RECORD: Anon. 1882. [Obituary of] Darwin. Manufacturer and builder 14, Issue 6 (June): 123.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed (single key) by AEL Data. RN1


[page] 123

Darwin.

Since our last issue, the world has lost the greatest man this century has produced—the man who has stamped the impress of his life-work deeper than any other upon the thought of his time, and who will doubtless be ranked by after generations with the most illustrious.

Darwin was not, as is popularly believed, the originator of the theory of evolution; but he was the first to present it to the world in a form to command the attention and respectful consideration of naturalists. That he succeeded where others had failed is due to several causes. His work came at a time when the world of science was prepared to receive it, and his wonderful faculty of minute and accurate observation, aided by his equally wonderful industry, enabled him to fortify the theory which he advanced, with such a wealth of new and remarkable facts, that the acceptance of his views, though it was not without bitter opposition, soon became general. The publication of his great work on "The Origin of Species" initiated as profound a revolution in the study of natural history, as in its time the announcement of the heliocentric theory of Copernicus created in the science of astronomy. Its effects have been even more far-reaching, for the theory of evolution, involving as it does the question of the origin of the human race, trenched so decidedly upon the domain which the theologians had hitherto deemed their exclusive property, and brushed aside with profane hand so many of the childish though venerable traditions respecting the origin of living races of animals and plants, and especially of mankind, which had hitherto been held as sacred, that the audacious iconoclast could not fail to have all the vials of wrath known to theologians poured out upon his devoted head.

As has been the case in every controversy between theology and science, the latter triumphed, and victory finally perched on the banners of the evolutionists. What the theologians at first denounced and execrated as incompatible with revealed religion—subversive of all religious belief, atheistical, etc., etc., through the entire gamut of emphasis, they have finally, as the truth made its way in spite of them, learned to tolerate, and, in the case of some of the wiser heads of their party, even to embrace. And one of the most singular and instructive lessons for the philosopher and student, is that which is afforded by the present conciliatory attitude of the theological party toward the views of the origin of the diversities in living races, with which the name of Darwin is identified, as contrasted with the execretion and abhorrence with which they were referred to less than ten years ago. The explanation of this change of front is not difficult to assign. Then the theory of evolution was struggling for recognition, and was encountering strong opposition among the ranks of the naturalists themselves. Such eminent men as Agassiz, whose life-work was identified with the support of the old Cuvierian view of the independent creation of each specific living form, could not, or would not, lend ear to the new doctrine, and threw the whole weight of their great influence against it. The younger generation of naturalists, just rising into prominence, and unfettered by the lifetime of devotion to ancient theories which warped the jugment or hampered the freedom of action of their elders, were able to appreciate the true value of the new departure initiated by the publication of "The Origin of Species." They accepted it with enthusiasm, added to and extended the list of causes that have been operative in preserving and perpetuating species and varieties, gave an impulse to the study of natural history, that advanced it farther within the past two decades than in a previous century, and so strengthened and demonstrated the truth of the doctrine first formulated in reasonable form by Darwin, of the origin of the present forms of animal and vegetable life from preëxisting forms, that to-day its acceptance among naturalists is all but universal.

To-day, he who less than ten years ago was the recipient of more theological abuse and villification than any man who has lived since Judas Iscariot, rests in lionored sepulcher within the sacred precinets of Westminster Abbey. This fact alone speaks volumes for the change of sentiment that has taken place in the very stronghold of orthodoxy.

It is highly interesting, and not a little amusing, to one who has followed this latest conflict of theology with science through its several phases of contempt, execration, abhorrence, toleration, and final acceptance, to learn that eminent dignitaries of the English Church, in commenting on the life and work of the great apostle of evolution, have made the discovery that "that the theory of evolution, at least in its most important aspects, has come to be recognized as not inconsistent with creation or revelation." Even Dr. McCosh, of Princeton, of whom we had occasion to speak some time ago in connection with his effort to cast the responsibility for the defective sewerage of the college buildings, and its terrible consequences, upon Providence, has been so far persuaded as to modestly acknowledge that "men of large minds" (meaning thereby, obviously, McCosh and a few others) "have found nothing inconsistent in the assumption that God works in a secondary way through these operations of nature." This sort of talk, and the utterances above referred to, appear to indicate that the leaders of the theological party, seeing the folly of further opposition to the theory of evolution, are endeavoring to let themselves down as easy as possible. Were it not for the eminent respectability of the gentlemen in question, we would be tempted to say that the only interest that men of science take in their sayings and doings respecting this subject, is due to the spectacle it affords, of so many "men of large minds" industriously engaged in "eating crow."


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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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