RECORD: Anon 1882. [Obituary of Darwin]. Daily Telegraph (21 April). CUL-DAR216.7a

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


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Mr. Charles Robert Darwin, M.A., F.R.S., died at Down House, Kent, on Wednesday. He had been unwell, but was believed to be recovering. On Tuesday night he had a relapse, and died in the course of next day. Mr. Darwin was born on Feb. 12, 1809, and was thus in his seventy-fourth year. It was in 1859 that his great work on the "Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection" was published; the sequent work, "Descent of Man and Selections in Relation to Sex" not appearing until 1871.

CHARLES DARWIN is dead. Our great philosopher and naturalist departed this life on Wednesday at his residence in Kent. Thus passes away from the age which he has adorned and enlightened a man who, perhaps, more than any other among his contemporaries, stamped the sign of his genius upon current thought. There is no civilised city, town, or hamlet where learning and science are cultivated, but where the tidings of this loss will awaken emotions of respectful and admiring regret for one who filled so grand a place in the world of thought, and was so splendid a discoverer, so indefatigable a student of Nature, so faithful a votary of truth, and so bold an extender of the circle of human knowledge. This renowned Englishman has died at an age which might seem advanced, but for the fact that his vigorous intellect had shown no signs of weariness or weakness. Quite recently there appeared from his pen a volume on Earth-worms, and on the prodigious work which those creatures execute in the service of the globe. Like all his labours, this book contained amazing stores of observation, accumulated during many years; but its literary style was as fresh and its reasoning as clear and persuasive as any previous essays of that noble intellect We might well have expected, therefore, many another rich' gift from this same treasure-house—many another harvest of his life-long meditation. But the world of science will receive no more philosophical wealth from our famous countryman's hands. After a long and glorious life of labour and research he has attained repose, leaving to his household and his nation an imperishable fame, and to mankind the legacy of ideas which, if we be not mistaken, must broaden and blighted like the light of a rising sun, until every science and every society takes from them new and happier colours. Born at Shrewsbury, in 1809, CHARLES DARWIN illustrated by his intellectual endowments his own doctrine of heredity. His grandfather on the paternal side was that celebrated Dr. ERASMUS DARWIN, whose ingenious and elegant verses display imagination, research, and a passion for natural philosophy, all curiously blended. His maternal grandfather was JOSIAH WEDGWOOD, the founder of the artistic schools of English pottery; and thus two vital streams, as it were, from high and lucent fountains mat and united to furnish those massive brows, those watchful eyes, that patient mind, and that diligent, nature-loving heart, which were the characteristics of CHARLES DARWIN. Cambridge enjoys the honour of his academical education, and it was the Professor of Botany there, Mr. HENSLOW, who first detected the brilliant gifts of the young student and recommended him as naturalist for the expedition of the ship of war Beagle. He sailed in her during five years on a scientific circumnavigation of the globe, and we have his own statement that what he then observed filled him with the earliest impressions of his "Origin of Species." Returning home, he settled down in Kent, having married his cousin, Miss EMMA WEDGWOOD; and from that date, 1836, until the last week of his life, volume after volume of valuable disquisition and research has been given by him to the learned world. Of these mention is made elsewhere, but one great work must be dwelt upon, that entitled "The Origin of Species by Natural Selection." The first edition of this remarkable production appeared in 1859, and no competent physicist now doubts that—whatever may hereafter modify, complete, enlarge or even correct the main theories of its author—the book itself was "epoch-making," and must ever form a landmark in the annals of human inquiry, not inferior in importance to the "Principia" of NEWTON in astronomy, or in metaphysics to the "Critique of Pure Reason" by KANT.

Like all great inventions and discoveries, DARWIN'S doctrine was not absolutely original. No triumph of science or art is ever entirely detached from previous human labours, for evolution holds good of genius as of all else. GOETHE had hinted, and LAMARCK at the beginning of this century had actually formulated the chief points of a scientific and natural view of the developments of animal and vegetable life. These suggestions, however, lay neglected until the sudden apparition of that wonderful work of CHARLES DARWIN, which put life and soul into the imperfect ideas, and placed before the astonished generation a new view of Animated Nature fortified at all points with lavish facts; clear, eloquent, decisive, piercing, and convincing; marked as much by conspicuous love and pursuit of truth as it was by a perfect candour of statement, and a fearless courage of opinion. It had been universally accepted that the innumerable species of animals and vegetables, as geology reveals or as nature displays them, were separately created. Custom had stamped this view with a religious sanction, and it had become all the more unquestioned because it ministered to the pride of the race. It was agreeable as well as orthodox to believe that Man was a special creation, made in the image of the Highest, and set from the first at the head of all things; while that strange mystery of the likeness and unlikeness of species, their vast variety and yet apparent immutability, were glibly disposed of under such phrases as "plan of creation," and "unity of design." DARWIN, sitting for ever at the feet of the "Great Mother," and gazing so constantly at her countenance that he came at last to read in it the secrets of her hidden heart, perceived good evidence of a miracle grander and more sublime than that so firmly but erroneously established. Far more marvellous and more divinely subtle must it seem to bestow upon the material of life—physical and mental— gifts which will evolve from low and little beginnings the countless visible forms of beauty and use and power, than merely to invent this or that shape and creature, fixed thenceforward for all time in configuration and character. The all-comprehending doctrine announced by DARWIN was the unity or quasi-unity of the animated creation. Its vast and numerous divisions had sprung, he said, from a few roots, perhaps from one vital root. In the long lapse of time individual divergences, favoured and preserved by natural selection under the law of inheritance of qualities, and in face of the sharp struggle for existence, had produced all the multiplied variety of life and function seen around us. Such an operation—always in progress in the past and present, and destined to continue indefinitely—showed Nature to us as ever improving upon her work, ever eliciting life from death, and order from conflict. No other theory explained the thousand puzzles which embarrassed the old view. With exquisite illustrations, unfailing research, and experiments of the most ingenious kind, DARWIN enforced the vast conception of his intellect. This alone explained such facts as the ground-feeding woodpeckers, the upland geese which never swim but have webbed feet, the thrushes which dive and feed on aquatic insects. The beautiful and brilliant forms and plumages of birds were seen to have slowly come about under the stress of natural selection; the lovely floral world had reached its perfection in active obedience to the law which links the life of plants with insects and birds. The imperfections of Nature also became at last accounted for; a Creator would hardly have made the bee to perish when once it uses its sting, the drones to be produced in such numbers for a single act and then to be slaughtered, or the ichneumonidæ feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars. DARWIN did not pretend to explain the primæval and ever-sacred mysteries at the beginning of all these processes—the vital force; the capacity for individuation; the magic of inheritance; and the source of that love and perception of beauty in colour, shape, or song which makes the animal, the bird, and the insect seek out conspicuous, lovely, musical, or fragrant companions and forms. He did not conceal the difficulties of his theory; indeed, no man of science was ever so candid, frank, and faithful in the statement of an opponent's argument or the confession of weakness in his own. His great book—like all his other works—was a model of noble truthfulness in style and manner; nor was ever any discoverer more just and generous to those whose labours preceded or assisted his own. Modest gentle, and even diffident to the last, he was never deaf to an adverse argument—never too old or too wise to be corrected: and dying as he does crowned with the admiration of the age, and conqueror of almost a whole domain of scientific belief, he bore his honours so meekly that it may be doubted if he realised what Europe is to-day ready to proclaim—that this century will be named after him as the "Age of Darwinism."

That the doctrine of Evolution must prove in the main a true and enduring one it doubted to-day by few really competent minds. We should be the last to say this with rejoicing, if it diminished the sublimity of Creation, or degraded man. But those who have felt pain on fear at the prevailing spread of DARWIN'S views forget that LEIBNITZ was similarly led to declare NEWTON'S law of gravity "irreligious;" nor have they appreciated the grandeur and the promise of evolution. If the "Descent of Man" links him with the arboreal ape, and even farther back, perhaps, with the obscure ascidian, be it remembered that it forecasts an "Ascent of Man" whereby, under the action of "Selection and Struggle," the race may and will rise to the very noblest physical, intellectual, and moral heights. Together with the human race will also be developed, we must think, the fittest of the animals and the fairest of the floral world; for these, too, are portions of the vast web of Nature. From good to better, from better to best, proceeds her subtle manufacture; "she maketh and maketh, mending all; What she hath wrought is better than had been; Slow grows the splendid pattern that she plant Her wistful hands between." The course and purpose of life thus become loftier and lovelier, not lower mysteries, illuminated by those fairly pictures of adaptation and structure which our great and famous countryman has given us. If, indeed, any one has a passion and a need for "miracles," let him but study those books of DARWIN where the "Habits of Climbing Plants," or the "Forms of Flowers," or the "Structure of Coral Reefs," or the "Work of the Worms" are portrayed. And, if any one would realise how reverently and hopefully the illustrious dead thought of the Power which is above and beyond all these protean manifestations, let his own words be cited: "It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. … There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the CREATOR into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, have been and are being evolved."


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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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