Collected Essays (Huxley)/Volume II/Preface
April 7th, 1893.
I have entitled this volume "Darwiniana" because the pieces republished in it either treat of the ancient doctrine of Evolution, rehabilitated and placed upon a sound scientific foundation, since and in consequence of, the publication of the "Origin of Species;" or they attempt to meet the more weighty of the unsparing criticisms with which that great work was visited for several years after its appearance; or they record the impression left by the personality of Mr. Darwin on one who had the privilege and the happiness of enjoying his friendship for some thirty years; or they endeavour to sum up his work and indicate its enduring influence on the course of scientific thought.
Those who take the trouble to read the first two essays, published in 1859 and 1860, will, I think, do me the justice to admit that my zeal to secure fair play for Mr. Darwin, did not drive me into the position of a mere advocate; and that, while doing justice to the greatness of the argument I did not fail to indicate its weak points. I have never seen any reason for departing from the position which I took up in these two essays; and the assertion which I sometimes meet with nowadays, that I have "recanted" or changed my opinions about Mr. Darwin's views, is quite unintelligible to me.
As I have said in the seventh essay, the fact of evolution is to my mind sufficiently evidenced by palæontology; and I remain of the opinion expressed in the second, that until selective breeding is definitely proved to give rise to varieties infertile with one another, the logical foundation of the theory of natural selection is incomplete. We still remain very much in the dark about the causes of variation; the apparent inheritance of acquired characters in some cases; and the struggle for existence within the organism, which probably lies at the bottom of both of these phenomena.
Some apology is due to the reader for the reproduction of the "Lectures to Working Men" in their original state. They were taken down in shorthand by Mr. J. Aldous Mays, who requested me to allow him to print them. I was very much pressed with work at the time; and, as I could not revise the reports, which I imagined, moreover, would be of little or no interest to any but my auditors, I stipulated that a notice should be prefixed to that effect. This was done; but it did not prevent a considerable diffusion of the little book in this country and in the United States, nor its translation into more than one foreign language. Moreover Mr. Darwin often urged me to revise and expand the lectures into a systematic popular exposition of the topics of which they treat. I have more than once set about the task: but the proverb about spoiling a horn and not making a spoon, is particularly applicable to attempts to remodel a piece of work which may have served its immediate purpose well enough.
So I have reprinted the lectures as they stand, with all their imperfections on their heads. It would seem that many people must have found them useful thirty years ago; and, though the sixties appear now to be reckoned by many of the rising generation as a part of the dark ages, I am not without some grounds for suspecting that there yet remains a fair sprinkling even of "philosophic thinkers" to whom it may be a profitable, perhaps even a novel, task to descend from the heights of speculation and go over the A B C of the great biological problem as it was set before a body of shrewd artisans at that remote epoch.