In memory of Darwin

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G.J. Romanes


With the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth just two weeks away there is sure to be a spike in articles, lectures, and other events meant to honor the great naturalist. These homages to Darwin can be instructive, but they lack a personal touch; what we know of Darwin comes from his books, letters, and the numerous biographies of his life.

The scientist George John Romanes, however, did know Darwin and was among the youngest of the Darwinists. Even though we often speak of Huxley, Hooker, Gray, and Lyell as being among Darwin's closest friends, Romanes also had a very deep informal relationship to Darwin. When Darwin died in 1882, Romanes was heartbroken, and he penned a long memorial poem in tribute of his friend and hero. Its verses are saturated with an intense feeling of personal loss, and it is wholly unlike any other work honoring Darwin that we are likely to see this year (although, in all honesty, I wish it were shorter!);

Charles Darwin

A Memorial Poem

I

The hour of midnight struck upon the chime,
And while with iron voice the mighty bell
Roared from his open throat the doom of Time
Each solemn clang upon my spirit fell
And held me listening in a solitary dread,
While all the shadowed stillness of the night
Stood tremblingly, as though some angel spoke,
Stern, unrelenting, terrible in right,
Who gave the message in that steady stroke,
Then left the rolling sound through all the world to spread.

I heard it vibrate o'er the sleeping town,
And wing its way with heavy beat afar;
It touched the River as he glided down
The vale, and bridged his waters with a bar
Eternal, though the Night which crossed had left no trace :
The distant mountains caught the fleeting sound,
Re-echoed it to all the throbbing plain ;
And onwards still I heard it speed around
In widening circles, ne'er to meet again,
Dissolving in the moonlight through a world of space.

*****
O Muse of Love, did Fame belong

To him I loved, and, loving, sing ?

If I should waft his name in song,

Would other voices tribute bring ?

Or would the name in silence fall,

As falls a snow-flake on the snow,

To mix and melt in one with all

Its fellows in the fleeting show ?

That name for me a charm would bear,

Should it be known to none beside,

Nor would it gain a sound more dear,

If Fame had spread it ocean-wide.

For he was one of that small band
Who in the waves of History
Stand up, as island cliffs that stand
Above the wide and level sea ;
And time will come when men shall gaze
That ever-changing sea along,
To mark through dim and distant haze
One rock that rises sheer and strong :
And they will say, ' Behold the place
Where true was steered the course of Thought;
For there it was the human race
First found the bearings that they sought.'

But I must sing, my friend, to thee,
As sobs the heart without a choice :
When thou hast been that friend to me,
How can I still my weeping voice ?
Though all mankind in chorus sang
The dirges of thy death, and earth
Through all her lands and oceans rang
With praise of thy transcendent worth ;
And though mankind shall always sing
The triumphs which to thee belong,
Though unborn generations bring
New choirs to swell the mighty song,
Yet I must add my single voice,
Although I scarce may hear its sound,
At least by singing to rejoice
In hearing how my voice is drowned.

My help, my guide, my stay of heart and mind,
The friend whose life was dearer than my own.
Canst thou, whose kindness always was so kind,
Thus leave me now so utterly alone ?
Thou canst not leave me in my sorest need,
Behold these hands outstretched in vain to thee,
Oh, see the heart, which thou hast broken, bleed,
And tell me not that thou canst turn from me!
Say not, as others say, this grief is vain ;
In very madness truth may find a place ;
And I shall not believe, through any pain,
That pity can be frozen in thy face.
Though Death has fixed thy soul in wintry clay,
Shall burning tears not melt the ice away ?

I see the pity melting in its eyes:
That face still watches me ; it still can bless ;
By day and night do I behold it rise,
And speak to me old words of tenderness.
If thou hast gone before, and I am left,
Yet I can hear thee call where thou hast gone ;
And not for long am I of thee bereft,
For, lo! thy steps I follow one by one.
What time I cannot tread the lonely place
Where I beheld thee pass beyond my view,
I yet can send my thoughts beyond my face,
And almost meet thee there, where all is new :
By thee, 'mid scenes before to me unknown,
The beauty and the wonder to be shown.

Or can these thoughts of Hope before me flown
Be but the shapes of madness in the air--
Thy voice a mocking echo of my own,
And all the world a Castle of Despair ?
Am I the substance of a hideous dream
(Whose unknown dreamer is a maniac mind,
Some God who made me not that which I seem,
But forced me into being undefined),
A shapeless ghost created by His thought
Who, in the ravings of eternal night,
Is thinking and unthinking systems fraught
With horrors of His own distempered sight,
In gleams of such a mind a passing note,
Through universal madness left to float ?

Peace, desperate heart; fight not against thy fate,
Though newly stricken with the madding dart
And writhing in thy pain : 'twill not abate
The wound to force its bleeding lips apart With words delirious.
The struggle cease,
And when the calm of Reason comes to thee,
Behold in quietness of sorrow peace.
By such clear light e'en in thine anguish see
That Nature, like thyself, is rational ;
And let that sight to thee such sweetness bring
As all that now is left of sweetness shall :
So let thy voice in tune with Nature sing,
And in the ravings of thy grief be not
Upon her lighted face thyself a blot.

II

Old Abbey, beautiful and vast,
Of this proud land the noblest pride,
Where history of ages past
Is gathered in and glorified,
As tides which move with rhythmic sway
In tall sea caverns come and go,
Beneath thy solemn arches gray,
The generations ebb and flow.
Yea, thou hast seen a nation's life,
With all its triumphs, hopes, and fears ;
The days of peace, the days of strife,
And changes of the changing years.
Yet through all change one steadfast stream
The stream of living hope and prayer,
The trust that all is not a dream,
But that upon thine altar stair
There leads a way to God above,
Within whose temple here they stand,
And who shall join, in endless love,
The generations hand in hand.
And so the sacred dead are brought,
To sleep beneath thy sacred floor ;
The mightiest men of deed and thought
In generations gone before.

In fellowship of death they lie,
Of all the sons of men most great,
A vast and peerless company,
In motionless and silent state.
O ye who consecrate this place,
Who forged the moulds of History
And cast the future of our race,
How awful your solemnity !
Together, yet in death alone,
All ye the noblest of your kind,
Whose every skull of crumbling bone
Once held a world of living Mind.
Oh, where are now those worlds of Thought,
Which rolled amid the skies of Time,
And seemed, with blazing lustre fraught,
Of stars of glory most sublime ;
Which held the life of Joy and Pain,
And high Ambition's fitful glow,
And Love, which ne'er shall light again
The zenith of a darkened brow ?
These empty spheres of ruin lie,
Polluted, dark, and lifeless there ;
'But where those glorious worlds?' we cry,
And all creation echoes, ' Where ?'

The long procession waiting stands,
Rank after rank, line after line ;
And far-famed men of distant lands
All met in homage at his shrine.
The citizens, in pressing surge,
Fill far the place from side to side,
While from the choir a sombre dirge
Comes rolling through the arches wide ;
And then, when all is hushed and still,
With motion slow the pall appears,
While tides of sorrow rise and fill
The dried-up wells of bygone years.

For now of age the frozen eyes,
Which long have coldly gazed on pain,
Once more are dim, and wintry skies
Dissolve in drops of summer rain.
Forwards we move, with solemn tread,
Through all the thousands gathered here,
Sing requiem music for the dead,
Behold the sinking of the bier ;
While sorrow, swelling wave by wave,
Seems on our breaking hearts to break,
And bury in that closing grave
The hope which fainting wings forsake.
My highest, noblest, best, O thou
Unutterably loved and great!
Farewell, farewell, for ever now--
One word, one look--too late ! too late !

Too late ! too late ! For ever more too late !
Oh, change all-overwhelming--absolute!
A change no thought can compass, gauge, or state!
A change from highest being to a mute
And empty void ! The living man I knew--
The mighty structure of a peerless mind--
The friend whose soul was open to my view--
An ordered world, as definite in kind
As is this planet--full as are the skies
Of systems within systems, reason-ranged--
All vanished--blotted out before mine eyes!
This is the change ; and with it I am changed
To-day that universe for me doth end,
Which lost a world who was my living friend.

Shall I not trust that mighty voice which cried,
And shook me in my nature with its cry,
Announcing, when all other hope had died,
The overwhelming truth, Thou shalt not die ?
E'en from the grave arose the words it spoke,
As though the heavy jaws of Death had moved
To belch them through the darkness that they broke.
To Reason's eye those words may not be proved,
Which seemed but sounds to touch the list'ning heart ;
Yet why, among the senses of the soul,
Should I alone attend the seeing part,
And not draw all my knowledge from the whole ?
I am a man, and but as man I know :
Let Instinct speak where Reason fails to show.

I weep not for thy giant mind ;
Of thee that mind was but a part,
And if it had been uncombined
With all the greatness of thy heart
The heavy edge of Sorrow's plough
Could not have trenched the heart it breaks ;
Nor would my grief have been, as now,
A grief my deepest soul that shakes.
Ye who thus speak but know the grief
Of those who grieve that genius dies--
A sorrow distant, small, and brief,
Which may not even dim the eyes.

But when the heart has lost those dear,
As father, brother, child, or bride,
It scarcely adds another tear
To think that with them genius died.
As rivers swallow up the rills,
Which find in them their natural goal,
One deep wide grief it is that fills
All channels of the troubled soul.
Although we know the dead were great,
And that afar their names were spread,
We care not then for Fame's estate ;
They were our own, and they are dead!

And thus it is for thee I weep,
Oh, more than with an orphan's moan :
Thy genius through the world may sweep ;
Thy love for me was mine alone.

I loved him with a strength of love
Which man to man can only bear
When one in station far above
The rest of men yet deigns to share
A friendship true with those far down
The ranks : as though a mighty king,
Girt with his armies of renown,
Should call within his narrow ring
Of counsellors and chosen friends
Some youth who scarce can understand
How it began, or how it ends,
That he should grasp the monarch's hand.

Love, thou art God ; and God is love :
With man in man we find thee dwell;
We know that thou art from above ;
And call thy name Emmanuel.
Almighty Love, more strong art thou
Than that which stands before my face!
Oh, quench the voice that asks me now,
' Why gaze ye into vacant space ?'
For thou to me art living breath ;
I am in thee, and thou in me;
Though all creation sink in death,
Mine eyes should still be turned to thee.

So still we hope, and, hoping, say--
Behold, we know not how or why,
But, feeling, know that, be what may,
Love such as ours can never die :
Though Change shall move, and Time disperse
These tabernacles of decay,
The Spirit of the Universe
Is surely mightier than they.
Almighty Love, more strong thou art
Than he whose hand is on my soul!
I hear thine answer in my heart,
And cry, ' He cannot take the whole.'

More strong is Love than Death, we say :
Then on the face of Death we see
An ashen smile that answers, ' Yea ?
Ye knew his love : look now on me !'
Almighty Death, we do thee wrong !
Love made not thee ; thou madest Love :
And if thy creature seem so strong,
It is thy strength that he doth prove.
From thee his living breath he drew,
And in thy shadow gained his light;
Thy being out of darkness threw
This great reflection of thy might.

And what thou gavest thou dost take :
Thou canst not change before our cry--
Not change, e'en for those dear ones' sake
Who left us in our agony!

I am alone among the dead ;
And this the place where he is laid--
One line of golden flame is shed
By Hope, who, standing as a maid
In that high window, strikes the ray
Of sunshine in her lamp down straight
Upon his marble tomb. To-day
'Tis Easter morn. Can this be fate
A dim, uncertain prophecy
Which some far distant Easter Day
Shall in refulgence verify,
When all that is has passed away ?
The breath of Fame is like the wind
Which blows the spray of autumn seas-
A voice that calls the ready mind
To set its course before the breeze ;
And, not to let occasion fly,
The listless joy of ease to scorn,
The bending oars of Thought to ply,
While o'er the waves of Life is torn
The bark that rushes with the gale
And heaves upon the foamy hills,
Exulting wide to spread the sail,
Whose lap a growing tempest fills.

The breath of Fame is softly sweet,
As summer wind on toil-dewed brow
When evening veils the noonday heat
And shadow hangs from every bough.
'Tis then the man of mighty frame
The sinews of his toil unbends,
Uprears his stature to the flame
Of sunset's golden sky, which lends
Its light his gathered sheaves to show,
All nodding in the harvest's breeze :
And then it is that zephyrs blow
Beatitude on well-earned ease.

Fame is the joy in work begun--
The knowledge of a strength declared ;
Fame is reward for labour done--
Rest made delicious, strength repaired.
And if we work, as work we must,
With hope that what we work is good,
No other measure can we trust,
So purified from selfish mood,
To gauge the worth of what we do,
Or show ourselves what strength we find,
As is the judgment, stern and true,
Of many voices of our kind.

And if we bear our kind such love
As noblest minds are wont to bear,
There is no joy to place above
The consciousness that all declare
Our toil to be the toil of strength,
Directed with a purpose wise,
And by our patience crowned at length
With honour in a nation's eyes.
To be of man a mighty son,
Of Nature's womb a chosen child ;
The giant who delights to run
Mid shouts of welcome long and wild :

To feel that we have lived indeed,
And like a shelter raised our name--
This is to feel no other need :
It is enough ; and it is Fame!

For all that I have gained from thee, O thou
Who gavest me what only thou couldst give,
To thee my gratitude is rising now,
As from the Earth, in all her lands alive,
Goes up the morning incense to the sun.
Her deep, full heart of gladness in that cloud
Pours out the gratitude which every one
Of all her children breathes, or sings aloud :
The flowers opening gently their sweet eyes ;
The fields and forests shining in the dew ;
The rosy flush on the arousing skies ;
And life awakening to joy made new ;
All, all are breaking into thankful praise ;
And thus my thankfulness to thee I raise.
Not for the knowledge which thou gavest me,
Though thou didst teach as few have ever taught;
Not for the opening of mine eyes to see
The wonders of a world which thou hast brought
Within the range of sight; not for the change
Which thou upon this earthly face hast wrought
By bringing Nature's truth within that range,
And joining it for ever with our thought:
No, not for these this thankfulness to thee;
But for the grandeur of a monument
By Nature reared to our humanity--
A wondrous vision, all too briefly lent,
To show, in that great type of heart and mind,
Her most sublime ideal of mankind.

Dear English home ! to me how dear!
What memories within thee dwell!
Can it be true that, standing here,
I only see the outward shell
Of all that once belonged to thee ?
Or can it be those memories
Alone shall come to welcome me,
Once wont to meet with living eyes
And clasp of hands beyond that door ?
Ye phantom inmates, watch these tears!
Do I not know each room and floor
Where ye shall live through all my years ?

Tis hard to think ye are but shades,
When all the rest is solid stone--
That here there is nought else that fades,
No other change, save this alone.
Yet sweet it is to think and see
This home is spared by Change's hand,
With every garden, shrub, and tree
Still standing as they used to stand.
Were it not so, and Change should steal
Through this loved scene from end to end
When all had changed, should I not feel
That I had lost another friend ?

The lilacs raise their tufts of blue,
Laburnums pour their liquid gold,
The hyacinths of every hue
Breathe fragrance forth a thousandfold :
In yonder ever-whispering shade
The birds still twitter, flit, and sing ;
And can that mavis on the glade
The one great change be pondering ?
It runs, and peeps, and listening stands,
Then runs a space, and lists again :
No more, sweet bird, those bounteous hands
On thee, or me, their gifts shall rain.

Again I walk in his own fields,
And in their blossom bathe my feet ;
I bless the fragrance that it yields,
And feel the sweetness is more sweet
Than ever breathed from meadow floor ;
For, like the charm of magic spell,
It opens wide a fastened door,
Which closed on scenes I knew so well:
It seems I need but turn around
To see him somewhere far or near,
And that I soon shall hear the sound
Of his bright voice break on mine ear.

The jangle of a world's discordant strife
Hath slowly been resolved to harmony;
A million voices jarred against thy life :
Thy death hath tuned them into melody.
The nations join in requiem of praise--
Thoughts, tongues, and creeds of every degree :
Within this temple hall we saw them raise
That monument to Concord and to thee.
Majestic Marble, massive, cold, and pure !
To mark the change a fitting form art thou-- A solid rock for ever to endure,
And gaze on changing Time with changeless brow.
For Truth is changeless as thy marble face ;
And Truth it was that Change did here embrace.

Our wisdom is to trust them good ?
A mocking laugh strikes through the air:
A smell of slaughter, warm in blood ;
The shrieks of anguish and despair ;
The gasps of death, the cries of lust,
With sounds of battle struggling fought!
Is this the darkness we can trust,
And call it good ? Away the thought!
To all the ravin and the wrong
Shall we, who know the right, be blind,
Or say such things do not belong
To those who think with human mind ?

'Tis man, and only man can tell
The evil from the good. Arise !
Behold! e'en though it be a hell
On which shall gaze thine opened eyes !
'Tis we alone of things that live
Such knowledge have attained ; we know
That we alone can judgment give,
Who bear the Truth upon our brow.
If Nature is a charnel den
Of dead and dying, bruised and lame ;
If Conscience only shines in men,
Then let no man put out the flame.

'Tis better, seeing wrong, to see,
E'en though we cannot change the sight,
Than saying, ' Things that are should be,'
Or that ' whatever is, is right.'
From hunger, terror, pain, and strife
The beauty of a world arose :
The life that grows to higher life,
And ever lovelier as it grows.
The more the travail and the toil
The more magnificent the birth,
Till, from the mound of senseless clay,
We see the glory of the earth.
And what gave man the god-like thought,
Or put that meaning in his eyes ?
What splendid truth has he been taught,
Or with what wisdom is he wise ?

Then Evil is perchance the soil
From which alone the Good can grow,
As knowledge only springs from toil,
And toil makes precious what we know.
From Evil Good, and Joy from Pain,
Derive their beauty and their light:
And knowledge of the Wrong is gain
If it can teach us more of Right.
Or is there Right or is there Wrong
Within the universal Whole ?
O God! an answer, deep and strong,
Already sounds within the soul :
' Beware ! Who art thou ? Stand and see !
Thy Conscience is for thee alone :
Raise not that voice in blasphemy :
Thou knowest not as thou art known.'

Let Faith and Reason here join hands
As bride and bridegroom of the mind :
And only he who understands
The world that union may unbind ;
For, lo ! the sons of Thought it gains
In reason as in faith are strong ;
While universal order reigns
No part can be which proves a wrong,
But highest reason, highest right,
And greatest good must still ensure,
Even though with man should end the light
Of all that men can deem most pure.
So let it be that, come what may,
The very tomb which holds my dust
Shall bear the message, ' Though He slay
Me, yet in Him shall be my trust.'

' Who art Thou, Lord ? ' We know Thee not;
We only, know Thy work is vast,
And that amid Thy worlds our lot,
Unknown to us, by Thee is cast.
We know Thee not; yet trust that Thou
Dost know the creature Thou hast made ; .
And wrotest the truth upon his brow
To tell Thy thoughts by worlds unsaid.
So help me, Lord, for I am weak,
And know not how my way to grope,
So help me as I seek, I seek
The source which sent that ray of hope.

Teach me I have not understood :
Thy ways are ways past finding out:
Our wisdom still shall trust them good ;
And in the darkness slay the doubt.

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