Toast to Darwin (November 1877)

Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, vol. 1

[514] Mr. President–I rise with pleasure and with alacrity to respond to the toast which you have just proposed, and I may say that I consider one of the greatest honours which have befallen me, to be called upon to represent my distinguished friend Mr. Darwin upon this occasion. I say to represent Mr. Darwin for I cannot hope to personate him, or to say all that would be dictated by a mind conspicuous for its powerful humility and strong gentleness.

Mr. Darwin's work had fully earned the distinction you have to-day conferred upon him four and twenty years ago; but I doubt not that he would have been found in that circum[515]stance an exemplification of the wise foresight of his revered intellectual mother. Instead of offering her honours when they ran a chance of being crushed beneath the accumulated marks of approbation of the whole civilised world, the University has waited until the trophy was finished, and has crowned the edifice with the delicate wreath of academic appreciation.

This is what I suppose Mr. Darwin might have said had he been happily able to occupy my place. Let me now speak in my own person and in obedience to your suggestion, let me state as briefly as possible what appear to me to be Mr. Darwin's distinctive merits.

From the time of Aristotle to the present day I know of but one man who has shown himself Mr. Darwin's equal in one field of research–and that is Reaumur. In the breadth of range of Mr. Darwin's investigations upon the ways and works of animals and plants, in the minute patient accuracy of his observations, and in the philosophical ideas which have guided them, I know of no one who is to be placed in the same rank with him except Reaumur.

Secondly, looking back through the same long period of scientific history, I know of but one man, Lyonnet, who not being from his youth a trained anatomist, has published such an admirable minute anatomical research as is contained in Mr. Darwin's work on the Cirripedes.

Thirdly, in that region which lies between Geology and Biology, and is occupied by the problem of the influence of life on the structure of the globe, no one, so far as I know, has done a more brilliant and far-reaching piece of work than the famous book upon Coral Reefs.

I add to these as incidental trifles the numerous papers on Geology, and that most delightful of popular scientific books, the Journal of a Naturalist, and I think I have made out my case for the justification of to-day's proceedings.

But I have omitted something. There is the Origin of Species, and all that has followed it from the same marvellously fertile brain.

Most people know Mr. Darwin only as the author of this work, and of the form of evolutional doctrine which it advocates. I desire to say nothing about that doctrine. My friend Dr. Humphry has said that the University has by to-day's proceedings committed itself to the doctrine of evolution. I can only say "I am very glad to hear it." But whether that doctrine be true or whether it be false, I wish to express the deliberate [516] opinion, that from Aristotle's great summary of the Biological knowledge of his time down to the present day, there is nothing comparable to the Origin of Species, as a connected survey of the phenomena of life permeated and vivified by a central idea. In remote ages the historian of science will dwell upon it as the starting-point of the Biology of his present and our future.

My friend Dr. Humphry has adverted to somebody about whom I know nothing, who says that the exact and critical studies pursued in this University are ill-calculated to preserve a high tone of mind.

I presume that this saying must proceed from some one wholly unacquainted with Cambridge. Whoever he may be, I beg him, if he can, to make the acquaintance of Charles Darwin.

In Mr. Darwin's name I beg leave to thank you for the honour you have done him.



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Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden