THE world had known Charles Darwin as the author of a Journal (1839) having to do with the natural history and geology of the countries visited by H. M. S. Beagle during her circumnavigation of the globe between the years 1831 and 1836, a volume on the Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs (1842), another on the Geological Observations on the Volcanic Islands (1844), and other works of like nature, as well as several monographs on taxonomy -- all of them sound, conventional, descriptive science, and relatively safe. Nothing which he had hitherto published presaged the heresy of the Origin of Species, nor yet could that heresy have been anticipated from his personal history.
The Darwin who had sailed as naturalist aboard the Beagle had been a conventional Unitarian, subscribing to at least a sufficient portion of the Christian creed to stamp him as reasonably orthodox. Indeed, he once contemplated entering the ministry, not from any predilection for the cloth but because it offered an obvious alternative to medicine, which he had tried and found wholly unsuited to his taste. Although he had no reason to question the literal truth of scripture, he entertained doubts as to how far he could conscientiously affirm all the dogmas of the Established Church. Yet against this pang of conscience was the fact that the life of a country clergyman was on the whole attractive, and after some hesitancy he acquiesced, chiefly, he admitted, because he could discover no serious objection. So in 1827 he went down to Cambridge and entered Christ's College where he met a cousin, William Darwin Fox, whose handsome collection of butterflies quickened his collecting instinct and on whose advice he began to attend the lectures of the botanist, the Reverend John Steven Henslow.
In the shaping of Darwin's career trivial events concatenated with an almost incredible timeliness. It was an attack of nausea at Edinburgh, brought on by the sights of the operating room, that tipped the balance against medicine. Had he gone to Cambridge only a few months later he would have missed his cousin Fox, through whom he established an intimate friendship with the botanist Henslow. Of Henslow it has been said that he taught botany so well that his students preferred taking his course over and over to the risk of adventuring into a subject which might be less pleasing in itself, or expounded by a less attractive man. Darwin became his favored pupil and from personal association with him received most of the scientific training he was to get, except through his own efforts. Had Darwin entered Cambridge a few months later he might even have missed the best part of Henslow himself, for it was in two free terms during which he waited for his degree that they became intimate and spent long hours together, when Henslow introduced him to the subject of geology, and to such volumes as Sir John Herschel's Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy and Alexander von Humboldt's Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America During the Years 1799-1804. Herschel's book dealt with the methods of acquiring scientific knowledge and the principles of science. Humboldt forever remained for Darwin 'the greatest scientific traveller who ever lived,' and the explorer's accounts of Teneriffe excited him with the old desire to travel; the net effect of the two volumes was, however, somewhat confusing -- a clergyman could collect beetles, but he could not very well travel all over the world. If only it were possible to collect insects and to travel too!
The fateful voyage of the Beagle had itself developed out of the most complicated and precarious circumstances, not the least peculiar of which consisted of three dark-skinned, scrawny natives from Tierra del Fuego whom Captain FitzRoy had previously brought to England for the purposes of educating them and imparting to them the elements of Christianity, before returning them to their native country. This sociological experiment had produced nothing but embarrassment to the Admiralty, and FitzRoy was reappointed to the Beagle in order that he might, in the course of surveying the coasts of South America and the islands of the Pacific, return the Tierra del Fuegans to their native land. It was Henslow who procured the post of naturalist on the expedition for his young friend. When the offer from FitzRoy arrived at Darwin's home he was away geologizing in Wales. Had he returned two days later, FitzRoy, who had changed his mind about having a naturalist on board, would have withdrawn the offer. Thus from early youth until he sailed with FitzRoy, Darwin's life repeatedly turned the narrowest corners.
After normal but seemingly interminable delays, the Beagle got under way on January 27, 1831. She was to follow down the eastern coast of South America to the Horn, then northward to the limits of Chile and home via the East Indies and the Cape of Good Hope, the voyage being planned to last two years. Instead it lasted nearly five years. Yet despite recurrent seasickness and the many hardships which he had to endure both on shipboard and ashore, Darwin's application to his task was unremitting. The voyage seemed to him, and in truth it was, the finest opportunity to study the natural history of the world which had ever been offered an explorer.
In remote places visited by the Beagle Darwin frequently left the ship for weeks at a time, surveying pampas and primeval jungles, geologizing, botanizing, collecting fossils, making countless observations of nature and man. As they headed into the cold and stormy seas of Tierra del Fuego, beating slowly for a bleak country which had never been traversed by Europeans, Darwin, thrilled by the thought of the unknown awaiting exploration, conceived that he could employ his life no better 'than [in] adding a little to Natural Science.' The Beagle was a month rounding the Horn, being repeatedly driven back by adverse winds, and the crew spent two weeks ashore while the natives who had been the instruments of destiny were returned to their homes. From there they went to the barren, treeless Falkland Islands, back to Montevideo and the Rio Negro, southward again for a month in Patagonia, and later through the Magdalen and Cockburn channels to the west coast. At Valparaiso Darwin suffered a protracted, unidentified illness to which some attribute the chronic indisposition that so handicapped him in his later years. The party went to Santiago for a trip across the Andes, and at last westward by a long arc touching the Galapagos, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania and Mauritius, around the Cape of Good Hope for a second visit to Brazil, and home.
Exploration begins in the eye of the explorer, and the Darwin who returned to England in 1836 had explored a world of millions upon millions of minute marine animals discoloring the water in patches miles across; mile-long clouds of butterflies blown far out to sea; strange animals, countless insects and beetles of incomprehensible variety; the orchids, plants and trees of the Brazilian jungle, the bushes and grasses of the vast bleak plains of Patagonia, the even more miserable scrubs of the purgatory of Tierra del Fuego.
He had seen the land heave in a mighty shudder at the base of mountains whose highest peaks were composed of rocks that were indubitably marine in origin. Volcanoes, glaciers, river beds and cliffs all testified how the whole earth had forever suffered Lyell's slow but constant and inevitable torment of wind and water, ice and snow and flood. A single pebble bed in Chile, two hundred miles wide and fifty feet thick, made up of rocks that had been rolled and rubbed into smooth round pieces and deposited hundreds of miles from their source, brought home to him the scale and force of natural erosion, and the inconceivably long lapse of years comprising but a single page in the geologic calendar. On the Chronos Islands the striking formations of granite, which in Hutton's view was the fundamental, unchanged rock of the earth's shell, the deepest layer of the globe to which man had been able to penetrate, stirred his wonder: 'The limit of man's knowledge in any subject possesses high interest, which is perhaps increased by its close neighborhood to the realms of the imagination!'
When he got back to England he found to his surprise and pleasure that Henslow had been publishing his personal letters through the Cambridge Philosophical and London Geological societies, and that already he was recognized as having made some 'signal contributions to natural history.' He was made aware of his responsibilities when he discovered that Sedgwick had written of him as 'doing admirable work in South America, and has already sent home a collection above all price. It was the best thing in the world for him that he went out on the voyage of discovery. There was some risk of his turning out an idle man, but his character will now be fixed, and if God spares his life he will have a great name among the naturalists of Europe.'
Still thinking that he would return to theological studies, he began to work on his diary, to organize his notes, and study the collections he had made. He had left England a convinced creationist, to whom the immutability of species was axiomatic. It was perhaps when he was in the Galapagos Islands, impressed by the fact that the birds and reptiles presented distinct species on each of the major islands, implying in effect a different creation for each island, that he first came to doubt the doctrine. As he prepared his Journal, the evidences pressed upon him, but he approached the question of the development of species with the greatest caution and avoided any direct commitment. In his confidential notebook of 1837 he had written, 'There is a simple grandeur in the view of life with its powers of growth, assimilation and reproduction, being originally breathed into matter under one or a few forms, and that whilst this our planet has gone circling on according to the fixed laws, and land and water, in a cycle of change, have gone on replacing each other, that from so simple an origin, through the process of gradual selection of infinitesimal changes, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been evolved.' And 1838: 'If we choose to let conjecture run wild, then animals, our fellow brethren in pain, disease, death, suffering and famine -- our slaves in the most laborious works, our companions in our amusements -- they may partake of our origin in one common ancestor -- we may all be melted together .... The tree of life should perhaps be called the coral of life, base of branches dead; so that the passages cannot be seen.'
A growing conviction of evolution was clearly in his mind twenty years before the writing of the Origin of Species. Yet the process was charged with mystery. Why were all those forms that made up the 'base of branches' of the coral of life, dead? Not a few species only, but tens, hundreds of thousands of species, implying millions upon millions of individual creatures, obliterated as though by some overwhelming malice on the part of the creative power. Hutton, and after him, Lyell, had been unable to 'perceive any beginning, to surmise any end' to the geologic process. How then could one estimate the dimensions of a pageant which even in its smallest visible scenes was all but incomprehensible? However slowly he gained the perspective, however vaguely he perceived the problem and the answer, he slowly came to recognize that spread before him was a record of ruthless creation and destruction which repeated itself day by day through geologic eras adding up to hundreds of millions of years.
Adaptation was obvious in every living thing, adaptation so exquisite, so ingenious, so novel, as to defy the imagination: in the ant-Iion and its deathtrap in the sand, in the bill of the woodpecker, in the canine teeth of the carnivores, in the structure of every bone and sinew and muscle, in the structure of eye and ear, in the instincts of animals, in the pattern of leaf, stem and root. Why this exquisite, infinitely complex adaptation between every living organism and the large or little world in which it had its being?
Then there came the time when either suddenly, upon the discovery of some slight detail, or slowly, in the growing recognition of a half-perceived truth, he realized that the mutability of species and all that it entailed was for him no longer merely a plausible theory, but an irresistible fact. There was not, however, a single friend to whom he could as much as intimate his new conviction. Not even Lyell, the man who should have been most sympathetic to this view, but who held back from any liberal biological interpretation.
And then, admitting successive cycles of creation and destruction, there was the further mystery of how evolution came about -- here was the mystery of mysteries in the species problem. Darwin's first approach to this was, as he said, connected with his reading 'for amusement' of Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society, the dissertation on economics that had excited the imagination of Spencer. The thesis of this work (published in 1798) was that the human population tends to increase many times more rapidly than the food supply, and that only famine, sickness and war suffice to maintain the necessary checks. Darwin immediately perceived here a cause of both the extinction of species and their diversification: between any two closely related species competing for a common habitat there existed a constant competition in which the weaker must ultimately perish; under these circumstances favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones to be destroyed. Where variations occurred frequently the result would be the formation of extreme variants, and ultimately new species which by their superiority could dominate the older forms. Continued differentiation would lead to forms so modified from the parent stalk and so different from each other as scarcely to show their common ancestry, but each would be exquisitely adapted to some environmental niche unsuitable, or even intolerable, for its cogeners. On first thought the full potentialities of this process of 'natural selection' failed to impress him. To invoke such an uncharitable, not to say cruel, means as the essential dynamic of evolution seemed out of the question, since it would only excite further prejudice against 'the species problem.' There were many details to be filled in before it could be argued seriously. Consequently, as the years went by, he told his friends only that the 'subject of species' interested him, that it was his 'prime hobby,' and that he hoped 'some day' to 'do something about it.'
Delayed by illness, it was May, 1842, before he had corrected the proofs of The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs: Being the First Part of the Geology of the Voyage of the Beagle, at a cost, as he said, of twenty months' labor spread over three and a half years. The work consisted of an orderly analysis of 'every existing coral reef, except some on the coast of Brazil,' and argued, in accordance with Lyell's work on subsidence and elevation, that the animals grew only at the surface, building upon the sunken base of past generations. Here then, in the distribution and height of coral islands, was a means of discovering local regions of subsidence of the ocean floor, both in present and past ages, and even of measuring the extent of this subsidence. The work was highly gratifying to Lyell as affording a new geologic tool, but for Darwin it had another and secret meaning, its bearing 'upon that most mysterious question -- whether the series of organized beings peculiar to some isolated points [coral islands] are the last remnants of a former population, or the first creatures of a new race springing into existence.'
Herbert Spencer coined the terms 'struggle for existence' and 'survival of the fittest' in 1852, but the principle was as clear to Darwin under 'natural selection' as to Spencer's readers under the more dramatic titles. Given biological variation, however caused, and the inheritance of this variation as premises, then natural selection arising from the sheer necessities of living, coupled with repeated oscillations in environment, must in the end lead to the weeding out of the unadapted and unadaptable. Parasites, beasts of prey, the incalculable waste in animal and vegetable reproduction, the holocausts of geologic destruction, were not manifestations of evil but the operation of an inexorable 'law' which seemed to Darwin, Unitarian minister aborted, even as it had seemed to Spencer, the Quaker, to be a Law of Progress: 'From death, famine, rapine, and the concealed war of nature we can see that the highest good, which we can conceive, the creation of the highest animals has directly come.' If God could not be the quick Creator of a Perfect Universe then he must be a leisurely artificer evolving one in the direction of perfection by droughts and floods and earthquakes, by heaving continents up and down through some untold millions of years, by depending on the laws of nature to carry on the divine edict of natural selection.
In his notes of 1842, written when he was thirty-three years old and intended as the first draft of an essay on 'the species problem,' and which he carefully hid away, he presented practically the complete thesis of the Origin. There were, however, other works clamoring for completion, the Volcanic Islands (1844), Geological Observations in South America (1846), and several monographs on barnacles (1851-1854). In 1844 he expanded the original thirty-odd pages of his essay to 189, interpolating into the ever more closely analyzed evidence the thought: 'According to our theory, there is obviously no power tending constantly to exalt species, except the mutual struggle between the different individuals and classes; but from the strong and general hereditary tendency we might expect to find some tendency to progressive complication in the successive production of new organic forms.' There is obviously no power tending to exalt species -- only 'progressive complication' in place of the 'highest good.' The essay was finished in July and his wife was given solemn instructions to ensure its publication in case of his death.
In this year he wrote his younger friend, the botanist Joseph Hooker, '... and I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable .... Heaven forfend me from Lamarck's nonsense of a "tendency to progression," (adaptations from the slow willing animals), etc.! But the conclusions I am led to are not widely different from his; though the means of change are wholly so. I think I have found out (here's presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends. You will groan, and think to yourself, "on what a man have I been wasting my time and writing to." '
Such was Darwin's friendship with Hooker that he allowed him to read the secret manuscript before the year was out, with the understanding that no word was to be said about it. Excessive diffidence and self-depreciation held him back, as well as an appreciation of the prejudice which his ideas would meet immediately they became public property, a prescience of the storm which the Origin, when it was published, did in fact arouse.
Although he gave no certain hint of it, Darwin probably better than most of his colleagues saw the far-reaching implications in the principle of natural selection. The shift in terms from the 'highest good' to 'progressive complication' with 'no tendency to exalt any species' was but a ripple reflecting the complete upheaval of his faith. So slowly that the change was unperceived except in large perspective, his mind had turned away from the holy orders that had seemed his certain destiny fifteen years before; he had given up his belief in the Old Testament, then in the New, and finally in Christianity as a divine revelation, only to discover without distress, without surprise even, that he was completely lacking in faith. How could he argue the mutability of species, survival by natural selection, by dint of sheer physical superiority or skillful viciousness, with men who still found consolation in the comfortable belief that death was a needless consequence of Adam's sin, and that the meanest creature of creation was put there with the love of God who marked the sparrow's fall? Knowing that he could never again see the world in the same light as others saw it, he dreaded to speak out what would seem blasphemy, not merely against Genesis but against the deity himself. How could he proclaim that the god who was concealed beneath the panoply of earth and the coverlet of stars, the Lord God Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, was ruthlessness and cruelty personified?
From 1842 onward Darwin was inflicted with 'stomach trouble' of the most distressing sort, which some believed to be a sequel of his protracted seasickness on the Beagle, and others attributed to the Valparaiso illness. In retrospect it appears that there was no organic disease; protracted sea-sickness and privations on the voyage may have undermined a physique that at its best was never robust, and unremitting hard work and the anxiety attending his many unfinished projects must have served constantly to aggravate his condition. Yet unquestionably a factor in his illness was the apprehension of making public his new view. No matter in what terms he couched it, it threatened to turn public opinion against him, to destroy his good name and that of his family, perhaps even the good repute of reason itself and the evidences and critical method to which he had devoted himself.
All these factors joined forces to delay the publication of his notes on species. Another five years passed and he had happily found escape in pursuing a detailed study of barnacles, but he was none the less writing Hooker, 'Do not flatter yourself that I shall not live to finish the Barnacles, and then make a fool of myself on the subject of species.'
After three more years he was confident that he could meet the expected attack, even the abuse, of his critics, but he was turning to botany and pigeons as subjects where more and yet more factual evidence on the problem of variation could be obtained. In 1856 Lyell urged him to publish at least a sketch of his views on species, calling his attention to a recent essay by Alfred Russell Wallace, entitled On the Law which has Regulated the Introduction of New Species. Darwin had met Wallace briefly in 1853, a young man who had just returned from four years on the River Amazon. Now on an extended exploration of the East Indies, Wallace had begun to pursue the mystery of geographical distribution -- 'the keystone of the problem of creation,' as he called it. His essay, sent from Borneo in 1855, asserted only that 'every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species' -- an apparently harmless assertion except as viewed against the background of Mosaic legend. In some points Wallace's views were different from Darwin's, but there was no doubt that they both were following the same trail. Darwin was perturbed, Lyell pressing; he doubted that Darwin would ever write his proposed book unless he were forced to do so, and urged him to submit a short outline for publication. Hooker was appealed to and between them Darwin was induced to undertake the rapid preparation of 'a very thin and little volume,' the draft of which, however, began to expand indefinitely under the irrepressible impulse to amass every known available datum, to enlarge upon details, clarify controversial points and multiply evidence. Darwin was wholly incapable of suggesting the mutability of species without first covering and suffocating his critics with evidence. Nothing would do but that he should write the book which would contain every evidence from every quarter of the plant and animal kingdom, the Great Work which he had now decided to call 'Natural Selection.' He took time to write Wallace briefly, commenting favorably on his essay and mentioning that he himself had a work in progress in which he hoped to set forth 'a distinct and tangible idea' of how variation came about.
A little later he also wrote Asa Gray on the subject of selection. The Lamarckian theory of 'use and disuse' must be wholly set aside as futile, he said. In his view human selection had been the main agent in forming the domestic species: suppose, then, a natural selection working not on just one or two features of the organism but upon the entire organism, muscle, nerve and gland, generation after generation for millions of generations, only a minority in each generation surviving to propagate its kind: 'Considering the infinitely various ways beings have to obtain food by struggling with other beings, to escape danger at various times of life, to have their eggs as seeds disseminated, etc. etc., I cannot doubt that during millions of generations individuals of a species will be born with some slight variation profitable to some part of its economy; such will have a better chance of surviving, propagating their variation, which again will be slowly increased by the accumulative action of natural selection; and the variety thus formed will either coexist with, or more commonly will exterminate its parent type.'
But the proposed volume on natural selection remained unfinished. Darwin's habitual prospect was that it might be completed in another two years. He might have gone on thus until the end of his life had Wallace not written him again from the East Indies, in a letter received on June 18, 1858, enclosing a few pages of manuscript and expressing the hope that the idea therein contained would be as new to Darwin as to himself, that 'it would supply the missing factor to explain the origin of species,' and asking Darwin, if he thought it worthy, to forward it to Lyell.
Darwin was aghast. In a few pages Wallace had set forth practically his entire theory of natural selection. As he said in the letter with which he forwarded Wallace's manuscript to Lyell, 'Your words have come true with a vengeance -- that I should be forestalled. I never saw a more striking coincidence; if Wallace had my manuscript sketch written out in 1842, he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters ... I hope you will approve of Wallace's sketch, that I may tell him what you say!'
There was a week of confused despair in which regrets about priority and the belief that for him to publish now would be base and paltry swept him from one decision to another. To add to his misery, within a few hours his youngest child was dead of scarlet fever, another was sickening, apparently with diphtheria, and two of the nurses were taken ill. In his excessive self-effacement and miserable state of mind, he might well have decided to abandon the project, had not Hooker sent a messenger demanding the immediate delivery of the copy of the letter which he had written Gray, a copy of his notes of 1844, and the whole of Wallace's manuscript. And at the behest of Hooker and Lyell transcriptions of these were read by the secretary of the Linnaean Society two nights later, at its regular meeting of July 1, 1858. The members had come to hear a paper by George Bentham on the fixity of species, and there was naturally some excitement when the Darwin and Wallace papers replacing it both denied this very doctrine. However, to the audience it seemed that the entire question of varieties and species was indeed complex, and that opinion had best be reserved until the papers had been made available by publication in the Proceedings of the Society. So the meeting adjourned into the London streets, under a night sky in which a comet, portent of fate and change, could be discerned. For nearly all who had attended the meeting the species problem was much less exciting than this astronomical rarity.
Of procrastination there had now to be an end, and, at the cost of tremendous effort, a book was hurriedly completed and sent to press under the title: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, appearing on November 24, 1859, price 15s. At the last minute the publisher rejected Darwin's title, An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties through Natural Selection -- 'an abstract of an essay' indeed! and who would want to buy an abstract! But he did not efface from Darwin's introduction the modest assertion: 'This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect ....'
The Origin dealt exclusively with the lower animals, the evidence as regards the zoologically negligible genus Homo being one of those fields that Darwin had not yet found an opportunity to explore, and the only allusion to this subject was that by the new views 'Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.'
The book closed in the moral mood of 1842: 'And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.' That Darwin identified the parasite, the ant-lion, the carnivore, the universal slaughter of creature by fellow creature, the wholesale destruction of entire species and genera, as progress towards 'perfection'; that he imagined anyone species closer than another to 'perfection'; that he asked himself, What would be 'perfection' for an individual parasite, ant-lion or carnivore? -- is inconceivable. In the enforced, rapid presentation of his ideas he sought to adorn his work with some philosophical finial, and from the habit of a lifetime he reverted to pious thinking and the Platonism with which his age was saturated. Overlooking the fact that in 1844 he had written that there is 'no power tending constantly to exalt species,' he reverted to his notes of 1837: 'from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows.' Had he paused to define 'higher' he perforce must have answered in his own terms either 'more complicated' or 'better adapted,' but of this difficulty the reader remained unaware as he passed on to the last sentence in the book: '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.' Most beautiful and wonderful, perhaps -- but beauty and wonder are too much in the eye of the beholder to afford reliable standards of progressiveness.
The first edition of the Origin proved from the publisher's point of view to be an immediate success. A second edition was soon called for, then an American volume, and then a German translation. Darwin's colleagues were divided in opinion. Carpenter the physiologist, and Jukes, Ramsay and Geikie, the geologists, were convinced. Huxley was enthusiastic, and warned Darwin not to let himself 'be in any way disgusted or amazed by the considerable abuse and misrepresentation which, unless I greatly mistake, is in store for you,' and promised to sharpen up his own 'claws and beak' should he be needed for defense. Spencer naturally found most of the work suited to his philosophy of progressive evolution and was moved to speak of geology as 'that grand epic written by the fingers of God upon the strata of the earth' -- neglecting to add that every finger stroke represented the seemingly needless extermination of millions upon millions of living creatures. Lyell frankly abandoned the fixity of species, but remained doubtful about the new views throwing any 'light on man.' On the other side, however, were the weightiest, because the senior, names: Sir John Herschel was openly contemptuous; Grey, of the British Museum, damned the book as Lamarckian; Whewell refused to have a copy in the library at Trinity College; Carlyle sneered. The anatomist Owen wrote an anonymous review proving Darwin to be entirely wrong, himself entirely right. To Sedgwick it was a 'dish of rank materialism cleverly cooked' merely 'to make us independent of a Creator'; if Darwin's argument held, then humanity 'would suffer a damage that might brutalize it, and sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history!'
Darwin was accused by the Daily News of stealing from the Vestiges of Creation. The Times, however, broke with precedent by devoting over three columns to his book, presenting a clear discussion of the important facts and of Darwin's qualifications to deal with them, and the evolutionary view, though not outrightly endorsed, was not condemned. The article was unsigned but informed persons recognized that it had been written by Huxley. Then more and more reviews appeared, most of them incorporating an undercurrent of derision. By the middle of 1860 the book was being much talked about; Owen found occasion to mention it in Parliament, and Owen's friend, Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, popularly known because of his mastery of platform trickery and pulpit oratory as Soapy Sam, condemned it outright in the Quarterly Review, declaring that 'the principle of natural selection is absolutely incompatible with the word of God.' When the first tide of success was over there followed in increasing numbers expressions of anti-evolutionist opinion.
Indignation reached its peak at the meeting of the British Association in Oxford at the end of June, 1860, when it was expected that the great Owen would appear to answer Darwin personally. Darwin and Owen were both absent from this historic meeting, the first because of illness, the second giving no excuse -- the more surprising since he was to occupy the chair -- but sending Bishop Wilberforce to speak in his place. The audience was so large that the meeting had to be moved from the usual lecture room to the library, which was soon filled to standing, the Oxford clerics massed in the middle of the room, laymen and ladies crowded near the windows. Another scheduled paper was received with ill-concealed impatience, and the three speakers who followed were shouted down so that Wilberforce might have his chance. Practiced in oratorical persuasion, the Bishop proceeded to 'spout for half an hour with inimitable spirit, ugliness and emptiness and unfairness,' fluently, rhetorically entertaining, at first jovial, then scoffing, and in the end ridiculing. He essayed several assaults on the evidences of evolution, obviously having been coached in the technicalities, and finally he turned to Huxley and sarcastically inquired whether it was through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed to be descended from a monkey. Huxley, aghast at a personal taunt in an important and public meeting, whispered to the person by his side, "The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands."
When the Bishop took his seat hands clapped, handkerchiefs waved and there was a sustained uproar of clerical approval. Then Huxley was called upon to speak. He rose to the scattered applause of a few friends, his face pale with anger under his wild, thick hair: "I am here only in the interests of science," he said, "and have not heard anything which can prejudice the case of my august client." He went on quietly to review the facts, to indicate the Bishop's essential incompetence to treat of such matters as geology and the mutability of species, and ended by saying in effect -- there was no transcript of the speakers' remarks and the excitement was such that these were variously recalled by the audience -- that he would rather have an ape for an ancestor than an intellectual prostitute like Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Laymen applauded, the massed clergy raised their voices in offended dignity, and a Lady Brewster achieved immortality by fainting and having to be carried out.
Six weeks after he reviewed the Origin for the Times Huxley had addressed a Friday evening audience at the Royal Institution on 'Species and Races, and their Origin.' Only an abstract of his lecture is preserved, but it is clear that it was here for the first time that he publicly applied Darwin's theory of descent to man, and gave intimations of its implications: 'Let man's mistaken vanity, his foolish contempt for the material world, impel him to struggle as he will, he strives in vain to break through the ties which hold him to matter and the lower forms of life .... The general mind is seething strangely, and to those who watch the signs of the time, it seems plain that this nineteenth century will see revolutions of thought and practice as great as those which the sixteenth witnessed. Through what trials and sore contests the civilized world will have to pass in the cause of this new reformation, who can tell?' Darwin's only comment was that he was disappointed in the lecture because Huxley 'did not enlarge sufficiently upon natural selection, and wasted time over the idea of a species as exemplified in the horse.' It was as though Darwin were still so frightened that he resolutely refused to look at aught but innocuous details. But, like Darwin, Huxley knew the value of evidence.
In the meantime the reviewers were heaping contumely upon the Origin. Bishop Wilberforce himself reviewed it for the Quarterly Review, presenting Darwin as a fantastic speculator defending a foolish theory. He declared that 'the principle of natural selection is absolutely incompatible with the word of God'; that 'it contradicts the revealed relations of creation to its Creator'; that there is 'a simple explanation of the presence of these strange forms among the works of God,' that explanation being 'the fall of Adam.' 'Not only do all the laws for the study of nature vanish when the great principle of order prevailing and regulating all her processes is given up, but all that imparts the deepest interest in the investigation of her wonders will have departed too. Under such influences a man goes back to the marvelling stare of childhood at the centaurs and the hippogriffs of fancy, or if he is of a philosophic turn, he comes like Oken to write a scheme of creation under "a sort of inspiration"; but it is the frenzied inspiration of the inhaler of Mephitic gas.' The Bishop had signaled the attitude of the church, and similar theological denunciations were to echo from all parts of the world: 'evolution was an attempt to dethrone God,' and 'a huge imposture from the beginning'; it was 'a caricature of creation'; it did 'open violence to everything which the Creator himself has told us in the Scriptures'; if its thesis were true, 'Genesis is a lie, the whole framework of the book of life falls to pieces, and the revelation of God to man, as we Christians know it, is a delusion and a snare,' and 'the Bible is an unbearable fiction'; 'then have Christians for nearly two thousand years been duped by a monstrous lie.' Darwin was an 'infidel' and 'atheist,' a 'persecutor of Christianity,' 'the mouthpiece or chief trumpeter of that infidel clique whose well-known object is to do away with the idea of God.' 'These infamous doctrines have for their only support the most abject passions. Their father is pride, their mother impurity, their offspring revolutions. They come from hell and return thither, taking with them the gross creatures who blush not to proclaim and accept them.'
But medieval artillery was no longer effective against the 'destroyers of the church,' who were now too heavily armored with facts and reinforced by popular sympathy to be driven under cover. Nowhere in the world was there more general interest in the achievements of scholarship, either in the natural sciences or in related fields, than in mid-nineteenth century England. The controversy over free thought that had marked the previous decades, the publicity attending the discoveries of geology and paleontology, for which that island was a most fertile ground, the widespread interest in biblical criticism in the early sixties, had all contrived to excite a high order of curiosity among the readers of daily papers and monthly magazines, and the popular reaction to the ecclesiastic epithets was one of amusement rather than alarm. If Darwin or Huxley had anything to say about an alleged affinity between man and the apes, a large number of people were quite honestly and dispassionately interested in hearing it.
Early in 1861 Huxley published, in the first number of the new Natural History Review, an article 'On the Relation of Man with the Lower Animals,' showing that not one of the claims that Owen had put forth concerning the differences between the brains of apes and man, and elevating man into a separate sub-class, was justified. In two further papers he developed the proposition that 'Biology shows less structural difference between man and the higher apes than between the higher and lower apes; and far less than between the higher and inferior animals.' In January of 1862 he delivered two lectures at Edinburgh under the same title, and then returned to London to study the recently discovered Neanderthal skull, and to develop a new method for the measurement of skulls in general. This led to a lecture at the Royal Institution 'On the Fossil Remains of Man.' These lectures, supplemented by other material, he combined into a book called Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863).
Man's Place in Nature was a small book, but as solid and well packed with evidence as was the Origin. It was the first, and it remains the definitive, statement of the naturalistic interpretation of this problem, utilizing all the diverse evidences of comparative anatomy, embryology and paleontology. Of it, Sir Arthur Keith has said, 'When we look around for another biological treatise in which are given as complete and as convincing proofs of a thesis as were produced by Huxley in Man's Place in Nature, we can think of only one which will stand comparison, namely Harvey's account of the Movement of the Heart and Blood.'
In the ultimate analysis, however, it was not the finely woven warp and woof of evidences that made the book important -- these evidences would have won through in their own time to critical and then to popular acceptance -- but the impact of the work as a whole upon the popular mind to which it was addressed.
Science has fulfilled her function when she has ascertained and enunciated truth [says Huxley], and were these pages addressed to men of science only, I should now close this Essay, knowing that my colleagues have learned to respect nothing but evidence, and to believe that their highest duty lies in submitting to it, however it may jar against their inclinations.
But, desiring, as I do, to reach the wider circle of the intelligent public, it would be unworthy cowardice were I to ignore the repugnance with which the majority of my readers are likely to meet the conclusions to which the most careful and conscientious study I have been able to give the matter, has led me.
On all sides I hear the cry -- "We are men and women, not a mere better sort of apes, a little longer in the leg, more compact in the foot, and bigger in brain than your brutal Chimpanzees and Gorillas. The power of knowledge -- the conscience of good and evil -- the pitiful tenderness of human affections, raise us out of all real fellowship with the brutes, however closely they may seem to approximate us."
To this I can only reply that the exclamation would be most just and would have my own entire sympathy, if it were only relevant. But it is not I who seek to base man's dignity upon his great toe, or insinuate that we are lost if an Ape has a hippocampus minor. On the contrary, I have done my best to sweep away this vanity. I have endeavored to show that no absolute structural line of demarcation, wider than that between the animals which immediately succeed us in the scale, can be drawn between the animal world and ourselves; and I may add the expression of my belief that the attempt to draw a psychical distinction is equally futile, and that even the highest faculties of feeling and of intellect begin to germinate in lower forms of life.