Botanic garden, Cambridge, mass., June, 1876.
THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY MEANS OF
Natural selection [I-1]
(American Journal of Science and Arts, March, 1860)
This book is already exciting much attention. Two American editions are announced, through which it will become familiar to many of our readers, before these pages are issued. An abstract of the argument—for “the whole volume is one long argument,” as the author states—is unnecessary in such a case; and it would be difficult to give by detached extracts. For the volume itself is an abstract, a prodromus of a detailed work upon which the author has been laboring for twenty years, and which “will take two or three more years to complete.” It is exceedingly compact; and although useful summaries are appended to the several chapters, and a general recapitulation contains the essence of the whole, yet much of the aroma escapes in the treble distillation, or is so concentrated that the flavor is lost to the general or even to the scientific reader. The volume itself—the proof-spirit—is just condensed enough for its purpose. It will be far more widely read, and perhaps will make deeper impression, than the elaborate work might have done, with all its full details of the facts upon which the author’s sweeping conclusions have been grounded. At least it is a more readable book: but all the facts that can be mustered in favor of the theory are still likely to be needed.
Who, upon a single perusal, shall pass judgment upon a work like this, to which twenty of the best years of the life of a most able naturalist have been devoted? And who among those naturalists who hold a position that entitles them to pronounce summarily upon the subject, can be expected to divest himself for the nonce of the influence of received and favorite systems? In fact, the controversy now opened is not likely to be settled in an off-hand way, nor is it desirable that it should be. A spirited conflict among opinions of every grade must ensue, which—to borrow an illustration from the doctrine of the book before us—may be likened to the conflict in Nature among races in the struggle for life, which Mr. Darwin describes; through which the views most favored by facts will be developed and tested by “Natural Selection,” the weaker ones be destroyed in the process, and the strongest in the long-run alone survive.
The duty of reviewing this volume in the American Journal of Science would naturally devolve upon the principal editor,’ whose wide observation and profound knowledge of various departments of natural history, as well as of geology, particularly qualify him for the task. But he has been obliged to lay aside his pen, and to seek in distant lands the entire repose from scientific labor so essential to the restoration of his health—a consummation devoutly to be wished, and confidently to be expected. Interested as Mr. Dana would be in this volume, he could not be expected to accept this doctrine.