I have now only to discharge the last duty of my office, which is to thank you, not only for the patient attention with which you have listened to me so long to-day, but also for the uniform kindness with which, for the past two years, you have rendered my endeavours to perform the important, and often laborious, functions of your President a pleasure instead of a burden.
MR. DARWIN’S CRITICS.
The gradual lapse of time has now separated us by more than a decade from the date of the publication of the “Origin of Species”—and whatever may be thought or said about Mr. Darwin’s doctrines, or the manner in which he has propounded them, this much is certain, that, in a dozen years, the “Origin of Species” has worked as complete a revolution in biological science as the “Principia” did in astronomy—and it has done so, because, in the words of Helmholtz, it contains “an essentially new creative thought."
[Footnote 1: 1. “Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection.” By A.R. Wallace. 1870.—2. “The Genesis of Species.” By St. George Mivart, F.R.S. Second Edition. 1871.—3. “Darwin’s Descent of Man.” Quarterly Review, July 1871.]
[Footnote 2: Helmholtz: “Ueber das Ziel und die Fortschritte der Naturwissenschaft.” Eroeffnungsrede fuer die Naturforscherversammlung zu Innsbruck. 1869.]
And as time has slipped by, a happy change has come over Mr. Darwin’s critics. The mixture of ignorance and insolence which, at first, characterized a large proportion of the attacks with which he was assailed, is no longer the sad distinction of anti-Darwinian criticism. Instead of abusive nonsense, which merely discredited its writers, we read essays, which are, at worst, more or less intelligent and appreciative; while, sometimes, like that which appeared in the North British Review for 1867, they have a real and permanent value.
The several publications of Mr. Wallace and Mr. Mivart contain discussions of some of Mr. Darwin’s views, which are worthy of particular attention, not only on account of the acknowledged scientific competence of these writers, but because they exhibit an attention to those philosophical questions which underlie all physical science, which is as rare as it is needful. And the same may be said of an article in the Quarterly Review for July 1871, the comparison of which with an article in the same Review for July 1860, is perhaps the best evidence which can be brought forward of the change which has taken place in public opinion on “Darwinism.”
The Quarterly Reviewer admits “the certainty of the action of natural selection” (p. 49); and further allows that there is an a priori probability in favour of the evolution of man from some lower animal form, if these lower animal forms themselves have arisen by evolution.