Page:Some aspects of the Victorian age.djvu/27

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23
THE VICTORIAN AGE

external conditions which for the time being prevail. I need hardly reassure those of you who are beginning to be anxious by saying that I am not going to touch even the fringe of the controversy as it presents itself to Biologists. I am not qualified to enter the outer court of the Temple of Science. I am interested in it to-day only in so far as it affected men and ideas in the Victorian Age.

There can be no question as to the extent and the depth of the interest which was aroused. There had been nothing like it since the accession of the Queen. The Scientific Camp was divided: the veteran Owen resolutely hostile, Lyell not wholly convinced, and the younger spirits, the men of the future, headed by Huxley—one of the few men of whom it can be doubted whether he had a finer faculty for Science or for Letters—full of enthusiastic faith. By some of them Darwin was hailed as a second Newton; and years afterwards, Mr. Romanes, the founder of this Lecture, and himself an accomplished biologist, went so far as to write: 'If we may estimate the importance of an idea by the change of thought which it effects, this idea of natural selection is unquestionably the most important idea that has ever been conceived by the mind of man.[1]

There was another camp that was equally disturbed. The demonstration of the mutability of species, with its possible, perhaps its necessary, corollary, that the human race had been physically developed from some lower form of organism, seemed to many excellent people to be a death-blow, not only to Revelation, but to all

  1. Darwin, and after Darwin,' vol. i, p. 257 (quoted by Merz, 1. c., p. 346, n.).