This wonderful coign of vantage Darwin had reached by 1839. Here was the full outline of his theory; here were the ideas which afterwards came to be embalmed in familiar speech in the phrases "spontaneous variation," and the "survival of the fittest," through "natural selection." After such a discovery any ordinary man would at once have run through the streets of science, so to speak, screaming "Eureka!" Not so Darwin. He placed the manuscript outline of his theory in his portfolio, and went on gathering facts bearing on his discovery. In 1844 he made an abstract in a manuscript book of the mass of facts by that time accumulated. He showed it to his friend Hooker, made careful provision for its publication in the event of his sudden death, then stored it away in his desk and went ahead with the gathering of more data. This was the unexploded powder-mine to which I have just referred.
Twelve years more elapsed--years during which the silent worker gathered a prodigious mass of facts, answered a multitude of objections that arose in his own mind, vastly fortified his theory. All this time the toiler was an invalid, never knowing a day free from illness and discomfort, obliged to husband his strength, never able to work more than an hour and a half at a stretch; yet he accomplished what would have been vast achievements for half a dozen men of robust health. Two friends among the eminent scientists of the day knew of his labors--Sir Joseph Hooker, the botanist, and Sir Charles Lyell, the geologist. Gradually Hooker had come to be more than half a convert to Darwin's views. Lyell was still sceptical, yet he urged Darwin to publish his theory without further delay lest he be forestalled. At last the patient worker decided to comply with this advice, and in 1856 he set to work to make another and fuller abstract of the mass of data he had gathered.
And then a strange thing happened. After Darwin had been at work on his "abstract" about two years, but before he had published a line of it, there came to him one day a paper in manuscript, sent for his approval by a naturalist friend named Alfred Russel Wallace, who had been for some time at work in the East India Archipelago. He read the paper, and, to his amazement, found that it contained an outline of the same theory of "natural selection" which he himself had originated and for twenty years had worked upon. Working independently, on opposite sides of the globe, Darwin and Wallace had hit upon the same explanation of the cause of transmutation of species. "Were Wallace's paper an abstract of my unpublished manuscript of 1844," said Darwin, "it could not better express my ideas."
Here was a dilemma. To publish this paper with no word from Darwin would give Wallace priority, and wrest from Darwin the credit of a discovery which he had made years before his codiscoverer entered the field. Yet, on the other hand, could Darwin honorably do otherwise than publish his friend's paper and himself remain silent? It was a complication well calculated to try a man's soul. Darwin's was equal to the test. Keenly alive to the delicacy of the position, he placed the whole matter before his friends Hooker and Lyell, and left the decision as to a course of action absolutely to them. Needless to say, these great men did the one thing which insured full justice to all concerned. They counselled a joint publication, to include on the one hand Wallace's paper, and on the other an abstract of Darwin's ideas, in the exact form in which it had been outlined by the author in a letter to Asa Gray in the previous year--an abstract which was in Gray's hands before Wallace's paper was in existence. This joint production, together with a full statement of the facts of the case, was presented to the Linnaean Society of London by Hooker and Lyell on the evening of July 1, 1858, this being, by an odd coincidence, the twenty-first anniversary of the day on which Darwin had opened his journal to collect facts bearing on the "species question." Not often before in the history of science has it happened that a great theory has been nurtured in its author's brain through infancy and adolescence to its full legal majority before being sent out into the world.
Thus the fuse that led to the great powder-mine had been lighted. The explosion itself came more than a year later, in November, 1859, when Darwin, after thirteen months of further effort, completed the outline of his theory, which was at first begun as an abstract for the Linnaean Society, but which grew to the size of an independent volume despite his efforts at condensation, and which was given that ever-to-be-famous title, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. And what an explosion it was! The joint paper of 1858 had made a momentary flare, causing the hearers, as Hooker said, to "speak of it with bated breath," but beyond that it made no sensation. What the result was when the Origin itself appeared no one of our generation need be told. The rumble and roar that it made in the intellectual world have not yet altogether ceased to echo after more than forty years of reverberation.
To the Origin of Species, then, and to its author, Charles Darwin, must always be ascribed chief credit for that vast revolution in the fundamental beliefs of our race which has come about since 1859, and which made the second half of the century memorable. But it must not be overlooked that no such sudden metamorphosis could have been effected had it not been for the aid of a few notable lieutenants, who rallied to the standards of the leader immediately after the publication of the Origin. Darwin had all along felt the utmost confidence in the ultimate triumph of his ideas. "Our posterity," he declared, in a letter to Hooker, "will marvel as much about the current belief [in special creation] as we do about fossil shells having been thought to be created as we now see them." But he fully realized that for the present success of his theory of transmutation the championship of a few leaders of science was all-essential. He felt that if he could make converts of Hooker and Lyell and of Thomas Henry Huxley at once, all would be well.
His success in this regard, as in others, exceeded his expectations. Hooker was an ardent disciple from reading the proof-sheets before the book was published; Lyell renounced his former beliefs and fell into line a few months later; while Huxley, so soon as he had mastered the central idea of natural selection, marvelled that so simple yet all-potent a thought had escaped him so long, and then rushed eagerly into the fray, wielding the keenest dialectic blade that was drawn during the entire controversy. Then, too, unexpected recruits were found in Sir John Lubbock and John Tyndall, who carried the war eagerly into their respective territories; while Herbert Spencer, who had advocated a doctrine of transmutation on philosophic grounds some years before Darwin published the key to the mystery--and who himself had barely escaped independent discovery of that key--lent his masterful influence to the cause. In America the famous botanist Asa Gray, who had long been a correspondent of Darwin's but whose advocacy of the new theory had not been anticipated, became an ardent propagandist; while in Germany Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, the youthful but already noted zoologist, took up the fight with equal enthusiasm.
Against these few doughty champions--with here and there another of less general renown--was arrayed, at the outset, practically all Christendom. The interest of the question came home to every person of intelligence, whatever his calling, and the more deeply as it became more and more clear how far-reaching are the real bearings of the doctrine of natural selection. Soon it was seen that should the doctrine of the survival of the favored races through the struggle for existence win, there must come with it as radical a change in man's estimate of his own position as had come in the day when, through the efforts of Copernicus and Galileo, the world was dethroned from its supposed central position in the universe. The whole conservative majority of mankind recoiled from this necessity with horror. And this conservative majority included not laymen merely, but a vast preponderance of the leaders of science also.