Louis Agassiz And Charles Darwin: A Synthesis -- By: Charles Caverno
BSac 73:289 (Jan 1916) p. 137
Louis Agassiz And Charles Darwin: A Synthesis
Some time in the winter of 1859–60 Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the Newhall House in Milwaukee, asked me if I could procure him a copy of a book on Species which an Englishman had published lately — and he added, “From what I have heard it is likely to make the dry bones rattle.” I told Mr. Emerson I had not seen the book, but that I was after it myself and had an order for it already in New York.
How this conversation happened to come about in a hotel in Milwaukee was because Mr. Emerson was stopping there to fulfill engagements for lectures in that city and in other cities round about. Why he asked of me the question he did was because I was President of the Young Men’s Association before which he lectured. I was also chairman of the Library Committee of the Association — a somewhat exacting post, as that library was the only public library in the city.
I have given Mr. Emerson’s description of the book he was after for he gave no name of author nor definite title to the book.
But in due time along came the book with a title which indicated that it was concerned with “The Origin of Species.” The book has now been before the world for more than half a century. Perhaps it has filled Mr. Emerson’s prophecy of it — “made the dry bones rattle.” There has been more said about the disturbing influence of Darwin’s book in theology and the unsettling of religious belief than facts will warrant. Some dry bones may have rattled, but they were neither as numerous nor as representative as is sometimes asserted. My bones never rattled. I passed through the time of whatever perturbation there was in thought because of Darwin’s work
BSac 73:289 (Jan 1916) p. 138
without agitation myself and I did not find myself lonesome. I found company in plenty in both church and schools. I found general disposition to give the subject calm and patient treatment and hold conclusion meanwhile in abeyance. I say this now with confidence that I knew the situation then, for I was in it as a young lawyer without theological prepossessions.
I read Darwin with approval. I could see no reason why the variations constantly occurring in vegetable or animal life might not become permanent under favorable conditions. But this did not mean to me that everything was “flotsam and jetsam,” in a wild welter, without government, or tether of purpose, or end in view.
Here I worked by Agassiz. Before reading Darwin on “The Origin of Species “I had read Agassiz’s “Essay on Classification,” the original quarto volume. I learned from that, as scientific fac...
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