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Tyndall (1874-08-19)


“The President’s Address”. Morning Post, Thursday 20 August 1874, p.2 col.2-6 (pdf image)
Professor John Tyndall’s inaugural address as President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science is considered a landmark statement on the need for boundaries between science and religion (full text 1, full text 2, modern review). In a section on Darwin’s antecedents, Tyndall deals first with Erasmus Darwin, then Lamarck and W. C. Wells before mentioning Matthew with a list of other names:

Professor Grant, Mr. Patrick Matthew, Von Buch, the author of the ‘Vestiges,’ D’Halloy, and others, by the enunciation of opinions more or less clear and correct, showed that the question had been fermenting long prior to the year 1858, when Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace simultaneously but independently placed their closely concurrent views upon the subject before the Linnean Society.

Despite its brevity, Tyndall’s mention of Matthew is important for two reasons. Firstly, it was an important address that was widely reported (Glasgow Herald, London Standard, Manchester Courier, Yorkshire Post, Preston Chronicle, Manchester Times and doubtless elsewhere). Secondly, it served as a pretext for the retrospective/obituary that was subsequently printed in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (see Newspaper Articles > Retrospectives > Editorial (1874-09-05)).

Incidentally, Tyndall’s address also contains an interesting observation on the difficulty of getting a revolutionary new idea to register as such – a difficulty which Tyndall applies with regards to Darwin’s Origin of Species but which, one could argue, would have applied even greater force to Matthew’s earlier, shorter exposition:

The book [Darwin’s Origin of Species] was by no means an easy one; and probably not one in every score of those who then attacked it had read its pages through, or were competent to grasp their significance if they had. I do not say this merely to discredit them; for there were in those days some really eminent scientific men, entirely raised above the heat of popular prejudice, willing to accept any conclusion that science had to offer, provided it was duly backed by fact and argument, and who entirely mistook Mr. Darwin’s views.

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