The Atlantic has republished Asa Gray’s review of Darwin’s Origin from 1860. It’s a fascinating read: Asa Gray was a general supporter of Darwin, and the two of them corresponded regularly, and the review is generally positive, pointing out the power of the evidence and the idea. However, Gray is also quite plain about the way the implications of the theory make him very uncomfortable, and you can see him casting about, looking for loopholes.
The prospect of the future, accordingly, is on the whole pleasant and encouraging. It is only the backward glance, the gaze up the long vista of the past, that reveals anything alarming. Here the lines converge as they recede into the geological ages, and point to conclusions which, upon the theory, are inevitable, but by no means welcome. The very first step backwards makes the Negro and the Hottentot our blood-relations; — not that reason or Scripture objects to that, though pride may. The next suggests a closer association of our ancestors of the olden time with “our poor relations” of the quadrumanous family than we like to acknowledge. Fortunately, however,— even if we must account for him scientifically,-man with his two feet stands upon a foundation of his own. Intermediate links between the Bimana and the Quadrumana are lacking altogether; so that, put the genealogy of the brutes upon what footing you will, the four-handed races will not serve for our forerunners;— at least, not until some monkey, live or fossil, is producible with great-toes, instead of thumbs, upon his nether extremities; or until some lucky ‘geologist turns up the bones of his ancestor and prototype in France or England, who was so busy “napping the chuckie-stanes” and chipping out flint knives and arrow-beads in the time of the drift, very many ages ago,-before the British Channel existed, says Lyell,— and until these men of the olden time are shown to have worn their great-toes in a divergent and thumblike fashion. That would be evidence indeed: but until some testimony of the sort is produced, we must needs believe in the separate and special creation of man, however it may have been with the lower animals and with plants.
No doubt, the full development and symmetry of Darwin’s hypothesis strongly suggest the evolution of the human no less than the lower animal races out of some simple primordial animal,— that all are equally “lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited.”
Alas for Gray, his loopholes have been steadily closed.
I do like his conclusion, though — “uncanny” and “mischievous” are great virtues in a theory, I should think.
So the Darwinian theory, once getting a foothold, marches boldly on, follows the supposed near ancestors of our present species farther and yet farther back into the dim past, and ends with an analogical inference which “makes the whole world kin.” As we said at the beginning, this upshot discomposes us. Several features of the theory have an uncanny look. They may prove to be innocent: but their first aspect is suspicious, and high authorities pronounce the whole thing to be positively mischievous.