RECORD: Anon. 1882. Death of Charles Darwin. Gardeners' Chronicle, n.s: 17 Supplement (22 April): 535-6. CUL-DAR215.22c-23a and CUL-DAR216.9b. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe 7.2022. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Darwin Online manuscript catalogue, enter its Identifier here. Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.


[page 535]

DEATH OF CHARLES DARWIN.

THE intelligence of the death of Mr. Charles Darwin, in his 74th year, on the 19th inst., will be received with the greatest concern. To few, comparatively, was it privileged to have personal acquaintance with this remarkable man, as, owing to his always feeble health and retiring disposition, Mr. Darwin, though he became world-famous, yet entered little into public society. He was born at The Mount, Shrewsbury, in 1809, and was the son of Dr. Charles Waring Darwin and a grandson of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, several of whose speculations, as published in the Botanic Garden, were, as it were, revived and confirmed by his grandson. Charles Darwin was educated at the Grammar School at Shrewsbury, whence he proceeded to Edinburgh and afterwards to Cambridge, which has thus the glory of having a Newton and a Darwin among its many illustrious pupils. At Cambridge Darwin became a pupil of the late Professor Henslow, to whom and to Professor Sedgwicke he owed much as regards the development of his scientific tendencies. Mr. Darwin, long before he became known to the general public, had achieved renown among his scientific brethren. His services as naturalist on board the Beagle during its five years' voyage round the world, and the results of which were given in his Journal of researches into the geology and natural history of the countries visited — gave him a place amongst the foremost of rising naturalists, a place which was confirmed by his labours at the Geological Society, and by his numerous papers and works on coral-reefs, the natural history of the cirripeds, &c. It was not, however, till his Origin of Species appeared, in 1859, that he became known to the public at large.

That work — a masterpiece of lucid argument and cumulative evidence — has sufficed, in less than a quarter of a century, to revolutionise natural history. At first it was received with suspicion even by many naturalists, and with open hostility by that larger public who, unable to appreciate the line of argument, and unable to estimate the enormous body of facts upon which it was based, made it the subject of the grossest misrepresentations, and looked upon the work as an attack on their cherished prejudices and prepossessions. Gradually, however, as the argument began to be better understood, and the consummate genius with which the facts brought together were marshalled and brought to bear on the theory became recognised, the tide of feeling, especially among naturalists, turned in favour of Mr. Darwin — a circumstance largely aided by the personal character of the author, the perfect candour of his statements, and his resolute avoidance of polemical controversy. The steady support from the first of such men as the late Sir Charles Lyell, of Sir Joseph Hooker, Professor Huxley, Mr. Bentham, and others — the more valuable as it implied the abandonment on their parts of opinions formed and steadfastly acted on for years by men whose caution was known to be equal; to their sagacity — powerfully helped on the new theories or the new development of old ideas, and they were also most materially assisted by the writings of Wallace, whose experience as a naturalist in the tropics had led him to similar and independent conclusions. The two volumes on The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, which contain the justification of the now famous theory, form an encyclopædia of facts relating to natural history the value of which, quite apart from any theory, can hardly be too highly estimated. Nowhere else can such a body of facts be found, and, as we have said, the way in which they are disposed, and the perfect fairness with which they are set forth, are such as of themselves stamp the genius of the man. Personal observation and extensive research did not satisfy Mr. Darwin. The most elaborate actual experiment was brought to bear with a sagacity in conception and a patience in carrying out which have never been surpassed, and rarely equalled. These experiments related to the fertilisation of Orchids and of numerous other plants, the movements executed by growing plants, the curious phenomena of digestion carried on by the leaves of certain so-called carnivorous plants, the action of worms on the soil, and other subjects now so well known, that the mere mention will suffice. These manifold researches have raised Darwin to the highest rank among naturalists and experimenters, a rank accorded to him by universal consent, seeing that, not only in this, but throughout the civilised world. Universities and Academies have been proud to enrol him among their members.

We need not now stop to detail the various arguments derived from many sources by which Darwin laid down in these later times the doctrine of evolution. In principle, if not in detail, it is now almost universally accepted; and what was received with hostility and ridicule has now become so generally accepted as true that the terms evolution, inheritance, variation, the battle of life, survival of the fittest, have become household words, and are applied to circumstances and conditions never dreamt of by Darwin himself. The origin of living beings from a common stock, their divergence according to circumstances, the force of competition in moulding their forms and other circumstances, upon which the theory of evolution is founded, are now accepted, in principle if not in every detail, by almost all naturalists; and the proof of their underlying truth is shown in the vast advances that have been made in every department of natural history consequent upon the application of the theory to the unravelling of the problems of life and organisation. This mighty and varied development never could have arisen from a theory that was intrinsically false. Things before inexplicable fall into their places, heretofore isolated facts cohere into one harmonious whole. Classifications before arbitrary become truly natural. The significance of morphology, the meaning of rudimentary and now useless structures, becomes apparent; the adaptation of the organisms to the work they have to do, the inheritance from generation to generation of particular forms, the variation according to circumstances, — all these, instead of being isolated facts — mere curiosities — become welded in one symmetrical theory by which the structure of the universe and its inhabitants, and their relations one to the other, become clear and harmonious to a degree that was hardly conceivable a quarter of a century ago.

As to the bearings on what, for convenience sake, is called the Darwinian theory, we may be allowed to repeat here what we said on a former occasion. We might add greatly in points of detail, but that is not necessary for our present purpose. Writing in 1875 we said: Comparatively few among practical horticulturists have duly considered the extent of Darwin's services to horticulture. Succeeding generations will, it may be, apply his principles to their daily work quite unconsciously, but even now physiologists will admit that, since the days of Thomas Andrew Knight, no physiologist has done so much to extend the basis on which successful culture, whether of animals or of plants, depends.

We have, however, much more direct reasons for claiming him as the physiologist who has done the most in our time to advance the science of horticulture. The intelligent reader needs but to read the headings of the chapters in the Origin of Species or the Variations of Animals and Plants, to find ample justification of our remarks.

Let any one who knows what was the state of botany, in this country at least, even so recently as fifteen or twenty years ago, compare the feeling between botanists and horticulturists at that time with what it is now. What sympathy had the one for the pursuits of the other? The botanist looked down on the varieties, the races, and strains raised with so much pride by the patient skill of the florist as on things unworthy of his notice and study. The horticulturist, on his side, knowing how very imperfectly plants could be studied from the mummified specimens in herbaria, which then constituted in most cases all the material that the botanists of this country considered necessary for the study of plants, naturally looked on the botanist somewhat in the light of a laborious trifler. Both classes carried on their investigations in a narrow spirit of isolation, unconscious or unheedful of the assistance that either might give to the other.

The investigations of Gaertner, of Kölreuter, of Sprengel, of Vaucher, had been allowed to remain by British naturalists as so many dead letters. It was a chance if a page or two were devoted to them in text-books; rarely, if ever, were they mentioned in lectures, still more rarely was their bearing on horticulture alluded to. Darwin, by his renewal and extension of these experiments, and especially by his deductions from them, altered all this. He made the dry bones live; he invested plants and animals with a history, a biography, a genealogy, which at once conferred an interest and a dignity on them. Before, they were as the stuffed skin of a beast in the glass

[Engraving of Darwin]

Supplement to the Gardeners' Chronicle, April 22, 1882.

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[page 536]

case of a museum; now they are living beings, each in their degree affected by the same circumstances that affect ourselves, and swayed, mutatis mutandis by like feelings and like passions. If he had done nothing more than this we might still have claimed Darwin as a horticulturist; but, as we shall see, he has more direct claims on our gratitude.

The apparently trifling variations, the variations which it was once the fashion for botanists to overlook, have become, as it were, the keystone of a great theory. The variations which the florist saw, seized on, perpetuated, "improved," furnished the suggestion for the theory of "natural selection." It is quite unnecessary to go into explanations now-a-days on this point: suffice it to say that an apparently trifling variation may be (it has not been proved absolutely that it is), may be — probably is — the first stage in what will, under favourable circumstances, eventually develope into what we call a species. From this point of view a new variety raised by man, as Darwin himself says, is a more interesting subject for study than one more species added to the crowded lists. Darwin borrowed the idea of "natural selection," or, as it is more accurately termed, "the survival of the fittest," from the gardener. The gardener or the florist selects, causes to survive, and propagates varieties showing one particular quality or tendency which he may happen to desire; but in Nature the selection or the survival is not so simple an affair. If it were a mere question of strength, "the weakest would always go to the wall;" if of speed only, the hare must outrun the tortoise; but we all know how diverse and complicated are the conditions under which living beings, plants as well as animals, exist, and we admit with Solomon that "the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happeneth to them all." We may safely interpret the word "chance" here as the equivalent to our "circumstances."

Passing from this question of selection, in which, If Darwin has taken much from the practical man, he has repaid him with abundant interest, we may allude to one of the great elements in the consideration of the aforesaid circumstances, viz,, the "interdependence of Living organisms." We all know and admit this principle to some extent, but it is probable that few of us realise how greatly and of necessity one organism is dependent upon another. Almost every gardening book we take up has a chapter or a paragraph on the insects injurious to this or that crop, but we do not find, at present, in our theories of horticulture and books of the garden, any but the slightest reference to the insects that are beneficial to the plants we cultivate. We ought to have learnt something about this from Sprengel, from Gaertner, and others. Herbert did learn and did teach somewhat of this, but his lessons never took much effect. Surely the laborious researches of, and the Important practical results obtained by, Darwin will open our eyes to this matter, and fix our attention a little more closely and fixedly on what is of such vital consequence to us. We must remember this is no visionary theory; if anybody wants facts let them study the record of Darwin's labour and Darwin's patience in the Journal of the Linnean Society and in our own columns, to which Mr. Darwin has contributed from the first. These labours and these facts establish beyond controversy the manifold and intricate way in which living beings are tied together, and the extreme complexity of the conditions under which living beings have to maintain their struggle for existence.

Space would fail us if we attempted to give further, illustrations of this: it must suffice to mention the great subjects of fertilisation by insects, of cross-fertilisation, of hybridisation, of dimorphism, on all of which Darwin has experimented patiently and written lucidly. While the florists have for years been selecting their pin-eyed and thrum-eyed varieties of Auricula, selecting the one and rejecting the other, it seems never to have occurred to them to inquire what was the meaning of the difference. Here was a difference brought prominently under their notice, they regulated their course accordingly, they acted from motives of mere fancy or fashion, without troubling themselves any further about the matter. "Why should we?" they might well have asked, in pre-Darwinian days. "Of what good would it be to us. We know what we want and how to secure it — why concern ourselves further?"

And the pre-Darwinian botanist, if he considered the matter of any interest at all, would have been unable to answer these questions. How altered is the state of things now! Thanks to the laborious experiments of Darwin — thanks to the example he has set, the purpose of this, as of many other curious points of structure, passed over before as merely curious, has been made apparent. No more persuasive apostle of natural theology, indeed no more powerful advocate of the argument furnished by design and adaptation, ever lived than Charles Darwin.

We cannot now go into further details of physiology, important as they are. If the florists now ask the botanist the meaning of the pin-eyed and thrum-eyed flowers and other similar variations they will learn something very much to their advantage. They require improved varieties, fixity of form, abundance of seed, and robust constitution in the seedlings. Let them study the chapters on cross-fertilisation and dimorphism which Darwin has written, and they will see how they may attain their ends. So with such cases as "bad setters" among Vines or Cucumbers, such things as blind Strawberries, the great physiologist of our day has supplied the thoughtful cultivator with innumerable facts, careful observations, and suggestive inferences. It is impossible for us to do more than indicate these matters, nor can we do more than allude to the many other subjects elucidated by the genius of Darwin, and which have, or may have, a direct practical bearing on the pursuits of the gardener and agriculturist.

Enough for us now If we have shown that to Charles Darwin, setting aside, as beside the question we are at present concerned with, all direct reference to his theories as to the origin and progress of species, are due grateful homage and reverence from every thoughtful horticulturist of the present, from every careful practitioner of the future.

At the meeting of the Linnean Society on Thursday evening, the President, Sir John Lubbock, alluded in fitting terms to the loss which the Society and natural history in general had suffered by the death of Mr. Darwin. He alluded to the fact that the latest of Mr. Darwin's papers, on the action of ammonia on roots, was read quite recently before the Society, as reported in these columns.

Mention was also made of the excellent portrait of the great naturalist by Mr. Collier, recently presented to the Society, and after a feeling tribute to Mr. Darwin's personal qualities as a friend and neighbour. Sir John proposed the adjournment of the Society as a slight tribute of respect to the memory of one of its most distinguished Fellows.

We learn that preliminary arrangements are being made by the Presidents of the Royal and of the Linnean Societies with a view to the interment of the illustrious biologist in Westminster Abbey, subject to the wishes of the members of the family.

FIG. 84.— BIRTHPLACE OF CHARLES DARWIN, SHREWSBURY.

 


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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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