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DARWIN'S TREATISE ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES,
AND OF ITS
AMERICAN REVIEWERS. .
BY ASA GRAY, M. D.,
FISHER PROFESSOR OF NATURAL HISTORY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
Reprinted from the ATLANTIC MONTHLY for July, August, and October, 1860.
A FREE EXAMINATION
DARWIN ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.
NOVELTIES are enticing to most people: to us they are simply annoying. We cling to a long-accepted theory, just as we cling to an old suit of clothes. A new theory, like a new pair of breeches, (the Atlantic still affects the older type of nether garment,) is sure to have hardfitting places; or even when no particular fault can be found with the article, it oppresses with a sense of general discomfort. New notions and new styles worry us, till we get well used to them, which is only by slow degrees.
Wherefore, in Galileo's time, we might have helped to proscribe, or to burn — had he been stubborn enough to warrant cremation — even the great pioneer of inductive research ; although, when we had fairly recovered our composure, and had leisurely excogitated the matter, we might have come to conclude that the new doctrine was better than the old one, after all, at least for those who had nothing to unlearn.
Such being our habitual state of mind, it may well be believed that the perusal of the new book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” left an uncomfortable impression, in spite of its plausible and winning ways. We were not wholly unprepared for it, as many of our contemporaries seem to have been. The scientific reading in which we indulge as a relaxation from severer studies had raised dim forebodings. Investigations about the succession of species in time, and their actual geographical distribution over the earth's surface, were leading up from all sides and in various ways to the question of their origin. Now and then we encountered a sentence, like Professor Owen's Waxiom of the continuous operation of the ordained becoming of living things," which haunted us like an apparition. For, dim as our conception must