Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/378

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Mr. Darwin in the general field of natural history, regardless of those peculiar doctrines which have become identified with his name. There is probably truth in both views sufficient to make out a case. It is not to be denied that Mr. Darwin has done a great deal of valuable original scientific work as an observer that has enriched biological science, quite independent of the hypothesis that he has contributed so much to elucidate. But, on the other hand, it is pretty certain that, notwithstanding the extent of these merits and claims, Cambridge would not have spontaneously honored a man who has come to be the representative of all that is most obnoxious in the inexorable advance of modern science, unless his friends had vigorously bestirred themselves to secure the result; and from this point of view the action of the institution may be fairly looked upon as a victory of liberal ideas over the traditional narrowness, prejudice, and intolerance, which rule in the great seats of English learning. For; if Cambridge meant merely to grant its honor to a distinguished man of science, the question arises, "Why has she not done it long before?" Mr. Darwin's labors were widely known and thoroughly appreciated by the highest scientific bodies. He began his career as a naturalist at the age of twenty-two by joining the expedition of the Beagle, which went on a four years' exploring tour around the world. While absent and at the age of twenty-five, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and he contributed an elaborate volume narrating his discoveries in natural history and geology, which was issued upon his return, and separately republished in 1845. Other important works followed; in 1853 the Royal Society awarded to him the Royal Medal, and in 1859 he received the Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society. The matured results of all his natural history studies were embodied in a volume on "The Origin of Species," published in the same year. Aside from any question of the truth of the hypothesis there presented, or any question as to the exclusiveness of Mr. Darwin 's claims in originating it, there can be no doubt that this book has proved one of the most powerful provocatives of inquiry that have appeared in modern times. If, therefore, Cambridge had been animated with a true spirit of liberal scholarship, it is impossible to see why she did not accord the doctorial honor to Mr. Darwin fifteen or twenty years ago.

It would seem that the current notion that these great schools are influenced by just and generous ideals in the bestowment of their honorary degrees is very much of an illusion. They exhibit little alacrity in detecting merit, and signalizing talent in its early and decisive displays, when their recognition would be of some service to the recipient. They wait until they get more than they give by the transaction. When a man of intellectual power has fought his way to fame, and become indifferent to factitious honors, or when a man of force has w r on some notoriety that makes him conspicuous, so that everybody is watching and talking about him, the universities are then ready enough to avail themselves of the advantages that may arise from their association with his name. Cambridge was probably reluctant in this particular case, as its short-sighted authorities probably thought that they might lose more than they should gain by crowning Darwin with the doctorate; but, as remarked by the editor of Nature, the university seemed conscious of the honor Mr. Darwin was conferring upon it, and the enthusiasm of the performance will no doubt satisfy the authorities that they have done a good stroke of business, as coming generations will assuredly view the matter in a very different light from the way it has been viewed in the past.