RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1877. [Letter of thanks.] In Harting, P., Testimonial to Mr. Darwin—Evolution in the Netherlands. Nature. A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science 15 (8 March): 410-412.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 3.2007. RN3
TESTIMONIAL TO MR. DARWIN.—EVOLUTION IN THE NETHERLANDS
WE have great pleasure in printing the following correspondence:—
To the Editor of NATURE.
Utrecht, February 20,
On the sixty-eighth birthday of your great countryman, Mr. Charles Darwin, an album with 217 photographs of his admirers in the Netherlands, among whom are eighty-one Doctors and twenty-one University Professors, was presented to him. To the album was joined a letter, of which you will find a copy here inclosed, with the answer of Mr. Darwin.
I suppose you will like to give to both letters a place in your very estimable journal, and therefore I have the honour to forward them to you.
Rotterdam, 6th February, 1877
SIR,—In the early part of the present century there resided in Amsterdam a physician, Dr. J. E. Doornik, who, in 1816, took his departure for Java, and passed the remainder of his life for the greater part in India. His name, though little known elsewhere than in the Netherlands, yet well deserves to be held in remembrance, since he occupies an honourable place among the pioneers of the theory of development. Among his numerous publications on natural philosophy, with a view to this, are worthy of mention his "Wijsgeerig-natuurkundig onderzoek aangaande den vorspronkelijken mensch en de vorspronkelijke stammen van deszelfs geslacht" ("Philosophic Researches concerning Original Man and the Origin of his Species"), and his treatise, "Over het begrip van levenskracht uit een geologisch oogpunt beschouwd" ("On the Idea of Vitality considered from a Geological Point of View"). The first already appeared in 1808; the latter, though written about the same time, was published in 1816, together with other papers more or less similar in tendency, under the title of "Wijsgeerig-natuurkundige verhandelingen" ("Treatises on the Philosophy of Natural History"). In these publications we recognise Doornik as a decided advocate of the theory that the various modifications in which life was revealed in consecutive times originated each from the other. He already occupies the point of vantage on which, shortly afterwards, Lamarck, with reference to the animal kingdom, and in his wake, Prévost and Lyell, with respect to the geological history of our globe, have taken their stand.
Yet the seeds scattered by Dr. Doornik did not take root in fertile soil. It is true that a Groningen professor, G. Bakker, combated at great length some of his arguments regarding the origin of man; it attracted but little public attention, and they soon passed into oblivion.
A generation had passed away ere the theory of evolution began to attract more attention in the Netherlands. The impulse was given by the appearance of the well-known work, "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," of which a Dutch translation was published in 1849 by Dr. T. H. van den Broek, Professor of Chemistry at the Military Medical College in Utrecht, with an introductory preface by the celebrated chemist, Prof. G. T. Mulder, as well known in England as elsewhere. This work excited a lively controversy, but its opponents were more numerous than its partisans. Remarkably enough, it found more favour with the general public, and especially with some theologians of liberal principles, than with the representatives of the natural sciences. The majority of zoologists and botanists of any celebrity in the Netherlands looked upon the writer's opinions as a chimera, and speculated on the weaker points rather than on the merits of the work. Notwithstanding, this presented no obstacle to a comparative success, and in 1854, even a third edition of the translation was published, enriched by the translator with numerous annotations.
Among the few Dutch savants to recognise the light which the theory of development spreads over creation, must be mentioned two Utrecht professors, viz., F. C. Donders and P. Harting. The former, in his inaugural address pronounced in 1848, "De Harmonie van het dierlijk leven, de openbaring van wetten" ("The Harmony of Animal Life, the Revelation of Laws"), expressed his opinion that, in the gradual change of form consequent upon change of circumstances, may lie the cause of the origin of differences which we are now wont to designate as species. The latter, in the winter of 1856, delivered a series of lectures before a mixed audience, on "The History of Creation," which he published the following year under the title of "Voorwereldlijke Scheppingen" ("Antemundane Creations"), with a diffuse supplement devoted to a critical consideration of the theory of development. Though herein he came to a standstill with a "non liquet," yet it cannot be denied that there gleamed through it his prepossession in favour of a theory which several years later his famed and learned colleague, J. van der Hoeven, Professor at Leyden, making a well-known French writer's words his own, was accustomed to signalise as an explanation, "de l'inconnu par l'impossible."
In 1858 your illustrious countryman, Sir Charles Lyell, was staying for a few days in Utrecht. In the course of conversations with this distinguished savant on the theory of development, for which Lyell himself, at least in his writings, had shown himself no pleader, the learned of this country were first made observant of what had been and what was being done in that direction in England. He attracted attention to the treatise of Wallace in the Journal of the Linnean Society, and related how his friend Darwin had been occupied for years in an earnest study of this subject, and that ere long a work would appear from his pen, which, in his opinion, would make a considerable impression. From these conversations it was evident that Lyell himself was wavering. In the following edition of his "Principles of Geology," he declared himself, as we know, a partisan of the hypothesis of development, and Prof. Harting speedily followed in the same track. In his "Algemeene Dierkunde" ("General Zoology"), published in 1862, he was able to declare himself with full conviction a partisan of this hypothesis. Also another famous savant, Miquel, Professor of Botany at Utrecht, who had previously declared himself an opponent of the Theory of Development, became a convert to it in his later years, for although this is not expressed in his published writings, it was clearly manifest in his private conversation and in his lectures. To what must this conversion be attributed? With Harting and Miquel, as well as with Lyell and so many others in every country of Europe, this was the fruit produced by the study of your "Origin of Species," published in 1859, which first furnished one vast basis for the theory of development. That work, translated into Dutch by Dr. F. C. Winkler, now conservator of the Geological, Mineralogical, and Palæontological collections in "Feyler's Foundation" at Haarlem excited great and general interest. It is true that a theory, striking so keenly and so deep at the roots of existing opinions and prejudices, could not be expected at once to meet with general approbation. Many even amongst naturalists offered vehement opposition. Prof. J. van der Hoeven, bred up as he was in the school of Cuvier, endeavoured to administer an antidote for what he regarded as a baneful poison by translating into our tongue Hopkins' well-known article in Fraser's Magazine.1 However, neither this production nor the professor's influence over his students could withstand the current, especially when, after his death, the German zoologist, Prof. Emil Selenka, now Professor of Zoology at Erlangen, was appointed at Leyden. A decided advocate of your theory, he awakened in the younger zoologists a lively enthusiasm, and founded a school in which the conviction survives that the theory of development is the key to the explanation of the History of Creation.
In Utrecht, Prof. Harting, with convictions more and more decided, was busy in the same direction; and Selenka's successor in Leyden, Prof. C. K. Hoffmann, did not remain in the rear. Other names, among which are Groningen and Amsterdam professors, might here be cited. By the translation of your "Descent of Man" and "The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals," with copious explanatory notes and by various original papers and translations treating on your theory, Dr. Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen has also largely contributed to the more general spread of your opinions in the Netherlands.
To testify how generally they are held in esteem among the younger zoologists and botanists, and more and more obtain among professors of analogous branches in this country, we might refer to a multitude of less important papers and articles in the periodicals.
This, however, we deem superfluous, since by offering for your acceptance an album, containing the portraits of a number of professional and amateur naturalists in the Netherlands, we offer a convincing proof of our estimation of your indefatigable endeavours in the promotion of science and our admiration of you, Sir, as the cynosure in this untrodden path. We recognise with pleasure Dr. Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen as the primary mover of such a demonstration of our homage. The execution, however, devolved upon the directors of the "Netherland Zoological Society," who reasoned that, with the presentation of this unpretending mark of esteem, a few words on the History of the Theory of Development in the Netherlands would not be entirely unacceptable, the more so, since this historic sketch clearly shows that, albeit some ideas in that direction had already been suggested here, yet to you alone reverts the honour of having formed by your writings a school of zealous and convinced partisans of the theory of development.
Among the names in the accompanying list you will observe several professors of Natural History, Anatomy, and Physiology at the three Dutch Universities, the "Athenæum Illustre" of Amsterdam, and the Polytechnical Academy of Delft, the Con-
1 Hopkins 1860.
servators of the Zoological Museums, the Directors of the Zoological Gardens, and several lecturers on zoology and botany at the High Burghal Schools.
Accept, then, Sir, on your sixty-ninth birthday, this testimony of regard and esteem, not for any value it can have for you, but as a proof, which we are persuaded cannot but afford you some satisfaction, that the seeds by you so liberally strewn have also fallen on fertile soil in the Netherlands.
|We are, Sir, &c.,|
|The Directors of the Netherlands Zoological Society,|
|(Signed)||President, A. A. VAN BEMMELEN1|
|Secretary, H. T. VETH|
The following is Mr. Darwin's reply:—
Down, Beckenham, February
SIR,— I received yesterday the magnificent present of the album, together with your letter. I hope that you will endeavour to find some means to express to the 217 distinguished observers and lovers of natural science, who have sent me their photographs, my gratitude for their extreme kindness. I feel deeply gratified by this gift, and I do not think that any testimonial more honourable to me could have been imagined. I am well aware that my books could never have been written, and would not have made any impression on the public mind, had not an immense amount of material been collected by a long series of admirable observers, and it is to them that honour is chiefly due.
I suppose that every worker at science occasionally feels depressed, and doubts whether what he has published has been worth the labour which it has cost him; but for the remaining years of my life, whenever I want cheering, I will look at the portraits of my distinguished co-workers in the field of science, and remember their generous sympathy. When I die the album will be a most precious bequest to my children. I must further express my obligation for the very interesting history contained in your letter of the progress of opinion in the Netherlands, with respect to evolution, the whole of which is quite new to me. I must again thank all my kind friends from my heart for their ever-memorable testimonial, and
I remain, Sir,
Your obliged and grateful servant,
(Signed) CHARLES R. DARWIN
1 Adrian Anthoni van Bemmelen (1830-1897), Dutch zoologist and ornithologist. Darwin's birthday was 12 February.
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