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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/247

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

THE NATION ON "GERMAN DARWINISM:"

SOME months ago a correspondent asked the Nation what were the best books to read on the theory of evolution. It replied, and seized the occasion to draw a contrast unfavorable to Herbert Spencer, whose books on that subject, it took pains to say, it did not recommend. In a more recent review of two books under the title of "German Darwinism," the same writer came forward and reaffirmed the positions of the former article, amplified the discussion, and continued to refer to Mr. Spencer in terms of contemptuous disparagement. More recently, in a eulogistic sketch of the character of the late Chauncey Wright, of Cambridge, the Nation recognizes him as the "great mind" of the town, and informs us that he was the author of the article on "German Darwinism." This was no news to many. A few years ago it was quietly given out from Cambridge that the pretensions of Mr. Spencer were to be once for all disposed of by Chauncey Wright, who would do the work in the North American Review. The onslaught was made, but, from divers indications, both at home and abroad, it seems to have failed of its intended effect. But Mr. Wright appears to have regarded it as his permanent function to put down this philosopher, and accordingly the last literary act of his life was another attempt to demolish him. It looks almost like a Cambridge fashion for its great men to die in their antipathies. The article on "German Darwinism," from its misleading character and its appearance in the Nation, was entitled to an answer; but this is still more necessary, now that its authorship is announced in connection

with very high claims put forth for the author. It is still further provocative of reply, as, upon careful perusal, it will be found to throw very little light indeed upon "German Darwinism;" that topic being used mainly as a convenient means of reviving and repointing the writer's old charges against Spencer. We have no desire to pursue this topic; but, as long as such charges are conspicuously and authoritatively made, they must be answered.

Referring first to the most trivial, it is insinuated that the system of Mr. Spencer has a footing with "English-thinking readers" only; while in fact various of his works are translated into Italian, German, Hungarian, Dutch, Russian, and French, and nearly all of them into the latter languages. Several of the translations, moreover, have been made by eminent philosophical scholars, and it is fairly to be presumed that their continued reproduction in foreign countries is due to a demand for them.

In noticing Schmidt's German work on "Darwinism and Descent," the writer makes a joint against Mr. Spencer by stating that he is nowhere named in it. Gegenbaur had done the same thing in his great work on "Comparative Anatomy," and he was reproached by Prof. Rolleston in the Academy for giving no account of Spencer's "Biology," which made his work defective. There are various reasons why the Germans have been slow to recognize Mr. Spencer's ideas. They are embodied in a "system of philosophy," and by philosophy the Germans understand only speculations like those of Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. They have no conception of a philosophy organized out of science, and their biologists do not dream of finding the development