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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. A. van Bemmelen and H. J. Veth   6 February 1877

Rotterdam,

6th February 1877

Sir,–

In the early part of the present century there resided in Amsterdam a physician, Dr. J. E. Doornik, who, in 1816, took his departure for Java, and passed the remainder of his life for the greater part in India.1 His name though little known elsewhere than in the Netherlands, yet well deserves to be held in remembrance, since he occupies an honourable place among the pioneers of the “Theory of Development”.

Among his numerous publications on Natural Philosophy, with a view to this, are worthy of mention his “Wijsgeerig-natuurkundig onderzoek aangaande den vorspronkelijken mensch en de oorspronkelijke stammen van deszelfs geslacht” (“Philosophic researches concerning original man and the origin of his species”), and his treatise, “Over het begrip van levenskracht uit een geologisch oogpunt beschouwd.” (“On the idea of vitality considered from a geological point of view”).2 The first already appeared in 1808, the latter, though written about the same time, was published in 1816, together with other papers, more or less similar in tendency, under the title of “Wijsgeerig-natuurkundige verhandelingen” (“Treatises on the Philosophy of Natural History”).3 In these publications we recognise Doornik as a decided advocate of the theory that the various modifications in which life was revealed in consecutive times originated each from other. He already occupies the point of vantage on which, shortly afterwards, Lamarck, with reference to the Animal Kingdom, and in his wake, Prévost and Lyell, with respect to the Geological history of our globe, have taken their stand.4

Yet the seeds scattered by Dr. Doornik did not take root in fertile soil. It is true that a Groningen Professor, G. Bakker,5 combated at great length some of his arguments regarding the origin of man, it attracted but little public attention, and they soon passed into oblivion.

A generation had passed away ere the Theory of Evolution began to attract more attention in the Netherlands. The impulse was given by the appearance of the well-known work, “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation,” of which a Dutch translation was published in 1849 by Dr. T. H. van den Broek, Professor of Chemistry at the Military Medical College in Utrecht, with an introductory preface by the celebrated chemist, Prof. J. G. Mulder, as well known in England as elsewhere.6 This work excited a lively controversy, but its opponents were more numerous than its partisans. Remarkable enough, it found more favour with the general public, and especially with some theologians of liberal principles, than with the representatives of the Natural Sciences. The majority of Zoologists and Botanists of any celebrity in the Netherlands looked upon the writer’s opinions as chimera, and speculated on the weaker points rather than on the merits of the work. Notwithstanding, this presented no obstacle to a comparative success, and in 1854, even a third edition of the translation was published, enriched by the translator with numerous annotations.7

Among the few Dutch savants to recognize the light which the Theory of Development spreads over creation must be mentioned two Utrecht professors, viz., F. C. Donders and P. Harting.8 The former, in his inaugural address pronounced in 1848, “De Harmonie van het dierlijk leven, de openbaring van wetten” (“The Harmony of Animal Life, the Revelation of Laws”), expressed his opinion that, in the gradual change of form consequent upon change of circumstances, may lie the cause of the origin of differences which we are now wont to designate as species.9 The latter, in the winter of 1856, delivered a series of lectures before a mixed audience, on The History of Creation, which he published the following year under the title of “Voorwereldlijke Scheppingen” (Antemundane Creations), with a diffuse supplement devoted to a critical consideration of the Theory of Development.10 Though herein he came to a stand-still with a “non liquet,”11 yet it cannot be denied that there gleamed through it his prepossession in favour of a theory which several years later his famed and learned colleague, J. van der Hoeven, Professor at Leyden, making a well-known French writer’s words his own, was accustomed to signalize as an explanation, “de l’inconnu par l’impossible.”12

In 1858 your illustrious countryman, Sir Charles Lyell, was staying for a few days in Utrecht. In the course of conversations with this distinguished savant on the Theory of Development, for which Lyell himself, at least in his writings, had hitherto shown himself no pleader, the learned of this country were first made observant of what had been and what was being done in that direction in England.13 He attracted attention to the treatise of Wallace in the Journal of the Linnean Society, and related how his friend Darwin had been occupied for years in an earnest study of this subject, and that ere long a work would appear from his pen, which, in his opinion, would make a considerable impression.14 From these conversations it was evident that Lyell himself was wavering. In the following edition of his “Principles of Geology,” he declared himself, as we know, a partisan of the hypothesis of development,15 and Prof. Harting speedily followed in the same track. In his “Algemeene Dierkunde” (“General Zoology”), published in 1862, he was able to declare himself with full conviction a partisan of this hypothesis.16 Also another famous savant Miquel, Professor of Botany at Utrecht, who had previously declared himself an opponent of the Theory of Development, became a convert to it in his later years, for although this is not expressed in his published writings, it was clearly manifest in his private conversation and in his lectures.17

To what must this conversion be attributed? With Harting and Miquel, as well as with Lyell and so many others in every country of Europe, this was the fruit produced by the study of your “Origin of Species,” published in 1859, which first furnished one vast basis for the Theory of Development. That work, translated into Dutch by Dr. F. C. Winkler, now Conservator of the Geological, Mineralogical and Palæontological collections in “Teyler’s Foundation” at Haarlem excited great and general interest.18 It is true that a theory, striking so keenly and so deep at the roots of existing opinions and prejudices, could not be expected at once to meet with general approbation. Many even amongst Naturalists offered vehement opposition. Prof. J. van der Hoeven, bred up as he was in the school of Cuvier,19 endeavoured to administer an antidote for what he regarded as a baneful poison by translating into our tongue Hopkin’s well-known article in Fraser’s Magazine.20 However, neither this production nor the Professor’s influence over his students could withstand the current, especially when, after his death, the German Zoologist, Professor Emil Selenka, now Professor of Zoology at Erlangen, was appointed at Leyden.21 A decided advocate of your theory he awakened in the younger zoologists a lively enthusiasm, and founded a school in which the conviction survives that, the theory of development is the key to the explanation of the History of Creation. In Utrecht, Prof. Harting, with convictions more and more decided, was busy in the same direction; and Selenka’s successor in Leyden, Prof. C. K. Hoffmann,22 did not remain in the rear. Other names, among which Groningen and Amsterdam Professors, might here be cited. By the translations of your “Descent of Man” and “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” with copious explanatory notes and by various original papers and translations treating on your theory, Dr. Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen has also largely contributed to the more general spread of your opinions in the Netherlands.23 To testify how generally they are held in esteem among the younger Zoologists and Botanists, and more and more obtain among Professors of analogous branches in this Country, we might refer to a multitude of less important papers and articles in the Periodicals.

This however we deem superfluous, since by offering for your acceptance an Album containing the portraits of a number of Professional and Amateur Naturalists in the Netherlands,24 we offer a convincing proof of our estimation of your indefatigable endeavours in the promotion of science and our admiration of you, Sir, as the cynosure in this untrodden path. We recognise with pleasure Dr. Hartogh Heys van Zouteveen as the primary mover of such a demonstration of our homage. The execution, however, devolved upon the Directors of the “Netherland Zoological Society,” who reasoned that, with the presentation of this unpretending mark of esteem, a few words on the History of the Theory of Development in the Netherlands would not be entirely unacceptable, the more so, since this historic sketch clearly shows that, albeit some ideas in that direction had already been suggested here, yet to you alone reverts the honor of having formed by your writings a school of zealous and convinced partisans of the Theory of Development.

Among the names in the accompanying list you will observe several Professors of Natural History, Anatomy, and Physiology at the three Dutch Universities, the “Athenæum Illustre” of Amsterdam, and the Polytechnical Academy of Delft, the Conservators of the Zoological Museums, the Directors of the Zoological Gardens, and several Lecturers on Zoology and Botany at the High Burghal Schools.25

Accept, then, Sir, on your 68th Birthday this testimony of regard and esteem, not for any value it can have for you, but as a proof, which we are persuaded cannot but afford you some satisfaction, that the seeds by you so liberally strewn have also fallen on fertile soil in the Netherlands.

We are, Sir, &c., | The Directors of the Netherland Zoological Society, | A. A. van Bemmelen, President. | H. T. Veth, Secretary.

Footnotes

Jacob Elisa Doornik travelled to Java for the Dutch East India Company; he lived there from about 1810 to 1827 (NNBW).
Doornik 1808 and Doornik 1816a. Doornik’s evolutionary views are mentioned in Berkel et al. 1999, p. 111.
Doornik 1816b.
On Jean Baptiste Lamarck’s transformism and the views of Louis-Constant Prévost, see Corsi 1988; Charles Lyell’s opposition to transmutation is discussed in L. G. Wilson ed. 1970 and Bartholomew 1973.
Gerbrand Bakker.
The Dutch translation of the sixth edition of Vestiges of the natural history of creation ([Chambers] 1847) was by Jan Hubert van den Broek (Broek trans. 1849); it contained a foreword by Gerrit Jan von Mulder. On Mulder’s introduction and the reception of the book in the Netherlands, see Rupke 2000, pp. 214–17.
The third Dutch edition was enlarged with commentary (Broek trans. 1854).
Frans Cornelius Donders and Pieter Harting.
Donders had written to CD about his early work on the origin of living beings (Donders 1848; see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from F. C. Donders, 14 March 1871).
De voorwereldlijke scheppingen, vergeleken met de tegenwoordige (Prehistoric creations compared with those of the present; Harting 1857).
‘Non liquet’: it is not clear (Latin). In law, ‘non liquet’ refers to a case for which there is no statute or legal precedent (Law ed. 2015).
Jan van der Hoeven defended creationism against Darwinian evolution in his popular science writings (see Berkel et al. 1999, p. 464, and Leeuwenburgh and Heide 2008, p. 177). ‘De l’inconnu par l’impossible’: of the unknown by the impossible (French); probably an allusion to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (Hugo 1862), part 3, book 5, chapter 5: ‘Chacun rêve l’inconnu et l’impossible selon sa nature’ (everyone dreams the unknown and the impossible according to their nature).
On Lyell’s visit to Utrecht and his discussions about evolution with Harting, see Bulhof 1974, p. 278.
Lyell, together with Joseph Dalton Hooker, had communicated the joint paper by CD and Alfred Russel Wallace to the Linnean Society on 1 July 1858 (C. Darwin and Wallace 1858; see Correspondence vol. 7, letter from J. D. Hooker and Charles Lyell to the Linnean Society, 30 June 1858).
In the tenth edition of his Principles of geology, Lyell substantially revised his discussion of the progressive development of organic life, conceding that the geological record supported the case for transmutation; however, he still maintained that human beings were distinct from all other species (Lyell 1867–8, 1: 146–73; see also Rudwick 1998). CD had been especially disappointed with Lyell’s reluctance to support transmutation theory in Antiquity of man (Lyell 1863; see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Charles Lyell, 6 March [1863]).
Harting 1862–74. On Harting’s changing position on evolutionary theory, see Bulhof 1974, pp. 280–4.
Joseph Dalton Hooker had visited Friedrich Anton Wilhelm Miquel in 1869 and described him as a ‘convert’ in his letter to CD of 24 June 1869 (Correspondence vol. 17).
Tiberius Cornelis Winkler’s translation of Origin was published in 1860 (Winkler trans. 1860). He was curator of the Teylers Museum in Haarlem.
On Georges Cuvier’s defence of the permanence of species and his ‘school’ of functional anatomy, see Appel 1987. On Jan van der Hoeven’s support of Cuvier, see Berkel et al. 1999, p. 464.
A Dutch translation of William Hopkins’s critical review of Origin (Hopkins 1860, Van der Hoeven trans. 1860) was published together with the Dutch translation of Origin (Winkler trans. 1860). Van der Hoeven wrote a preface supporting Hopkins’s criticisms (see Bulhof 1974, pp. 279 and 286, and Heide 2009, p. 68).
Emil Selenka declared his support for CD’s theory in his 1868 inaugural address as professor of comparative anatomy and zoology at the University of Leiden (Bulhof 1974, p. 279).
Christiaan Karel Hoffmann.
Dutch translations of Descent and Expression were made by Hermanus Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen (Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen trans. 1871–2 and Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen trans. 1873). Both works contained notes by the translator at the end of each chapter (see Correspondence vol. 22, letter from Hermanus Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen, 28 February 1874). On the reception of Descent and Hartogh Heijs van Zouteveen’s support for Darwinism in the Netherlands, see Leeuwenburgh and Heide 2008, pp. 181–3.
The photograph album is at Down House.
For a list of the persons included in the album, together with their professional affiliations, see Appendix V.

Summary

A letter from CD’s admirers in the Netherlands, sent with an album of their photographs, in celebration of his sixty-eighth birthday.

Presents an account of early efforts in the Netherlands in the direction of developmental theories, and evidence of the support and enthusiastic reception given CD’s theory.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-10831
From
Adriaan Anthoni van Bemmelen; Huibert Johannes Veth
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
unstated
Source of text
English Heritage, Down House (EH 88202653)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10831,” accessed on 21 October 2018, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-10831

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