RECORD: Carpenter, W. B. 1882. Charles Darwin: his life and work. Modern Review 3: 500-24.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned by John van Wyhe 2004, transcribed by AEL Data 11.2005. RN1
CHARLES DARWIN; HIS LIFE AND WORK.
IT happened, some months ago, that, having been present at an Address delivered by the then President of Sion College, on 'The Best Mode of Combating the Prevalent Unbelief,' in which the Doctrine of Evolution was treated as one of the modern heresies to be especially put down by the more forcible reassertion of the doctrines of Orthodox Theology, I was requested to bring forward the other side of the question, by the delivery of an Address of my own in the same place, 'On the Doctrine of Evolution in its Relations to Theism.' I was preparing this, with a more particular view to the Evolution of the Physical Universe (which, as it seemed to me, would afford the more suitable basis for my argument), when, by the death of Charles Darwin, the world lost the great constructor of the doctrine of Organic Evolution. I did not on this account think it expedient to change the plan of my Address, which, when delivered, on the 15th of May, at Sion College, drew forth a much more general expression of accordance with the Evolution-doctrine, than I had been at all prepared to expect. It had been the intention of the Editor of the Modern Review to insert this Address in the present number; but, in accordance with his strong desire that I should preface it by a notice of Darwin's Life and Work, based on my own relations with him, I have prepared the following Introduction, the unanticipated length of which necessitates the postponement of my Address at Sion College until the October number.
The haste with which this notice has been prepared must be my apology for its imperfections. It has been quite out of my power to draw even an outline-sketch of Darwin's Life and Work; all that I could attempt to portray, in accordance with the Editor's request, being such aspects of both as seemed to me most likely to interest the readers of this Review.
Charles Darwin's grandfather—Dr. Erasmus Darwin, first of Lichfield, and afterwards of Derby—was the contemporary and ally of Priestley; sharing alike his enthusiasm for scientific research, and his liberality of thought on religious subjects. These two, with Boulton, Watt, Wedgwood, and a few other residents in the Midland counties, of kindred tastes, formed a little Society, the members of which used to hold monthly meetings at each others' houses for the free discussion of philosophical questions. Of these meetings, a very interesting account was given in an Autobiography published some years ago by Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, of Bristol, the daughter of Samuel Galton, a leading Quaker of Birmingham and himself a member of the "lunar" Society, two of whose grandsons, my friends Mr. Francis Galton and Capt. Douglas Galton, are distinguished Fellows of the Royal Society. Dr. Darwin acquired some literary distinction by the publication, in 1781, of a poem entitled The Botanic Garden; which, though now so far forgotten as not to be even mentioned in Ward's English Poets, has been said to abound "in passages that have seldom been excelled for their elegant and forcible description of natural objects in poetic language." But he became better known among scientific men as the author of Zoonomia, a treatise on the Laws of Organic Life, in two volumes quarto, of which the first was published in 1793, and the second in 1796; and which was followed in 1800 by his Phytologia, or Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening
I have never myself studied these works, though I have frequently looked into the Zoonomia; but I have reason to believe that the following characterization of their author, drawn many years ago by a competent and unprejudiced writer, may be accepted as just:—
"Dr. Darwin was a man of a highly original turn of mind; he was unusually well read in the physics of his day; he had a singular aptitude for seizing and illustrating natural analogies; and above all he was fully impressed with a sense of the important truths of a universal simplicity and harmony of design throughout the whole creation. It is true that his analogies are often imaginary, his theories untenable, and his illustrations overstrained; but many of his errors were inevitable in the state of natural history in his day, and the others are by no means sufficient to overbalance his claims to fame as a clear-sighted, ingenious, and often profound physiologist.… Many of his ideas were too far in advance of those of his contemporaries to be much esteemed when they appeared; but they are singularly in accordance with opinions which now are either altogether recognized, or are under discussion with a strong probability of being finally adopted. For instance, he particularly insisted on the close analogy between Plants and Animals in their functions; showing that the difference between the two kingdoms is the necessary consequence of the difference between their wants, necessities, and habits of life."—(Knight's English Cyclopædia.)
It is clear, therefore, that Charles Darwin's line of thought had been in some degree marked out by his Grandfather; who seems to have speculated (as many had done before him) upon the development of the whole series of Animal and Vegetable forms from a few originally simple types. But while the Grandfather pursued the subject too much in the spirit of a poet, grasping at fanciful analogies, and often satisfying himself with reasoning of the loosest character, it is the glory of his illustrious Grandson to have worked out his conclusions in the spirit of the truest philosophy, laying a sure basis of fact for every stage of his reasoning, always distinguishing clearly between what might be regarded as
proved and what is merely probable, but keeping ever in view the great fundamental principle (familiar to all who have studied the science of Evidence) that a proof no less cogent than direct demonstration, may be afforded by the convergence of separate and independent probabilities.*
The son of the author of the Zoonomia, Robert Waring Darwin, whose wife was a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, established himself as a physician at Shrewsbury; there Charles Darwin was born February 12th, 1809, and there he received his early education. The family habitually attended the Unitarian Chapel, of which the Rev. George Case (the father of my late friend William Arthur Case, a man greatly loved and esteemed by all who knew him) was minister; and several members of it were baptized by him (their names appearing in the register of that chapel), although Charles Darwin was baptized by the parish clergyman. It was from Mr. Case that Charles Darwin received his early education, up to his entrance into the Shrewsbury Grammar School, the then head master of which was the distinguished scholar Dr. Butler, afterwards Bishop of Lichfield. It can scarcely be doubted, says Mr. Myers (the present minister of the same chapel), "that "among the lanes and lovely walks which were found in "every direction round this town, he must have received "his first impression of the sweets and delights of nature "which he loved so dearly; and have commenced, and to "some extent carried on, those pursuits as a student of "nature, which, in after years, have become so marvellous "and wonderful in their results." For the Rev. John Yardley, the present vicar of St. Chad's, Shrewsbury, who was his schoolfellow under Dr. Butler, thus speaks of him:
* For example, no unprejudiced person who looks at half a dozen characteristic "flint implements," can entertain the least doubt of their having been shaped-out by a succession of blows struck by human hands with a definite purpose; although each one of the chippings taken by itself might be fairly attributed to accident.
—"In my mind's eye I still see him as he was when a schoolfellow—cheerful, good-tempered, and communicative. I can picture Darwin to myself when sitting near him. He used to appear among his class-fellows learning the lessons which were appointed by the master of that royal foundation of King Edward the Sixth. But no sooner had Darwin any leisure time after school hours, than the innate desire of the young naturalist lost no time or opportunity in examining the petals of a flower, or the leaves and properties of plants. I can imagine Charles Darwin holding up lilies in his hands, and saying to his companions, not in so many words, but in expressions of similar meaning—
"'See these lilies of the field,
"'How their leaves instruction yield.'"
Though the Vicar of St. Chad's now claims the man who was formerly branded as an Atheist by all "orthodox" Churches, as having been there "received into Christ's flock" by baptism, I have no doubt that Mr. Myers is correct in describing the early religious impressions by which his character was shaped, as consisting in "a reverent "belief in God, a personal fidelity on man's part to what "he believed to be true, the doing of duty, the being good "and doing good in practical life." "In so far as the "Churches taught this, he was in harmony with them; "but in respect to their dogmas, their theologies, and "religious speculations, he simply had nothing to say about "them. And thus, like his father and grandfather, while "in a certain sense he belonged to all Churches, yet none "could claim him as distinctively its own."
On leaving Shrewsbury Grammar School, in 1825, at the age of sixteen, Charles Darwin was sent to the University of Edinburgh, of which his father and grandfather were Medical graduates, with the view, it is believed, of preparing himself to follow their profession; but after remaining there
for two years he removed to Cambridge, where he took his B.A. degree in 1831. During his studentship it was his good fortune to fall under the influence of Prof. Henslow, who fostered not only his taste for Natural History, but his ardent love of truth; and impressed upon him that strictness of method in the pursuit of it, for which, with the noblest moral nature, the most genial temperament, and the most ardent philanthropy, the memory of Henslow will be kept green among those who knew and loved him as long as their own lives last. The master could not have had a more apt pupil, or the pupil a master better fitted to train the genius which might otherwise have strayed like that of his grandfather. In after times, as we shall presently see, these relations were reversed.
It was at Prof. Henslow's instance, that when Capt. Fitzroy (who was about to proceed on a four years' Surveying Voyage) was on the look-out for a volunteer Naturalist to accompany him, Charles Darwin offered himself for the post and was accepted. The results of the marine surveys executed by Capt. Fitzroy during the 'Voyage of the Beagle,' are impressed on the copper plates from which our Charts are printed; but the life-work of Charles Darwin, of which the fundamental conceptions were formed, and the actual commencement made, during that voyage, constitute a "monumentum are perennius," which will give it a place in the history of Mankind not less distinguished—as having opened out a New World of Thought—than that accorded to the memorable voyage in which Columbus discovered America. I well remember the delight with which I read Darwin's Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the various countries he had visited, first published in 1839; and still more his Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, which appeared in 1842, giving a doctrine of their formation, which, based upon a most careful observa-
tion of facts, completely revolutionised all previous ideas upon the subject, and led up to that great conception of "areas of subsidence" and "areas of elevation," which was at once recognised by Geologists as of fundamental importance in their science. He next published a description of the Volcanic Islands visited during the expedition; in which the relation of the areas of elevation to volcanic activity was further developed. And he then worked out, chiefly on the basis of his own observations, the Geological History of South America, of which his account was published in 1846. It was whilst this work was in preparation, that it was my privilege first to become personally acquainted with him; for the microscopic researches I had published on the Structure of Shells, led him to request me to examine for him some specimens of the great Pampas formation, the results of which inquiry are recorded in his work (pp. 77, 99). And after its publication, when he was turning his attention to Zoological and Botanical study, I had the pleasure of being able to aid him in providing himself with instruments for Microscopical research. He was at that time one of the Secretaries of the Geological Society, and had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society; and I therefore enjoyed frequent opportunities of meeting him.
The effect of his voyage, however, was in one respect very prejudicial to him; for the sea-sickness from which he constantly suffered left behind a permanent dyspepsia, which greatly impaired his power of scientific and literary labour. But I am not at all sure that this was otherwise than really beneficial to Science. For the infirmity of his health led him to withdraw altogether from the whirl of London life, and to pass his time in the tranquil seclusion of his country residence; where—fortunately possessing an ample competence, blessed with a wife (a Wedgwood cousin) in every way fitted to be his companion, and happy in a rising family, whose members, as they successively grew up under his
watchful care, came to be his efficient helpers in the collection of observations and the performance of experiments—he could calmly excogitate and mature his great ideas, thinking about them* the more, because he was able to do so little.
With most men such solitary contemplation, alike in Scientific as in other matters, is dangerous. The importance of continually "comparing notes" with others, is attested by all experience. But there was no such danger of going wrong in Charles Darwin's case. For, in the first place, he was thoroughly on his guard against it, as the following passage in one of his subsequent letters to me shows:—"When I think of the many cases of men who have studied one subject for years, and have persuaded themselves of the truth of the foolishest doctrines, I feel sometimes a little frightened whether I may not be one of these monomaniacs." But, however bold his speculations, he ran no risk of going persistently wrong; because he had so disciplined his mind in habits of exact thought and loyalty to truth, that he was constantly testing his conclusions, step by step, as he elaborated them, by their conformity, not with the views of other men, but with the teachings of Nature. His mind was omnivorous for facts; and the feebleness of his digestion of bodily food seemed even to invigorate his power of assimilating mental pabulum. To use a common proverb, "All was fish that came into his net." Nothing in Nature was too mean or trivial to interest him; he could utilise the most casual observation to fill up some gap in his fabric of thought.
The history of his Origin of Species, as told by himself in his original Introduction to it, shows that what he had himself observed during the voyage of the Beagle, as to "certain "facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting
* It is told of Newton that when some one asked him how he came to make his great discoveries, he replied, "By always thinking about them."
"South America, and in the Geological relations of the "present to the past inhabitants of that continent, seemed to "throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of "mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest "Philosophers;" and that on his return home it occurred to. him "that something might perhaps be made out on this "question, by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all "sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it." "After five years' work," he continues, "I allowed myself "to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; "these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions "which then seemed to me probable; from that period to "the present day (1859) I have steadily pursued the same "object."
But while keeping this continually before his mind, he was at the same time applying himself, in spite of his infirmity of health, to the investigation of the very difficult group of Cirripedia (Barnacles and Acorn-shells), to which he was led in the first instance by his desire to describe an abnormal type that he had found on the coast of South America. The Monograph of it which he produced after several years of laborious study, is a master-piece of Anatomical skill, Physiological acumen, and Zoological completeness; leaving nothing to be done for the exhaustive treatment of the group (as then known), save the study of its early Embryology, which neither the materials at Darwin's disposal, nor the methods of microscopical research then in use, could have enabled him to carry further. During the same period he also had in train a number of distinct series of researches, bearing in various ways upon the great idea which was ever before his thoughts: as, for example, his own investigations into the fertilization of Orchids; and the experiments on the breeding of Pigeons and Fowls, in carrying on which he engaged the assistance of my old fellow student, Mr. Tegetmeier. And it was known to his intimates
that he had it in contemplation to produce, as soon as he should feel himself prepared to do so with such completeness of proof as he thought required, a comprehensive Treatise, in which the question of Species should be firmly grappled with, and a determined effort made for its solution.
What has been the effect upon educated thought of Charles Darwin's elucidation of this difficulty, may perhaps be best apprehended by looking back to the state of perplexity in regard to it, which prevailed at the date of the publication of the 'Origin of Species.'
In my own student-days, the "fixity of species" was the generally accepted doctrine among Zoologists and Botanists: much greater stress being laid upon points of difference, than upon points of agreement; and far ore credit being attached to the multiplication of species by attention to minute differences, than to the reduction of their number by such a careful comparison of numerous individuals as proved these differences to be inconstant and gradational. So, again, it was the general creed of the older Palæontologists, that each Geological period had a Fauna and Flora of its own, every member of which must be specifically distinct from that which preceded and followed it; a complete extinction of all the types of life then existing having taken place at the end of every such period, and an entirely new creation having ushered in the next. This school was represented among Continental Naturalists, down to a recent period, by men of such eminence as M. D'Orbigny and Prof. Agassiz; but in Britain it died out long since. For all our most esteemed Zoologists and Botanists had for some time been studying the range of variation* of each reputed species, as
* Thus Mr. Bentham, in his British Flora, had reduced the number of species of British Flowering Plants from the 1,571 of Hooker and Arnott, and the 1,708 of Babington, to 1,285; and this mainly by the study of the range of variation of the three most diversified generic types, the Rose, Willow, and Bramble. So among the Foraminifera, certain types of which
one of the most essential features of its character; whilst our ablest Palæontologists had laboured with success in tracing the identity of numerous species, whose remains occur in Formations stratigraphically distinct. It was, indeed, a favourite doctrine of the late Prof. Edward Forbes, that there was a constant relation between the range of any species in Space and its range in Time; i.e., that in proportion as the constitution of any species adapted it to diversities in climate, food, &c., so as to permit its extension over a wide Geographical area, in that proportion would it have been able to accommodate itself to changes in the same conditions, so as to hold its ground through successive Geological periods. Further, it had come to be perceived that where the Stratigraphical continuity is the closest, there is the greatest resemblance between the successive Faunæ—as in the case of the different members of the Cretaceous series; and that where there is an interruption to such continuity in one locality, the gap is often bridged over elsewhere. And even as regards those great separations which were reputed to mark the terminations of the Palæozoic and of the Mesozoic series respectively, it was generally believed by Geologists of the newer school that the interruption was more apparent than real; depending merely on the want of the intermediate beds in that small portion of the Globe which has been hitherto explored. A Geologist who should have formed his notions of Stratigraphical succession from a country where Tertiary strata immediately overlie Silurian, would find that tremendous hiatus in great degree filled up by the intermediate series presented in England alone; and in like manner, if the British Geologist could carry his researches into areas which were submerged when Palæozoic and
had been for several years the objects of my own special study, I had shown not only that vast multitudes of the species, but even many of the genera, created by D'Orbigny, had no existence as permanently distinct types.
Cretaceous Europe were above the sea, he could doubtless find abundant evidence of gradational passage to the Mesozoic and Eocene. Such gradations, it is now well known, are not wanting within the limits of Europe, and are very obvious elsewhere.
Even in the Pre-Darwinian epoch, then, many of our most thoughtful Naturalists were disposed to admit (1) that no definite limits can be assigned to the variation of any species, without the careful collection and comparison of examples of the type throughout the entire extent of its Geographical and Geological range; and (2) that a very considerable amount of genetic continuity existed between the Faunas and Floras of successive strata, extending in all probability to what are known as representative species, as well as to types between which the gradational passage could be shown to be complete. And if these doctrines be admitted, it becomes obvious that the range of any true species in Geological time would be determined only by the degree of its capacity to accommodate itself to changes in the conditions of its existence; and that there is no a priori reason why Marine types, having a large capacity of this kind, should not maintain their existence through a long succession of Epochs. That existing species of Mollusca are met with even in the earliest Tertiary strata, and in increasing proportion in the later, had been demonstrated by M. Deshayes, and made by Sir C. Lyell the foundation of his classification of the Tertiary series. And that numerous types of Foraminifera and Diatomaceæ characteristic of the Cretaceous period are existing at the present time, had been shown by Prof. Ehrenberg. Messrs Parker and Rupert Jones, again, had shown the identity of even Triassic Foraminifera with types still inhabiting the Mediterranean.
However limited in scope were these Pre-Darwinian views, as compared with those developed in the 'Origin of
Species,' they had taken the same direction, and in some degree prepared the way for their reception; as had also the application to Palæontology of Von Baer's great law of Development from the general to the special, based on a recognition of numerous cases in which the earlier forms of certain great types presented generalised combinations of characters, which subsequently became more and more distinctly specialised in the progress of Geological time. But this was considered merely as an expression of the plan according to which the succession of Animal and Vegetable forms had been created; not as indicating any genetic continuity between the earlier and the later.
The doctrine of Evolution by genetic continuity was advocated (under the designation of 'Creation by Law') in a remarkable book published in 1844, entitled, 'Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.' But whilst the general doctrine was advanced with an ingenuity and plausibility that made a considerable impression on the public mind, it gained no adherents among those really qualified to judge of it; the author's data proving to be often so inaccurate, and his reasoning so unsound, as to render his conclusion altogether destitute of claim to be accepted as a valid scientific hypothesis. Whilst severely criticising it, however, from the scientific point of view, I had myself taken occasion to say that I could not see the least objection, either philosophical or theological, to the doctrine of Progressive Development, if only it could be shown to have a really scientific basis; since the development of the very highest type of Animal life from the very lowest, during the long succession of Geological ages, did not seem to me less credible than the fact of the development of that same type from a minute formless particle during a nine months' gestation. And I had further argued that it really involves a far higher idea of Creative Design, to believe that a small number of types of Organic Life originally introduced were continuously
evolved in the course of Geological Ages, according to a definite and unchanging plan, into a countless variety of forms suitable to the "conditions of existence" at each period, and finally into the Flora and Fauna of the present epoch, than to suppose that the changes which successively took place in those conditions necessitated interferences from time to time on the part of the Creator, in compensation, by the creation of new species, for the extinction of the old.*
Such were not merely my own views, but those of many thoughtful men with whom I was in intimate relation; and among these I may specially mention Dr. (now Sir Joseph) Hooker, Mr. Herbert Spencer, and Prof. Baden Powell; the treatment of the subject by the two latter of whom is thus characterised by Mr. Darwin himself:—
"Mr. Herbert Spencer (in an Essay originally published in March, 1852) has contrasted the theories of the Creation and the Development of organic beings with remarkable skill and force. He argues from the analogy of domestic productions, from the changes which the embryos of many species undergo, from the difficulty of distinguishing species from varieties, and from the principle of general gradation, that species have been modified; and he attributes the modification to change of circumstances. The author (1855) has also treated Psychology on the principle of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation."—"The 'Philosophy of Creation' has been treated in a masterly manner by the Rev. Baden Powell, in his Essays on the 'Unity of Worlds,' 1855. Nothing can be more striking than the manner in which he shows that the introduction of a new species is 'a regular, not a casual phenomenon,' or, as Sir John Herschel expresses it, 'a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous process.'"
It is well known that Mr. Darwin was, in a manner, forced
* These views were embodied in a series of Papers on the Harmony of Science and Religion, which I contributed to the Inquirer thirty-seven years ago; and I found them fully confirmed by the study of the Foraminifera, on which I was then engaged. For this study greatly extended my views as to the Range of Variation of Species; which I made the subject of a Lecture delivered at the Meeting of the British Association at Glasgow in 1855.
into a publication of his views which he himself considered premature, by the sending to the Linnæan Society of a paper on the same subject, written by Mr. A. R. Wallace, who was then pursuing his admirable Zoological and Botanical researches in the Eastern Archipelago. By these researches,. Mr. Wallace had been led, in common with Mr. Darwin, to, the idea of the "survival of the fittest" as furnishing the conditions under which specific distinctions, arising originally by natural variation, have come to be apparently fixed and permanent; but he did not venture to push his conclusions further. It was Mr. Darwin's Geological training in the school of Lyell, that showed him how, if adequate time could be allowed, the same might be assumed of those greater diversities, which differentiate genera, families, orders, and classes; and that led him to contend that "the imperfections of the Geological record" sufficiently accounted for the absence of those "missing links," which, on this view, must have intervened between types now widely separated. I shall have occasion presently to note (p. 519) in what a remarkable degree this contention has been justified by subsequent events. And I shall now briefly recall some of the incidents which followed the publication, in 1859, of the mere outline-sketch of the Author's views On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, of which the several treatises that have since appeared constitute the filling-up, each contributing to complete some particular portion of the picture.
To those who had been following the line of thought I have just indicated, the publication of this work was soon felt to be the inauguration of a new era in Biological Science. It gave a distinct shape to ideas on which many of us had been pondering as vague speculative possibilities. It put the doctrine of Progressive Development into the form of a definite Scientific Hypothesis; in favour of which a vast mass of evidence could be adduced, whilst the objections to its acceptance were shown to arise chiefly out of that
"imperfection of the Geological record" which we were fully prepared to admit. It showed that, on general grounds, the probability of a genetic continuity of Organic Life throughout the geological series,—the Fauna and Flora of any epoch being the product of "descent with modification" from that which preceded it,—is far greater than that of successive new creations. And to such as admitted this, it was plain that the conclusion can scarcely be evaded, that, as the tendency throughout has been clearly one of progressive differentiation or specialisation, the number of original types might have been very small; perhaps even a single primordial "jelly-speck" being the common ancestor of all.
The high scientific character which Darwin had acquired by his previous labours in Geology and Zoology, and the knowledge that in Botany also he had solved problems (in regard to the fertilization of Orchids) which had baffled even Robert Brown, ought to have secured a fair and candid consideration for the doctrine which he had so patiently and carefully worked out. And among such Men of Science in this country as were not trammelled by Theological prepossessions, he soon made more converts than he had expected. Every one who applied himself in good earnest to the study of the Origin of Species, found it to be composed of material very different from that of the Vestiges; for while many had spoken of having read through the latter as they would a novel, a single chapter of Darwin was found to be quite as much as any one could properly digest in a day. It happened that as I was thus slowly working my way through it, I several times met Prof. Henslow, who was similarly engaged; and as we discussed together the effects it was producing on each, we found them singularly accordant. At last Henslow expressed to me his full and complete acceptance of Darwin's doctrine, not as proved, but as highly probable; and he never shrank from publicly avowing this, even when
such avowal was enough to draw down upon him, as a beneficed Clergyman, no small amount of the odium theologicum. It was most interesting thus to find the quondam Master not only learning from his pupil, but taking up arms in his defence.
But neither he nor I could attach the importance which Mr. Darwin seemed to do, to the doctrine of "Natural Selection," or the "survival of the fittest," as in itself an adequate explanation of the progressive modifications that have produced the long and diversified succession of Animal and Vegetable forms, which have peopled our globe from the first appearance of life on its surface to the present time. For it seemed obvious to us, that Natural Selection can only take effect in perpetuating certain varietal modifications already existing; and that it gives no account of their origination. That "like produces like" is certainly the rule; and it cannot be justly said that any exceptional variations which the offspring may present are "spontaneous." Every such effect requires a cause; and Natural Selection cannot assuredly be the cause of what existed before it could operate.* Consequently we must look to forces acting either within or without the Organism, as the real agents in producing whatever developmental variations it may take-on. Of the action of such forces, we at present know scarcely anything; but Mr. Darwin has himself most fully recognised the need of them. His latest utterance on the subject is that "at the present time there is hardly any question in Biology of more importance than that of the nature and causes of Variability." I
* It is, I think, greatly to be regretted that some of the more ardent advocates of the Evolution-doctrine are continually (by neglect of this important distinction) leading their disciples to look at "natural selection" as the cause of particular adaptations of structure to function; whereas it simply expresses the fact that the creatures in which those adaptations had come to exist, would be the fittest to survive, and would be likely to transmit them hereditarily. How they came to exist, natural selection does not in the least explain.
cannot, then, be accused of undervaluing Darwin's work, in pointing out that what I originally felt to be its weakest part still remains incomplete.
But further, the instances adduced by Mr. Darwin as results of artificial selection, were cases of varietal modification only; and he was unable to prove that the character which most strongly marks what the Naturalist had been accustomed to accept as a true species,—namely, its incapacity for producing with any congener an intermediate self-sustaining race,—is otherwise than fixed and permanent. He was able, indeed, to show that varieties placed under artificial conditions, may come to be so far differentiated constitutionally, as to breed together with difficulty. But of the actual origination of what a philosophical Botanist or Zoologist would accept as a true species, incapable of breeding except with its own type, he was unable to produce any instance whatever. If, then, "Natural Selection" could not be shown to have produced a new species, still less could it be looked to as a vera causa for the establishment of still greater differences. And this was triumphantly put forward by his opponents, as an objection of sufficient weight to overthrow his whole doctrine.
Their triumph, however, was short-lived; for whilst Darwin was able, in his subsequent publications, to cite many instances in which the protracted influence of new conditions on the successive generations of a Race, has actually produced most remarkable modifications, not only in external characters, but in internal structure and physiological habit, the prosecution of Palæontological inquiry, under the influence of the doctrine of Genetic Continuity, soon began to accumulate a mass of evidence in its favour, which has now become simply overwhelming. It may be safely affirmed, indeed, that every new Palæontological discovery tends in this direction. This is especially seen in
the gradual divarication of the Ruminant and Pachyderm Orders, and of the Family subdivisions of the latter, which can now be continuously traced through the Tertiary and Quaternary series. Every Naturalist knows that the Anoplotherium and other Mammals whose fossil remains occur in the Eocene Tertiaries of Paris, presented most remarkable combinations of Pachyderm and Ruminant characters, which are completely separated and specialised in Pliocene and Post-pliocene genera. Some years ago, a remarkable collection of Mammalian fossils of Miocene age was discovered at Pikermi in Greece; and the study of these, most carefully prosecuted by M. Gaudry (of the Jardin des Plantes), showed that they supplied such a number of "missing links," that the Genetic derivation of the later more specialised types from the earlier more generalised could scarcely remain a matter of doubt to any Naturalist not previously wedded to the doctrine of Special Creations. On the basis of a very careful examination of the whole series as completed by recent American discoveries, Prof. Huxley has been able to construct a "Pedigree of the Horse," so complete that nothing is now wanting to its entire continuity from the Eocene period to the present.
Again, the Deep-Sea researches in which it has been my privilege to bear a part, have shown that a large number of Cretaceous Echinoderms, Corals, Sponges, and Foraminifera, as well as of Tertiary Mollusca, supposed to be extinct, survives in the depths of the Ocean at the present time; these types being in some instances specifically identical, whilst in others the modification they have undergone is of such a limited kind, as to justify their being accounted representative species. This has been the result, not merely of the Dredging Expeditions conducted by my colleagues (Sir Wyville Thomson and Mr. J. Gwyn Jeffreys) and myself, but also of the like explorations carried on by the United States Coast Survey in the Gulf of Mexico and else-
where One of the most characteristic examples of it is presented in the little Rhizocrinus Lofotensis; the discovery of which, by G. Sars, off the coast of Norway, in 1866, gave the start to our own work. For this is clearly a dwarfed and deformed representative of the highly-developed Apiocrinus (Pear-encrinite) of the Bradford Clay (Wiltshire Oolite); which, as my friend Wyville Thomson said, "seems to have been going to the bad for millions of years," under the influence of a reduced temperature.
To most English Naturalists it seems premature at present to attempt to construct a pedigree of the Animal Kingdom generally, as has been done by Prof. Haeckel and other Naturalists in Germany. The Palæontological as well as the Developmental history of each group must be much more completely ascertained, before any save tentative arrangements of this kind can be formed. But every addition to our knowledge points in this direction. Thus, while some of us found no difficulty in believing that all existing Birds have arisen from one common stock, the derivation of that stock from a common stirps with the Reptilian at first appeared almost inconceivable; Birds and Reptiles being physiologically almost the antitheses of each other. But the discovery of the Archæopteryx first showed that a true Bird may have a prolonged and distinctly jointed tail. The careful comparison made by Mr. Seeley of the skull of the Pterodactyl with that of the Fowl, led him to conclude that the former must have had a development of brain scarcely inferior to the latter, and was likely, therefore, to have had a circulation as vigorous and complete as that of Birds. And the researches of Prof. Marsh in the Cretaceous strata of North America have brought to light a vast number of "missing links," in the form of Pterodactyls which resemble Birds in the want of teeth, and of Birds which correspond with Reptiles in the possession of them. Further, the development of the Struthious Birds, which
were formerly supposed to have the closest Mammalian affinities, is now found to be much more Reptilian than Mammalian; while certain Dinosaurian Reptiles present distinct indications of progress towards Birds. And thus the evidence now in course of accumulation already affords adequate support to the idea of the descent even of Birds and Reptiles from a common Ancestor Many other instances might be adduced of the like character.
It is one most remarkable characteristic of this doctrine, that it suggests new inquiries which would otherwise have not been thought of,—just as when the "perturbations" in the movements of the Planets, which were predicted as necessary results of their mutual attraction, came to be recognised so soon as they were looked for with adequate observing power; the results of these inquiries being always in its favour. "Whoever," said Mr. Darwin, in his preface to a work published not long before his death (Dr. Weissmann's 'Studies in the Theory of Descent'), "compares "the discussions in this volume with those published twenty "years ago on any branch of Natural History, will see how "wide and rich a field for study has been opened up through "the principle of Evolution; and such fields, without the "light shed upon them by this principle, would for long or "for ever have remained barren."
It was fortunate for the Darwinian doctrine, that it at once secured the powerful advocacy of Prof. Huxley; whose vigorous pen and trenchant speech proved him a match for the ablest of those opponents, whose Theological prepossessions led them to test its truth by its conformity with the Biblical record; and whose Palæontological studies have since furnished a large body of additional evidence in its favour. By Lyell, our most philosophic Geologist, and by Hooker, our most distin-
guished Botanist, it was at once provisionally accepted; and whilst the 'Quarterly' and the 'Edinburgh' condemned it in no measured terms, I strove to defend it in the 'National' and 'Medico-Chirurgical' Reviews, for my articles in which I had the pleasure of receiving Darwin's cordial thanks,—my acceptance of his views being especially valued by him as the testimony of a Physiologist. The letters which I had from him at this period express the greatest solicitude for the fair consideration of his doctrines, and the warmest gratitude to those who had taken up the advocacy of them; while from any personal bitterness against his opponents, they are entirely free. "I have "been of late," he wrote to me, "sufficiently well pitched "into about my book to please anybody. But I care "very little; which I entirely and absolutely owe to the "generous and kind support of a very few men. When I "reflect (as I often do) that such men as Lyell, "yourself, Hooker, and Huxley, go a certain way with "me, nothing will persuade me that I am so wholly and "egregiously in error as many of my reviewers think." An eminent Botanist of the United States, Prof. Asa Gray, early expressed not only his entire acceptance of Darwin's views, but his complete repudiation of the atheistic character which "orthodox" Theologians were attributing to them. The outcry which was raised among these, afforded another proof of the narrowing and perverting influence of any dogmatic systems which men pledge themselves to uphold. There is no need now to go back over the melancholy story of the slanderous attacks which were made on the greatest interpreter of the "Order of (Organic) Nature" who has ever stood between its Author and Man; but they ought to be remembered as a lesson to the Theologians of the future. No one has now ventured to throw a stone at Darwin's grave; since for any to do so, would bring down upon him general condemnation. The revolution in the public
feeling of this country, which has been silently and almost insensibly going on, but of which his departure from among us has brought out the manifestation, has been a surprise no less to his friends, than it must have been to his former opponents. The highest eulogies have been pronounced upon him from pulpits in which he was once reviled; and his life, no less than his work, has been held up as a model for imitation, where his character as a man was formerly included in the depreciation of his achievements as a philosopher.
I cannot but believe that this remarkable change is due in no small degree to that which has always forcibly struck me in his mode of dealing with opponents,—his entire unconcern as to personal calumny; which seemed to affect him only as it might militate against the fair consideration of his views, or give pain to his family. Of any scientific arguments which he deemed worthy of attention, he would always take full cognizance. Sometimes he could readily dispose of them, by showing that they either had a wrong basis of fact, or were unstably built-up on a right one. But sometimes they started what he frankly admitted to be difficulties; and then, instead of evading these, he would give them their fullest weight. No testimony could be stronger or warmer than that which is borne by his honourable opponent, M. de Quatrefages (in the obituary notice which he drew up at the request of the President of the French Academy of Sciences), to Darwin's full recognition of the facts and reasonings which militate in favour of those who still uphold the doctrine of the "fixity of species":—"Il s'empresse de les leur signaler avec une loyauté qui a quelque chose de chevaleresque.… Cette bonne foi constante donne à certaines pages de Darwin un charme particulier. On suit avec intérêt, jusque daps ses écarts, ce penseur, tout occupé de vous imposer ses croyances, et qui n'en met pas moins entre vos mains, avec un véritable
"candeur, les armes les plus propres a les combattre. On pose ses livres avec un redoublement de haute estime pour le savant, d'affectueuse sympathie pour l'homme." Those only who have been themselves the objects of similar obloquy, can fully appreciate the dignified self-restraint which kept him silent under imputations which most would have burned to repudiate, and scornful taunts which would naturally call forth no less scornful replies. But he would never be turned by these from the "even tenor of his way:" deeming it more for the interests of Truth that he should devote all his energies to the fuller exposition of his doctrine, the collection of further evidence in its support, and the removal of the scientific difficulties that impeded its progress; than that he should waste his strength in personal recrimination, which would never extort justice from such as were determined to put him in the wrong, and would but weaken, instead of strengthening, his scientific position. This self-restraint seems to me to have formed the climax to the most exalted nature it has ever been my happiness to encounter. Those who knew Charles Darwin most intimately, are unanimous in their appreciation of the unsurpassed nobility and beauty of his whole character. In him there was no "otherside." Not only was he the Philosopher who has wrought a greater revolution in human thought within a quarter of a century than any man of our time—or perhaps of any time,—and has given what is proving the death-blow to Theological systems which had been clinging yet more tenaciously about men's shoulders because of the efforts made to shake them off; but as a Man he exemplified in his own life that true religion, which is deeper, wider, and loftier than any Theology. For this not only inspired him with the devotion to Truth which was the master-passion of his great nature; but made him the most admirable husband, brother, and father; the kindest friend, neighbour, and master; the genuine lover, not only of his fellow-
man, but of every creature. Of no one could it be more appropriately said:—
"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small;"
for the whole attitude of his mind was that of humble reverence for the Great Power which "made and loveth all."
WILLIAM B. CARPENTER.
Return to homepage
Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
File last updated 2 July, 2012