Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species

By A. C. Seward | Go to book overview

V
HEREDITY AND VARIATION IN MODERN LIGHTS

BY W. BATESON, M.A., F.R.S.

Professor of Biology in the University of Cambridge.

DARWIN'S work has the property of greatness in that it may be admired from more aspects than one. For some the perception of the principle of Natural Selection stands out as his most wonderful achievement to which all the rest is subordinate. Others, among whom I would range myself, look up to him rather as the first who plainly distinguished, collected, and comprehensively studied that new class of evidence from which hereafter a true understanding of the process of Evolution may be developed. We each prefer our own standpoint of admiration; but I think that it will be in their wider aspect that his labours will most command the veneration of posterity.

A treatise written to advance knowledge may be read in two moods. The reader may keep his mind passive, willing merely to receive the impress of the writer's thought; or he may read with his attention strained and alert, asking at every instant how the new knowledge can be used in a further advance, watching continually for fresh footholds by which to climb higher still. Of Shelley it has been said that he was a poet for poets: so Darwin was a naturalist for naturalists. It is when his writings are used in the critical and more exacting spirit with which we test the outfit for our own enterprise that we learn their full value and strength. Whether we glance back and compare his performance with the efforts of his predecessors, or look forward along the course which modern research is disclosing, we shall honour most in him not the rounded merit of finite accomplishment, but the creative power by which he inaugurated a line of discovery endless in variety and extension. Let us attempt thus to see his work in true perspective between the past from which it grew, and the present which is its consequence. Darwin attacked the problem of Evolution by reference to facts of three classes: Varia

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