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Darwin-L Message Log 8:71 (April 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<8:71>From RHRSBI@ritvax.isc.rit.edu  Thu Apr 21 04:02:39 1994

Date: Thu, 21 Apr 1994 02:35:30 -0400 (EDT)
From: RHRSBI@ritvax.isc.rit.edu
Subject: Re: April 19 -- Today in the Historical Sciences
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

I have been listening in since November.  Although I have communicated
privately with some of you, this is my first general posting.  I am a
geneticist by degree with a background in vertebrate paleontology and a special
interest in dinosaurs.   I am also a self-styled historian of biology, with
special interest in the history of evolutionary theory and Darwin's life.  I
teach courses in genetics, recombinant DNA technology, and vertebrate
evolution.  This past fall, I taught a non-majors class based on Jurassic Park.
For the past few summers I have been privileged to lead student field courses
in the Galapagos.

Yesterday, on reflecting on the anniversary of Darwin's death, I decided to
read to my current Galapagos group the short obituary written by Darwin's
friend and bulldog, T.H. Huxley.  I thought the Darwin-L group might find it
appropriate.  It originally appeared in the April 27, 1882 issue of Nature and
is reprinted in the "Darwiniana" volume of Huxley's collected essays.

Very few, even among those who have taken the keenest interest in the progress
of the revolution in natural knowledge set afoot by the publication of "The
Origin of Species," and who have watched, not without astonishment, the rapid
and complete change which has been effected both inside and outside the
boundaries of the scientific world in the attitude of men's minds towards the
doctrines which are expounded in that great work, can have been prepared for
the extraordinary manifestation of affectionate regard for the man, and of
profound reverence for the philosopher, which followed the announcement, on
Thursday last, of the death of Mr. Darwin.

Not only in these islands, where so many have felt the fascination of personal
contact with an intellect which had no superior, and with a character which was
even nobler than the intellect; but in all parts of the civilised world, it
would seem that those whose business it is to feel the pulse of nations and to
know what interests the masses of mankind, were well aware that thousands of
their readers would think the world the poorer for Darwin's death, and would
dwell with eager interest upon every incident of his history.  In France, in
Germany, in Austro-Hungary, in Italy, in the United States, writers of all
shades of opinion, for once unanimous, have paid a willing tribute to the worth
of our great countryman, ignored in life by the official representatives of the
kingdom, but laid in death among his peers in Westminster Abbey by the will of
the intelligence of the nation.

It is not for us to allude to the sacred sorrows of the bereaved home at Down;
but it is no secret that, outside that domestic group, there are many to whom
Mr. Darwin's death is a wholly irreparable loss.  And this is not merely
because of his wonderfully genial, simple, and generous nature; his cheerful
and animated conversation, and the infinite variety and accuracy of his
information; but because the more one knew of him, the more he seeme the
incorporated ideal of a man of science. Acute as were his reasoning powers,
vast as was his knowledge, marvellous as was his tenacious industry, under
physical difficulties which would have converted nine men out of ten into
aimless invalids; it was not these qualities, great as they were, which
impressed those who were admitted to his intimacy with involuntary veneration,
but a certain intense and almost passionate honesty by which all his thoughts
and actions were irradiated, as by a central fire.

It was this rarest and greatest of endowments which kept his vivid imagination
and great speculative powers within due bounds; which compelled him to
undertake the prodigious labours of original investigation and of reading, upon
which his published works are based; which made him accept criticisms and
suggestions from anybody and everybody, not only without impatience, but with
expressions of gratitude sometimes almost comically in excess of their value;
which led him to allow neither himself nor others to be decieved by phrases,
and to spare neither time nor pains in order to obtain clear and distinct ideas
upson every topic with which he occupied himself.

One could not converse with Darwin without being reminded of Socrates. There
was the same desire to find some one wiser than himself; the same belief in the
sovereignty of reason; the same ready humour; the same sympathetic interest in
the all the ways and works of men.  But instead of turning away from the
problems of Nature as hoplessly insoluble, our modern philosopher devoted his
whole life to attacking them in the spirit of Heraclitus and Democritus, with
results which are the substance of which their speculations were anticipatory
shadows.

The due appreciation, or even enumeration, of these results is neither
practicable nor desireable at this moment.  There is a time for all things -- a
time for glorying in our ever-extending conquests over the realm of Nature, and
a time for mourning over the heroes who have led us to victory.

None have fought better, and none have been more fortunate than Charles Darwin.
He found a great truth trodden underfoot, reviled by bigots, and ridiculed by
all the world; he lived long enough to see it, chiefly by his own efforts,
irrefragably established in science, inseparably incorporated with the common
thoughts of men, and only hated and feared by those who would revile, but dare
not.  What shall a man desire more than this?  Once more the image of Socrates
rises unbidden, and the noble peroration of the "Apology" rings in our ears as
if it were Charles Darwin's farewell: --

"The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways -- I to die and you to
live.  Which is the better, God only knows."

Bob Rothman
Biology Department
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, N.Y.  14623
(716) 475-5215
RHRSBI@ritvax.isc.rit.edu

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