Offprint from L. Pompa and W.H. Dray, Substance and Form in History, Edinburgh, 1981, pp.133-144.


Chapter 10. Historian Malgré Moi


`Which I don't believe ever actually happened.' I was in Edinburgh, planning our next series of Gifford Lectures on the Development of Mind. We were talking of the evolution of language, whether man, as a communicating animal - logistikon zoon - was basically an ape, garbed in linguistic customs, or had some special angelic aspect to his nature. There had been some reference to the legendary encounter between T. H. Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, at the meeting of the British Association in Oxford on Saturday, 30 June 1860, in which Huxley was supposed to have wiped the floor with Wilberforce, and established once for all the supremacy of science over religion. And then I heard myself adding the rider, that, apparently, I did not believe it ever actually happened. The conversation flowed on. But my own obiter dictum stuck in my mind, and later I began to wonder about what I had said ' whether it was true, why I had come to hold a belief about it. When the Giffords were out of the way, I tried to resolve the matter by looking up contemporary records and seeing exactly what Wilberforce and Huxley had said. But there were no full contemporary records, only partial or much later accounts. The most authoritative of modem writers, Owen Chadwick, gave guarded support to my feeling that the received account was unreliable, but many sorties to the Bodleian between tutorials failed to reveal what actually happened. The problem caught hold of me. The more I went into it, the more I realised that whatever had happened, it was not as was generally believed. In the end I wrote up the results of my inquiries, read it to a society in Oxford, and, after much rewriting, published it in the Historical Journal, seven years after the original conversation.

I learnt many lessons from my foray into history, and it is worth dwelling on them, partly because, being an issue in the history of ideas it raises questions of intellectual rather than practical or moral values, and makes it that much easier for the philosopher to see the interplay between values and historiography, and partly because philosophers thinking about the nature of history tend to think of it as consumers rather than producers (Dray, 1980, p.4). And the fact that I was not a professional historian made me more aware of the special perspectives of the producers' point of view. The producer has an axe - many axes - to grind. Only if he is very anxious to achieve something will he go to the labour of reading original sources, ferreting out the facts, drafting and redrafting his text, checking references and correcting [134] proofs, and as he hones down each paragraph, he will become increasingly aware of the different, and often conflicting, ends he has in view. I wanted to tell a story, the story of what happened in the University Museum one summer Saturday, 120 years ago. But I did not just want to tell a story: I wanted to set the record straight. I came to the conclusion that Wilberforce had been unfairly treated by the popular account, and I wanted to vindicate him. But simply to show that Wilberforce had not said exactly the words attributed to him and had not been trounced by Huxley would have been an incomplete exercise. To understand the words used by each, it was necessary both to set them in context and to evaluate them with the benefit of hindsight: Huxley's attack on Wilberforce appeared in a very different light when it emerged that he had been making a number of polemical interventions throughout the meeting of the British Association in 1860, and that in the previous April he had published in the Westminster Review a very similar attack on Darwin's critics generally; more important was to try and see the real issues in the debate - what exactly were Wilberforce's criticisms of Darwin? How did Huxley seek to counter them? - And to decide how cogent the points on either side were. This was an exercise not of history but of biology, and one on which there has been much work in our own time. In order to reach a fair judgment on the arguments adduced in 1860, it was necessary to consider the subsequent development of Darwinism. Only in the 1940s had the science of genetics been worked out fully enough to yield a theory of gene drift; only in the 1940s could Wilberforce's criticisms of Darwin's theory be adequately countered. The standpoint from which his arguments should be viewed is not a simple historical one. And, finally, even if I could arrive at a fair assessment of the debate, I should still have a further problem of explaining why the false one had taken root and flourished: the received account of what had happened on 30 June 1860 was, in point of historical fact, false: but that it was the received account was in itself an indubitable historical fact, and one which needed understanding and which in turn revealed something important about the way men thought.

Part of my concern was to discover what actually was said. It was an aim that is, untypically in history, completely attainable. There might have been a short-hand writer making a full transcript - as it happened there were two journalists present - or, more modernly, there could be an undoctored tape-recording. In this, speech differs from action generally. We cannot in principle have a complete picture of, say, the battle of Leipzig, because there are indefinitely many points of view, and even if we imagine a television camera at every position and pointing in every direction, we should, in selecting from the infinite quantity of video-tape, be leaving something out. A conversation or debate, by contrast, has only one focus. The sequence of words actually uttered is definite and central. And although on occasion we might seek for further, non-verbal, information - was Wilberforce smiling insolently when he turned to put his question to Huxley? - we could, with only a few supplementary pictures, obtain all the additional information we [135]

require. In principle we could have a complete account of the debate, as complete as that given by Hansard or the portrayal on television of the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It may not in practice be possible to achieve an absolute accuracy and absolutely complete account, because of the inadequacy of the records, but it is something to be aimed at. I could intelligibly hope to produce, as an end result of my labours, a three-hour television programme, showing exactly what happened, no more and no less.

Debates and conversations are untypical, because they are almost entirely constituted by words, and words are already interpreted into definite discrete units. Since the facts to which our account must correspond are themselves already interpreted, one standard objection to the correspondence theory of truth is obviated (Walsh, 1951, p.76). Others however remain, both epistemological and hermeneutic. Although in the case of verbal activities our knowledge is not necessarily inadequate, in practice it often is, and the reconstruction of what actually was said is open to the same doubts and difficulties as cloud the discovery of other things men do. The evidence of witnesses is partial. Neither of the two journalists present recorded the interchange between Wilberforce and Huxley at all - itself a significant fact (Jackson's Oxford Journal 1860; The Athenaeum, 1860). One of the chief witnesses - Hooker - changed his story, and at the end of the century gave all the credit to Huxley whereas he had said, writing to Darwin the day after the debate, that Huxley had been ineffective and it fell to him, Hooker, to stand up for Darwin's theory (Huxley, 1918 pp.525-7). One source of great importance was the review Wilberforce had written of The Origin of Species a few weeks earlier (Wilberforce, S., 1860 pp. 225-64). It clearly formed the basis of his speech., and one contemporary said there was nothing in the speech that was not in the review (Tuckwell, 1900, p.5I; Huxley, 1918, p.526), but even so there must have been some compression and there may have been a significant change of emphasis. These are real problems, but not insuperable ones, nor ones peculiar to history. A court of law can decide whether, beyond reasonable doubt, the accused committed a crime. A geologist can conclude that the Isle of Wight once joined on the Isle of Purbeck, or that South America, Antarctica and Australia were once part of the same continent. In each case the conclusion is not open to direct inspection or any other form of independent verification, and in each case the inference is not deductively necessary. There is room for philosophical doubt. But although sceptical arguments can be brought forward, they can also be countered, and history is in no worse case than other disciplines. What is important for the writer of history is the balance between argument and conclusion. I could not simply tell the story of what happened: I had all the time to be arguing for my version rather than the received account or other, prima facie plausible, ones. In a court of law the forensic purpose is dominant. There is only one question at issue - `Did the accused undoubtedly commit the crime?' But history is seldom concerned with just one fact. [136] I needed not only to argue for my version but also to relate it, and was constantly finding the one enterprise obstructing the execution of the other. Writing history, I found, was much more difficult than writing philosophy, where argument and exposition seem more readily to blend. The available facts were too gritty, too unevenly spaced to be harmonised with the flow of the narrative while at the same time bearing their share of evidential support. Geologists, I have noticed, have, with a few, shining exceptions, similar difficulty in combining clear exposition with effective argumentation. More praise to those historians who succeed in being clear and cogent at the same time.

A verdict is not a simple finding of fact; it is a finding of fact relevant to some system of law or rules. We are interested in establishing whether the accused actually did what he is said to have done, because if he did, he broke the law and is liable to punishment. What happened in the University Museum on 30 June 1860 was important not simply as a chunk of the past, but because it was construed as a decisive confrontation between science and religion. Darwin's theory of evolution had attracted a lot of attention, but had not yet won the support of the scientific community at large. The meeting of the British Association provided an occasion for scientists, professional and amateur alike, to debate the merits of the new theory, and for some, notably Hooker and Lubbock, to avow their adherence; but the majority remained unconvinced. As a debate within science, it was significant but not decisive. It revealed the main lines of dispute, and the arguments on either side, but it settled nothing. Victory went to the Darwinians only gradually over the, next twenty years as more and more geological evidence came to light, and showed that, whatever difficulties there remained in explaining exactly how genetic differences arose and were disseminated, species had, in point of fact, evolved in the course of geological time.

In his review of The Origin of Species, Wilberforce was at pains to allow that Darwin's theory could be true, and that, if sufficient evidence for it were forthcoming, man would have to pocket his pride and acknowledge his kinship with the mushrooms. But sufficient evidence had not been produced as yet, and there were a number of considerations that counted against. Over the whole course of human history species had been immutable, in spite of intense selective breeding of domestic animals; and even where, as with pigeons and horses, different breeds within the species had been developed, they still were members of the same species, and rapidly reverted to type when allowed to run wild. Again, members of different species could not produce fertile offspring, from which it followed that identity of species was a hereditary property, and it was logically impossible for non-human ancestors to have human descendants. None of these were negligible arguments. Even the last, which gave Huxley the occasion for his sally at the British Association meeting, was put to me with great vigour by J. H. Woodger, on the way back from church at a Logic conference in Manchester in i 960, and, under a different guise, has been the subject of many articles in recent years [137] (e.g., Dummett, 1975; Wright, 1975). Darwin acknowledged the force of Wilberforce's criticisms, and as soon as his health allowed, set to work on dogs, in order to meet them.

To give a true verdict on the scientific merits of Wilberforce's criticisms, it was necessary to delve into the intricacies of Darwinian theory, and to raise fundamental issues in the philosophy of science. It was of crucial importance that Darwinian theory was not a simple static theory, which was either true or false, and, as it turned out, true, but a complex interweaving of observation, hypothesis and explanations at different levels, which was itself evolving to accommodate fresh evidence and meet fresh criticisms. In one aspect evolution was a putative fact, inadequately established in 1860, on account, as Darwin reasonably pointed out, of the extreme imperfection of the geological record, but later established beyond reasonable doubt. In another aspect - the one that appealed to Hooker - evolution was an organising idea, a paradigm, enabling biologists to impose a coherent pattern on their subject matter. The most original aspect was Darwin's scheme of explanation, `the survival of the fittest'. It had intuitive explanatory appeal, and accounted for many of the phenomena Darwin had observed; but it did not explain in detail the transmission of inherited traits from parent to offspring, it did not account for the origin of variation, and appeared to be incompatible with the observed stability of species. Modem Darwinians can give explanations in terms of genetic theory which allow for the origin of mutations, account for the survival of genes that, in the gene complex prevailing in the population, are favourable and explain the sterility of hybrids and reversion to type. But these are twentieth-century refinements. In 1860 Mendel's theory of genes lay far beyond the horizon. The criticisms of Wilberforce, Owen and the majority of professional biologists were both cogent, and at the time unanswerable. Wilberforce's criticisms of Evolution should be likened to those made of quantum theory seventy years later by Einstein. Although Einstein could not bring himself to believe that God plays dice, most physicists now can and do believe just this. Although the conceptual difficulties in quantum mechanics exposed by the Einstein-Podolski-Rosen argument have not been satisfactorily resolved, most physicists are convinced by the success of quantum mechanics in explaining and predicting observations that it is substantially true, and take it on trust from their mathematical colleagues that there is no possibility of embedding it, by means of hidden variables, in a deterministic framework. It is still largely a matter of trust, as it was for biologists between 1880 and 1940. There is enough going for either theory to enable it to surmount formidable difficulties. Although they could not explain why favourable changes were not diluted out of existence, nor why species were genetically stable, biologists at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries were sure that explanations would one day be found, much as physicists today believe that a satisfactory conceptual framework for quantum mechanics will one day be developed in which the difficulties raised by Einstein, [138] Podolski and Rosen will be satisfactorily resolved or effectively dissolved. In the mean time they are prepared to wear the difficulties on account of the other great merits of the theory.

Wilberforce and Huxley were both confused about the philosophy of science. So are we. Like them we have a moderately good idea of the empirical tests a good theory should be able to pass, but an inadequate grasp of the conceptual requirements it should satisfy. Darwin's theory was explanatory at one level, not at another. Quantum theory explains many phenomena, but cannot as yet give a coherent account of the objective properties corresponding to non-commuting operators. What the different conceptual requirements are, and how much weight should be given them, is still unclear. Darwin's account of the origin of species could be regarded as a simple empirical hypothesis, and as such was in due course established as a fact; but its chief appeal was as an organising idea, which was open, like the indeterminism of quantum mechanics, to deep theoretical objections. It could also be considered at a number of intermediate levels, each with its own advantages and difficulties. The records show that these points were touched on at the meeting of the British Association but not, so far as we can see, that they were dealt with adequately. But then an adequate treatment of the philosophy of biological science has yet to be given.

The verdicts on the performances of Wilberforce and Huxley were in each case Not Bad. The arguments they put forward were relevant and weighty. They sometimes were arguing at cross-purposes, but most of what they said was to the point. Huxley was too polemical and failed to hold his audience, Wilberforce failed to appreciate the different conceptual aspects of the theory of evolution, and put too much weight on the Sorites argument. But in the intellectual situation of their time, they both performed well, each contributing usefully to the informed discussion of Darwin's theory. Modern historians have failed to appreciate this because they have insufficiently understood the theory of evolution. They have unwittingly assumed that because Wilberforce criticised Darwin and we are all Darwinians now, therefore Wilberforce was Wrong. They have not seen that the evolutionary theory we now believe to be true has evolved a long way from the evolutionary theory Wilberforce criticised, or that the criticisms he put forward have been influential in the subsequent refinement of Darwinian thought. In judging what was done in 1860 they have unconsciously assumed a post-1880 standpoint, and a somewhat simpliste one at that. Many philosophers of history condemn the `Whig Interpretation of History', and say that we should not judge one age from the standpoint of our own. The example of Wilberforce shows both the strength and the limitations of this critique. The Whig Interpretation of History sees the history of ideas, like that of political institutions, as a steady progression leading up to the present, and judges them according to the contribution they appear to have made to our present position. Against this, it is entirely right to insist that in judging what was done in 1860 we must remember that it was done in 1860. In 1860 the [139] geological evidence for evolution was thin. More evidence might emerge and might prove conclusive, as Wilberforce acknowledged, but it was quite reasonable to be sceptical then, whereas it became increasingly unreasonable later on. In 1860 Dalton's atomic theory carried with it the doctrine of the immutability of elements: the immutability of biological species was not only supported by strong empirical evidence but was in tune with the background assumptions of physical science. A decade later Mendeleéf discovered family resemblances between different elements and produced his periodic table, but the doctrine of immutability remained; I remember in the chemistry textbooks of my youth the transmutation of elements being held up as one of the absurd ideas of the mediaeval alchemists. Wilberforce in 1860 was being quite reasonable, whereas the same points made at the end of the century would indeed be obscurantist. To this extent the Whig Interpretation of History is, indeed, wrong. But the conclusions drawn by its critics have often been either that historians should eschew value judgments altogether or that each age should be judged entirely by its own lights. Both are wrong. A value-free account of the meeting of the British Association would have been incomplete. It might show that Wilberforce and Huxley had not uttered the words attributed to them, but even to decide whether Wilberforce was being flippant or Huxley rude would involve some judgment of value, and to decide whether Wilberforce was putting forward good arguments or bad is an essentially evaluative exercise. Value-free history is defective, because history is about the actions of agents, who, in deciding what to do, are judging what had best be done in their situation as they see it. Wilberforce was criticising Darwin's theory, and putting forward what he took to be cogent objections to it. No account which avoids the concept of cogency can be adequate. And equally in the wider field of non-intellectual activities, value-free accounts are inherently inadequate.

The alternative conclusion - that each age should be judged entirely by its own lights - is more tempting. But I found I could not understand the 1860 debate solely in 1860 terms. Although the Whig judgment was too simpliste, I found I needed to master modern thinking on evolution in order to evaluate, to understand, even to notice, the points being made by either side. Arguments were being canvassed, and in order to judge arguments it is necessary to decide whether they are cogent or not, and cogency is a timeless property. Only by considering the fully worked out theory could I assess the cogency of various arguments for and against. Wilberforce's contention that the available geological evidence was insufficient to ground a Baconian induction was cogent, but was reasonably countered by Darwin's point that a great deal of the geological evidence had perished anyway. Wilberforce's argument that no known species had changed during the course of recorded history was cogent, but was reasonably countered by the immense time scale posited by Darwin. Wilberforce's point about regression to type was cogent, and exposed a major weakness in early Darwinism, whose significance can only be appreciated in the light of the theory subsequently developed to meet [140] it. It might seem as though I was being also a Whig, only judging from the standpoint of the 1940s instead of the 1880s, but what I was really doing was to judge the cogency of the arguments from the timeless standpoint of the fully developed theory, which, as it happened, was only available in the 1940s. If, as I believe, the main lines of the theory of evolution are now fully worked out, there will be no significant alteration in the assessment of Wilberforce's scientific arguments. On more general issues of the philosophy of science we have not yet reached a state of final clarity, and are correspondingly less able to appreciate the points made on either side.

The Whigs, then, were right to believe that historians should make value judgments, and should make the best value judgments they could, which inevitably would incorporate all the insights available to them in their own time. Where they erred was in thinking that their own age was necessarily right, and earlier ages correspondingly wrong. To reach a just understanding we need to remember both that Wilberforce and Huxley were arguing in 1860, when many relevant facts and considerations had not yet come to light, and that our timeless judgment on the cogency of their arguments, although believed by us to be correct, could turn out to be wrong. Although I think the main lines of the theory of evolution have been established beyond reasonable doubt, I could be mistaken, and if so my judgment will be as wrong as that of the late Victorians. I am not passing a definitive 1970s judgment but attempting a judgment sub specie aeternitatis on the intellectual merits of the arguments; only, being myself a time-bound creature, I cannot actually take up a timeless stand-point, and my time-bound judgments always may fail to achieve timeless validity.

The case with practical and moral judgments is the same. We must remember that people in the past lived in different situations, factual, social, intellectual, emotional and moral, and must see the situation in which they acted as they saw it, and not simply as we would. But having appreciated their situation as they saw it, we must assess their response to it as best we can, and say whether it was reasonable, prudent, honest, fair, just, meaningful or generous. These are the common concepts of human action, concepts which people in the past applied, and concepts which we must be prepared to apply ourselves if we are to share a common humanity with them and if we are to make sense of their actions. To take Collingwood's example of Caesar crossing the Rubicon (Collingwood, 1946, pp. 213-16) we must attempt to enter into Caesar's situation vis a vis the senate, and see the situation as he saw it. But in doing this we cannot help but ask whether it was legal, prudent, reasonable or moral for a general in that position to defy the legally constituted authority of the state. We may not be able to answer the question people in past ages were as often ambivalent as we are ourselves - but we cannot disallow it, any more than we can disallow questions on the cogency of the arguments adduced in 1860, without disengaging from the human activity in question, and regarding it no longer as human activity, but only as hominid behaviour.

Having reconstructed, as far as I could, what actually had happened, having overturned a false judgment and replaced it by others I believed to be true, I had achieved my main purpose. There were, however, further questions that troubled me. Why had the false account gained currency? Why had it not been countered by Wilberforce's many friends and admirers? The first half of the twentieth century had been highly critical of everything Victorian - why had no historian debunked this Victorian myth? And why had I, not nearly as sceptical as most of my contemporaries, been led to doubt it. As I sought to answer these questions, I became aware of further facets of what the historian is trying to do.

The received account was chiefly due to Huxley, and was emotionally true for him. For him the British Association had not been a great success, and he had almost gone away before the Saturday meeting. For him the conflict between science and religion was very real, and for him Wilberforce was pre-eminently a bishop, and not an ornithologist or a Vice-President of the British Association. Moreover Wilberforce was a notable public speaker, and Huxley was relatively unknown. It required great courage to beard the bishop, and to have done so was no mean achievement. In J.R. Searle's The Campus War I found a striking analogy in the immense significance placed by some timid don on his speaking out against the university authorities on some matter of student discipline. At College Gaudies old members often regale me with vivid accounts of how they put me or one of my colleagues down with crushing repartee, but I can scarcely remember the incident. I have a very clear memory of my own entrance interviews and various dialectical encounters with my tutors, but a dimmer and soberer one of the interviews and tutorials I have conducted. History is not just biography, and an incident that looms large in one man's experience may seem quite different and much less significant to h dispassionate observer.

It is not only individuals who distort and dramatise. The Darwinians, who were a small minority in 1860, triumphed over the next twenty years, and with the benefit of hindsight saw Huxley's attack on Wilberforce as an important stage on the path to victory. We cherish our histories not only from a disinterested love of knowledge about the past but as telling us about ourselves, who we are and how we came to be as we are. We turn to our own history to give us a sense of our own identity and our own significance, and therefore endow it with a thematic unity and a significance that might elude those who saw the same events from other standpoints or with other interests. Even if we are outsiders, we are naturally impelled to take an inside view. In order to understand actions as actions we need to see them from the agents' point of view, and once we do that, we see them not only as responses to situations but as achievements. History tends to be not merely the record of what happened, but of res gestae, and, in the absence of other axes of interest, acquires a first-personal perspective, either individual or corporate, which gives dramatic edge to the narrative. It is a commonplace that the histories of different nations, French and English, British and American, [142] Dutch and Flemings, are very different, each full of victories few of which are remembered as defeats by the other side. But this should not be seen as a defect of history, which the emancipated historian should altogether avoid. Although the truth is that Huxley did not triumph over Wilberforce on 30 June 1860, it is not the whole truth. The whole truth has to include the fact that for Huxley it was a triumph, and for the Darwinians generally it came to be one.

History is fertile in legends, but that does not by itself explain why one legend rather than another is deemed meet to be written down. Huxley's riposte to Wilberforce was improved and remembered because it made a good story, like the many undergraduate stories which circulate today. But there were other factors at work, which I tried to discern but largely failed to identify. People tell stories largely for fun, but often also to make some other point, and the points they want to make depend on all sorts of currents flowing through the minds of speakers and bearers. Huxley was a prophet. Many of the problems he saw and spoke out about were problems that beset many late Victorians. They saw in evolution a challenge by Science to Religion, and were ready to believe in the simple truthfulness of the one, and obscurantist dishonesty of the other. The legend expressed in dramatic form a confrontation that was real in their own lives. So too in every age some stories circulate whereas others die out. But the general way in which different climates of opinion allow different legends to flourish is an aspect of historical understanding which eludes me still.

None of Wilberforce's friends set the record straight. At the time there seemed to be no need. He had carried the day, and although Professor Huxley had been rude, Professor Huxley was often rude, and was in the habit of thinking he had scored victories in argument which were invisible to other men's eyes. Nobody rushed to Wilberforce's defence because he did not seem to need defending. Later, when geological evidence for evolution mounted up - as Wilberforce had allowed that it might - the debate on the other difficulties he had raised continued among professional biologists, but, quite naturally, without reference to him. At the time of writing Wilberforce's Life in 1881, his family could still look back with pride on the part he had played at the British Association in 1860 (Wilberforce, 1881, pp.450- I). How many bishops today could lead a discussion at the British Association on a new scientific theory? The need to defend Wilberforce arose only in the 1880s and 1890s, as Darwinism became the established orthodoxy, and Huxley's view of the encounter gained currency. Hooker supplied for Darwin's biography in 1888 an account substantially different from the account he had given Darwin himself the following day (Darwin, 1888, pp. 320-3; cf. Huxley, 1918, pp.525-7). In 1887 two canons of Durham, T.S. Evans and A.S. Farrar, did spend an evening discussing what happened, but did not write it up then. When he was writing his father's biography in 1899, Leonard Huxley sent his account to Canon Farrar for his comments, and published some of Farrar's reply. An article in Macmillan's Magazine in [143] 1898 gave the legend in its classical form, and might have occasioned a rejoinder,but there must have been by then few people alive with undimmed memories of exactly what was said thirty-eight years earlier. Perhaps if Wilberforce had not met an untimely end, the need to set the record straight would have been apparent by the time his biography came to be written; if Canon Evans and Canon Farrar had published their account in 1887, it might have elicited most of the relevant facts. But I suspect that there were other influences at work which would have made it difficult for truth to prevail. Scientists were becoming more isolated in late Victorian England, and churchmen were more and more on the defensive. Under Jowett's influence, Oxford was schooling itself to produce rulers for Britain and the Empire, and the scientifically inclined clergyman was a dying breed. Scientists began to feel themselves an oppressed minority, and ready to treasure the memory of an occasion when they had humbled the Establishment, and few churchmen gave themselves - perhaps dared give themselves - sufficiently wholeheartedly to scientific enquiries to be able to understand all the subtleties of the Darwinian debates. The general, widely educated public of the mid-Victorian era was disappearing, and England was moving towards the Two Cultures delineated by Lord Snow.

Certain philosophical conclusions follow from the previous two paragraphs. Relatively little history just gets written. Most history, and most historical records arise from someone's wanting to tell someone else what happened for some special purpose. Typically, although not always, it is to recount the experiences and achievements of one's own life or own society. But it depends very much on circumstances and occasion whether there is anyone who wants to relate what happened or anyone to relate it to, and what sort of understanding can be sought or achieved. Huxley needed to make a story out of the incident: Wilberforce did not. The Darwinian biologists had reason to cherish it, the non-Darwinian biologists were gradually dispersed and absorbed. Superannuated politicians write their memoirs to make sure history has their point of view, but Wilberforce was never superannuated and always had better things to do than write about himself. There was no natural occasion, as it happened, for him or any of his friends to give a full account of the course of the debate, nor anyone to tell it to, certainly not anyone capable of following the intricacies of the argument. And so there was no enquiry, while witnesses were still available and memories fresh, into the exact course and significance of the debate. And in the twentieth century the received account fitted prevailing prejudices and was readily accepted, all the more so because few historians knew enough about evolution to recognise the real import of the points being made.

My final question was about myself. Why had I come to disbelieve the legend? Partly it was a matter of half-forgotten clues. While writing a draft, I remembered an incident when Disraeli came to Oxford in 1864, and alluded to the incident in Wilberforce's presence, which I must have read in Monypenny and Buckle when I was sixteen, and must have left me half [144] aware that the legend cannot have been current at that date. Colleaguely loyalty led me to read G.S. Carter's A Hundred Years of Evolution, and later Sir Alister Hardy's The Living Stream, and so to recognise both the difficulties scientists had had in accepting Darwin's theory, and the extent to which it had been modified subsequently. A conversation with Maurice Cowling at a Septcentenary Dinner in 1964 about the climate of religious opinion before 1859 had shown me how little the crisis of faith among the Victorians was due to the conflict between religion and science. More important, I suspect, was the changing perspective with the passage of time. Religion and science both look different in the last third of the twentieth century from what they did previously, and the suggestion of total conflict or total separateness seemed implausible. I had been grappling with questions about the nature of mind and different sorts of explanation. I was aware, although unable to articulate it clearly, of the difference between the sort of question biology has answered and the sort it has not, and of the different demands we make of an explanation before we will accept it as satisfactory. The legend jarred. It was too simpliste and did not fit what seemed to me to be the real issue. And so I was led to look at the legend afresh and engage in history myself. And in that sense Croce's dictwn that all history is contemporary history proved true.








The Athenaeum (1860), July, nos.1706 & 1707.

Collingwood, R.G. (1946) The Idea of History. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Darwin, F. (1888) Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol.ii. London.

Dray, W.H. (1980) Perspectives on History, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Dummett, M.A.E. (I975) ``Wang's Paradox'', Synthese, 30, 3OI -24; reprinted (1978) Truth and Other Enigmas, pp.248-68. London, Duckworth.

Huxley, L. (1918) Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, vol.i., London.

Jackson's Oxford Journal (1860) 7 July, p.2, col.6.

Tuckwell,W. (1900) Reminiscences of Oxford, London.

Wilberforce, R.G. (1881) Life of Bishop Wilberforce, vol.ii. London.

Wilberforce, S. (1860) The Quarterly Review LVIII, July, 225-64.

Walsh, W.H. (1951) An Introduction to Philosophy of History. London, Hutchinson.

Wright, C.J. (1975) ``On the Coherence of Vague Predicates'', Synthese, 30, 325-65.




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