RECORD: Geikie, A. 1888. The life and letters of Charles Darwin. Littell's Living Age 176, 2271 (7 January): 3-10.

[page] 3


From The Contemporary Review.


By the universal consent of mankind, the name of Charles Darwin was placed even during his lifetime among those of the few great leaders who stand forth' for all time as the creative spirits who have founded and legislated for the realm of science. It is too soon to estimate with precision the full value and effect of his work. The din of controversy that rose around him has hardly yet died down, and the influence of the doctrines he propounded is extending into so many remote departments of human inquiry, that a generation or two may require to pass away before his true place in the history of thought can be definitely fixed. But the judgment of his contemporaries as to his proud pre-eminence is not likely ever to be called in question. He is enrolled among dii major urn gentium, and there he will remain to the end of the ages. When he was laid beside the illustrious dead in Westminster Abbey, there arose far and wide a lamentation as of personal bereavement. Thousands of mourners who had never seen him, who knew only his writings, and judged of the gentleness and courtesy of his nature from these and from such hearsay reports as passed outwards from the privacy of his country home, grieved as for the loss of a dear friend. It is remarkable that probably no scientific man of his day was personally less familiar to the mass of his fellow-countrymen. He seemed to shun all the usual modes of contact with them. His weak health, domestic habits, and absorbing work kept him in the seclusion of his own quiet home. His face was seldom to be seen at the meetings of scientific societies, or at those gatherings where the discoveries of science are expounded to more popular audiences. He shrank from public controversy, although no man was ever more vigorously attacked and more completely misrepresented. Nevertheless, when he died the affectionate regret that followed him to the grave came not alone from his own personal friends, but from thousands of sympathetic mourners in all parts of the world, who had never seen or known him. Men had ample material for judging of his work, and in the end had given their judgment with general acclaim. Of the man himself, however, they could know but little, yet enough of his character shone forth in his work to indicate its tenderness and goodness. Men instinctively felt him to be in every way one of the great ones of the earth, whose removal from the living world leaves mankind poorer in moral worth as well as in intellect. So widespread has been this conviction, that the story of his life has been eagerly longed for. It would contain no eventful incidents, but it would reveal the man as he was, and show the method of his working and the secret of his greatness.

At last, five years and a half after his death, the long-expected memoir has made its appearance. The task of preparing it was undertaken by his son, Mr. Francis Darwin, who, having for the last eight years of his father's life acted as his assistant, was specially qualified to put the world in possession of a true picture of the inner life of the great naturalist. Most biographies are too long, but in the present case the three goodly volumes will be found to contain not a page too much. The narrative is absorbingly interesting from first to last. The editor, with excellent judgment, allows Darwin himself, as far as possible, to tell his own story in a series of delightful letters, which bring us into the very presence of the earnest student and enthusiastic explorer of nature.

Charles Darwin came of a family which from the beginning of the sixteenth century had been settled on the northern borders of Lincolnshire. Several of his ancestors had been men of literary taste and scientific culture, the most noted of them being his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, the poet and philosopher. His father was a medical man in large practice at Shrewsbury, and his mother, a daughter of Josiah Wedgwood of Etruria. Some interesting reminiscences are given of the father, who must have been a man of uncommon strength of character. He left a large fortune, and thus provided for the career which his son was destined to fulfil.

[page] 4

Of his own early life and later years, Darwin has left a slight but most interesting sketch in an autobiographical fragment, written late in life for his children, and without any idea of its ever being published. From this outline we learn that he was born at Shrewsbury on the 12th of February, 1809. Shortly before his mother's death, in 1817, he was sent, when eight years old, to a day-school in his native town. But even in the period of childhood he had chosen the favorite occupation of his life; " my taste for natural history," he says, "and more especially for collecting, was well developed. I tried to make out the names of plants, and collected all sorts of things — shells, seals, franks, coins, and minerals. The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brothers ever had this taste." According to his own account, he was " in many ways a naughty boy." But there must have been so much fun and kindhearted-ness in his transgressions, that neither parents nor teachers could have been very seriously offended by his pranks. What, for instance, could be said to a boy who would gravely pretend to a schoolfellow that he could produce variously tinted flowers by watering them with colored fluids, or who gathered a quantity of fruit from his father's trees, hid it in the shrubbery, and then ran off to announce his discovery of a robbery ; or who, after beating a puppy, felt such remorse that the memory of the act lay heavy on his conscience and remained with him to old age ? In 1818 he was placed under Dr. Butler in Shrewsbury School, where he continued to stay for seven years until 1825, when he was sixteen years old. He confesses that the classical training at that seminary was useless to him, and that the school as a means of education was, so far as he was concerned, simply a blank. Verse-making, and learning by heart so many lines of Latin or Greek, seem to have been the occupations of school that specially dwelt in his memory, the sole pleasure he could recall being the reading of some of Horace's odes. He describes,

however, the intense satisfaction with which he followed the clear geometrical proofs of Euclid, and the pleasure he took in sitting for hours in an old window of the school reading Shakespeare. He made acquaintance, too, with the poetry of Thomson, Byron, and Scott, but he confesses that in later life, to his great regret, he lost all pleasure from poetry of any kind, even from Shakespeare.

The first book that excited in him a wish to travel was a copy of the "Wonders of the World," in the possession of a schoolfellow, which he read with some critical discrimination, for he used to dispute with other boys about the veracity of its statements. Nothing in the school life could daunt his ardor in the pursuit of natural history. He continued to be a collector, and began to show himself an attentive observer of insects and birds. White's " Selborne," which has started so many naturalists on their career, stimulated his zeal, and he became so fond of birds as to wonder in his mind why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist. Nor were his interests confined to the biological departments of nature. With his brother, who had made a laboratory in the garden tool-house, he worked hard at chemistry, and learned for the first time the meaning of experimental research. These extra-scholastic pursuits, which he declares to have been the best part of his education at school, came somehow to be talked of by his companions, who consequently nicknamed him " Gas ;" and Dr. Butler, when he heard of them, rebuked the young philosopher for " wasting time on such useless subjects," and called him a poco cur ante. It was evident to his father that further attendance at Shrewsbury School would not advance young Darwin's education, and he was accordingly sent in 1825, when he was a little over sixteen years old, to join his elder brother, who was attending the medical classes of the University of Edinburgh. £ It was intended that he should begin the study of medicine, and qualify himself for that profession; but he had already discovered that a sufficient competence would eventually come to him to enable him to live in some comfort and independence.

[page] 5

So he went to the lectures with no very strong determination to get from them as much good as if he knew that his living was to depend on his success. He found them "intolerably dull," and records in maturer years his deliberate conviction that " there are no advantages, and many disadvantages, in lectures compared with reading." That he did not conquer his repugnance to the study of anatomy in particular is remarkable, when we consider how strong already was his love of biology, and how wholly it dominated his later life. Tenderness of nature seems to have had much to do with his repugnance. He could not bear the sight of suffering; the cases in the clinical wards of the infirmary distressed him, and after bringing himself to attend for the first time the operating theatre, he rushed away before the operations were completed, and never went back. But he afterwards came to regard as one of the greatest evils of his life that he had not been urged to conquer his disgust and make himself practically familiar with the details of human anatomy. It is curious, too, to learn with what aversion he regarded the instructions of the professor of natural history in the university. Jameson could certainly kindle, or at least stimulate, enthusiasm in some young souls, as the brilliant band of naturalists trained under him in Edward Forbes's time sufficiently proves. But to others he undoubtedly was, what Darwin describes him, "incredibly dull." If the professorial teaching was defective, however, the loss seems to have been in good measure made up by the companionship of fellow-students of kindred tastes, with whom the future naturalist explored the neighborhood of Edinburgh. Collecting animals from the tidal pools of the estuary of the Forth, and accompanying the New-haven fishermen in their dredging voyages for oysters, he found plenty of material for study, and employed himself in dissecting as well as he could. In the course of these observations he made his first recorded discovery, which was "that the so-called ova of Flustra had the power of independent movement by means of cilia, and were, in fact, larvas." As a part of his love of nature and out-of-door employments, he became an ardent sportsman, rose even long before day, in order to reach the ground betimes, and went to bed with his shooting-boots placed open close beside him, that not a moment might be lost in getting into them.

When two sessions had been passed at Edinburgh and no great zeal appeared for the medical profession, Darwin's father proposed to him that he should become a clergyman, for it was out of the question that the young student should be allowed to turn into an idle sporting man, as he bade fair to do. After some time given to reflection on this momentous change in his career, Darwin, who "did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible," agreed to the proposal. Many years afterwards, when he had risen to fame, and his photograph was the subject of public discussion at a German psychological society, he was declared by one of the speakers to have " the bump of reverence developed enough for ten priests." So that in one respect, as he says of himself, he was well fitted to be a clergyman. In another and more serious qualification, however, he found himself lamentably and almost incredibly deficient. If his two years at Edinburgh had not added much to his stock of professional knowledge, they seem to have driven out of his head what slender share of classical learning he had imbibed at Shrewsbury. He had actually forgotten some of the Greek letters, and had to begin again, therefore, at the very beginning. But after a few months of preliminary training he found himself able to proceed to Cambridge in the early part of the year 1828, he being then nearly nineteen years of age. So far as concerned academical studies, the three years at the university were, in his own opinion, as much wasted time as his residence at Edinburgh or his life at school had been. He attempted mathematics, which he found repugnant. In classics he did as little as he could; but in the end he took his B.A. degree, and got the tenth place on the list of those who did not go in for honors. The disgust for geology with which the Wernerian doctrines at Edinburgh had inspired him, prevented him

[page] 6

from becoming a pupil of Sedgwick. It is curious to speculate on what might have been his ultimate bent had he then come under the spell of that eloquent, enthusiastic, and most lovable man. Not improbably he would have become an ardent geologist, dedicating more exclusively to that science the gem us and industry which he devoted to biology and to natural history as a whole.

Some of the incidents of his Cambridge life which he records are full of interest in their bearing on his future career. Foremost among them stands the friendship which he formed with Professor Henslow, whose lectures on botany he attended. He joined in the class excursions, and found them delightful. But still more profitable to him were the long and almost j daily walks which he enjoyed with his teacher during the latter half of his time at Cambridge. Henslow's wide range of acquirement, modesty, unselfishness, courtesy, gentleness, and piety, fascinated him, and exerted on him an influence which, more than anything else, tended to shape his whole future life. The love of travel, which had been kindled by his boyish reading, now took a deeper hold of him as he read Humboldt's "Personal Narrative," and Herschel's " Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy." He determined to visit Teneriffe, and even went so far as to inquire about ships. But his desire was soon to be gratified in a far other and more comprehensive voyage. At the close of his college life he was fortunate enough, through Henslow's good offices, to accompany Sedgwick in a geological excursion in North Wales. There can be little doubt that this short trip sufficed to efface the dislike of geology which he had conceived at Edinburgh, and to show him how much it was in his own power to increase the sum of geological knowledge. To use his own phrase, he began to "work like a tiger " at geology.

But he now had reached the main turning-point of his career. On returning home from his ramble with Sedgwick he found a letter from Henslow, telling him that Captain Fitz-Roy, who was about to start on the memorable voyage of the Beagle, was willing to give up part of his own cabin to any competent young man who would volunteer to go with him without pay as naturalist. The post was offered to Darwin, and after some natural objections on the part of his father, who thought that such a wild scheme would be disreputable to his character as a future clergyman, was accepted. His intention of becoming a clergyman, and his father's wish that he should do so, were never formally given up; but from this time onward they dropped out of sight. The Beagle weighed anchor from Plymouth on the 27th of December, 1831, and returned on the 2nd of October, 1836.

Of the voyage in the Beagle and its scientific fruits Darwin himself has left ample record in his "Journal of Researches," and in the various memoirs on special branches of research which he afterwards published. The editor of the biography has wisely refrained from repeating the story of this important part of his father's life. But he has given a new charm to it by printing a few of the letters written during the voyage, which help us to realize still more vividly the life and work of the naturalist in his circumnavigation of the world. We can picture him in his little cabin working diligently at the structure of marine creatures, but driven every now and then to lie down as a relief from the seasickness which worried him during the voyage, and was thought by some to have permanently injured nis health. We see him littering the deck with his specimens, and thereby raising the indignation of the prim first lieutenant, who declared he would like to turn the naturalist and his mess "out of the place," but who, in spite of this want of sympathy, was recognized by Darwin as a " glorious fellow." We watch him in the tropical forests and in the calm glories of the tropical nights with the young officers listening to his exposition of the wonders of nature around them. And, above all, we mark his exuberant enthusiasm in the new aspects of the world that came before him, his gentleness, unfailing good-nature and courtesy, that endeared him alike to every officer and sailor in the ship. The officers playfully dubbed him their "dear old philosopher," and the men called him "our flycatcher."

For one who was to take a foremost place among the naturalists of all time — that is, in the true old sense of the word naturalist, men with sympathies and insight of every department of nature, and not mere specialists working laboriously in their own limited field of research — there could hardly have been chosen a more instructive and stimulating journey than that which was provided for Darwin by the voyage of the Beagle. The route lay by the Cape de Verd Islands across the Atlantic to the coast of Brazil, southward to the Strait of Magellan, and up the western side of the South American continent

[page] 7

as far as Callao. It then struck westward across the Pacific Ocean by the Galapagos archipelago, Taheiti, New Zealand, Sydney and Tasmania, turning round into the Indian Ocean by way of Keeling Islands and the Mauritius to the Cape of Good Hope, and then by St. Helena and Ascension Island to the coast of Brazil, where the chronometrical measurement of the world, which was the ostensible object of the Beagle's circumnavigation, was to be completed, and so once more across the Atlantic homewards. Almost every aspect of nature was encountered in such a journey. The luxuriant forests of the tropics, the glaciers and snowfields of Tierra del Fuego, the arid wastes of Patagonia, the green and fertile pampas, the volcanic islets of mid-ocean, the lofty Cordillera of a great continent, arose one by one before the eager gaze of the young observer. Each scene widened his experience of the outer aspects of the world,

Quickened his powers of observation, deepened his sympathy with nature as a whole, and likewise supplied him with abundant materials for future study in the life-work which he had now definitely set before himself. We must think of him during those five momentous years as patiently accumulating the facts and shaping in his mind the problems which were to furnish the occupation of all his after life.

During the voyage he had written long letters to his friends descriptive of what he had seen and done. He likewise forwarded considerable collections of specimens gathered by him at various places. His scientific activity was therefore well known to his acquaintances, and even to a wider circle at home, for some of his letters to Henslow were privately printed and circulated among the members of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. It would have been difficult for any even of his most intimate friends to offer a plausible conjecture as to the line of inquiry in natural science that he would ultimately select as the one along which he more particularly desired to advance. An onlooker might have naturally believed that the ardent young observer would choose geology, and end by becoming one of the foremost leaders m that department of science. In his "Journal of Researches," and in the letters from the Beagle just published, it is remarkable how much he shows the fascination that geology now had for him. He had thoroughly thrown off the incubus of Wernerianism. From Lyell's book and Sedgwick's personal influence he had discovered how absorbingly interesting is the history of the earth. Writing to his friend, W. D. Fox, from Lima, in the summer of 1835, he expresses his pleasure in hearing that his correspondent had some intention of studying geology; which, he says, offers "so much larger a field of thought than the other branches of natural history;" and, moreover, "is a capital science to begin, as it requires nothing but a little reading, thinking, and hammering." While the whole of his journal shows on every page how keen were his powers of observation, and how constantly he was on the watch for new facts in many fields of natural knowledge, it is to the geological problems that he returns most frequently and fully. And never before in the history of science had these problems been attacked by an actual observer over so vast a space of the earth's surface, with more acuteness and patience, or discussed with such breadth of view. There is something almost ludicrous in the contrast between his method of treatment of volcanic phenomena and that of his professor at Edinburgh only six short years before. But though geological questions, being the most obvious and approachable, took up so large a share of his time and attention, he was already pondering on some of the great biological mysteries the unveiling of which in later years was to be his main occupation, and to form the basis on which his renown as an investigator was chiefly to rest.

On his return to England, in October, 1836, Darwin at once took his place among the acknowledged men of science of his country. For a time his health continued to be such as to allow him to get through a large amount of work. The next two years, which in his own opinion were the most active of his life, were spent, partly at Cambridge and partly in London, in the preparation of his "Journal of Researches," of the zoological and geological results of the voyage, and of various papers for the geological and zoological societies. So keen was his geological zeal that, almost against his better judgment, he was prevailed upon to undertake the duties of honorary secretary of the Geological Society, an office which he continued to hold for three years. And at each period of enforced holiday, for his health had already begun to give way, he occupied himself with geological work in the field. In the midlands he watched the operations of earth-worms, and be^an those inquiries which formed the subject of his last research, and of the volume on " Vegetable Mould " which he published

[page] 8

not long before his death. In the Highlands he studied the famous Parallel Roads of Glen Roy; and his work there, though in after years he acknowledged it to be "a great failure," he felt at the time to have been "one of the most difficult and instructive tasks " he had ever undertaken.

In the beginning of 1839 Darwin married his cousin, daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, and granddaughter of the founder of the Etruria Works, and took a house in London. But the entries of ill-health in his diary grow more frequent. For a time he and his wife went into society, and took their share of the scientific life and work of the metropolis. But he was compelled gradually to withdraw from this kind of existence which suited neither of them, and eventually they determined to live in the country. Accordingly he purchased a house and grounds at Down in a sequestered part of Kent, some twenty miles from London, and moved thither in the autumn of 1842. In that quiet home he passed the remaining forty years of his life. It was there that his children were born and grew up around him, that he carried on the researches and worked out the generalizations that have changed the whole realm of science, that he received his friends and the strangers who came from every country to see nim; and it was there that, after a long and laborious life, full of ardor and work to the last, he died at the age of seventy-three, on the 19th of April, 1882.

The story of his life at Down is almost wholly coincident with the history of the development of his views on evolution, and the growth and appearance of the successive volumes which he gave to the world. For the first four years his geological tastes continued in the ascendant. During that interval there appeared three remarkable works, his volume on " Coral Islands," that on " Volcanic Islands," and his "Geological Observations on South America." Of these treatises that on coral reefs excited the wonder and admiration of geologists for the simplicity and

grandeur of its theoretical explanations, before it was written, the prevalent view of the origin of these insular masses of coral was that which regarded each of them as built on the summit of a volcano, the circular shape of an atoll or ring of coral being held to mark the outline of the submerged crater on which it rested. But Darwin, in showing the untenableness of this explanation, pointed out how easily the rings of coral might have arisen from

the upward growth of the reef-building corals round an island slowly sinking into the sea. He was thus led to look upon the vast regions of ocean dotted with coral islands as areas of gradual subsidence, and he could adduce every stage in the process of growth, from the shore-reef just beginning, as it were, to form round the island, to the completed atoll, where the last vestige of the encircled land had disappeared under the central lagoon. More recent researches by other observers have, in the opinion of some writers, proved that the widespread submergence demanded by Darwin's theory is not required to account for the present form and distribution of coral islands. But his work will ever remain a classic in the history of geology.

After working up the geological results of the long voyage in the Beagle, he set himself with great determination to more purely zoological details. While on the coast of Chili he had found a curious new cirripede, to understand the structure of which he had to examine and dissect many of the common forms. The memoir, which was originally designed to describe only his new type, gradually expanded into an elaborate monograph on the cir-ripedes (barnacles) as a whole group. For eight years he continued this self-imposed task, getting at last so weary of it as to feel at times as if the labor had been in some sense wasted which he had spent over it, and this suspicion seems to have remained with him in maturer years. But when at last the two bulky volumes, of more than one thousand pages of text, with forty detailed plates, made their appearance, they were hailed as an admirable contribution to the knowledge of a comparatively little known department of the animal kingdom. In the interests of science, perhaps, their chief value is to be recognized not so much in their own high merit as in the practical training which their preparation gave the author in anatomical detail ana classification. He spoke of it himself afterwards as a valuable discipline, and Professor Huxley truly affirms that the influence of this discipline was visible in everything which he afterwards wrote.

It was after Darwin had got rid of his / herculean labors over the "cirripede book " that he began to settle down seriously to the great work of his life — the investigation of the origin of the species of plants and animals. One of the three volumes of the biography is entirely devoted to tracing the growth of his views ,

[page] 9

on this subject, and the preparation and reception of the great work on the " Origin of Species. In no part of his task has the editor shown greater tact and skill than in this. From the earliest jottings, which show that the idea had taken hold of Darwin's mind, we are led onwards through successive journals, letters, and published works, marking as we go how steadily the idea was pursued, and how it shaped itself more and more definitely in his mind. It is impossible to condense this story within the limits of a review article, and the condensation, even if possible, would spoil the story, which must be left as told in the author s own words. Briefly, it may be stated here that he seems to have been first led to ponder over the question of the transmutation of species by facts that had come under his notice during the South American part of the voyage in the Beagle — such as the discovery of the fossil remains of huge animals akin to, but yet very distinct from, the living armadillos of the same regions ; the manner in which closely allied animals were found to replace one another, as he followed them over the continent; and the remarkable character of the flora and fauna of the Galapagos archipelago. "It was evident," he says, " that such facts as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified; and the subject haunted me." His first note-book for the accumulation of facts bearing on the question was opened in July, 1837, and from that date he continued to gather them "on a wholesale scale, more especially with respect to domesticated productions, by printed inquiries, by conversation with skilful breeders ana gardeners, and by extensive reading." He soon perceived that selection was the secret of success in the artificial production of the useful varieties of . plants and animals. But how this principle, so fertile in results when employed by man, could be applied in explanation of nature's operations, remained a mystery to him until in October, 1838, when, happening to read for amusement Malthus's book " On the Principle of Population," he found at last a theory with which to work. With this guiding principle he instituted a laborious investigation on the breeding of pigeons, and experiments on the flotation of eggs, the vitality of seeds, and other questions, the solution of which seemed desirable as his researches advanced. He says himself that, to avoid prejudice in favor of his own views, he refrained for some time from writing even

the briefest sketch of the theory he had formed, and that it was not until June, 1842, that he allowed himself the satisfaction of writing a very brief pencil abstract in thirty-five pages, which two years afterwards he enlarged to two hundred and thirty pages, and had fairly copied out. This precious manuscript was the germ of the " Origin of Species.

With characteristic caution, however, he kept his essay in his desk, and with equally characteristic ardor, industry, and patience went on with the laborious task of accumulating evidence. His friends were of course well aware of the nature of his research and of the remarkable views to which he had been led regarding the history of species. And as these views could hardly fail in the end to become generally known, it was desirable that the first publication of them should be made by himself. This having been urged upon him by Lyell, he began early in the year 1856 to write out his views in detail on a scale three or four times as large as that on which the "Origin of Species " afterwards appeared. This work he continued steadily for two years, when it was interrupted (June, 1858) by the arrival of a remarkable manuscript essay by Mr. A. R. Wallace, who, working in the Malay Archipelago, had arrived at conclusions identical with those of Darwin himself. Darwin's generous impulse- was to send this essay for publication irrespective of any claim of his own to priority; but his friends, Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker, persuaded him to allow extracts from his early sketch of 1844, and part of a letter written to Professor Asa Gray in 1857, to be read, together with Mr. Wallace's contribution, before the Linnean Society, and to be reprinted in the Society's Journal. He now set to work upon that epitome of his observations and deductions which appeared in November, 1859, immortal "Origin of Species."

Those who are old enough to remember the publication of this work, cannot but marvel at the change which, since that day, not yet thirty years ago, has come alike upon the non-scientific and the scientific part of the community in their estimation of it. Professor Huxley has furnished to the biography a graphic r chapter on the reception of the book, and * in his vigorous and witty style recalls the furious and fatuous objections that were urged against it. A much longer chapter will be required to describe the change which the advent of the " Origin of Species " has wrought In every department of

[page] 10

science, and not of science only, but of philosophy. The principle of evolution, so early broached and so long discredited, has now at last been proclaimed and accepted as the guiding idea in the investigation of nature.

One of the most marvellous aspects of Darwin's work was the way in which he seemed always to throw a new light upon every department of inquiry into which the course of his researches led hkn to look. The specialists who, in their own narrow domains, had been toiling for years, patiently gathering facts and timidly drawing inferences from them, were astonished to find that one who, to their eyes, was a kind of outsider, could point out to them the plain meaning of things which, though entirely familiar to them, they had never adequately understood. The central idea of the " Origin of Species " is an example of this in the biological sciences. The chapter on the imperfection of the geological record is another.

After the publication of the " Origin," Darwin gave to the world during a succession of years a series of volumes, in which some of his observations and conclusions were worked out in fuller detail. His books on the fertilization of orchids, on the movements and habits of climbing plants, on the variation of animals ana plants under domestication, on the effects of cross and self fertilization in the vegetable kingdom, on the different forms of flowers on plants of the same species, were mainly based on his own quiet work in the greenhouse and garden at Down. His volumes on the descent of man, and on the expression of the emotions in man and animals, completed his contributions to the biological argument. His last volume, published the year before his death, treated of the formation of vegetable mould, and the habits of earth-worms, and the preparation of it enabled him to revive some of the geological enthusiasm which so marked the earlier years of his life.

Such, in briefest outline, was the work accomplished by Charles Darwin. The admirable biography prepared by his son enables us to follow its progress from the beginning to the close. But higher even than the intellect which achicvea the work was the moral character which shone through it all. As far as it is possible for words to convey what Darwin was to those who did not personally know him, this has been done in the life. His son has written a touching chapter, entitled, "Reminiscences of my Father's Everyday

Life," in which the man as he lived and worked is vividly pictured. From that sketch, and from Darwin's own letters, the reader may conceive how noble was the character of the great naturalist. His industry and patience, in spite of the daily physical suffering that marked the last forty years of his life; his utter unselfishness and tender consideration for others ; his lifelong modesty that led him to see the worst of his own work and the best of that of other men; his scrupulous honor and unbending veracity; his intense desire to be accurate even in the smallest particulars, and the trouble he took to secure such accuracy; his sympathy with the struggles of younger men, and his readiness to help them; his eagerness for the establishment of truth by whomsoever discovered; his interest up to the very last in the advancement of science; his playful humor; his unfailing courtesy and

gratitude for even the smallest acts of kindness, — these elements of a lofty moral nature stand out conspicuously in the biography. No one can rise from the perusal of these volumes without the conviction that, by making known to the world at large what Darwin was as a man, as well as a great original investigator, they place him on a still loftier pinnacle of greatness than that to which the voice of his contemporaries had already raised him.

Arch. Geikie.

This document has been accessed 5200 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 2 July, 2012