Popular Science Monthly/Volume 27/August 1885/The Darwin Memorial

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



IT is not often that the unveiling of a statue is attended with an interest at all comparable with that which characterized this ceremony as performed last Tuesday [June 9th] in the great hall of the Natural History Museum. If the greatness of a man is to be estimated by the measure in which he has influenced the thoughts of men, it is scarcely open to question that the greatest man of our century is Charles Darwin. As Professor Huxley remarked in the course of his singularly judicious and well-balanced address, Mr. Darwin's work has not only reconstructed the science of biology, but has spread with an organizing influence through almost every department of philosophical thought. Yet it was not merely the greatness of the naturalist which invested the proceedings in the Natural History Museum with an interest so unique. It was known to the whole assembly that the man whom they delighted to honor was one whose moral nature had been cast in the same lines of simple grandeur as those which belonged to his intellectual nature. It therefore only needed a passing allusion from Professor Huxley to enable the whole assembly to reflect that it was due as much to massiveness of character as to massiveness of work that within three years of his death Mr. Darwin's name should constitute a new center of gravity in every system of thought. And it was this reflection which gave to the ceremony so unusual a measure of interest. Around the statue were congregated the most representative men of every branch of culture, from the Prince of Wales and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the opposite extremes of radicalism and free thought. Indeed, it is not too much to say that there can scarcely ever have been an occasion on which so many illustrious men of opposite ways of thinking have met to express a common agreement upon a man to whom they have felt that honor is due. The international memorial could not in any nation have found a more worthy site than the one in which it has been placed; but, if anything could have added to the "solemn gladness" with which the personal friends of Mr. Darwin witnessed the presentation of this memorial, it must have been the evidence which the assembly yielded that, among the innumerable differences of opinion which it represented, his memory must henceforth be always and universally regarded as a changeless monument of all that is greatest in human nature, as well as of all that is greatest in human achievement.

Concerning the statue itself, we have only to speak in terms of almost unqualified praise. It is, in the truest sense of the phrase, a noble work of art. The attitude is not only easy and dignified, but also natural and characteristic; the modeling of the head and face is unexceptionable, and the portrait is admirable. The only criticism we have to advance has reference to the hands, which not only do not bear the smallest resemblance to those of Mr. Darwin, but are of a kind which, had they been possessed by him, would have rendered impossible the accomplishment of much of his work. Although this misrepresentation is a matter to be deplored, it is not one for which the artist can be justly held responsible. Never having had the advantage of seeing Mr. Darwin, Mr. Boehm has only to be congratulated upon the wonderful success which has attended his portraiture of the face and figure; the hands were no doubt supplied by guess-work, and therefore we have only to regret that the guess did not happen to be more fortunate.

The following is the address made by Professor Huxley, in the name of the Darwin Memorial Committee, on handing over the statue to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, as representative of the Trustees of the British Museum:

Your Royal Highness: It is now three years since the announcement of the death of our famous countryman, Charles Darwin, gave rise to a manifestation of public feeling, not only in these realms, but throughout the civilized world, which, if I mistake not, is without precedent in the modest annals of scientific biography.

The causes of this deep and wide outburst of emotion are not far to seek. We had lost one of those rare ministers and interpreters of Nature whose names mark epochs in the advance of natural knowledge. For, whatever be the ultimate verdict of posterity upon this or that opinion which Mr. Darwin had propounded; whatever adumbrations or anticipations of his doctrines may be found in the writings of his predecessors; the broad fact remains that since the publication, and by reason of the publication, of the "Origin of Species," the fundamental conceptions and the aims of the students of living Nature have been completely changed. From that work has sprung a great renewal, a true "instauratio magna" of the zoological and botanical sciences.

But the impulse thus given to scientific thought rapidly spread beyond the ordinarily recognized limits of biology. Psychology, Ethics, Cosmology were stirred to their foundations, and the "Origin of Species" proved itself to be the fixed point which the general doctrine of evolution needed in order to move the woild. "Darwinism," in one form or another, sometimes strangely distorted and mutilated, became an every-day topic of men's speech, the object of an abundance both of vituperation and of praise, more often than of serious study.

It is curious now to remember how largely, at first, the objectors predominated; but, considering the usual fate of new views, it is still more curious to consider for how short a time the phase of vehement opposition lasted. Before twenty years had passed, not only had the importance of Mr. Darwin's work been fully recognized, but the world had discerned the simple, earnest, generous character of the man that shone through every page of his writings.

I imagine that reflections such as these swept through the minds alike of loving friends and of honorable antagonists when Mr. Darwin died; and that they were at one in the desire to honor the memory of the man who, without fear and without reproach, had successfully fought the hardest intellectual battle of these days.

It was in satisfaction of these just and generous impulses that our great naturalist's remains were deposited in Westminster Abbey; and that, immediately afterward, a public meeting, presided over by my lamented predecessor, Mr. Spottiswoode, was held in the rooms of the Royal Society, for the purpose of considering what further steps should be taken toward the same end.

It was resolved to invite subscriptions, with the view of erecting a statue of Mr. Darwin in some suitable locality; and to devote any surplus to the advancement of the biological sciences.

Contributions at once flowed in from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and the British colonies, no less than from all parts of the three kingdoms; and they came from all classes of the community. To mention one interesting case, Sweden sent in 2,296 subscriptions "from all sorts of people," as the distinguished man of science who transmitted them wrote, "from the bishop to the seamstress, and in sums from five pounds to two pence."

The Executive Committee has thus been enabled to carry out the objects proposed. A "Darwin Fund" has been created, which is to be held in trust by the Royal Society, and is to be employed in the promotion of biological research.

The execution of the statue was intrusted to Mr. Boehm; and I think that those who had the good fortune to know Mr. Darwin personally will admire the power of artistic divination which has enabled the sculptor to place before us so very characteristic a likeness of one whom he had not seen.

It appeared to the committee that, whether they regarded Mr. Darwin's career or the requirements of a work of art, no site could be so appropriate as this great hall, and they applied to the Trustees of the British Museum for permission to erect it in its present position.

That permission was most cordially granted, and I am desired to tender the best thanks of the committee to the trustees for their willingness to accede to our wishes.

I also beg leave to offer the expression of our gratitude to your Royal Highness for kindly consenting to represent the trustees to-day.

It only remains for me, your Royal Highness, my lords and gentlemen, Trustees of the British Museum, in the name of the Darwin Memorial Committee, to request you to accept this statue of Charles Darwin.

We do not make this request for the mere sake of perpetuating a memory; for, so long as men occupy themselves with the pursuit of truth, the name of Darwin runs no more risk of oblivion than does that of Copernicus or that of Harvey.

Nor, most assuredly, do we ask you to preserve the statue in its cynosural position in this entrance-hall of our National Museum of Natural History as evidence that Mr. Darwin's views have received your official sanction; for Science does not recognize such sanctions, and commits suicide when it adopts a creed.

No; we beg you to cherish this memorial as a symbol by which, as generation after generation of students of Nature enter yonder door, they shall be reminded of the ideal according to which they must shape their lives, if they would turn to the best account the opportunities offered by the great institution under your charge.

The following reply was made by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales:

Professor Huxlet and Gentlemen: I consider it to be a high privilege to have been deputed by the unanimous wish of my colleagues, the Trustees of the British Museum, to accept, in their name, the gift which you have offered us on behalf of the Committee of the Darwin Memorial. The committee and subscribers may rest assured that we have most willingly assigned this honorable place to the statue of the great Englishman who has exerted so vast an influence upon the progress of those branches of natural knowledge the advancement of which is the object of the vast collections gathered here. It has given me much pleasure to learn that the memorial has received so much support in foreign countries that it may be regarded as cosmopolitan rather than as simply national; while the fact that persons of every condition of life have contributed to it affords remarkable evidence of the popular interest in the discussion of scientific problems. A memorial to which all nations and all classes of society have contributed can not be more fitly lodged than in our Museum, which, though national, is open to all the world, and the resources of which are at the disposal of every student of Nature, whatever his condition or his country, who enters our doors.—Nature.