, and the more perfect shall our practice become.

One more lesson all of us may well learn at the feet of our dead teacher before he is gathered to his rightful place in the great Abbey at Westminster. Perhaps no scientific or practical man so fully fortified with facts ever made a more humble and reverent use of them. His self-assertion and dogmatism were in the inverse ratio of his knowledge. It would be more correct to say he had none of either of these qualities. So reticent was he in drawing logical inferences from his facts, that he almost lost the credit of the discovery of the theory of evolution by withholding his conclusions for several years while he buttressed them anew with fresh facts. This reticence and humility in drawing conclusions characterised him through life. Perhaps no man ever made so sure of his ground before taking a step into the disputable and unknown as Darwin, while it is certain that none ever based fewer theories on such huge mountains of facts. It may be said the theories were giants, and needed a broad basis of facts to rest upon, and this is true, but in this age of bold assumption on slender premises it is refreshing to turn to Darwin's array of facts in such works as "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication," where the facts alone are left, as with the consciousness that they are sufficiently strong to make their own impression. How much more pleasant and profitable reading our horticultural and other literature would be if each speaker and writer would try to follow in the footsteps of Darwin in this respect. The greatest want of horticulture and all other arts and sciences is facts, more facts. Darwin's enormous and valuable supplies have but whetted our appetites for more. We have opinions ad nausenm on most subjects, and they are often as useless as they are nauseous. But facts, however trivial, are vital. It was by such facts gleaned in all available fields, and piled up with infinite industry, that Darwin evolved the doctrine of evolution, earned for himself the name of the chief savant of his age, and exacted the gratitude of all horticulturists by giving a new departure to the art that they endeavour to illustrate and the science that they love so well, but can never fully understand. D. T. Fish.

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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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