Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/370

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366
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

But this is only the beginning of the gloom that anticipated the dawn.

Although in 1874 Dr. Elsberg, in a "Contribution to the Doctrine of Evolution," addressed this academy (and also the American Association for the Advancement of Science), in favor of the principles of Darwin, although Cope continued to sustain his earlier contentions, and general workers were beginning to make original observations in favor of the principles of organic descent, the reviewers of the deliberations of scientific gatherings give little promise of anything like a general acceptance of the beliefs in which we are interested.

In 1875, the retiring president of the American Association said:

I fear that the unhappy spirit of contention still survives, and that there are a few who fight for victory rather than for the truth.

One of the vice-presidents at this meeting declined to "enter on the vast field of discussion. . . opened up by Darwin and others," and resolved to avoid the use of the word "evolution," "as this has recently been employed in so many senses as to have become nearly useless for any scientific purpose."

Thus closed five years of struggle.

The year 1876, the centennial of political independence in America, marked also the dawn of intellectual independence and scientific freedom. It was the year of Brooks's first Salpa paper, and of his paper on pangenesis. Cope explicitly stated that the law of natural selection was now generally accepted, and the then librarian of this academy, Louis Elsberg, submitted his paper on the plastidule hypothesis, as nonchalantly as though he were discussing a lingual ribbon.

It was under these really blessed conditions that the American Association met in Buffalo and listened to a vice-presidential address fully worthy the title of the organization, Edward S. Morse had demonstrated his ability as an investigator in his paper of 1872, already mentioned, but the simple, straightforward, patient and kindly manner in which he addressed his audience in 1876, the thoroughness with which he scanned the work of others, the fairness with which he acknowledged the value of their results, and his concluding passages, in which he indicated the important bearing that the theories of descent had upon the social problems of the day, render his address a fit conclusion of a distinct epoch in the history of American science.

 

Since 1876, practically every zoological worker has sought to make some contribution that might strengthen his faith in a rational evolution of organic life and activities. It may be that such contributions will prove insufficient. It may be that Darwinism as a thing will ultimately fail of proof, but to those in the future who may inquire for the reason for these exercises and for the erection of this monument, Darwinism as a method will ever be a sufficient reply.