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C. Darwin to J. Murray.
Ilkley, Yorkshire (1859). MY DEAR SIR-I have received your kind note and the copy; I am infinitely pleased and proud at the appearance of my child.
I quite agree to all you propose about price. But you are
kind offer to distribute the copies to my friends and assistors as soon as possible. Do not trouble yourself much about the foreigners, as Messrs. Williams and Norgate have most kindly offered to do their best, and they are accustomed to send to all parts of the world.
I will pay for my copies whenever you like. I am so glad that you were so good as to undertake the publication of my book. My dear Sir, yours very sincerely,
P.S.—Please do not forget to let me hear about two days before the copies are distributed.
I do not know when I shall leave this place, certainly not for several weeks. Whenever I am in London I will call on you.
BY PROFESSOR HUXLEY.
ON THE RECEPTION OF THE
ORIGIN OF SPECIES.'
To the present generation, that is to say, the people a few years on the hither and thither side of thirty, the name of Charles Darwin stands alongside of those of Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday ; and, like them, calls up the grand ideal of a searcher after truth and interpreter of Nature. They think of him who bore it as a rare combination of genius, industry, and unswerving veracity, who earned his place among the most famous men of the age by sheer native power, in the teeth of a gale of popular prejudice, and uncheered by a sign of favour or appreciation from the official fountains of honour; as one who in spite of an acute sensitiveness to praise and blame, and notwithstanding provocations which might have excused any outbreak, kept himself clear of all envy, hatred, and malice, nor dealt otherwise than fairly and justly with the unfairness and injustice which was showered upon him ; while, to the end of his days, he was ready to listen with patience and respect to the most insignificant of reasonable objectors.
And with respect to that theory of the origin of the forms of life peopling our globe, with which Darwin's name is bound up as closely as that of Newton with the theory of gravitation, nothing seems to be further from the mind of the present generation than any attempt to smother it with ridicule or to crush it by vehemence of denunciation. "The struggle for existence,” and “ Natural selection,” have become household words and every-day conceptions. The reality and the importance of the natural processes on which Darwin founds his deductions are no more doubted than those of growth and multiplication ; and, whether the full potency attributed to them is admitted or not, no one doubts their vast and farreaching significance. Wherever the biological sciences are studied, the 'Origin of Species 'lights the paths of the investigator; wherever they are taught it permeates the course of instruction. Nor has the influence of Darwinian ideas been less profound, beyond the realms of Biology. The oldest of all philosophies, that of Evolution, was bound hand and foot and cast into utter darkness during the millennium of theological scholasticism. But Darwin poured new life. blood into the ancient frame; the bonds burst, and the revivified thought of ancient Greece has proved itself to be a more adequate expression of the universal order of things than any of the schemes which have been accepted by the credulity and welcomed by the superstition of seventy later generations of men.
To any one who studies the signs of the times, the emergence of the philosophy of Evolution, in the attitude of claimant to the throne of the world of thought, from the limbo of hated and, as many hoped, forgotten things, is the most portentous event of the nineteenth century. But the most effective weapons of the modern champions of Evolu. tion were fabricated by Darwin; and the Origin of Species has enlisted a formidable body of combatants, trained in the severe school of Physical Science, whose ears might have long remained deaf to the speculations of a priori philosophers.
I do not think any candid or instructed person will deny the truth of that which has just been asserted. He may hate the very name of Evolution, and may deny its pretensions as vehemently as a Jacobite denied those of George the Second. But there it is,not only as solidly seated as the Hanoverian dynasty, but happily independent of Parliamentary sanction-and the dullest antagonists have come to see that they have to deal with an adversary whose bones are to be broken by no amount of bad words.
THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.'
Even the theologians have almost ceased to pit the plain meaning of Genesis against the no less plain meaning of Nature. Their more candid, or more cautious, representatives have given up dealing with Evolution as if it were a damnable heresy, and have taken refuge in one of two courses. Either they deny that Genesis was meant to teach scientific truth, and thus save the veracity of the record at the expense of its authority; or they expend their energies in devising the cruel ingenuities of the reconciler, and torture texts in the vain hope of making them confess the creed of Science. But when the peine forte et dure is over, the antique sincerity of the venerable sufferer always reasserts itself. Genesis is honest to the core, and professes to be no more than it is, a repository of venerable traditions of unknown origin, claiming no scientific authority and possessing none.
As my pen finishes these passages, I can but be amused to think what a terrible hubbub would have been made (in truth was made) about any similar expressions of opinion a quarter of a century ago. In fact, the contrast between the present condition of public opinion upon the Darwinian question ; between the estimation in which Darwin's views are now held in the scientific world ; between the acquiescence, or at least quiescence, of the theologians of the self-respecting order at the present day and the outburst of antagonism on all sides in 1858-9, when the new theory respecting the origin of species first became known to the older generation to which I belong, is so startling that, except for documentary evidence, I should be sometimes inclined to think my memories dreams. I have a great respect for the younger generation myself (they can write our lives, and ravel out all our follies, if they choose to take the trouble, by and by), and I should be glad to be assured that the feeling is reciprocal; but I am afraid that the story of our dealings with Darwin may prove a great hindrance to that veneration for our wisdom which I should like them to display. We have not even the excuse that, thirty years ago, Mr. Darwin was an obscure novice, who had no claims on our attention. On the contrary, his remarkable zoological and geological investigations had long given him an assured position among the most eminent and original investigators of the day; while his charming 'Voyage of a Naturalist' had justly earned him a wide-spread reputation among the general public. I doubt if there was any man then living who had a better right to expect that anything he might choose to say on such a question as the Origin of Species would be listened to with profound attention, and discussed with respect; and there was certainly no man whose personal character should have afforded a better safeguard against attacks, instinct with malignity and spiced with shameless impertinences.
Yet such was the portion of one of the kindest and truest men that it was ever my good fortune to know; and years had to pass away before misrepresentation, ridicule, and de nunciation, ceased to be the most notable constituents of the majority of the multitudinous criticisms of his work which poured from the press. I am loth to rake any of these ancient scandals from their well-deserved oblivion ; but I must make good a statement which may seem overcharged to the present generation, and there is no pidce justificative more apt for the purpose, or more worthy of such dishonour, than the article in the 'Quarterly Review' for July, 1860.* Since Lord Brougham assailed Dr. Young, the world has seen no such specimen of the insolence of a shallow pretender 10 a Master in Science as this remarkable production, in which one of the most exact of observers, most cautious of reasoners, and most candid of expositors, of this or any other age, is held up to scorn as a "Mighty" person, who endeavours "to prop up his utterly rotten fabric of guess and speculation,"
* I was not aware when I wrote these passages that the authorship of the article had been publicly acknowledged. Confession unaccompanied by penitence, however, affords no ground for mitigation of judgment; and the kindliness with which Mr. Darwin speaks of his assailant, Bishop Wilberforce (vol. ii. p. 125), is so striking an exemplification of his singular gentleness and modesty, that it rather increases one's indignation against the presumption of his critic.