Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/398

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might be, lent him the ability that was to restore synthesis to its lost place in scientific method. Still, fertile though he proved along theoretical lines, his caution prevented him from riding off, heedless, upon preconceived notions. In this connection, it is a fact worthy of constant note that he refused to discuss questions about the origin of life, and the genesis of the earliest living organisms—subjects fraught with wandering lights. My own ignorance of the field wherein he labored may lead me into error, but, nevertheless, I do not think I am far wrong when I affirm that the adjuncts of his systematization which have least stood the test of time, thanks to manifold discoveries, his fruitage, were precisely those framed as concessions to the opinions of others. His very inability to dogmatize, and his readiness to enter into the standpoint of colleagues, illustrated his mighty virtue of second thought, nigh in the act of overreaching itself. Accordingly, it makes small difference to what extent further investigation may have complicated the problem of the means of evolution; his illuminating and thorough presentation of the fact stands untouched. The dilemma becomes plainer every day—either evolution, or irrational chaos.

On what may be called the ethical side, his personality exercised immense influence over his intimates and won upon them deeply. A brilliant and witty conversationalist, his refinement and sensitiveness placed even the youngest at ease, while his benevolent wisdom tied men to him by bands stronger than steel. Like all real masters of those who know, he was charmingly unconscious of his eminent genius, and his unaffected modesty led him to see achievements surpassing his own in many a one. What he wrote of Henslow offers a most apposite commentary upon himself.

Reflecting over his character with gratitude and reverence, his moral attributes rise, as they should do in the highest characters, in preeminence over his intellect.

But, to my mind, the most impressive testimony to Darwin's personal nobility comes, not from any of his devoted friends, but from Leslie Stephen, a critic averse constitutionally from ecstatic praise of any one. He even says: "I should like to succeed in praising somebody some day."[1] Remember, too, that Stephen was on terms of familiarity with the chief figures of the Victorian era, that his own family had produced men of high distinction, and that he married a daughter of Thackeray. Yet, temperament and opportunity notwithstanding, Darwin overtopped all others with him. The venerable naturalist had been to see him in London, and Stephen writes to Charles Eliot Norton, in 1877:

You may believe that I was proud to welcome him, for of all eminent men that I have ever seen he is beyond comparison the most attractive to me. There is something almost pathetic in his simplicity and friendliness.
  1. "The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen," p. 307.