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St. George Jackson Mivart

St. George Jackson Mivart, Ph.D., M.D., F.R.S., V.P.Z.S., F.Z.S.

Corresponding member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia; Member of the Council of Linnean Society, etc., b. in London, 30 November, 1827, d. there 1 April, 1900.

Professor Mivart, whom Darwin styled the "distinguished biologist", third son of James Edward Mivart, owner of Mivart's Hotel in Brook Street, was born at 39 Brook St., Grosvenor Square, London. His parents were Evangelicals; and his early education was received at the Clapham Grammar School, at Harrow, and at King's College, London; from which latter institution he intended to go to Oxford. His enthusiasm for architecture led him, at the age of sixteen, to make a tour of Pugin's Gothic churches; and while visiting St. Chad's, in Birmingham, he met Dr. Moore (afterwards President of St. Mary's College, Oscott) who received him into the Catholic Church in 1844. Mivart's conversion is said to have been determined by Milner's "End of Religious Controversy". On his reception he proceeded to Oscott College, where he remained until 1846. On 15 January of that year he became a student at Lincoln's Inn, and was called to the Bar in 1851. He did not, however, follow a legal career, but gave himself to scientific and philosophical studies; and in 1862 was appointed Lecturer on Comparative Anatomy at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School. In 1874, he was appointed professor of Biology at the (Catholic) University College, Kensington. From 1890 to 1893 he gave a course of lectures on "The Philosophy of Natural History" in the University of Louvain. From 1849 he was a member of the Royal Institution; Fellow of the Zoological Society from 1858, and Vice-President twice (1869 and 1882); Fellow of the Linnean Society from 1862; Secretary of the same during the years 1874-80, and Vice-President in 1892. In 1867 he became a member of the Royal Society -- elected on account of the merit of his work "On the Appendicular skeleton of the Primates". This work was communicated to the Society by Professor Huxley. Mivart was a member of the Metaphysical Society from 1874. He received the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy from Pope Pius IX in 1876, and of Doctor of Medicine from Louvain in 1884. His communications, dating from 1864, to the "proceedings" of learned Societies -- notably the Royal, the Linnean, and the Zoological -- are numerous and of great scientific value. He contributed articles to the "Encyclopædia Brittanica," and to all the leading English and American reviews.

In 1871 he published his "Genesis of Species", in which work, foreshadowed by an article in the "Quarterly Review" of the same year, he took his stand as the leading opponent of the Darwinian hypothesis. This estranged him from Darwin and Huxley; but his reputation as a specialist in biological science was in no way impaired by the position he took up. In subsequent editions of his "Origin of Species" Darwin deals at great length with the objections raised by Mivart. His since published "Life and Letters" afford ample evidence of how weighty he felt them to be. Mivart, however, himself professed a theory of evolution; but he unhesitatingly and consistently asserted the irreconcilable difference between the inanimate and animate, as well as between the the purely animal and the rational. By maintaining the creationist theory of the origin of the human soul he attempted to reconcile his evolutionism with the Catholic faith. In philosophical problems, towards which he turned more and more in later years, his attitude was rather that of a neo-scholastic as against the post-Cartesian philosophies; and he opposed with success a critical, or moderate realist, system of knowledge to the widely prevalent agnosticism of his time. Towards the close of his life Mivart's philosophical speculations began to verge on an "interpretation" of theological dogma that was incompatible with the Faith. The crisis, however, did not become acute before his articles in the "Nineteenth Century" ("Modern Catholics and Scientific Freedom" in July, 1885; "The Catholic Church and Biblical Criticism" in July, 1887; "Catholicity and Reason" in December, 1887; "Sins of Belief and Disbelief" in October, 1888; "Happiness in Hell" in December, 1892) were placed on the Index.

His orthodoxy was finally brought into the gravest suspicion by the articles "The Continuity of Catholicism" ("Nineteenth Century", January, 1900) and "Some Recent Apologists" ("Fortnightly Review", January, 1900). In the same month (18 January, 1900), after admonition and three formal notifications requiring him in vain to sign a profession of faith that was sent him, he was inhibited from the sacraments by Cardinal Vaughan "until he shall have proved his orthodoxy to the satisfaction of his ordinary." The letters that passed between Archbishop's House and Dr. Mivart were published by him in the columns of the "Times" newspaper (27 January, 1900); and in March a last article -- "Scripture and Roman Catholicism" -- repudiating ecclesiastical authority, appeared in the "Nineteenth Century".

Dr. Mivart died of diabetes 1 April, 1900, at 77 Inverness Terrace, Bayswater, London, W., and was buried without ecclesiastical rites. After his decease his friends, persuaded that the gravity and nature of the illness from which he suffered offered a complete explanation of the amazing inconsistency of Dr. Mivart's final position with that which he had maintained during the greater part of his life, approached the authorities with a view to securing for him burial in consecrated ground. Sir William Broadbent gave medical testimony as to the nature of his malady amply sufficient to free his late patient from the responsibility of the heterodox opinions which he had put forward and the attitude he had taken with regard to his superiors. His disease, not his will, was the cause of his aberration. But there were difficulties in the way. Cardinal Vaughan was ill and could not deal directly with the representations made. Misunderstandings arose about the publication of Sir William Broadbent's certificate; and the cardinal counselled a little patience and left the matter to the decision of his successor. So it was that, on the appointment of Archbishop Bourne, the case was reopened; and now the condition of the publication of the facts, at the archbishop's discretion, was accepted by the friends of Dr. Mivart. The burial took place in Kensal Green Catholic cemetery 18 January, 1904. The text of the certificate has not been published; but an account of the matter is to be found in the second volume of "Life of Cardinal Vaughan".

Dr. Mivart's chief works are the following: "One Point of Controversy with the Agnostics" in Manning: "Essays on Religion and Literature" (1868); "On the Genesis of Species" (London, 1871); "An examination of Mr. Herbert Spencer's Psychology"; "Lessons in Elementary Anatomy" (London, 1873) "The Common Frog" in "Nature Series" (1873); "Man and Apes" (London, 1873); "Lessons from Nature" (London, 1876); "Contemporary Evolution" (London, 1876); "Address to the Biological Section of the British Association" (1879); "The Cat" (London, 1881); "Nature and Thought" (London, 1882); "A Philosophical Catechism" (London, 1884); "On Truth" (London, 1889); "The Origin of Human Reason" (London, 1889); "Dogs, Jackals, Wolves and Foxes, Monograph of the Canidæ" (London, 1890); "Introduction Générale à l'Etude de la Nature: Cours professé à l'Université de Louvain" (Louvain and Paris, 1891); "Birds" (London, 1892); "Essays and Criticisms" (London, 1892); "Types of Animal Life" (London, 1893); "Introduction to the Elements of Science" (London, 1894); "Castle and Manor" (London, 1900); "A monograph of the Lories" (London, 1896); "The Groundwork of Science: a study of Epistemology" (London, 1898); "The Helpful Science" (London, 1898); Article "Ape" in "Encyclopædia Britannica"; besides many notes and memoirs not collected, Transactions and Proceedings of the Zoological Society and articles in the "Popular Science Review", the "Contemporary Review", the "Fortnightly Review", the "Nineteenth Century", the "Dublin Review", etc.

See Gentleman's Magazine (1856 and 1900); Royal Society Year Book (1901); Men and Women of the Time (1895); DARWIN, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (London, 1887); SNEAD-COX, The Life of Cardinal Vaughan (London, 1910); Oscotian, Jubilee Number (1888); The Times (January 12, 13, 15, 22, 27, 29, and April 2, 3, 4, 1900); The Tablet (April 7, 1900); Nature (April 12, 1900).


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