RECORD: Haeckel, Ernst. 1882. Professor Haeckel on Darwin [from Nature]. The Times (28 September): 6.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed (single key) by AEL Data 2010, corrections by John van Wyhe 2.2012. RN1


[page] 6

PROFESSOR HÆCKEL ON DARWIN.

In Nature of to-day appears a report of the remarkable address given by Professor Hæckel at the Eisenach meeting last week of the German Association of Naturalists on the theories of Darwin, Goethe, and Lamarck. The address is mainly devoted to Darwin and Darwinism, and of both, we need scarcely say, Professor Hæckel has the highest estimate. He said:—

"When, five months ago, the sad intelligence reached us by telegraph from England that on April 19 Charles Darwin had concluded his life of rich activity there thrilled with rare unanimity through the whole scientific world the feeling of an irreparable loss. Not only did the innumerable adherents and scholars of the great naturalist lament the decease of the head master who had guided them, but even the most esteemed of his opponents had to confess that one of the most significant and influential spirits of the century had departed. This universal sentiment found its most eloquent expression in the fact that immediately after his death the English newspapers of all parties, and pre-eminently his Conservative opponents, demanded that the burial-place of the deceased should be in the Valhalla of Great Britain, the national Temple of Fame, Westminster Abbey; and there, in point of fact, he found his last resting-place by the side of the kindred-minded Newton. In no country of the world, however, England not excepted has the reforming doctrine of Darwin met with so much living interest or evoked such a storm of writings, for and against, as in Germany. It is, therefore, only a debt of honour we pay if at this year's assembly of German naturalists and physicians we gratefully call to remembrance the mighty genius who has departed, and bring home to our minds the loftiness of the theory of nature to which he has elevated us. And what place in the world could be more appropriate for rendering this service of thanks than Eisenach, with its Wartburg, this stronghold of free inquiry and free opinion! As in this sacred spot 360 years ago Martin Luther, by his reform of the Church in its head and members, introduced a new era in the history of civilization, so in our days has Charles Darwin, by his reform of the doctrine of development, constrained the whole perception, thought, and volition of mankind into new and higher courses. It is true that personally, both in his character and influence, Darwin has more affinity to the meek and mild Melancthon than to the powerful and inspired Luther. In the scope and importance, however, of their great work of reformation the two cases were entirely parallel, and in both the success marks a new epoch in the development of the human mind. Consider, first, the irrefragable fact of the unexampled success which Darwin's reform of science has achieved in the short space of 23 years! for never before since the beginning of human science has any now theory penetrated so deeply to the foundation of the whole domain of knowledge or so deeply affected the most cherished personal convictions of individual students; never before has a new theory called forth such vehement opposition and so competely overcome it in such short time. The depicture of the astounding revolution which Darwin has accomplished in the minds of men in their entire view of nature and conception of the world will form an interesting chapter in the future history of the doctrine of development."

Describing a visit which he paid to the late Mr. Darwin in 1866, Professor Hæckel says:—

"In Darwin's own carriage, which he had thoughtfully sent for my convenience to the railway station, I drove one sunny morning in October through the graceful, hilly landscape of Kent, which, with the chequered foliage of its woods, with its stretches of purple heath, yellow broom and evergreen oaks, was arrayed in the fairest autumnal dress. As the carriage drew up in front of Darwin's pleasant country-house, clad in a vesture of ivy and embowered in elms, there stepped out to meet me from the shady porch, overgrown with creeping plants, the great naturalist himself, a tall and venerable figure with the broad shoulders of an Atlas supporting a world of thoughts, his Jupiter-like forehead highly and broadly arched, as in the case of Goethe, and deeply furrowed by the plough of mental labour; his kindly, mild eyes looking forth under the shadow of prominent brows; his amiable mouth surrounded by a copious silver-white beard. ... The cordial, prepossessing expression of the whole face, the gentle, mild voice, the slow, deliberate utterance, the natural and naïve train of ideas which marked his conversation, captivated my whole heart in the first hour of our meeting, just as his great work had formerly, on my first reading it, taken my whole understanding by storm. I fancied a lofty world-sage out of Hellenic antiquity—a Socrates or Aristotle—stood alive before me. Our conversation, of course, turned principally on the subject which lay nearest the hearts of both—on the progress and prospects of the history of development. Those prospects at that time—16 years ago—were bad enough, for the highest authorities had for the most part set themselves against the new doctrines. With touching modesty, Darwin said that his whole work was but a weak attempt to explain in a natural way the origin of animal and vegetable species, and that he should not live to see any noteworthy success following the experiment, the mountain of opposing prejudice being so high. He thought I had greatly over-estimated his small merit, and that the high praise I had bestowed on it in my 'General Morphology' was far too exaggerated. We next came to speak of the numerous and violent attacks on his work, which were then in the ascendant. In the case of many of those pitiful botches one was, in fact, quite at a loss whether more to lament the want of understanding and judgment they showed or to give the greater vent to the indignation one could not but feel at the arrogance and presumption of those miserable scribblers who pooh-poohed Darwin's ideas and bespattered his character. I had then, as on later occasions, repeatedly expressed my just scorn of the contemptible clan. Darwin smiled at this, and endeavoured to calm me with the words 'My dear young friend, believe me one must have compassion and forbearance with such poor creatures; the stream of truth they can only hold back for a passing instant, but never permanently stem.' In my later visits to Down in 1876 and 1879 I had the pleasure of being able to relate to Darwin the mighty progress which in the past intervals his doctrines had made in Germany. Their decisive outburst happened more rapidly and more completely here with us than in England, for the reason chiefly that the power of social and religious prejudice is not nearly so strong here as among our cousins across the Channel, who are better placed than ourselves. Darwin was perfectly well aware of all this; though his knowledge of our language and literature was defective, as he often complained, yet he had the highest appreciation of our intellectual treasures."


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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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