The Life and Letters of Darwin, Vol. 1 HTML version

By Professor Huxley
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 far-reaching 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
Evolution 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.