The Duke of Argyll's Charges against Men of Science

Nature (February 1888)

Bournemouth, February 4

The Duke of Argyll's singular appetite for besmirching the character of men of science appears to grow by what it feeds on; and, as fast as old misrepresentations are refuted, new ones are evolved out of the inexhaustible inaccuracy of his Grace's imagination.

In the last two letters which the Duke of Argyll has addressed to you, he accuses me of having charged the members of the French Institute with having entered into a "conspiracy of silence" in respect of Mr. Darwin's views. I desire to say that the assertion that I have done anything of the kind is untrue and devoid of foundation.

My words, in the passage of which the Duke has cited as much as suited his purpose, stand as follows: "In France, the influence of Elie de Beaumont and of Flourens–the former of whom is said to have 'damned himself to everlasting fame' by inventing the nickname of 'la science moussante' for evolutionism–to say nothing of the ill-will of other powerful members of the Institute, produced, for a long time, the effect of a conspiracy of silence."1 I used the words I have italicized advisedly, for the purpose of indicating that, though the members of the Institute did not enter into a conspiracy of silence, the notorious antagonism of some of them to evolution produced much the same result as if they had done so.

If the Duke of Argyll were properly informed upon the topics about which he ventures to speak so rashly, he would know that M. Flourens wrote a book in vehement denunciation of evolutionism. As I reviewed that book not very long after its appearance, I could not well be ignorant of its existence. And being aware of its existence, I could not possibly have charged M. Flourens with taking any part in a "conspiracy of silence."

The "effect" of the known repugnance to Mr. Darwin's views of some of the most prominent members of the Institute, to which I refer, is the effect upon the younger generation of French naturalists. Considering the influence of the Institute upon scientific appointments, the chances of a candidate known to be an evolutionist would have been small indeed; and prudence dictated silence.

Mr. Carlyle has celebrated the courage, if not the discretion, of a certain "Rex Sigismundus," who, his Latin being called in question, declared that he was, as a Royal personage, "supra grammaticam." The Duke of Argyll appears to be of King Sigismund's opinion in respect to the obligations which are felt by humbler persons, who have, wittingly or unwittingly, accused their fellows wrongfully; and I do not suppose that he will descend, on my account, from a position which may be sublime or may be ridiculous, according to one's point of view. The readers of Nature will choose their own.

1 "Life and Letters of Charles Darwin," vol. ii. pp. 185-86.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University