THE losses by death which natural science has sustained during the past year are unusually heavy. The fertile and ingenious mathematician who for more than a generation held a leading position among French men of science as the publisher of one of the best-known mathematical journals; the chemist who, by the first organic synthesis, helped to dispel the illusion of vital energy; the physiologist who solved one of the oldest problems of humanity — are men whose death leaves a void not easily filled up. But the luster of even such names as Liouville, Wöhler, and Bischoff pales before that of the first on our list, Charles Darwin. Nearly every learned society in existence has publicly deplored his loss. As this Academy has not hitherto found a fitting opportunity for doing so, it is necessary to add a few words to the formal mention of his decease, to show that we also appreciate the greatness of the man and of the loss science has sustained in him.
To say anything fresh concerning him will only be possible when the lapse of time and the progress of science have opened up new points of view; and the speaker, who has often had occasion to discuss Darwin before this Academy, finds it especially difficult not to repeat himself, the more so as opinions of his work are still somewhat apt to be influenced by personal feeling.
Darwin seems to me to be the Copernicus of the organic world. In the sixteenth century Copernicus put an end to the anthropocentric theory by doing away with the Ptolemaic spheres and bringing our earth down to the rank of an insignificant planet. At the same time he proved the non-existence of the so-called empyrean, the supposed abode of the heavenly hosts, beyond the seventh sphere, although Giordano Bruno was the first who actually drew the inference.
Man, however, still stood apart from the rest of animated beings — not at the top of the scale, his proper place, but quite away, as a being absolutely incommensurable with them. One hundred years later Descartes still held that man alone had a soul, and that beasts were mere automata. Notwithstanding all the labor of naturalists since the days of Linnæus, notwithstanding the resurrection of vanished genera and species by Cuvier, the theory of the origin and interdependence of
- Address delivered at the anniversary meeting of the Berlin Academy of Sciences.