Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/348

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.






WE are assembled, at the invitation of an organization devoted to the dissemination of scientific knowledge, under the hospitable roof of an institution maintained for the promotion of systematic observation, for the purpose of honoring the memory of one of the greatest of seers. Charles Darwin, whose birthday we celebrate, was a man of the clearest mental vision born into a generation scientifically blind. He first, of those in his day accounted wise, was able to see all nature unfolding according to uniform and verifiable law. The outlook of other men called by his contemporaries scientists and philosophers was, as a rule, limited and obscured by a narrowing and hampering doctrine of supernatural intervention. It is hard for us, who are privileged to contemplate with admiring minds the harmonious interrelations of all natural phenomena, to realize that only fifty years ago it was commonly regarded as both irrational and immoral to believe that one great principle underlay the origin, maintenance, diversification and development of living forms and that principle was discoverable through human investigation. During the ages previous to the memorable year 1859 a few bold thinkers, now and then, had ventured to suggest a theory of general evolution, but they had failed to supply it with a substantial foundation of proof, or to assign to it a reasonable and intelligible cause, and had been, consequently, one and all, overwhelmed and suppressed by the powerful and prevalent dogma of special creation. Naturalists had been for centuries active in the collection of facts, but, until Darwin came, the various phenomena of living things remained disconnected and unexplained. Indeed, it was impossible that they should have been correlated and elucidated as long as the domain of science was in thralldom to tyrannical authority and originality of thought was little less than a crime. For a hundred years prior to Darwin even professed students of nature were not free to see what lay under their very eyes. The scientific world was awaiting a liberator. Finally the revolution was proclaimed and the first decisive blow struck by the publication of "The Origin of Species" on the twenty-fourth of November, 1859. It was no hasty and ill-considered

  1. An address given at the American Museum of Natural History on February 12, on the occasion of the presentation of a bust of Darwin by the New York Academy of Sciences to the museum.