A likeness may also be discerned in the way in which the work or contributions of predecessors and contemporaries are referred to. The brief historical summaries prefixed to many of Mr. Brown’s papers are models of judicial conscientiousness. And Mr. Darwin’s evident delight at discovering that some one else has “said his good things before him,” or has been on the verge of uttering them, seemingly equals that of making the discovery himself. It reminds one of Goethe’s insisting that his views in morphology must have been held before him and must be somewhere on record, so obvious did they appear to him.
Considering the quiet and retired lives led by both these men, and the prominent place they are likely to occupy in the history of science, the contrast between them as to contemporary and popular fame is very remarkable. While Mr. Brown was looked up to with the greatest reverence by all the learned botanists, he was scarcely heard of by any one else; and out of botany he was unknown to science except as the discoverer of the Brownian motion of minute particles, which discovery was promulgated in a privately-printed pamphlet that few have ever seen. Although Mr. Darwin had been for twenty years well and widely known for his “Naturalist’s Journal,” his works on “Coral Islands,” on “Volcanic Islands, and especially for his researches on the Barnacles, it was not till about fifteen years ago that his name became popularly famous. Ever since no scientific name has been so widely spoken. Many others have had hypotheses or systems named after them, but no one else that we know of a department of bibliography. The nature of his latest researches accounts for most of the difference, but not for all, The Origin of Species is a fascinating topic, having interests and connections with every branch of science, natural and moral. The investigation of recondite affinities is very dry and special; its questions, processes, and results alike—although in part generally presentable in the shape of morphology—are mainly, like the higher mathematics, unintelligible except to those who make them a subject of serious study. They are especially so when presented in Mr. Brown’s manner. Perhaps no naturalist ever recorded the results of his investigations in fewer words and with greater precision than Robert Brown: certainly no one ever took more pains to state nothing beyond the precise point in question. Indeed, we have sometimes fancied that he preferred to enwrap rather than to explain his meaning; to put it into such a form that, unless you follow Solomon’s injunction and dig for the wisdom as for hid treasure, you may hardly apprehend it until you have found it all out for yourself, when you will have the satisfaction of perceiving that Mr. Brown not only knew all about it, but had put it upon record. Very different from this is the way in which Mr. Darwin takes his readers into his confidence, freely displays to them the sources of his information, and the working of his mind, and even shares with them all his doubts and misgivings, while in a clear exposition he sets forth the reasons which have guided him to his conclusions. These you may hesitate or decline to adopt, but you feel sure that they have been presented with perfect fairness; and if you think of arguments against them you may be confident that they have all been duly considered before.