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Chapter 4

The manner in which Mr. Darwin met "Evolution, Old and New."


By far the most important notice of "Evolution, Old and New," was that taken by Mr. Darwin himself; for I can hardly be mistaken in believing that Dr. Krause's article would have been allowed to repose unaltered in the pages of the well-known German scientific journal, Kosmos, unless something had happened to make Mr. Darwin feel that his reticence concerning his grandfather must now be ended

Mr. Darwin, indeed, gives me the impression of wishing me to understand that this is not the case. At the beginning of this year he wrote to me, in a letter which I will presently give in full, that he had obtained Dr. Krause's consent for a translation, and had arranged with Mr. Dallas, before my book was "announced." "I remember this," he continues, "because Mr. Dallas wrote to tell me of the advertisement." But Mr. Darwin is not a clear writer, and it is impossible to say whether he is referring to the announcement of "Evolution, Old and New"--in which case he means that the arrangements for the translation of Dr. Krause's article were made before the end of February 1879, and before any public intimation could have reached him as to the substance of the book on which I was then engaged--or to the advertisements of its being now published, which appeared at the beginning of May; in which case, as I have said above, Mr. Darwin and his friends had for some time had full opportunity of knowing what I was about. I believe, however, Mr. Darwin to intend that he remembered the arrangements having been made before the beginning of May--his use of the word "announced," instead of "advertised," being an accident; but let this pass.

Some time after Mr. Darwin's work appeared in November 1879, I got it, and looking at the last page of the book, I read as follows:-

"They" (the elder Darwin and Lamarck) "explain the adaptation to purpose of organisms by an obscure impulse or sense of what is purpose-like; yet even with regard to man we are in the habit of saying, that one can never know what so-and-so is good for. The purpose-like is that which approves itself, and not always that which is struggled for by obscure impulses and desires. Just in the same way the beautiful is what pleases."

I had a sort of feeling as though the writer of the above might have had "Evolution, Old and New," in his mind, but went on to the next sentence, which ran -

"Erasmus Darwin's system was in itself a most significant first step in the path of knowledge which his grandson has opened up for us, but to wish to revive it at the present day, as has actually been seriously attempted, shows a weakness of thought and a mental anachronism which no one can envy."

"That's me," said I to myself promptly. I noticed also the position in which the sentence stood, which made it both one of the first that would be likely to catch a reader's eye, and the last he would carry away with him. I therefore expected to find an open reply to some parts of "Evolution, Old and New," and turned to Mr. Darwin's preface.

To my surprise, I there found that what I had been reading could not by any possibility refer to me, for the preface ran as follows:-

"In the February number of a well-known German scientific journal, Kosmos, [39] Dr. Ernest Krause published a sketch of the 'Life of Erasmus Darwin,' the author of the 'Zoonomia,' 'Botanic Garden,' and other works. This article bears the title of a 'Contribution to the History of the Descent Theory'; and Dr. Krause has kindly allowed my brother Erasmus and myself to have a translation made of it for publication in this country."

Then came a note as follows:-

"Mr. Dallas has undertaken the translation, and his scientific reputation, together with his knowledge of German, is a guarantee for its accuracy."

I ought to have suspected inaccuracy where I found so much consciousness of accuracy, but I did not. However this may be, Mr. Darwin pins himself down with every circumstance of preciseness to giving Dr. Krause's article as it appeared in Kosmos,--the whole article, and nothing but the article. No one could know this better than Mr. Darwin.

On the second page of Mr. Darwin's preface there is a small-type note saying that my work, "Evolution, Old and New," had appeared since the publication of Dr. Krause's article. Mr. Darwin thus distinctly precludes his readers from supposing that any passage they might meet with could have been written in reference to, or by the light of, my book. If anything appeared condemnatory of that book, it was an undesigned coincidence, and would show how little worthy of consideration I must be when my opinions were refuted in advance by one who could have no bias in regard to them.

Knowing that if the article I was about to read appeared in February, it must have been published before my book, which was not out till three months later, I saw nothing in Mr. Darwin's preface to complain of, and felt that this was only another instance of my absurd vanity having led me to rush to conclusions without sufficient grounds,--as if it was likely, indeed, that Mr. Darwin should think what I had said of sufficient importance to be affected by it. It was plain that some one besides myself, of whom I as yet knew nothing, had been writing about the elder Darwin, and had taken much the same line concerning him that I had done. It was for the benefit of this person, then, that Dr. Krause's paragraph was intended. I returned to a becoming sense of my own insignificance, and began to read what I supposed to be an accurate translation of Dr. Krause's article as it originally appeared, before "Evolution, Old and New," was published.

On pp. 3 and 4 of Dr. Krause's part of Mr. Darwin's book (pp. 133 and 134 of the book itself), I detected a sub-apologetic tone which a little surprised me, and a notice of the fact that Coleridge when writing on Stillingfleet had used the word "Darwinising." Mr. R. Garnett had called my attention to this, and I had mentioned it in "Evolution, Old and New," but the paragraph only struck me as being a little odd.

When I got a few pages farther on (p. 147 of Mr. Darwin's book), I found a long quotation from Buffon about rudimentary organs, which I had quoted in "Evolution, Old and New." I observed that Dr. Krause used the same edition of Buffon that I did, and began his quotation two lines from the beginning of Buffon's paragraph, exactly as I had done; also that he had taken his nominative from the omitted part of the sentence across a full stop, as I had myself taken it. A little lower I found a line of Buffon's omitted which I had given, but I found that at that place I had inadvertently left two pair of inverted commas which ought to have come out, [41] having intended to end my quotation, but changed my mind and continued it without erasing the commas. It seemed to me that these commas had bothered Dr. Krause, and made him think it safer to leave something out, for the line he omits is a very good one. I noticed that he translated "Mais comme nous voulons toujours tout rapporter a un certain but," "But we, always wishing to refer," &c., while I had it, "But we, ever on the look-out to refer," &c.; and "Nous ne faisons pas attention que nous alterons la philosophie," "We fail to see that thus we deprive philosophy of her true character," whereas I had "We fail to see that we thus rob philosophy of her true character." This last was too much; and though it might turn out that Dr. Krause had quoted this passage before I had done so, had used the same edition as I had, had begun two lines from the beginning of a paragraph as I had done, and that the later resemblances were merely due to Mr. Dallas having compared Dr. Krause's German translation of Buffon with my English, and very properly made use of it when he thought fit, it looked prima facie more as though my quotation had been copied in English as it stood, and then altered, but not quite altered enough. This, in the face of the preface, was incredible; but so many points had such an unpleasant aspect, that I thought it better to send for Kosmos and see what I could make out.

At this time I knew not one word of German. On the same day, therefore, that I sent for Kosmos I began acquire that language, and in the fortnight before Kosmos came had got far enough forward for all practical purposes--that is to say, with the help of a translation and a dictionary, I could see whether or no a German passage was the same as what purported to be its translation.

When Kosmos came I turned to the end of the article to see how the sentence about mental anachronism and weakness of thought looked in German. I found nothing of the kind, the original article ended with some innocent rhyming doggerel about somebody going on and exploring something with eagle eye; but ten lines from the end I found a sentence which corresponded with one six pages from the end of the English translation. After this there could be little doubt that the whole of these last six English pages were spurious matter. What little doubt remained was afterwards removed by my finding that they had no place in any part of the genuine article. I looked for the passage about Coleridge's using the word "Darwinising"; it was not to be found in the German. I looked for the piece I had quoted from Buffon about rudimentary organs; but there was nothing of it, nor indeed any reference to Buffon. It was plain, therefore, that the article which Mr. Darwin had given was not the one he professed to be giving. I read Mr. Darwin's preface over again to see whether he left himself any loophole. There was not a chink or cranny through which escape was possible. The only inference that could be drawn was either that some one had imposed upon Mr. Darwin, or that Mr. Darwin, although it was not possible to suppose him ignorant of the interpolations that had been made, nor of the obvious purpose of the concluding sentence, had nevertheless palmed off an article which had been added to and made to attack "Evolution, Old and New," as though it were the original article which appeared before that book was written. I could not and would not believe that Mr. Darwin had condescended to this. Nevertheless, I saw it was necessary to sift the whole matter, and began to compare the German and the English articles paragraph by paragraph.

On the first page I found a passage omitted from the English, which with great labour I managed to get through, and can now translate as follows:-

"Alexander Von Humboldt used to take pleasure in recounting how powerfully Forster's pictures of the South Sea Islands and St. Pierre's illustrations of Nature had provoked his ardour for travel and influenced his career as a scientific investigator. How much more impressively must the works of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, with their reiterated foreshadowing of a more lofty interpretation of Nature, have affected his grandson, who in his youth assuredly approached them with the devotion due to the works of a renowned poet." [43]

I then came upon a passage common to both German and English, which in its turn was followed in the English by the sub-apologetic paragraph which I had been struck with on first reading, and which was not in the German, its place being taken by a much longer passage which had no place in the English. A little farther on I was amused at coming upon the following, and at finding it wholly transformed in the supposed accurate translation

"How must this early and penetrating explanation of rudimentary organs have affected the grandson when he read the poem of his ancestor! But indeed the biological remarks of this accurate observer in regard to certain definite natural objects must have produced a still deeper impression upon him, pointing, as they do, to questions which hay attained so great a prominence at the present day; such as, Why is any creature anywhere such as we actually see it and nothing else? Why has such and such a plant poisonous juices? Why has such and such another thorns? Why have birds and fishes light-coloured breasts and dark backs, and, Why does every creature resemble the one from which it sprung?" [44a]

I will not weary the reader with further details as to the omissions from and additions to the German text. Let it suffice that the so- called translation begins on p. 131 and ends on p. 216 of Mr. Darwin's book. There is new matter on each one of the pp. 132-139, while almost the whole of pp. 147-152 inclusive, and the whole of pp. 211-216 inclusive, are spurious--that is to say, not what the purport to be, not translations from an article that was published in February 1879, and before "Evolution, Old and New," but interpolations not published till six months after that book.

Bearing in mind the contents of two of the added passages and the tenor of the concluding sentence quoted above, [44b] I could no longer doubt that the article had been altered by the light of and with a view to "Evolution, Old and New."

The steps are perfectly clear. First Dr. Krause published his article in Kosmos and my book was announced (its purport being thus made obvious), both in the month of February 1879. Soon afterwards arrangements were made for a translation of Dr. Krause's essay, and were completed by the end of April. Then my book came out, and in some way or other Dr. Krause happened to get hold of it. He helped himself--not to much, but to enough; made what other additions to and omissions from his article he thought would best meet "Evolution, Old and New," and then fell to condemning that book in a finale that was meant to be crushing. Nothing was said about the revision which Dr. Krause's work had undergone, but it was expressly and particularly declared in the preface that the English translation was an accurate version of what appeared in the February number of Kosmos, and no less expressly and particularly stated that my book was published subsequently to this. Both these statements are untrue; they are in Mr. Darwin's favour and prejudicial to myself.

All this was done with that well-known "happy simplicity" of which the Pall Mall Gazette, December 12, 1879, declared that Mr. Darwin was "a master." The final sentence, about the "weakness of thought and mental anachronism which no one can envy," was especially successful. The reviewer in the Pall Mall Gazette just quoted from gave it in full, and said that it was thoroughly justified. He then mused forth a general gnome that the "confidence of writers who deal in semi-scientific paradoxes is commonly in inverse proportion to their grasp of the subject." Again my vanity suggested to me that I was the person for whose benefit this gnome was intended. My vanity, indeed, was well fed by the whole transaction; for I saw that not only did Mr. Darwin, who should be the best judge, think my work worth notice, but that he did not venture to meet it openly. As for Dr. Krause's concluding sentence, I thought that when a sentence had been antedated the less it contained about anachronism the better.

Only one of the reviews that I saw of Mr. Darwin's "Life of Erasmus Darwin" showed any knowledge of the facts. The Popular Science Review for January 1880, in flat contradiction to Mr. Darwin's preface, said that only part of Dr. Krause's article was being given by Mr. Darwin. This reviewer had plainly seen both Kosmos and Mr. Darwin's book.

In the same number of the Popular Science Review, and immediately following the review of Mr. Darwin's book, there is a review of "Evolution, Old and New." The writer of this review quotes the passage about mental anachronism as quoted by the reviewer in the Pall Mall Gazette, and adds immediately: "This anachronism has been committed by Mr. Samuel Butler in a . . . little volume now before us, and it is doubtless to this, WHICH APPEARED WHILE HIS OWN WORK WAS IN PROGRESS [italics mine] that Dr. Krause alludes in the foregoing passage." Considering that the editor of the Popular Science Review and the translator of Dr. Krause's article for Mr. Darwin are one and the same person, it is likely the Popular Science Review is well informed in saying that my book appeared before Dr. Krause's article had been transformed into its present shape, and that my book was intended by the passage in question.

Unable to see any way of escaping from a conclusion which I could not willingly adopt, I thought it best to write to Mr. Darwin, stating the facts as they appeared to myself, and asking an explanation, which I would have gladly strained a good many points to have accepted. It is better, perhaps, that I should give my letter and Darwin's answer in full. My letter ran thus:-

January 2, 1880.

CHARLES DARWIN, ESQ., F.R.S., &c.

Dear Sir,--Will you kindly refer me to the edition of Kosmos which contains the text of Dr. Krause's article on Dr. Erasmus Darwin, as translated by Mr. W. S. Dallas?

I have before me the last February number of Kosmos, which appears by your preface to be the one from which Mr. Dallas has translated, but his translation contains long and important passages which are not in the February number of Kosmos, while many passages in the original article are omitted in the translation.

Among the passages introduced are the last six pages of the English article, which seem to condemn by anticipation the position I have taken as regards Dr. Erasmus Darwin in my book, "Evolution, Old and New," and which I believe I was the first to take. The concluding, and therefore, perhaps, most prominent sentence of the translation you have given to the public stands thus:-

"Erasmus Darwin's system was in itself a most significant first step in the path of knowledge which his grandson has opened up for us, but to wish to revive it at the present day, as has actually been seriously attempted, shows a weakness of thought and a mental anachronism which no man can envy."

The Kosmos which has been sent me from Germany contains no such passage.

As you have stated in your preface that my book, "Evolution, Old and New," appeared subsequently to Dr. Krause's article, and as no intimation is given that the article has been altered and added to since its original appearance, while the accuracy of the translation as though from the February number of Kosmos is, as you expressly say, guaranteed by Mr. Dallas's "scientific reputation together with his knowledge of German," your readers will naturally suppose that all they read in the translation appeared in February last, and therefore before "Evolution, Old and New," was written, and therefore independently of, and necessarily without reference to, that book.

I do not doubt that this was actually the case, but have failed to obtain the edition which contains the passage above referred to, and several others which appear in the translation.

I have a personal interest in this matter, and venture, therefore, to ask for the explanation which I do not doubt you will readily give me.--Yours faithfully,

S. BUTLER.

The following is Mr. Darwin's answer:-

January 3, 1880.

My Dear Sir, Dr. Krause, soon after the appearance of his article in Kosmos told me that he intended to publish it separately and to alter it considerably, and the altered MS. was sent to Mr. Dallas for translation. This is so common a practice that it never occurred to me to state that the article had been modified; but now I much regret that I did not do so. The original will soon appear in German, and I believe will be a much larger book than the English one; for, with Dr. Krause's consent, many long extracts from Miss Seward were omitted (as well as much other matter), from being in my opinion superfluous for the English reader. I believe that the omitted parts will appear as notes in the German edition. Should there be a reprint of the English Life I will state that the original as it appeared in Kosmos was modified by Dr. Krause before it was translated. I may add that I had obtained Dr. Krause's consent for a translation, and had arranged with Mr. Dallas before your book was announced. I remember this because Mr. Dallas wrote to tell me of the advertisement.--I remain, yours faithfully,

C. DARWIN."

This was not a letter I could accept. If Mr. Darwin had said that by some inadvertence, which he was unable to excuse or account for, a blunder had been made which he would at once correct so far as was in his power by a letter to the Times or the Athenaeum, and that a notice of the erratum should be printed on a flyleaf and pasted into all unsold copies of the "Life of Erasmus Darwin," there would have been no more heard about the matter from me; but when Mr. Darwin maintained that it was a common practice to take advantage of an opportunity of revising a work to interpolate a covert attack upon an opponent, and at the same time to misdate the interpolated matter by expressly stating that it appeared months sooner than it actually did, and prior to the work which it attacked; when he maintained that what was being done was "so common a practice that it never occurred," to him--the writer of some twenty volumes--to do what all literary men must know to be inexorably requisite, I thought this was going far beyond what was permissible in honourable warfare, and that it was time, in the interests of literary and scientific morality, even more than in my own, to appeal to public opinion. I was particularly struck with the use of the words "it never occurred to me," and felt how completely of a piece it was with the opening paragraph of the "Origin of Species." It was not merely that it did not occur to Mr. Darwin to state that the article had been modified since it was written--this would have been bad enough under the circumstances but that it did occur to him to go out of his way to say what was not true. There was no necessity for him to have said anything about my book. It appeared, moreover, inadequate to tell me that if a reprint of the English Life was wanted (which might or might not be the case, and if it was not the case, why, a shrug of the shoulders, and I must make the best of it), Mr. Darwin might perhaps silently omit his note about my book, as he omitted his misrepresentation of the author of the "Vestiges of Creation," and put the words "revised and corrected by the author" on his title- page.

No matter how high a writer may stand, nor what services he may have unquestionably rendered, it cannot be for the general well-being that he should be allowed to set aside the fundamental principles of straightforwardness and fair play. When I thought of Buffon, of Dr. Erasmus Darwin, of Lamarck and even of the author of the "Vestiges of Creation," to all of whom Mr. Darwin had dealt the same measure which he was now dealing to myself; when I thought of these great men, now dumb, who had borne the burden and heat of the day, and whose laurels had been filched from them; of the manner, too, in which Mr. Darwin had been abetted by those who should have been the first to detect the fallacy which had misled him; of the hotbed of intrigue which science has now become; of the disrepute into which we English must fall as a nation if such practices as Mr. Darwin had attempted in this case were to be tolerated;--when I thought of all this, I felt that though prayers for the repose of dead men's souls might be unavailing, yet a defence of their work and memory, no matter against what odds, might avail the living, and resolved that I would do my utmost to make my countrymen aware of the spirit now ruling among those whom they delight to honour.

At first I thought I ought to continue the correspondence privately with Mr. Darwin, and explain to him that his letter was insufficient, but on reflection I felt that little good was likely to come of a second letter, if what I had already written was not enough. I therefore wrote to the Athenaeum and gave a condensed account of the facts contained in the last ten or a dozen pages. My letter appeared January 31, 1880. [50]

The accusation was a very grave one; it was made in a very public place. I gave my name; I adduced the strongest prima facie grounds for the acceptance of my statements; but there was no rejoinder, and for the best of all reasons--that no rejoinder was possible. Besides, what is the good of having a reputation for candour if one may not stand upon it at a pinch? I never yet knew a person with an especial reputation for candour without finding sooner or later that he had developed it as animals develop their organs, through "sense of need." Not only did Mr. Darwin remain perfectly quiet, but all reviewers and litterateurs remained perfectly quiet also. It seemed- -though I do not for a moment believe that this is so--as if public opinion rather approved of what Mr. Darwin had done, and of his silence than otherwise. I saw the "Life of Erasmus Darwin" more frequently and more prominently advertised now than I had seen it hitherto--perhaps in the hope of selling off the adulterated copies, and being able to reprint the work with a corrected title page. Presently I saw Professor Huxley hastening to the rescue with his lecture on the coming of age of the "Origin of Species," and by May it was easy for Professor Ray Lankester to imply that Mr. Darwin was the greatest of living men. I have since noticed two or three other controversies raging in the Athenaeum and Times; in each of these cases I saw it assumed that the defeated party, when proved to have publicly misrepresented his adversary, should do his best to correct in public the injury which he had publicly inflicted, but I noticed that in none of them had the beaten side any especial reputation for candour. This probably made all the difference. But however this may be, Mr. Darwin left me in possession of the field, in the hope, doubtless, that the matter would blow over--which it apparently soon did. Whether it has done so in reality or no, is a matter which remains to be seen. My own belief is that people paid no attention to what I said, as believing it simply incredible, and that when they come to know that it is true, they will think as I do concerning it.

From ladies and gentlemen of science I admit that I have no expectations. There is no conduct so dishonourable that people will not deny it or explain it away, if it has been committed by one whom they recognise as of their own persuasion. It must be remembered that facts cannot be respected by the scientist in the same way as by other people. It is his business to familiarise himself with facts, and, as we all know, the path from familiarity to contempt is an easy one.

Here, then, I take leave of this matter for the present. If it appears that I have used language such as is rarely seen in controversy, let the reader remember that the occasion is, so far as I know, unparalleled for the cynicism and audacity with which the wrong complained of was committed and persisted in. I trust, however, that, though not indifferent to this, my indignation has been mainly roused, as when I wrote "Evolution, Old and New," before Mr. Darwin had given me personal ground of complaint against him, by the wrongs he has inflicted on dead men, on whose behalf I now fight, as I trust that some one--whom I thank by anticipation--may one day fight on mine.


Footnotes:

[39] How far Kosmos was "a well-known" journal, I cannot determine. It had just entered upon its second year.

[41] Evolution, Old and New, p. 120, line 5.

[43] Kosmos, February 1879, p. 397.

[44a] Kosmos, February 1879, p. 404.

[44b] Page 39 of this volume.

[50] See Appendix A.


Samuel Butler

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