RECORD: Anon. 1882. [Obituaries of Darwin] Morning Post (21 April).

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed (single key) by AEL Data 11.2011. RN1


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Professor Darwin, one of the greatest naturalists of our time, died on Wednesday at his residence near Bromley, Kent, in his 74th year.

Yesterday saw the quiet ending of Mr. DARWIN'S life. He passed that life in elaborating one central idea, and he remained in the world long enough to see the whole course of modern science altered by his speculations. The extreme conclusions formulated with modesty by him and with aggressive confidence by his disciples can hardly be universally accepted; but his most ardent opponents allow that he has never been excelled as an observer, and that his discoveries gave an impulse to biological research similar to the impulse given to mathematics by the discovery of fluxions. The fierce controversies which once made his name a kind of by-word have died away. The opposing parties can never entirely agree, but even those who cannot believe that DARWIN propounded an absolute truth are willing to grant that his theory is a good working hypothesis for naturalists. It is now twenty-there years since "The Origin of Species" was published. No other book ever caused a more profound sensation, and probably no book was ever received with such extreme manifestations of scientific enthusiasm and scientific incredulity. The central idea of which we have spoken had been as it were "in the air" for more than a century. An obscure tract written By DIDEROT contains a most forcible and suggestive sketch of the whole theory; but DIDEROT supplied no facts, whereas DARWIN gave an exhaustive series of observations. LAMAROK and several other French observers had followed on the lines sketched out by DIDEROT; while Mr. WALLACE actually formulated a theory of Natural Selection which is identical with DARWIN'S. But the brilliant speculators were eclipsed by the patient observer, and Mr. DARWIN will always be considered as the first biologist of his day. With characteristic generosity Mr. WALLACE has declared that only one man in England was capable of writing "The Origin of Species." The history of the book is very curious. Mr. DARWIN was cruising off the coast of South America in the Beagle. The study of certain fossils led him to compare living forms with the forms of the creatures whose remains were found in the rocks. Then his great idea took possession of his mind, and he at once saw that the work of his life was fixed. For twenty years he did not permit himself to frame any definite speculation; he spent the whole time in collecting facts. Then he placed the results of his research before Sir CHARLES LYELL, and LYELL told his that WALLACE was on the same track. As a consequence of this information "The Origin of Species" was speedily published, and the author at once become famous.

Considering the strong words that have been used about the great treatise, it is strange to see how obvious and simple are most of the conclusions advanced in its pages. As Professor FISKE has pointed out in his profound "Cosmic Philosophy," the whole book resolves itself into certain simple propositions, most of which are demonstrated truths. We present these propositions in order: More organisms perish than survive. No two individuals are exactly alike. Individual peculiarities are transmissible. Those individuals whose peculiarities bring them into close adaptation with their surroundings survive and transmit them to their offspring. The survival of the fittest thus tends to maintain an equilibrium between organisms and their surroundings. The environment of every group of organisms is steadily changing. Every group of organisms must therefore change in average characters under penalty of extinction. A change set up in one part of an organism necessitates changes in another part. These changes are complicated by the law that structures are nourished in proportion to their use, and the changes thus set up must alter the character of any group of organisms. These are propositions which a child can understand. After they are granted, DARWIN simply asks us to believe that since the appearance of life time enough has elapsed to produce all the variation of species now seen. The volume closes with a beautiful and devout expression of belief in the divine wisdom that orders the life of the world. But, in spite of DARWIN'S simple faith, his views were twisted by unwise men. By some sad irony of fortune the most reverent of thinkers was injured by rash disciples who misunderstood him. The man who had done more than any other writer to show the marvellous design that runs through creation was represented as believing in mere anarchy. This error has long ago passed away, but it must have grieved DARWIN much while it lasted.

After "The Origin of Species" had made its mark in Europe, the author carried his theory one step further. In the same dry, emotionless style he put forward his hypothesis concerning the descent of man from lower forms of life. The shock given by this audacious guess (for it was but a guess) can never be forgotten, and echoes of indignant remonstrance may still be heard. DARWIN had not ventured to claim any certainty, but his German followers at once proceeded to speak as though our kindred with the ape were assured. Those who read original work and neglect noisy imitations will find that the master worked very warily, and said little or nothing that could hurt the most sensitive. He merely opened a discussion, and his preliminary discourse was uttered with a full sense of the vast responsibility he had taken upon him. We may safely leave all these matters of controversy to be decided by time. The rest of the eminent naturalist's work has never been made a subject for quarrelling. He spent all his waking hours in constant observation of Nature. His weak health forced him to live in seclusion, and he passed his quiet days in striving to learn the secrets of life. Every monograph he published was recognised as a masterpiece. He wrote about the variation of plants and animals under domestication, the movements of plants, and the uses of insects in fertilising flowers. His last book was a fine treatise on the action of earthworms in modifying the surface of the earth by assimilating vegetable matter. This book allows the author at his best. His patience and acuteness make the whole volume a triumph of scientific demonstration, and we do not know any work that is more calculated to give the most sceptical of men a sense of the mystery and wonder of creation. We cannot for a moment recognise all DARWIN'S conclusions as valid, but we own that he strove after truth, and that he deserves to be honoured for his loyalty and unostentatious devotion. He has created a new literature, and a new school of thought. If, as LORD BEACONSFIELD said, a great man is one who changes the spirit of his age, then DARWIN was a great man, and we who cannot respect all his theories can admire his life.

DEATH OF PROFESSOR DARWIN.

The death of Professor Charles Darwin, at his residence, Down House, Down, near Bromley, Kent, took place on Wednesday last at the age of 73. He had been suffering for some time past from weakness of the heart, but has continued to do a slight amount of experimental work up to the last. He was taken ill on the night of Tuesday last, when he had an attack of pain in the chest with faintness and nausea. The latter lasted with more or less intermission during Wednesday, and culminated in his death, which took place at about four o'clock on Wednesday afternoon. He remained fully conscious to within a quarter of an hour of his death. His wife and several of his children were present at the closing scene. The eminent philosopher leaves, besides his widow, a family of five sons and two daughters. Mr. Darwin was born at Shrewsbury on February 12, 1899, being the son of Dr. Robert Waring Darwin, F.R.S., physician of that town. His grandfather was the celebrated Dr. Erasmus Darwin, F.R.S., the poetical, philanthropic, and scientific physician of Lichfield, whose "Botanic Garden," "Temple of Nature," "Zoonomia," and "Origin of Society," were once extensively read and greatly admired. Mr. Darwin's mother was a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, the modern founder of the English pottery manufacture. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School under Dr. Butler, afterwards Bishop of Lichfield; he went to the University of Edinburgh in 1825, remained there two years, and next entered Christ's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1832, and M.A. in 1837. His hereditary aptitude for the study of natural science was early perceived by his instructors; the Rev. Mr. Henslow, professor of botany at Cambridge, recommended him therefore to Captain Fitzroy and the Lords of the Admiralty, in 1831, when a naturalist was to be chosen to accompany the second surveying expedition of her Majesty's ship Beagle in the Southern Seas. The first expedition, that of the Adventure and Beagle (1826–30), had explored the coasts of Patagonia; the Beagle, which sailed again December 27, 1831, and returned to England October 22, 1836, made a scientific circumnavigation of the globe. Mr. Darwin served without salary, and party paid his own expenses on condition that he should have the entire disposal of his zoological, botanical, and geological collections. On returning to England he published a "Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History" of the various countries he had visited. This originally appeared with a general account of the voyage by Captain Fitzroy, but was afterwards published separately. Since that time Mr. Darwin has prosecuted his scientific investigations in England, and for many years past he has resided near Farnborough, in Kent. In addition to numerous papers on various scientific subjects, Mr. Darwin edited the "Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle," and wrote three separate volumes on gelogy—viz., "The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs," 1842, second edition 1874; "Geological Observations on Volcanic Islands" 1844; and "Geological Observations on South America," 1846. The most important of Mr. Darwin's subsequent works are a "Monograph of the Family Cirrhipedis ," published by the Ray Society in 1851-8, and on the "F Species," by the Palæontographical Society. His "Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection," published in 1839, which has gone through several editions at home, and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, and other European languages, gave rise to much controversy. In this bold and ingenious essay he propounded his famous philosophical theory, of which the main proposition is that, all the various forms of vegetable and animal life, past or present, have been produced by a series of gradual changes in natural descent from patents to offspring. According to him all the animals, birds, reptiles, insects, fishes, and zoophyses have descended from at most four or five prozenitors; all the plants from no greater number. But analogy would lead to the belief that all animals and plants have together descended from some one prototype. Mr. Darwin's subsequent works have had for their object the supplying the data on which he founded his conclusions. A treatise on "The Fertili of Orchids." published in 1862, was followed by "D ticated Animals and Cultivated Plants; or the Principles of Variation, Inheritance, Reversion, Crossing Interbreeding, and Selection, under Domestication, in 1887. In 1871 he published the "Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex," two volumes, a new edition of which was published in 1874, in one volume large additions. These volumes fell like a b into the camp of orthodoxy, for in them Mr. Darwin unblushingly averred, or sought to prove, that man is descended from a hairy quadruped, furnished and pointed ears, probably arboreal in its habits." This caused a great sensation, and was much abused; but whatever exception may be taken to his conclusions, there can be no doubt that it was marked by great accuracy as to facts and their bearing, and conspicuous honesty of purpose, for his knowledge was not less remarkable than his caution in statement. Mr. Darwin's subsequent works were "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," published in 1873: " Plants and Climbing Plants," in 1875; "The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Animal Kingdom," in 1876; "Different Forms of Flowers in Plants of the same Species," in 1877; the "Movement of Plants," in 1880, a continuation of his investigations on the movement and habits of climbing plants; and in October last, "The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms," An idea runs through the whole of these, viz., that plants and animals are brought under the operation of the same great laws. Most of the peculiarities of the latter are shown to be shared by the former; plants move; they are sensitive; they have appetites; they are carnivorous. All this he clearly demonstrated, and more that plants and animals have acquired habits of moving at stated periods, and that many of the action of the former closely resemble the unconscious movements of the latter. Many other naturalists before him had studied the obscure part of plant life with more or less closeness, but it was left to Mr. Darwin, assisted by Mr. Francis Darwin, to so extend his observations view of the matter. It need hardly be said that Dr. Darwin was a member of most of the principal scientific societies, both at home and abroad. He had also obtained the Royal Copley medals from the Royal Society, and the Wollaston Palladium from the Geological Society, and had lately received many high distinctions, including the Prussian Order "Pour le Mérite" in 1871, degrees form the Dutch University of Leyden in 1875, and from that of Cambridge (LL.D.) in 1877, the corresponding membership of the French Academy in 1875, and also the corresponding membership of the Academy of Vienna. Dr. Darwin married in 1831 his cousin, Miss Emma Wedgwood, a granddaughter of the celebrated Josiah Wedgwood before referred to, by whom he had a large family.


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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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