Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A First Year in Canterbury Settlement With Other Early Essays

Darwin on Species — [From the Press, 18 March, 1863.]

Darwin on Species
[From the Press, 18 March, 1863.]

To the Editor of the Press.

Sir—The “Savoyard” of last Saturday has shown that he has perused Darwin’s Botanic Garden with greater attention than myself. I am obliged to him for his correction of my carelessness, and have not the smallest desire to make use of any loopholes to avoid being “proved wrong.” Let, then, the “Savoyard’s” assertion that Dr. Darwin had to a certain extent forestalled Mr. C. Darwin stand, and let my implied denial that in the older Darwin’s works passages bearing on natural selection, or the struggle for existence, could be found, go for nought, or rather let it be set down against me.

What follows? Has the “Savoyard” (supposing him to be the author of the article on barrel-organs) adduced one particle of real argument the more to show that the real Darwin’s theory is wrong?

The elder Darwin writes in a note that “he is acquainted with a philosopher who thinks it not impossible that the first insects were the anthers or stigmas of flowers, which by some means, etc. etc.” page 174 This is mere speculation, not a definite theory, and though the passage above as quoted by the “Savoyard” certainly does contain the germ of Darwin’s theory, what is it more than the crudest and most unshapen germ? And in what conceivable way does this discovery of the egg invalidate the excellence of the chicken?

Was there ever a great theory yet which was not more or less developed from previous speculations which were all to a certain extent wrong, and all ridiculed, perhaps not undeservedly, at the time of their appearance? There is a wide difference between a speculation and a theory. A speculation involves the notion of a man climbing into a lofty position, and descrying a somewhat remote object which he cannot fully make out. A theory implies that the theorist has looked long and steadfastly till he is clear in his own mind concerning the nature of the thing which he is beholding. I submit that the “Savoyard” has unfairly made use of the failure of certain speculations in order to show that a distinct theory is untenable.

Let it be granted that Darwin’s theory has been foreshadowed by numerous previous writers. Grant the “Savoyard” his Giordano Bruno, and give full weight to the barrel-organ in a neighbouring settlement, I would still ask, has the theory of natural development of species ever been placed in anything approaching its present clear and connected form before the appearance of Mr. Darwin’s book? Has it ever received the full attention of the scientific world as a duly organised theory, one presented in a tangible shape and demanding investigation, as the conclusion arrived at by a man of known scientific attainments page 175 after years of patient toil? The upshot of the barrel-organs article was to answer this question in the affirmative and to pooh-pooh all further discussion.

It would be mere presumption on my part either to attack or defend Darwin, but my indignation was roused at seeing him misrepresented and treated disdainfully. I would wish, too, that the “Savoyard” would have condescended to notice that little matter of the bear. I have searched my copy of Darwin again and again to find anything relating to the subject except what I have quoted in my previous letter.

  I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

    A. M.