Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How extremely stupid not to have thought of that.

From The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin by Francis Darwin (Appleton, 1904), vol. 1., On the Reception of the Origin of Species chapter by Thomas Huxley.
As I have already said, I imagine that most of those of my contemporaries who thought seriously about the mater, were very much in my own state of mind–inclined to say to both Mosaists and Evolutionists, "a plague on both your houses!" and disposed to turn aside from an interminable and apparently fruitless discussion, to labour in the fertile fields of ascertainable fact. And I may, therefore, further suppose that the publication of the Darwin and Wallace papers in 1858, and still more that of the 'Origin' in 1859, had the effect upon them of the flash of light, which to a man who has lost himself in a dark night, suddenly reveals a road which, whether it takes him straight home or not, certainly goes his way. That which we were looking for and could not find, was a hypothesis respecting the origin of known organic forms, which assumed the operation of no causes but such as could be proved to be actually at work. We wanted, not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation, but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions which could be [551] brought face to face with facts and have their validity tested. The 'Origin' provided us with the working hypothesis we sought. Moreover, it did the immense service of freeing us for ever from the dilemma–refuse to accept the creation hypothesis, and what have you to propose that can be accepted by any cautious reasoner? In 1857, I had no answer ready, and I do not think that any one else had. A year later, we reproached ourselves with dulness for being perplexed by such an inquiry. My reflection, when I first made myself master of the central idea of the 'Origin,' was "How extremely stupid of me not to have thought of that!" I suppose that Columbus' companions said much the same when he made the egg stand on end. The facts of variability, of the struggle for existence, of adaptation to conditions, were notorious enough; but none of us had suspected that the road to the heart of the species problem lay through them, until Darwin and Wallace dispelled the darkness, and the beacon-fire of the 'Origin' guided the benighted.

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