RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 'Recollections of the development of my mind & character' [Autobiography [1876-4.1882] CUL-DAR26.1-121 Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker. (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed from the manuscript by Kees Rookmaaker 4.2009. Minor corrections by John van Wyhe. RN3
NOTE: This fresh transcription of Darwin's Autobiography retains the editorial notes from Nora Barlow's published edition (Barlow 1958). FD= Francis Darwin ) i.e. as a note given in Life and letters, and NB= Nora Barlow's addition.
The Autobiography has been independently transcribed and published in James Secord's Charles Darwin: Evolutionary writings. Oxford University Press, 2008.
It has sometimes been claimed that Darwin never referred to this manuscript, titled 'Recollections of the Development of my mind & character' as his autobiography. However in his 'Journal' and his last will and testament, published for the first time on Darwin Online, Darwin refers to this document as 'my Autobiography'. click here.
Editorial symbols used in the transcription:
[some text] 'some text' is an editorial insertion
[some text] 'some text' is the conjectured reading of an ambiguous word or passage
[some text] 'some text' is a description of a word or passage that cannot be transcribed
< > word(s) destroyed
<some text> 'some text' is a description of a destroyed word or passage
Text in small red font is a hyperlink or notes added by the editors.
Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.
Table of Contents1
From my birth to going to Cambridge page p. 1-25
Cambridge life p. 25-47
Voyage of the 'Beagle' p. 47-57
From my return home to my marriage p. 58-73
Religious beliefs p. 61-73
From my marriage & residence in London to our settling at Down p. 73-79
Residence at Down p. 79
An account how several books arose p. 81
An estimation of my mental powers p. 111
1 These headings are as Charles Darwin wrote them down. It will be found that they do not exactly tally with the text. [N.B.]
1876 May 31st
Recollections of the Development of my mind & character.
A German Editor having written to me to ask for an account of the development of my mind & character with some sketch of my autobiography, I have thought that the attempt would amuse me, & might possibly interest my children or their children.
I know that it would have interested me greatly to have read even so short & dull a sketch of the mind of my grandfather written by himself, & what he thought & did & how he worked. I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
I was born at Shrewsbury on February 12th, 1809. I have heard my Father say that he believed that persons with powerful minds generally had memories extending far back to a very early period of life. This is not my case for my earliest recollection goes back only to when I was a few months
[line hidden on microfilm] over four years old, when we went to near Abergele for sea-bathing, & I recollect some events & places there with some little distinctness.
My mother died in July 1817, when I was a little over eight years old, & it is odd that I can remember hardly anything about her except her death-bed, her black velvet gown, & her curiously constructed work-table. I believe that my forgetfulness is partly due to my sisters, owing to their great grief, never being able to speak about her or mention her name; & partly to her previous invalid state. In the spring of this same year I was sent to a day-school in Shrewsbury,1 where I staid a year. Before going to school I was educated by my sister Caroline, but I doubt whether this plan answered. I have been told that I was much slower in learning than my younger sister Catherine, & I believe that I was in many ways a naughty boy. Caroline was extremely kind, clever & zealous; but she was too zealous in trying to improve me; for I clearly remember after this long interval of years, saying to myself when about to enter a room where she was — "What will she blame me for now" & I made myself dogged so as not to care what she might say.
1 Kept by Rev. G. Case, minister of the Unitarian Chapel in the High Street. Mrs. Darwin was a Unitarian & attended Mr Case's chapel, & my father as a little boy went there with his elder sisters. But both he & his brother were christened & intended to belong to the Church of England; & after his early boyhood he seems usually to have gone to church & not to Mr Case's. It appears (St. James's Gazette, December 15, 1883) that a mural tablet has been erected to his memory in the chapel, which is now known as the "Free Christian Church." — F D.
By the time I went to this day-school my taste for natural history, & 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, & minerals. The passion for
collecting, which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso or a miser, was very strong in me, & was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste. One little event during this year has fixed itself very firmly in my mind, & I hope that it has done so from my conscience having been afterwards sorely troubled by it; it is curious as showing that apparently I was interested at this early age in the variability of plants! I told another little boy (I believe it was Leighton,1 who afterwards become a well-known Lichenologist & botanist) that I could produce variously coloured Polyanthuses & Primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids, which was of course a monstrous fable, & had never been tried by me. I may here also confess that as a little boy I was much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods, & this was always done for the sake of causing excitement. For instance, I once gathered much valuable fruit from my Father's trees & hid them in the shrubbery, & then ran in breathless haste to spread the news that I had
1 Rev. W. A. Leighton, who was a schoolfellow of my father's at Mr Case's school, remembers his bringing a flower to school & saying that his mother had taught him how by looking at the inside of the blossom the name of the plant could be discovered. Mr Leighton goes on, "This greatly roused my attention & curiosity, & I inquired of him repeatedly how this could be done?" — but his lesson was naturally enough not transmissible. — F. D. William Allport Leighton (1805-1899), botanist, educated at St. John's College, Cambridge; published Flora of Shropshire, Lichen Flora of Great Britain, & other works. — N. B.
About this time, or as I hope at a somewhat earlier age, I sometimes stole fruit for the sake of eating it; & one of my schemes was ingenious. The kitchen garden was kept locked in the evening, & was surrounded by a high wall, but by the aid of neighbouring trees I could easily get on the coping. I then fixed a long stick into the hole at the bottom of a rather large flower-pot, & by dragging this upwards pulled off peaches & plums, which fell into the pot & the prizes were thus secured. When a very little boy I remember stealing apples from the orchard, for the sake of giving them away to some boys & young men who lived in a cottage not far off, but before I gave them the fruit I showed off how quickly I could run & it is wonderful that I did not perceive that the surprise & admiration which they expressed at my powers of running, was given for the sake of the apples. But I well remember that I was delighted at them declaring that they had never seen a boy run so fast!
discovered a hoard of stolen fruit.1
I remember clearly only one other incident during the years whilst at Mr Case's daily school — namely, the burial of a dragoon-soldier; & it is surprising how clearly I can still see the horse with the man's empty boots & carbine suspended to the saddle, & the firing over the grave. This scene deeply stirred whatever poetic fancy there was in me.2
In the summer of 1818 I went to Dr Butler's great school in Shrewsbury, & remained there for seven years till Mid-summer of 1825, when I was 16 years old. I boarded at this school, so that I had the great advantage of living the life of a true school-boy; but as the distance was hardly more than a mile to my home, I very often ran there in the longer intervals between the callings over & before locking up at night. This I think was in many ways advantageous to me by keeping up home affections & interests. I remember in the early part of my school life that I often had to run very quickly to be in
1 His Father wisely treated this tendency not by making crimes of the fibs, but by making light of the discoveries. — F. D.
2 It is curious that another Shrewsbury boy should have been impressed by this military funeral; Mr Gretton, in his Memory's Harkback, says that the scene is so strongly impressed on his mind that he could "walk straight to the spot in St. Chad's churchyard where the poor fellow was buried." The soldier was an Inniskilling Dragoon, & the officer in command had been recently wounded at Waterloo, where his corps did good service against the French Cuirassiers. — F. D.
time, & from being a fleet runner was generally successful; but when in doubt I prayed earnestly to God to help me, & I well remember that I attributed my success to the prayers & not to my quick running, & marvelled how generally I was aided. I have heard my father & elder sisters say that I had, as a very young boy, a strong taste for long solitary walks; but what I thought about I know not. I often became quite absorbed, & once, whilst returning to school on the summit of the old fortifications round Shrewsbury, which had been converted into a public foot-path with no parapet on one side, I walked off & fell to the ground, but the height was only seven or eight feet. Nevertheless the number of thoughts which passed through my mind during this very short, but sudden & wholly unexpected fall, was astonishing, & seem hardly compatible with what physiologists have, I believe, proved about each thought requiring quite an appreciable amount of time.
Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than Dr Butler's school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught except a little ancient geography &
I must have been a very simple little fellow when I first went to the school. A boy of the name of Garnett took me into a cake-shop one day, & bought some cakes for which he did not pay, as the shopman trusted him. When we came out I asked him why he did not pay for them, & he instantly answered, "Why, do you not know that my uncle left a great sum of money to the Town on condition that every tradesman should give whatever was wanted without payment to anyone who wore his old hat & moved it in a particular manner;" & he then showed me how it was moved. He then went into another shop where he was trusted, & asked for some small article, moving his hat in the proper manner, & of course obtained it without payment. When we came out he said, "Now if you like to go by yourself into that cake-shop (how well I remember its exact position), I will lend you my hat, & you can get whatever you like if you move the hat on your head properly." I gladly accepted
the generous offer, & went in & asked for some cakes, moved the old hat, & was walking out of the shop, when the shop-man made a rush at me, so I dropped the cakes & ran away for dear life, & was astonished by being greeted with shouts of laughter by my false friend Garnett.
I can say in my own favour that I was as a boy humane, but I owed this entirely to the instruction & example of my sisters. I doubt indeed whether humanity is a natural or innate quality. I was very fond of collecting eggs, but I never took more than a single egg out of a bird's nest, except on one single occasion, when I took all, not for their value, but from a sort of bravado.
I had a strong taste for angling, & would sit for any number of hours on the bank of a river or pond watching the float; when at Maer1 I was told that
1 The house of his uncle, Josiah Wedgwood, the younger. — F. D. Here lived a family of Wedgwood cousins, the youngest of whom became Charles's wife. Maer lay in the heart of the Shropshire country, only a 20 mile's ride from Shrewsbury. — N. B.
p. 4 (a) continued
I could kill the worms with salt & water, & from that day I never spitted a living worm, though at the expense, probably, of some loss of success.
Once as a very little boy, whilst at the day-school, or before that time, I acted cruelly, for I beat a puppy I believe, simply from enjoying the sense of power; but the beating could not have been severe, for the puppy did not howl, of which I feel sure as the spot was near to the house. This act lay heavily on my conscience, as is shown by my remembering the exact spot where the crime was committed. It probably lay all the heavier from my love of dogs being then, & for a long time afterwards, a passion. Dogs seemed to know this, for I was an adept in robbing their love from their masters.
history. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Especial attention was paid to verse-making, & this I could never do well. I had many friends, and got together a grand collection of old verses, which by patching together, sometimes aided by other boys, I could work into any subject. Much attention was paid to learning by heart the lessons of the previous day; this I could effect with great facility learning forty or fifty lines of Virgil or Homer, whilst I was in morning chapel; but this exercise was utterly useless, for every verse was forgotten in forty-eight hours. I was not idle, & with the exception of versification, generally worked conscientiously at my classics, not using cribs. The sole pleasure I ever received from such studies, was from some of the odes of Horace, which I admired greatly. When I left the school I was for my age neither high nor low in it; & I believe that I
was considered by all my masters & by my Father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect. To my deep mortification my father once said to me, "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, & rat-catching, & you will be a disgrace to yourself & all your family." But my father, who was the kindest man I ever knew, & whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry & somewhat unjust when he used such words. (Here introduce p. 1 to 21)
Looking back as well as I can at my character during my school life, the only qualities which at this period promised well for the future, were, that I had strong & diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, & a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing. I was taught Euclid by a private tutor, & I distinctly remember the intense satisfaction which the clear geometrical proofs gave me. I remember with
Addendum to par 6
I may here add a few pages about my Father, who was in many ways a remarkable man.1
He was about 6 feet 2 inches in height, with broad shoulders, & very corpulent, so that he was the largest man whom I ever saw. When he last weighed himself, he was 24 stone, but afterwards increased much in weight. His chief mental characteristics were his powers of observation & his sympathy, neither of which have I ever seen exceeded or even equalled. His sympathy was not only with the distresses of others, but in a greater degree with the pleasures of all around him. This led him to be always scheming to give pleasure to others, and, though hating extravagance, to perform many generous actions. For instance, Mr B — , a small manufacturer in Shrewsbury, came to him one day, & said he should be bankrupt unless he could at once borrow £10,000, but that he was unable to give any legal security. My father heard his reasons for believing that he could ultimately repay the money, & from my Father's intuitive perception of character felt sure that he
1 This addition (ending p. 43) was written in 1878 or later, & though included in Life & Letters, Vol. I, p. 11, it was omitted in the Autobiography of the Thinker's Library. — N. B.
was to be trusted. So he advanced this sum, which was a very large one for him while young, & was after a time repaid.
I suppose that it was his sympathy which gave him unbounded power of winning confidence, & as a consequence made him highly successful as a physician. He began to practise before he was twenty-one years old, & his fees during the first year paid for the keep of two horses & a servant. On the following year his practice was larger, & so continued for above sixty years, when he ceased to attend on any one. His great success as a doctor was the more remarkable, as he told me that he at first hated his profession so much that if he had been sure of the smallest pittance, or if his father had given him any choice, nothing should have induced him to follow it. To the end of his life, the thought of an operation almost sickened him, & he could scarcely endure to see a person bled — a horror which he has
transmitted to me — and I remember the horror which I felt as a schoolboy in reading about Pliny (I think) bleeding to death in a warm bath. My Father told me two odd stories about bleeding: one was that as a very young man he became a Freemason. A friend of his who was a Freemason & who pretended not to know about his strong feeling with respect to blood, remarked casually to him as they walked to the meeting, "I suppose that you do not care about losing a few drops of blood?" It seems that when he was received as a member, his eyes were bandaged & his coat-sleeves turned up. Whether any such ceremony is now performed I know not, but my Father mentioned the case as an excellent instance of the power of imagination, for he distinctly felt the blood trickling down his arm, & could hardly believe his own eyes, when he afterwards could not find the smallest prick on his arm. A great slaughtering butcher from London once consulted my grandfather, when another man very ill was brought in, & my
grandfather wished to have him instantly bled by the accompanying apothecary. The butcher was asked to hold the patient's arm, but he made some excuse & left the room. Afterwards he explained to my grandfather that although he believed that he had killed with his own hands more animals than any other man in London, yet absurd as it might seem he assuredly should have fainted if he had seen the patient bled.
Owing to my father's power of winning confidence, many patients, especially ladies, consulted him when suffering from any misery, as a sort of Father-Confessor. He told me that they always began by complaining in a vague manner about their health, & by practice he soon guessed what was really the matter. He then suggested that they had been suffering in their minds, & now they would pour out their troubles, & he heard nothing more about the body. Family quarrels were a common subject. When gentlemen complained to him about their wives, & the quarrel seemed serious, my
Father advised them to act in the following manner; & his advice always succeeded if the gentleman followed it to the letter, which was not always the case. The husband was to say to the wife that he was very sorry that they could not live happily together, — that he felt sure that she would be happier if separated from him — that he did not blame her in the least (this was the point on which the man oftenest failed) — that he would not blame her to any of her relations or friends & lastly that he would settle on her as large a provision as he could afford. She was then asked to deliberate on this proposal. As no fault had been found, her temper was unruffled, & she soon felt what an awkward position she would be in, with no accusation to rebut, & with her husband & not herself proposing a separation. Invariably the lady begged her husband not to think of separation, & usually behaved much better ever afterwards. Owing to my father's skill in winning confidence he received many strange
confessions of misery & guilt. He often remarked how many miserable wives he had known. In several instances husbands & wives had gone on pretty well together for between twenty & thirty years, & then hated each other bitterly: this he attributed to their having lost a common bond in their young children having grown up.
But the most remarkable power which my father possessed was that of reading the characters, & even the thoughts of those whom he saw even for a short time. We had many instances of this power, some of which seemed almost supernatural. It saved my father from ever making (with one exception, & the character of this man was soon discovered) an unworthy friend. A strange clergyman came to Shrewsbury, & seemed to be a rich man; everybody called on him, & he was invited to many houses. My father called, & on his return home told my sisters on no account to invite him or his family to our house; for he felt sure that the man was not to be trusted. After a few months he suddenly
bolted, being heavily in debt, & was found out to be little better than an habitual swindler.(a) (Back)
A connection1 of my Father's consulted him about his son who was strangely idle & would settle to no work. My Father said "I believe that the foolish young man thinks that I shall bequeath him a large sum of money. Tell him that I have declared to you that I shall not leave him a penny." The Father of the youth owned with shame that this preposterous idea had taken possession of his son's mind; & he asked my Father how he could possibly have discovered it, but my Father said he did not in the least know.
The Earl of — brought his nephew, who was insane but quite gentle, to my father; & the young man's insanity led him to accuse himself of all the crimes under heaven. When my Father afterwards talked about the case with the uncle, he said, "I am sure that your nephew is really guilty of…a heinous crime." Whereupon the Earl of —
1 Robert's son-in-law, Henry Parker, who had married his eldest daughter, Marianne, in 1824. — N.B.
Addendum to p. 7
Here is a case of trustfulness which not many men would have ventured on. An Irish gentleman, a complete stranger, called on my father one day, & said that he had lost his purse, & that it would be a serious inconvenience to him to wait in Shrewsbury until he could receive a remittance from Ireland. He then asked my father to lend him £20, which was immediately done, as my father felt certain that the story was a true one. As soon as a letter could arrive from Ireland, one came with the most profuse thanks, & enclosing, as he said, a £20 Bank of England note; but no note was enclosed. I asked my father whether this did not stagger him, but he answered "not in the least." On the next day another letter came with many apologies for having forgotten (like a true Irishman) to put the note into his letter of the day before.
exclaimed, "Good God, Dr Darwin, who told you; we thought that no human being knew the fact except ourselves!" My Father told me the story many years after the event, & I asked him how he distinguished the true from the false self-accusations; & it was very characteristic of my Father that he said he could not explain how it was.
The following story shows what good guesses my Father could make. Lord Sherburn,1 afterwards the first Marquis of Lansdowne, was famous (as Macaulay somewhere remarks) for his knowledge of the affairs of Europe, on which he greatly prided himself. He consulted my Father medically, & afterwards harangued him on the state of Holland. My father had studied medicine at Leyden, & one day went a long walk into the country with a friend, who took him to the house of a clergyman (we will say the Rev. Mr A., for I have forgotten his name), who had married an
1 Read "Shelburne," consistently mis spelt whenever mentioned. — N. B.
English-woman. My father was very hungry, & there was little for luncheon except cheese, which he could never eat. The old lady was surprised & grieved at this, & assured my father that it was an excellent cheese, & had been sent her from Bowood, the seat of Lord Sherburn. My father wondered why a cheese should be sent her from Bowood, but thought nothing more about it until it flashed across his mind many years afterwards, whilst Lord Sherburn was talking about Holland. So he answered, "I should think from what I saw of the Rev. Mr A — , that he was a very able man & well acquainted with the state of Holland." My father saw that the Earl, who immediately changed the conversation, was much startled. On the next morning my father received a note from the Earl, saying that he had delayed starting on his journey, & wished particularly to see my father. When he called, the Earl said, "Dr Darwin, it is of the utmost importance
to me & to the Rev. Mr A — to learn how you have discovered that he is the source of my information about Holland." So my father had to explain the state of the case, & he supposed that Ld Sherburn was much struck with his diplomatic skill in guessing, for during many years afterwards he received many kind messages from him through various friends. I think that he must have told the story to his children; for Sir C. Lyell asked me many years ago why the Marquis of Lansdowne (the son or grandson of the first marquis) felt so much interest about me, whom he had never seen, & my family. When forty new members (the forty thieves as they were then called) were added to the Athenæum Club, there was much canvassing to be one of them; & without my having asked any one, Ld Lansdowne proposed me & got me elected. If I am right in my supposition, it was a queer concatenation of events that my father not eating cheese half-a-century before in Holland led to my election as a member of the Athenæum.
(Early in life my father occasionally wrote down a short account of some curious event & conversation, which are enclosed in a separate envelope.)
The sharpness of his observation led him to predict with remarkable skill the course of any illness, & he suggested endless small details of relief. I was told that a young Doctor in Shrewsbury, who disliked my father, used to say that he was wholly unscientific, but owned that his power of predicting the end of an illness was unparalleled. Formerly when he thought that I should be a doctor, he talked much to me about his patients. In the old days the practice of bleeding largely was universal, but my father maintained that far more evil was thus caused than good done; & he advised me if ever I was myself ill not to allow any doctor to take from me more than an extremely small quantity of blood. Long before typhoid fever was recognised as distinct, my father told me that two utterly distinct kinds of illness were confounded under the name of typhus fever. He was vehement against drinking, & was convinced of both the direct & inherited evil effects of alcohol when habitually taken even in moderate
quantity in a very large majority of cases.1 But he admitted & advanced instances of certain persons, who could drink largely during their whole lives without apparently suffering any evil effects; & he believed that he could often beforehand tell who would thus not suffer. He himself never drank a drop of any alcoholic fluid. (see Back)
My father used to tell me many little things which he had found useful in his medical practice. Thus ladies often cried much while telling him their troubles, & thus caused much loss of his precious time. He soon found that begging them to command & restrain themselves, always made them weep the more, so that afterwards he always encouraged them to go on crying, saying that this would relieve them more than anything else, with the invariable result that they soon ceased to cry, & he could hear what they had to say & give his advice. When patients who were very ill, craved for some strange & unnatural food, my father asked them what had put
1 See Note 1. p. 223 This letter from Robert's father, Dr Erasmus Darwin, discusses the question of drink. — N. B.
(Addendum p. 12)
This remark reminds me of a case showing how a witness under the most favourable circumstances may be wholly mistaken. A gentleman-farmer was strongly urged by my father not to drink, & was encouraged by being told that he himself never touched any spirituous liquor. Whereupon the gentleman said, "Come, come, Doctor, that won't do — though it is very kind of you to say so for my sake — for I know that you take a very large glass of hot gin & water every evening after your dinner."1 So my father asked him how he knew this. The man answered, "My cook was your kitchen-maid for two or three years, & she saw the butler every day prepare & take to you the gin & water." The explanation was that my father had the odd habit of drinking hot water in a very tall & large glass after his dinner; & the butler used first to put some cold water in the glass, which the girl mistook for gin, & then filled it up with boiling water from the kitchen boiler.
1 This belief still survives, & was mentioned to my brother in 1884 by an old inhabitant of Shrewsbury. — F. D.
such an idea into their heads: if they answered that they did not know, he would allow them to try the food, and often with success, as he trusted to their having a kind of instinctive desire; but if they answered that they had heard that the food in question had done good to someone else, he firmly refused his assent.
He gave one day an odd little specimen of human nature. When a very young man he was called in to consult with the family physician in the case of a gentleman of much distinction in Shropshire. The old doctor told the wife that the illness was of such a nature that it must end fatally. My father took a different view & maintained that the gentleman would recover: he was proved quite wrong in all respects, (I think by autopsy) & he owned his error. He was then convinced that he should never again be consulted by this family; but after a few months the widow sent for him, having dismissed the old family doctor. My father was so much surprised at this, that he asked
a friend of the widow to find out why he was again consulted. The widow answered her friend, that "she would never again see that odious old doctor who said from the first that her husband would die, while Dr Darwin always maintained that he would recover!" In another case my father told a lady that her husband would certainly die. Some months afterwards he saw the widow who was a very sensible woman, & she said, "You are a very young man, & allow me to advise you always to give, as long as you possibly can, hope to any near relation nursing a patient. You made me despair, & from that moment I lost strength." My father said that he had often since seen the paramount importance, for the sake of the patient, of keeping up the hope & with it the strength of the nurse in charge. This he sometimes found it difficult to do compatibly with truth. One old gentleman, however, Mr Pemberton, caused him no such perplexity. He was sent for by Mr P., who said, "from all that I have seen & heard of you
I believe you are the sort of man who will speak the truth, & if I ask you will tell me when I am dying. Now I much desire that you should attend me, if you will promise, whatever I may say, always to declare that I am not going to die." My father acquiesced on this understanding that his words should in fact have no meaning.
My father possessed an extraordinary memory, especially for dates, so that he knew, when he was very old the day of the birth, marriage, & death of a multitude of persons in Shropshire; & he once told me that this power annoyed him; for if he once heard a date he could not forget it; & thus the deaths of many friends were often recalled to his mind. Owing to his strong memory he knew an extraordinary number of curious stories, which he liked to tell, as he was a great talker. He was generally in high spirits, & laughed & joked with every one, often with his servants with the utmost freedom; yet he had the art of making every one obey him to the letter. Many
persons were much afraid of him. I remember my father telling us one day with a laugh, that several persons had asked him whether Miss Piggott (a grand old lady in Shropshire), had called on him, so that at last he enquired why they asked him; & was told that Miss Piggott, whom my father had somehow mortally offended, was telling everybody that she would call & tell "that fat old doctor very plainly what she thought of him." She had already called, but her courage had failed, & no one could have been more courteous & friendly. As a boy, I went to stay at the house of Major B — , whose wife was insane; & the poor creature, as soon as she saw me, was in the most abject state of terror that I ever saw, weeping bitterly & asking me over & over again, "Is your father coming?" but was soon pacified. On my return home, I asked my father why she was so frightened, & he answered he [was] very glad to hear it, as he had frightened her on purpose, feeling sure that she could be kept in safety & much happier without any restraint, if
her husband could influence her, whenever she became at all violent, by proposing to send for Dr Darwin; & these words succeeded perfectly during the rest of her long life.
My father was very sensitive so that many small events annoyed or pained him much. I once asked him, when he was old & could not walk, why he did not drive out for exercise; & he answered, "Every road out of Shrewsbury is associated in my mind with some painful event." Yet he was generally in high spirits. He was easily made very angry, but as his kindness was unbounded, he was widely & deeply loved.
He was a cautious & good man of business, so that he hardly ever lost money by any investment, & left to his children a very large property. I remember a story, showing how easily utterly false beliefs originate & spread. Mr E — , a squire of one of the oldest families in Shropshire, & head partner in a Bank, committed suicide. My father was sent for as a matter of form, & found him dead.
I may mention by the way, to show how matters were managed in those old days, that because Mr E — was a rather great man & universally respected, no inquest was held over his body. My father, in returning home, thought it proper to call at the Bank (where he had an account) to tell the managing partner of the event, as it was not improbable it would cause a run on the bank. Well the story was spread far & wide, that my father went into the bank, drew out all his money, left the bank, came back again, & said, "I may just tell you that Mr E — has killed himself," & then departed. It seems that it was then a common belief that money withdrawn from a bank was not safe, until the person had passed out through the door of the bank. My father did not hear this story till some little time afterwards, when the managing partner said that he had departed from his invariable rule of never allowing any one to see the account of another man, by having shown the ledger with my father's account to several persons, as this proved
that my father had not drawn out a penny on that day. It would have been dishonourable in my father to have used his professional knowledge for his private advantage. Nevertheless the supposed act was greatly admired by some persons; & many years afterwards, a gentleman remarked, "Ah, Doctor, what a splendid man of business you were in so cleverly getting all your money safe out of that bank." My father's mind was not scientific, & he did not try to generalise his knowledge under general laws; yet he formed a theory for almost everything which occurred. I do not think that I gained much from him intellectually; but his example ought to have been of much moral service to all his children. One of his golden rules (a hard one to follow) was, "Never become the friend of any one whom you cannot respect."
With respect to my father's father, the author of the Botanic Garden etc., I have put together all the facts which I could collect in his published Life.1
1 See Appendix, Part i. p. 149, on Dr Erasmus Darwin.
Having said this much about my Father, I will add a few words about my brother & sisters. My brother Erasmus possessed a remarkably clear mind, with extensive & diversified tastes & knowledge in literature, art, & even in science. For a short time he collected & dried plants, & during a somewhat longer time experimented in chemistry. He was extremely agreeable, & his wit often reminded me of that in the letters & works of Charles Lamb. He was very kind-hearted; but his health from his boyhood had been weak, & as a consequence he failed in energy. His spirits were not high, sometimes low, more especially during early & middle manhood. He read much, even whilst a boy, & at school encouraged me to read, lending me books. Our minds & tastes were, however, so different that I do not think that I owe much to him intellectually, nor to my four sisters, who possessed very different characters, & some of them had strongly marked characters. All were extremely kind & affectionate towards me during their
whole lives. I am inclined to agree with Francis Galton in believing that education & environment produce only a small effect on the mind of any one, & that most of our qualities are innate. The above sketch of my brother's character was written before that which was published in Carlyle's Remembrances, & which appears to me to have little truth & no merit.
distinctness the delight which my uncle gave me (the father of Francis Galton) by explaining the principle of the vernier of a barometer. With respect to diversified tastes, independently of science, I was fond of reading various books, & I used to sit for hours reading the historical plays of Shakespeare, generally in an old window in the thick walls of the school. I read also other poetry, such as the recently published poems of Byron, Scott, & Thomson's Seasons. I mention this because later in life I wholly lost, to my great regret, all pleasure from poetry of any kind, including Shakespeare. In connection with pleasure from poetry I may add that in 1822 a vivid delight in scenery was first awakened in my mind, during a riding tour on the borders of Wales, & which has lasted longer than any other aesthetic pleasure. Early in my school days a boy had a copy of the Wonders of the World, which I often read & disputed with other
boys about the veracity of some of the statements; & I believe this book first gave me a wish to travel in remote countries, which was ultimately fulfilled by the voyage of the Beagle. In the latter part of my school life I became passionately fond of shooting, & I do not believe that anyone could have shown more zeal for the most holy cause than I did for shooting birds. How well I remember killing my first snipe, & my excitement was so great that I had much difficulty in reloading my gun from the trembling of my hands. (a)
I had many friends amongst the schoolboys, whom I loved dearly, & I think that my disposition was then very affectionate. Some of these boys were rather clever, but I may add on the principle of "noscitur a socio" that not one of them ever became in the least distinguished.
With respect to science, I continued collecting minerals with much zeal, but quite unscientifically — all
This taste long continued & I became a very good shot. When at Cambridge I used to practise throwing up my gun to my shoulder before a looking-glass to see that I threw it up straight. Another & better plan was to get a friend to wave about a lighted candle, & then to fire at it with a cap on the nipple, & if the aim was accurate the little puff of air would blow out the candle. The explosion of the cap caused a sharp crack, & I was told that the Tutor of the College remarked, "What an extraordinary thing it is, Mr Darwin seems to spend hours in cracking a horse-whip in his room, for I often hear the crack when I pass under his windows."
that I cared for was a new named mineral, & I hardly attempted to classify them. I must have observed insects with some little care, for when ten years old (1819) I went for three weeks to Plas Edwards on the sea-coast in Wales, I was very much interested & surprised at seeing a large black & scarlet Hemipterous insect, many moths (Zygæna) & a Cicindela, which are not found in Shropshire. I almost made up my mind to begin collecting all the insects which I could find dead, for on consulting my sister, I concluded that it was not right to kill insects for the sake of making a collection. From reading White's SelborneI took much pleasure in watching the habits of birds, & even made notes on the subject. In my simplicity I remember wondering why every gentleman did not become an ornithologist.
Towards the close of my school life, my brother worked hard at chemistry & made a fair laboratory with
proper apparatus in the tool-house in the garden, & I was allowed to aid him as a servant in most of his experiments. He made all the gases & many compounds, & I read with care several books on chemistry, such as Henry & Parkes' Ch. Catechism. The subject interested me greatly, & we often used to go on working till rather late at night. This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science. The fact that we worked at chemistry somehow got known at school, & as it was an unprecedented fact, I was nick-named "Gas." I was also once publicly rebuked by the head-master, Dr Butler, for thus wasting my time over such useless subjects; & he called me very unjustly a "poco curante," 1 & as I did not understand what he meant it seemed to me a fearful reproach.
As I was doing no good at school, my father wisely took me away at a rather
1 A "poco curante" is interested in small things, while being indifferent to important things.
earlier age than usual, & sent me (October 1825) to to Edinburgh University1 with my brother, where I stayed for two years or sessions. My brother was completing his medical studies, though I do not believe he ever really intended to practise, & I was sent there to commence them. But soon after this period I became convinced from various small circumstances that my father would leave me property enough to subsist on with some comfort, though I never imagined that I should be so rich a man as I am; but my belief was sufficient to check any strenuous effort to learn medicine.
The instruction at Edinburgh was altogether by Lectures, & these were intolerably dull, with the exception of those on chemistry by Hope;2 but to my mind there are no advantages & many disadvantages in lectures compared with reading. Dr Duncan's lectures on Materia Medica at 8 o'clock on a winter's morning are something
1 He lodged at Mrs. Mackay's, 11 Lothian Street. What little the records of Edinburgh University can reveal has been published in the Edinburgh Weekly Dispatch, May 22, 1888; & in the St. James's Gazette, February 16, 1888. From the latter journal it appears that he & his brother Erasmus made more use of the library than was usual among the students of their time. — F. D.
2 Thomas Charles Hope, 1766-1844, Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh, 1799-1843. — N. B.
fearful to remember. Dr Munro made his lectures on human anatomy as dull, as he was himself, & the subject disgusted me. It has proved one of the greatest evils in my life that I was not urged to practice dissection, for I should soon have got over my disgust; & the practice would have been invaluable for all my future work. This has been an irremediable evil, as well as my incapacity to draw. I also attended regularly the clinical wards in the Hospital. Some of the cases distressed me a good deal, & I still have vivid pictures before me of some of them; but I was not so foolish as to allow this to lessen my attendance. I cannot understand why this part of my medical course did not interest me in a greater degree; for during the summer before coming to Edinburgh I began attending some of the poor people, chiefly children & women in Shrewsbury: I wrote down as full an account
as I could of the cases with all the symptoms, & read them aloud to my father, who suggested further enquiries, & advised me what medicines to give, which I made up myself. At one time I had at least a dozen patients, & I felt a keen interest in the work.1 My father, who was by far the best judge of character whom I ever knew, declared that I should make a successful physician, — meaning by this, one who got many patients. He maintained that the chief element of success was exciting confidence; but what he saw in me which convinced him that I should create confidence I know not. I also attended on two occasions the operating theatre in the hospital at Edinburgh, & saw two very bad operations, one on a child, but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do
1 I have heard him call to mind the pride he felt at the results of the successful treatment of a whole family with tartar emetic. — F. D.
so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform. The two cases fairly haunted me for many a long year.
My Brother staid only one year at the University, so that during the second year I was left to my own resources; & this was an advantage, for I became well acquainted with several young men fond of natural science. One of these was Ainsworth,1 who afterwards published his travels in Assyria: he was a Wernerian2 geologist & knew a little about many subjects, but was superficial & very glib with his tongue. Dr Coldstream3 was a very different young man, prim, formal, highly religious & most kind-hearted: he afterwards published some good zoological articles. A third young man was Hardie, who would I think have made a good botanist, but died early in India. Lastly, Dr Grant,4 my senior by several years, but how I became acquainted with him I cannot remember: he published some first-rate zoological papers, but after coming to London as Professor
1 William Francis Ainsworth, 1807-1896, L.R.C.S., Edinburgh 1827. Studied geology in London, Paris & Brussels. Surgeon & geologist to expedition to Euphrates, 1835; led expedition to Christians of Chaldea, 1838-40. — N. B.
2 Abraham Gottlob Werner, 1750-1817, geologist; adherent of the Neptunian theory — that all rocks were deposited as precipitates from water. — N. B.
3 Dr Coldstream died September 17, 1863; see Crown 16mo. Book Tract, No. 19, of the Religious Tract Society (no date). — F. D. This footnote is given In The Thinkers Library Edition, not in Life & Letters. — N. B.
4 Robert Edmund Grant, 1793-1874, Professor of comparative anatomy & zoology at London University 1827-1874; F.R.S. 1836. T. H. Huxley writes of Grant thus: — "Within the ranks of the biologists at that time (1851-8) I met nobody, except Dr Grant, of University College who had a word to say for Evolution; & his advocacy was not calculated to advance the cause." Life & Letters, Vol. II, p. 188. — N. B.
in University College, he did nothing more in science — a fact which has always been inexplicable to me. I knew him well; he was dry & formal in manner, but with much enthusiasm beneath this outer crust. He one day, when we were walking together burst forth in high admiration of Lamarck & his views on evolution. I listened in silent astonishment, & as far as I can judge, without any effect on my mind. I had previously read the Zoönomia of my grandfather, in which similar views are maintained, but without producing any effect on me. Nevertheless it is probable that the hearing rather early in life such views maintained & praised may have favoured my upholding them under a different form in my Origin of Species. At this time I admired greatly the Zoönomia; but on reading it a second time after an interval of 10 or 15 years, I was much disappointed, the proportion of speculation being so large to the facts given.1
1 See Appendix Part i, on Dr Erasmus Darwin, p. 152. — N. B.
Drs Grant & Coldstream attended much to marine Zoology, & I often accompanied the former to collect animals in the tidal pools, which I dissected as well as I could. I also became friends with some of the Newhaven fishermen, & sometimes accompanied them when they trawled for oysters, & thus got many specimens. But from not having had any regular practice in dissection, & from possessing only a wretched microscope my attempts were very poor. Nevertheless I made one interesting little discovery, & read about the beginning of the year 18261, a short paper on the subject before the Plinian Socy. This was that the so-called ova of Flustra had the power of independent movement by means of cilia, & were in fact larvæ. In another short paper I showed that little globular bodies which had been supposed to be the young state of Fucus loreus were the egg-cases of the worm-like Pontobdella muricata.
The Plinian Society2 was encouraged & I believe founded
1 [actually 27 March 1827]
2 The society was founded in 1823, & expired about 1848 (Edinburgh Weekly Dispatch, May 22, 1888). — F.D
by Professor Jameson:1 it consisted of students & met in an underground room in the University for the sake of reading papers on natural science & discussing them. I used regularly to attend & the meetings had a good effect on me in stimulating my zeal & giving me new congenial acquaintances. One evening a poor young man got up & after stammering for a prodigious length of time, blushing crimson, he at last slowly got out the words, "Mr President, I have forgotten what I was going to say" The poor fellow looked quite overwhelmed, & all the members were so surprised that no one could think of a word to say to cover his confusion. The papers which were read to our little society were not printed, so that I had not the satisfaction of seeing my paper in print; but I believe Dr Grant noticed my small discovery in his excellent memoir on Flustra. I was also a member of the Royal Medical Society, & attended pretty regularly, but as the subjects were exclusively medical I did not
1 Robert Jameson, 1774-1854, Regius professor of natural history & Keeper of the Museum at Edinburgh 1804-1854. Founded the Wernerian Society, 1808. — N. B.
much care about them. Much rubbish was talked there, but there were some good speakers, of whom the best was the present Sir J. Kay-Shuttleworth.1 Dr Grant took me occasionally to the meetings of the Wernerian Socy, where various papers on natural history were read, discussed, & afterwards published in the Transactions. I heard Audubon2 deliver there some interesting discourses on the habits of N. American birds, sneering somewhat unjustly at Waterton.3 By the way, a negro lived in Edinburgh, who had travelled with Waterton & gained his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently; he gave me lessons for payment, & I used often to sit with him, for he was a very pleasant & intelligent man.
Mr Leonard Horner4 also took me once to a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where I saw Sir W. Scott in the chair as President, & he apologised to the meeting as not feeling fitted for such a position. I looked at him & at
1 James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth, 1st Baronet, 1804-1877, M.D., Edinburgh, 1827; Assistant Poor-law Commissioner 1835; first Secretary of the Committee of Council of Education, 1839-49; member of scientific commissions, etc. — N. B.
2 John James Audubon, 1780-1851. Ornithologist & author of The Birds of America, & The Quadrupeds of North America. — N. B.
3 Charles Waterton, 1782-1865. Naturalist & traveller, author of Wanderings in S. America. — N. B.
4 Leonard Horner, 1785-1864. Geologist & educationalist, helped to organise London Institution, 1827, took active part in Factory Acts. — N. B.
the whole scene with some awe & reverence; & I think it was owing to this visit during my youth & to my having attended the Royal Medical Socy, that I felt the honour of being elected a few years ago an honorary member of both these Societies, more than any other similar honour. If I had been told at that time that I should one day have been thus honoured, I declare that I should have thought it as ridiculous & improbable, as if I had been told that I should be elected King of England.
During my second year in Edinburgh I attended Jameson's lectures on Geology & Zoology, but they were incredibly dull. The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology or in any way to study the science. Yet I feel sure that I was prepared for a philosophical treatment of the subject; for an old Mr Cotton in Shropshire
who knew a good deal about rocks, had pointed out to me, two or three years previously a well-known large erratic boulder in the town of Shrewsbury, called the bell-stone; he told me that there was no rock of the same kind nearer than Cumberland or Scotland, & he solemnly assured me that the world would come to an end before anyone would be able to explain how this stone came where it now lay. This produced a deep impression on me & I meditated over this wonderful stone. So that I felt the keenest delight when I first read of the action of icebergs in transporting boulders, & I gloried in the progress of Geology. Equally striking is the fact that I, though now only sixty-seven years old, heard Professor Jameson, in a field lecture at Salisbury Craigs, discoursing on a trap-dyke, with amygdaloidal margins & the strata indurated on each side, with volcanic rocks all around
us, & say that it was a fissure filled with sediment from above, adding with a sneer that there were men who maintained that it had been injected from beneath in a molten condition. When I think of this lecture, I do not wonder that I determined never to attend to Geology.
From attending Jameson's lectures, I became acquainted with the curator of the museum, Mr Macgillivray,1 who afterwards published a large & excellent book on the birds of Scotland. He had not much the appearance or manners of the gentleman. I had much interesting natural-history talk with him, & he was very kind to me. He gave me some rare shells, for I at that time collected marine mollusca, but with no great zeal.
My summer vacations during these two years were wholly given up to amusements, though I always had some book in hand, which I read with interest. During the summer of 1826, I took a long walking
1 William Macgillivray, 1796-1852. Conservator of the Royal College of Surgeons Museum, Edinburgh, 1831-41. Professor of Natural History, Aberdeen, 1841. Author of A History of British Birds. — N. B.
tour with two friends with knapsacks on our backs through North Wales. We walked 30 miles most days, including one day the ascent of Snowdon. I also went with my sister Caroline a riding tour in North Wales, a servant with saddle-bags carrying our clothes. The autumns were devoted to shooting, chiefly at Mr Owen's at Woodhouse, & at my Uncle Jos's1, at Maer. My zeal was so great that I used to place my shooting boots open by my bed-side when I went to bed, so as not to lose half-a-minute in putting them on in the morning; & on one occasion I reached a distant part of the Maer estate on the 20th of August for black-game shooting, before I could see: I then toiled on with the gamekeeper the whole day through thick heath & young Scotch firs. I kept an exact record of every bird which I shot throughout the whole season. (a) How I did enjoy shooting, but I think that I must have been half-consciously ashamed of my
1 Josiah Wedgwood, the son of the founder of the Etruria Works. — F. D.
(a) One day when shooting at Woodhouse with Captain Owen, the eldest son & Major Hill, his cousin, afterwards Lord Berwick, both of whom I liked very much, I thought myself shamefully used, for every time after I had fired & thought that I had killed a bird, one of the two acted as if loading his gun & cried out, "You must not count that bird, for I fired at the same time," & the gamekeeper perceiving the joke, backed them up. After some hours they told me the joke, but it was no joke to me for I had shot a large number of birds, but did not know how many, & could not add them to my list, which I used to do by making a knot in a piece of string tied to a button-hole. This my wicked friends had perceived.
zeal, for I tried to persuade myself that shooting was almost an intellectual employment; it required so much skill to judge where to find most game & to hunt the dogs well.
One of my autumnal visits to Maer in 1827 was memorable from meeting there Sir J. Mackintosh,1 who was the best converser I ever listened to. I heard afterwards with a glow of pride that he had said, "There is something in that young man that interests me." This must have been chiefly due to his perceiving that I listened with much interest to everything which he said, for I was as ignorant as a pig about his subjects of history, politicks & moral philosophy. To hear of praise from an eminent person, though no doubt apt or certain to excite vanity, is, I think, good for a young man, as it helps to keep him in the right course.
My visits to Maer during these two & the three
1 Sir James Mackintosh, 1765-1832, philosopher & historian. Had studied medicine at Edinburgh. He & Josiah Wedgwood of Maer married two of the Allen sisters, so there was connection by marriage between the families. — N. B.
succeeding years were quite delightful, independently of the autumnal shooting. Life there was perfectly free; the country was very pleasant for walking or riding; & in the evening there was much very agreeable conversation, not so personal as it generally is in large family parties, together with music. In the summer the whole family used often to sit on the steps of the old portico, with the flower-garden in front, & with the steep wooded bank, opposite the house, reflected in the lake, with here & there a fish rising or a water-bird paddling about. Nothing has left a more vivid picture on my mind than these evenings at Maer. I was also attached to & greatly revered my Uncle Jos: he was silent & reserved so as to be a rather awful man; but he sometimes talked openly with me.1 He was the very type of an upright man with the clearest judgment. I do not believe that any
1 Sydney Smith was a frequent visitor at Maer, & Mrs. Litchfield quotes her mother's memory of a speech of his: — "Wedgwood's an excellent man — it is a pity he hates his friends." Emma Darwin, Vol. I, p. 74. — N. B.
power on earth could have made him swerve an inch from what he considered the right course. I used to apply to him in my mind, the well-known ode of Horace, now forgotten by me, in which the words "nec vultus tyranni, &c.,"1 come in.
Cambridge, 1828-1831 — After having spent two sessions in Edinburgh, my father perceived or he heard from my sisters, that I did not like the thought of being a physician, so he proposed that I shd become a clergyman. He was very properly vehement against my turning an idle sporting man, which then seemed my probable destination. I asked for some time to consider, as from what little I had heard & thought on the subject I had scruples about declaring my belief in all the dogmas of the Church of England; though otherwise I liked the thought of being a country clergyman. Accordingly I read with care Pearson on the Creed & a few other books
1 Justum et tenacem propositi virum / Non civium ardor prava jubentium, / Non vultus instantis tyranni / Mente quatit solida. F. D.
on divinity; & as I did not then in the least doubt the strict & literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted. It never struck me how illogical it was to say that I believed in what I could not understand & what is in fact unintelligible. I might have said with entire truth that I had no wish to dispute any dogma; but I never was such a fool as to feel & say 'credo quia incredibile'. Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman. Nor was this intention & my father's wish ever formally given up, but died a natural death when on leaving Cambridge I joined the Beagle as Naturalist. If the phrenologists are to be trusted, I was well fitted in one respect to be a clergyman. A few years ago the Secretaries of a German
psychological Socy asked me earnestly by letter for a photograph of myself; & some time afterwards I received the Proceedings of one of the meetings in which it seemed that the shape of my head had been the subject of a public discussion, & one of the speakers declared that I had the bump of Reverence developed enough for ten Priests.
As it was decided that I shd be a clergyman, it was necessary that I should go to one of the English universities & take a degree; but as I had never opened a classical book since leaving school, I found to my dismay that in the two intervening years I had actually forgotten, incredible as it may appear, almost everything which I had learnt even to some few of the Greek letters. I did not therefore proceed to Cambridge at the usual time in October, but worked with a private tutor in Shrewsbury & went to Cambridge after the Christmas vacation, early in 1828. I soon
recovered my school standard of knowledge, & could translate easy Greek books, such as Homer & the Greek Testament with moderate facility.
During the three years which I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted, as far as the academical studies were concerned, as completely as at Edinburgh & at school. I attempted mathematics, & even went during the summer of 1828 with a private tutor (a very dull man) to Barmouth, but I got on very slowly. The work was repugnant to me, chiefly from my not being able to see any meaning in the early steps in algebra. This impatience was very foolish, & in after years I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics; for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense. But I do not believe that I should ever have succeeded beyond a very low grade. With respect to Classics I did nothing
except attend a few compulsory college lectures, & the attendance was almost nominal. In my second year I had to work for a month or two to pass the Little Go, which I did easily. Again in my last year I worked with some earnestness for my final degree of B.A., & brushed up my Classics together with a little Algebra & Euclid, which latter gave me much pleasure, as it did whilst at school. In order to pass the B.A. examination, it was, also, necessary to get up Paley's Evidences of Christianity, & his Moral Philosophy. This was done in a thorough manner, & I am convinced that I could have written out the whole of the Evidenceswith perfect correctness, but not of course in the clear language of Paley. The logic of this book & as I may add of his Natural Theology gave me as much delight as did Euclid. The careful study of these works, without attempting to learn any part by rote, was the only part of the Academical Course which, as I then felt & as I still believe, was
of the least use to me in the education of my mind. I did not at that time trouble myself about Paley's premises; & taking these on trust I was charmed & convinced by the long line of argumentation. By answering well the examination questions in Paley, by doing Euclid well, & by not failing miserably in Classics, I gained a good place among the οi πολλοί, or crowd of men who do not go in for honours. Oddly enough I cannot remember how high I stood, & my memory fluctuates between the fifth, tenth, or twelfth name on the list.1
Public lectures on several branches were given in the University, attendance being quite voluntary; but I was so sickened with lectures at Edinburgh that I did not even attend Sedgwick's2 eloquent & interesting lectures. Had I done so I shd probably have become a geologist earlier than I did. I attended, however, Henslow's3 lectures on Botany, & liked them much for their extreme clearness, & the
1 Tenth in the list of January 1831. — F. D
2 Adam Sedgwick, 1785-1873. Woodwardian professor of geology, Cambridge, 1818. F.R.S., 1830. — N. B.
3 John Stevens Henslow, 1796-1861. Professor of botany, Cambridge, 1827-61. He helped to obtain for Darwin the post of naturalist on the Beagle, & Darwin always held him in very high esteem. — N. B.
admirable illustrations; but I did not study botany. Henslow used to take his pupils, including several of the older members of the University, field excursions, on foot, or in coaches to distant places, or in a barge down the river, & lectured on the rarer plants or animals which were observed. These excursions were delightful.
Although as we shall presently see there were some redeeming features in my life at Cambridge, my time was sadly wasted there & worse than wasted. From my passion for shooting & for hunting & when this failed, for riding across country I got into a sporting set, including some dissipated low-minded young men. We used often to dine together in the evening, though these dinners often included men of a higher stamp, & we sometimes drank too much, with jolly singing & playing at cards afterwards. I know that I ought to feel ashamed of days & evenings thus spent, but as some of my friends were
very pleasant & we were all in the highest spirits, I cannot help looking back to these times with much pleasure.1
But I am glad to think that I had many other friends of a widely different nature. I was very intimate with Whitley2, who was afterwards Senior Wrangler, & we used continually to take long walks together. He inoculated me with a taste for pictures & good engravings, of which I bought some. I frequently went to the Fitzwilliam Gallery, & my taste must have been fairly good, for I certainly admired the best pictures, which I discussed with the old curator. I read also with much interest Sir J. Reynolds' book. This taste, though not natural to me, lasted for several years & many of the pictures in the National Gallery in London gave me much pleasure; that of Sebastian del Piombo exciting in me a sense of sublimity.
I also got into a musical set, I believe by means of my warm-hearted friend Herbert,3 who
1 I gather from some of my father's contemporaries that he has exaggerated the Bacchanalian nature of these parties. — F. D.
2 Rev. C. Whitley, Hon. Canon of Durham, formerly Reader in Natural Philosophy in Durham University. — F. D.
3 The late John Maurice Herbert, County Court Judge of Cardiff & the Monmouth Circuit. — F. D.
took a high wrangler's degree. From associating with these men & hearing them play, I acquired a strong taste for music, & used very often to time my walks so as to hear on week days the anthem in King's College Chapel. This gave me intense pleasure, so that my backbone would sometimes shiver. I am sure that there was no affectation or mere imitation in this taste, for I used generally to go by myself to King's College, & I sometimes hired the chorister boys to sing in my rooms. Nevertheless I am so utterly destitute of an ear, that I cannot perceive a discord, or keep time & hum a tune correctly; & it is a mystery how I could possibly have derived pleasure from music. My musical friends soon perceived my state, & sometimes amused themselves by making me pass an examination, which consisted in ascertaining how many tunes I could recognise, when they were played rather
more quickly or slowly than usual. 'God save the King' when thus played was a sore puzzle. There was another man with almost as bad an ear as I had, & strange to say he played a little on the flute. Once I had the triumph of beating him in one of our musical examinations.
But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them & rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles & seized one in each hand; then I saw a third & new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely
acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one. I was very successful in collecting & invented two new methods; I employed a labourer to scrape during the winter, moss off old trees & place [it] in a large bag, & likewise to collect the rubbish at the bottom of the barges in which reeds are brought from the fens, & thus I got some very rare species. No poet ever felt more delight at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephen's Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, "captured by C. Darwin, Esq" I was introduced to entomology by my second cousin, W. Darwin Fox, a clever & most pleasant man, who was then at Christ's College, & with whom I became extremely intimate. Afterwards I became well acquainted with & went out collecting, with Albert Way1 of Trinity, who in after years became a well-known archæologist; also with H. Thompson,2 of the same College, afterwards a leading agriculturist,
1 Albert Way, 1805-74. Antiquarian, traveller & editor of Promptorium Parvulorum, 1843-65. — N. B.
2 Afterwards Sir H. Thompson, first baronet. — F. D.
chairman of a great Railway, & Member of Parliament. It seems therefore that a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life!
I am surprised what an indelible impression many of the beetles which I caught at Cambridge have left on my mind. I can remember the exact appearance of certain posts, old trees & banks where I made a good capture. The pretty Panagæus crux-major was a treasure in those days, & here at Down I saw a beetle running across a walk, & on picking it up instantly perceived that it differed slightly from P. crux-major, & it turned out to be P.quadripunctatus, which is only a variety or closely allied species, differing from it very slightly in outline. I had never seen in those old days Licinus alive, which to an uneducated eye hardly differs from many other black Carabidous beetles; but my sons found here a
specimen & I instantly recognised that it was new to me; yet I had not looked at a British beetle for the last twenty years.
I have not as yet mentioned a circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other. This was my friendship with Prof. Henslow. Before coming up to Cambridge, I had heard of him from my brother as a man who knew every branch of science, & I was accordingly prepared to reverence him. He kept open house once every week,1 where all undergraduates & several older members of the University, who were attached to science, used to meet in the evening. I soon got, through Fox, an invitation, & went there regularly. Before long I became well acquainted with Henslow, & during the latter half of my time at Cambridge took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons "the man who walks with Henslow"; & in the evening
1 The Cambridge Ray Club, which in 1887 attained its fiftieth anniversary, is the direct descendant of these meetings, having been founded to fill the blank caused by the discontinuance, in 1836, of Henslow's Friday evenings. See Professor Babington's pamphlet, The Cambridge Ray Club, 1887. — F. D.
I was very often asked to join his family dinner. His knowledge was great in botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy, & geology. His strongest taste was to draw conclusions from long-continued minute observations. His judgment was excellent, & his whole mind well-balanced; but I do not suppose that anyone would say that he possessed much original genius. He was deeply religious, & so orthodox, that he told me one day, he should be grieved if a single word of the Thirty-nine Articles were altered. His moral qualities were in every way admirable. He was free from every tinge of vanity or other petty feeling; & I never saw a man who thought so little about himself or his own concerns. His temper was imperturbably good, with the most winning & courteous manners; yet, as I have seen, he could be roused by any bad action to the warmest indignation &
prompt action. I once saw in his company in the streets of Cambridge almost as horrid a scene, as could have been witnessed during the French Revolution. Two body-snatchers had been arrested & whilst being taken to prison had been torn from the constable by a crowd of the roughest men, who dragged them by their legs along the muddy & stony road. They were covered from head to foot with mud & their faces were bleeding either from having been kicked or from the stones; they looked like corpses, but the crowd was so dense that I got only a few momentary glimpses of the wretched creatures. Never in my life have I seen such wrath painted on a man's face, as was shown by Henslow at this horrid scene. He tried repeatedly to penetrate the mob; but it was simply impossible. He then rushed away to the mayor, telling me not to follow him, to get more policemen. I forget the issue, except that the two were got into the prison before being killed.
Henslow's benevolence was unbounded, as he proved by his many excellent schemes for his poor parishioners, when in after years he held the living of Hitcham. My intimacy with such a man ought to have been & I hope was an inestimable benefit. I cannot resist mentioning a trifling incident, which showed his kind consideration. Whilst examining some pollen-grains on a damp surface I saw the tubes exserted, & instantly rushed off to communicate my surprising discovery to him. Now I do not suppose any other Professor of Botany could have helped laughing at my coming in such a hurry to make such a communication. But he agreed how interesting the phenomenon was, & explained its meaning, but made me clearly understand how well it was known; so I left him not in the least mortified, but well pleased at having discovered for myself so remarkable a fact, but determined not to be in such a
hurry again to communicate my discoveries. Dr Whewell1 was one of the older & distinguished men who sometimes visited Henslow, & on several occasions I walked home with him at night. Next to Sir J. Mackintosh he was the best converser on grave subjects to whom I ever listened. Leonard Jenyns,2 (grandson of the famous Soames Jenyns), who afterwards published some good essays in Natural History, often staid with Henslow, who was his brother-in-law. At first I disliked him from his somewhat grim and sarcastic expression; & it is not often that a first impression is lost; but I was completely mistaken & found him very kindhearted, pleasant & with a good stock of humour. I visited him at his parsonage on the borders of the Fens3, & had many a good walk & talk with him about Natural History. I became also acquainted with several other men older than me, who did not care much about science, but were friends of Henslow.
1 William Whewell, 1794-1866, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1841-1866. F.R.S. 1820. Philosopher, theologian & scientist. — N. B.
2 Mr Jenyns (now Blomefield) described the fish for the Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle; & is author of a long series of papers, chiefly zoological. In 1887 he printed, for private circulation, an autobiographical sketch, Chapters in my Life, & subsequently some (undated) addenda. The well-known Soame Jenyns was cousin to Mr Jenyns father. — F. D. Charles Darwin's suggested relationship is therefore wrong. Leonard Jenyns almost accepted the offer of the post on the Beagle before it was offered to Charles Darwin. — N. B.
3 [Swaffham Bulbeck] N.B.
One was a Scotchman, brother of Sir Alexander Ramsay, & tutor of Jesus College; he was a delightful man, but did not live for many years. Another was Mr Dawes, afterwards Dean of Hereford & famous for his success in the education of the poor. These men & others of the same standing, together with Henslow, used sometimes to take distant excursions into the country, which I was allowed to join & they were most agreeable. Looking back, I infer that there must have been something in me a little superior to the common run of youths, otherwise the above-mentioned men, so much older than me & higher in academical position, would never have allowed me to associate with them. Certainly I was not aware of any such superiority, & I remember one of my sporting friends, Turner, who saw me at work on my beetles, saying that I should some day be a Fellow of the Royal Society, & the notion seemed to me preposterous.
During my last year at Cambridge I read with care & profound interest Humboldt's Personal Narrative. This work & Sir J. Herschel's Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two. I copied out from Humboldt long passages about Teneriffe, & read them aloud on one of the above-mentioned excursions, to (I think) Henslow, Ramsay & Dawes; for on a previous occasion I had talked about the glories of Teneriffe, & some of the party declared they would endeavour to go there; but I think that they were only half in earnest. I was, however, quite in earnest, & got an introduction to a merchant in London to enquire about ships; but the scheme was of course knocked on the head by the voyage of the Beagle.
My summer vacations were given up to collecting
beetles, to some reading & short tours. In the autumn my whole time was devoted to shooting, chiefly at Woodhouse & Maer, & sometimes with young Eyton of Eyton.1 Upon the whole the three years which I spent at Cambridge were the most joyful in my happy life; for I was then in excellent health, & almost always in high spirits.
As I had at first come up to Cambridge at Christmas, I was forced to keep two terms after passing my final examination, at the commencement of 1831; & Henslow then persuaded me to begin the study of geology. Therefore on my return to Shropshire I examined sections and coloured a map of parts round Shrewsbury. Professor Sedgwick intended to visit N. Wales in the beginning of August to pursue his famous geological investigation amongst the older rocks, & Henslow asked him to allow me to accompany him.2 Accordingly he came & slept at my Father's house.
1 Thomas Campbell Eyton, 1809-1880. Corresponded with Darwin & Agassiz, & opposed Darwinism. — N. B.
2 In connection with this tour my father used to tell a story about Sedgwick: they had started from their inn one morning, & had walked a mile or two, when Sedgwick suddenly stopped, & vowed that he would return, being certain "that damned scoundrel" (the waiter) had not given the chambermaid the sixpence entrusted to him for the purpose. He was ultimately persuaded to give up the project, seeing that there was no reason for suspecting the waiter of perfidy. — F. D.
A short conversation with him during this evening produced a strong impression on my mind. Whilst examining an old gravel-pit near Shrewsbury a labourer told me that he had found in it a large worn tropical Volute shell, such as may be seen on the chimney-pieces of cottages; & as he would not sell the shell I was convinced that he had really found it in the pit. I told Sedgwick of the fact, & he at once, said (no doubt truly) that it must have been thrown away by someone into the pit; but then added, if really embedded there it would be the greatest misfortune to geology, as it would overthrow all that we know about the superficial deposits of the midland counties. These gravel-beds belonged in fact to the glacial period, & in after years I found in them broken arctic shells. But I was then utterly astonished at Sedgwick not being delighted at so wonderful
a fact as a tropical shell being found near the surface in the middle of England. Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realise, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.
Next morning we started for Llangollen, Conway, Bangor, & Capel Curig. This tour was of decided use in teaching me a little how to make out the geology of a country. Sedgwick often sent me on a line parallel to his, telling me to bring back specimens of the rocks & to mark the stratification on a map. I have little doubt that he did this for my good, as I was too ignorant to have aided him. On this tour I had a striking instance how easy it is to overlook phenomena, however conspicuous, before they have been observed by anyone.
We spent many hours in Cwm Idwal, examining all the rocks with extreme care, as Sedgwick was anxious to find fossils in them; but neither of us saw a trace of the wonderful glacial phenomena all around us; we did not notice the plainly scored rocks, the perched boulders, the lateral & terminal moraines. Yet these phenomena are so conspicuous that, as I declared in a paper published many years afterwards in the Philosophical Magazine,1 a house burnt down by fire did not tell its story more plainly than did this valley. If it had still been filled by a glacier, the phenomena would have been less distinct than they now are.
At Capel Curig I left Sedgwick & went in a straight line by compass & map across the mountains to Barmouth, never following any track unless it coincided with my course. I thus came on some
1 Philosophical Magazine, 1842 — F D.
strange wild places & enjoyed much this manner of travelling. I visited Barmouth to see some Cambridge friends who were reading there, & thence returned to Shrewsbury & to Maer for shooting; for at that time I should have thought myself mad to give up the first days of partridge-shooting for geology or any other science.
Voyage of the 'Beagle': from Dec. 27th, 1831 to Oct. 2d, 1836
On returning home from my short geological tour in N. Wales, I found a letter from Henslow, informing me that Captain Fitz Roy1 was willing to give up part of his own cabin to any young man who would volunteer to go with him without pay as naturalist to the Voyage of the Beagle. I have given as I believe in my M.S. Journal an account of all the circumstances which then occurred; I will here only say that I was instantly eager to accept the offer, but my father strongly objected, adding the words fortunate for me, — "If you can find any
1 Robert Fitz-Roy, 1805-1865. Vice admiral, hydrographer & meteorologist. Son of Lord Charles Fitz-Roy, & grandson of the Duke of Grafton. Instituted systems of weather-warnings — N. B.
man of common sense, who advises you to go, I will give my consent." So I wrote that evening & refused the offer. On the next morning I went to Maer to be ready for September 1st, & whilst out shooting, my uncle1 sent for me, offering to drive me over to Shrewsbury & talk with my father. As my uncle thought it would be wise in me to accept the offer, & as my father always maintained that he was one of the most sensible men in the world, he at once consented in the kindest manner.2 I had been rather extravagant at Cambridge & to console my father said, "that I should be deuced clever to spend more than my allowance whilst on board the Beagle"; but he answered with a smile, "But they all tell me you are very clever."
Next day I started for Cambridge to see Henslow, & thence to London to see Fitz-Roy, & all was soon arranged. Afterwards on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very
1 Josiah Wedgwood, son of Josiah Wedgwood the Potter.
2 See Note 2, p. 226; letters from Charles Darwin & Josiah Wedgwood, refuting Dr Robert's objections to the voyage. How Dr Robert Darwin's objections to the Voyage were overcome. — N. B.
narrow risk of being rejected, on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, & was convinced that he could judge a man's character by the outline of his features; & he doubted whether anyone with my nose could possess sufficient energy & determination for the voyage. But I think he was afterwards well-satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely. (a)
The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life & has determined my whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my uncle offering to drive me 30 miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, & on such a trifle as the shape of my nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind. I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, & thus my powers of observation were improved, though
p.49 (a) Addendum
Fitz-Roy's character was a singular one, with many very noble features: he was devoted to his duty, generous to a fault, bold, determined, indomitably energetic, & an ardent friend to all under his sway. He would undertake any sort of trouble to assist those whom he thought deserved assistance. He was a handsome man, strikingly like a gentleman, with highly courteous manners, which resembled those of his maternal uncle, the famous Lord Castlereagh, as I was told by the Minister at Rio. (B. see back)
Fitz-Roy's temper was a most unfortunate one. This was shown not only by passion but by fits of long-continued moroseness against those who had offended him. (a) see Back Addendum
He was also somewhat suspicious & occasionally in very low spirits, on one occasion bordering on insanity. He seemed to me often to fail in sound judgment or common sense. He was extremely kind to me, but was a man very difficult to live with on the intimate terms which necessarily followed from our messing by ourselves in the same cabin. We had several quarrels; for when out of temper he was utterly unreasonable.
His temper was usually worst in the early morning, & with his eagle eye he could generally detect something amiss about the ship, & was then unsparing in his blame. The junior officers when they relieved each other in the forenoon used to ask "whether much hot coffee had been served out this morning, — " which meant how was the Captain's temper?
Nevertheless he must have inherited much in his appearance from Charles II, for Dr Wallich gave me a collection of photographs which he had made, & I was struck with the resemblance of one to Fitz-Roy; on looking at the name, I found it Ch. E. Sobieski Stuart, Count d'Albanie,1 illegitimate descendant of the same monarch. Fitz-Roy’s temper.
1 The Count d'Albanie's claim to Royal descent has been shown to be based on a myth. See the Quarterly Review, 1847, vol. lxxxi. p. 83; also Hayward's Biographical & Critical Essays, 1873, vol. ii. p. 201. — F. D.
49 (a) Addendum
For instance, early in the voyage at Bahia in Brazil he defended & praised slavery, which I abominated, & told me that he had just visited a great slave-owner, who had called up many of his slaves & asked them whether they were happy, & whether they wished to be free, & all answered "No." I then asked him, perhaps with a sneer, whether he thought that the answers of slaves in the presence of their master was worth anything. This made him excessively angry, & he said that as I doubted his word, we could not live any longer together. I thought that I should have been compelled to leave the ship; but as soon as the news spread, which it did quickly, as the captain sent for the first lieutenant to assuage his anger by abusing me, I was deeply gratified by receiving an invitation from all the gun-room officers to mess with them. But after a few hours Fitz-Roy showed his usual magnanimity by sending an officer to me with an apology & a request that I would continue to live with him.
I remember another instance of his candour. At Plymouth before we sailed, he was extremely angry with a dealer in crockery who refused to exchange some article purchased in his shop: the Captain asked the man the price of a very expensive set of china & said "I should have purchased this if you had not been so disobliging." As I knew that the cabin was amply stocked with crockery, I doubted whether he had any such intention; & I must have shown my doubts in my face, for I said not a word. After leaving the shop he looked at me, saying You do not believe what I have said, & I was forced to own that it was so. He was silent for a few minutes & then said You are right, & I acted wrongly in my anger at the blackguard.
At Conception in Chile, poor Fitz-Roy was sadly overworked & in very low spirits; he complained bitterly to me that he must give a great party to all the inhabitants of the place. I remonstrated
& said that I could see no such necessity on his part under the circumstances. He then burst out into a fury, declaring that I was the sort of man who would receive any favours & make no return. I got up & left the cabin without saying a word, & returned to Conception where I was then lodging. After a few days I came back to the ship & was received by the Captain as cordially as ever, for the storm had by that time quite blown over. The first Lieutenant, however, said to me: "Confound you, philosopher, I wish you would not quarrel with the skipper; the day you left the ship I was dead-tired (the ship was refitting) & he kept me walking the deck till midnight abusing you all the time."
The difficulty of living on good terms with a Captain of a Man-of-War is much increased by its being almost mutinous to answer him as one would answer anyone else; & by the awe in which he is
held — or was held in my time, by all on board. I remember hearing a curious instance of this in the case of the purser of the Adventure, — the ship which sailed with the Beagle during the first voyage. The Purser was in a store in Rio de Janeiro, purchasing rum for the ship's company, & a little gentleman in plain clothes walked in. The Purser said to him, "Now Sir, be so kind as to taste this rum, & give me your opinion of it." The gentleman did as he was asked, & soon left the store. The store-keeper then asked the Purser, whether he knew that he had been speaking to the Captain of a Line of Battleships which had just come into the harbour. The poor Purser was struck dumb with horror; he let the glass of spirit drop from his hand onto the floor, & immediately went on board, & no persuasion, as an officer on the Adventure assured me, could make him go on shore again for fear of meeting the Captain
after his dreadful act of familiarity.
I saw Fitz-Roy only occasionally after our return home, for I was always afraid of unintentionally offending him, & did so once, almost beyond mutual reconciliation. He was afterwards very indignant with me for having published so unorthodox a book (for he became very religious) as the Origin of Species. Towards the close of his life he was as I fear, much impoverished, & this was largely due to his generosity. Anyhow after his death a subscription was raised to pay his debts. His end was a melancholy one, namely suicide, exactly like that of his uncle Ld Castlereagh, whom he resembled closely in manner & appearance. His character was in several respects one of the most noble which I have ever known, though tarnished by grave blemishes.
they were already fairly developed. The investigation of the geology of all the places visited was far more important, as reasoning here comes into play. On first examining a new district nothing can appear more hopeless than the chaos of rocks; but by recording the stratification & nature of the rocks & fossils at many points, always reasoning & predicting what will be found elsewhere, light soon begins to dawn on the district, & the structure of the whole becomes more or less intelligible. I had brought with me the first volume of Lyell's Principles of Geology, which I studied attentively; & this book was of the highest service to me in many ways. The very first place which I examined, namely St. Jago in the Cape Verde islands, showed me clearly the wonderful superiority of Lyell's manner of treating geology, compared with that of any other author, whose works I
had with me or ever afterwards read.1 Another of my occupations was collecting animals of all classes, briefly describing & roughly dissecting many of the marine ones; but from not being able to draw & from not having sufficient anatomical knowledge a great pile of MS. which I made during the voyage has proved almost useless. I thus lost much time, with the exception of that spent in acquiring some knowledge of the Crustaceans, as this was of service when in after years I undertook a monograph of the Cirripedia.
During some part of the day I wrote my Journal, & took much pains in describing carefully & vividly all that I had seen; & this was good practice. My Journal served, also, in part as letters to my home, & portions were sent to England, whenever there was an opportunity.
The above various special studies were, however,
1 The second volume of Lyell's Principles of Geology reached him in Monte Video in 1832. — N. B.
of no importance compared with the habit of energetic industry & of concentrated attention to whatever I was engaged in, which I then acquired. Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen & was likely to see; & this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science.
Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste. During the first two years my old passion for shooting survived in nearly full force, & I shot myself all the birds & animals for my collection; but gradually I gave up my gun more & more, & finally altogether to my servant, as shooting interfered with my work, more especially with making
out the geological structure of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously & insensibly, that the pleasure of observing & reasoning was a much higher one than that of skill & sport. (a)
That my mind became developed through my pursuits during the voyage, is rendered probable by a remark made by my father, who was the most acute observer whom I ever saw, of a sceptical disposition, & far from being a believer in phrenology; for on first seeing me after the voyage, he turned round to my sisters & exclaimed, "Why, the shape of his head is quite altered."
To return to the voyage. On September 11th (1831) I paid a flying visit with Fitz-Roy to the Beagle at Plymouth. Thence to Shrewsbury to wish my father & sisters a long farewell. On Oct. 24th, I took up my residence at Plymouth, & remained there until December 27th
(a) The primeval instincts of the barbarian slowly yielded to the acquired tastes of the civilized man.
when the Beagle finally left the shores of England for her circumnavigation of the world. We made two earlier attempts to sail, but were driven back each time by heavy gales. These two months at Plymouth were the most miserable which I ever spent, though I exerted myself in various ways. I was out of spirits at the thought of leaving all my family & friends for so long a time, & the weather seemed to me inexpressibly gloomy. I was also troubled with palpitations & pain about the heart, & like many a young ignorant man, especially one with a smattering of medical knowledge, was convinced that I had heart-disease. I did not consult any doctor, as I fully expected to hear the verdict that I was not fit for the voyage, & I was resolved to go at all hazards.
I need not here refer to the events of the voyage —
where we went & what we did — as I have given a sufficiently full account in my published Journal. The glories of the vegetation of the Tropics rise before my mind at the present time more vividly than anything else. Though the sense of sublimity, which the great deserts of Patagonia & the forest-clad mountains of Tierra del Fuego excited in me, has left an indelible impression on my mind. The sight of a naked savage in his native land is an event which can never be forgotten. Many of my excursions on horseback through wild countries, or in the boats, some of which lasted several weeks, were deeply interesting; their discomfort & some degree of danger were at that time hardly a drawback & none at all afterwards. I also reflect with high satisfaction on some of my scientific work, such as solving the problem of coral-islands, & making out the geological structure of certain islands, for instance, St. Helena. Nor1 must I pass over the discovery of the singular relations of the animals & plants inhabiting the several islands of the Galapagos archipelago, & of all of them to the inhabitants of South America.
1 Addendum to end of paragraph. — N. B.
As far as I can judge of myself I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, & from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in natural science. But I was also ambitious to take a fair place among scientific men, — whether more ambitious or less so than most of my fellow-workers I can form no opinion. The geology of St. Jago is very striking yet simple: a stream of lava formerly flowed over the bed of the sea, formed of triturated recent shells & corals, which it has baked into a hard white rock. Since then the whole island has been upheaved. But the line of white rock revealed to me a new & important fact, namely that there had been afterwards subsidence round the craters, which had since been in action, & had poured forth lava. It then first dawned on me that I might perhaps
write a book on the geology of the various countries visited, & this made me thrill with delight. That was a memorable hour to me, & how distinctly I can call to mind the low cliff of lava beneath which I rested, with the sun glaring hot, a few strange desert plants growing near, & with living corals in the tidal pools at my feet. Later in the voyage Fitz-Roy asked to read some of my Journal, & declared it would be worth publishing; so here was a second book in prospect! Towards the close of our voyage I received a letter whilst at Ascension, in which my sisters told me that Sedgwick had called on my father & said that I shd take a place among the leading scientific men. I could not at the time understand how he could have learnt anything of my proceedings, but I heard (I believe afterwards) that Henslow had read some of the letters which I wrote to him,
before the Philosophical Soc. of Cambridge1 & had printed them for private distribution. My collection of fossil bones, which had been sent to Henslow, also excited considerable attention amongst palæontologists. After reading this letter I clambered over the mountains of Ascension with a bounding step & made the volcanic rocks resound under my geological hammer! All this shows how ambitious I was; but I think that I can say with truth that in after years, though I cared in the highest degree for the approbation of such men as Lyell & Hooker, who were my friends, I did not care much about the general public. I do not mean to say that a favourable review or a large sale of my books did not please me greatly; but the pleasure was a fleeting one, & I am sure that I have never turned one inch out of my course to gain fame.
1 Read at the meeting held November 16, 1835, & printed in a pamphlet of 31 pp. for distribution among the members of the Society. — F. D.
From my return to England Oct. 2, 1836 to my marriage Jan. 29, 1839
These two years & three months were the most active ones which I ever spent, though I was occasionally unwell & so lost some time. After going backwards & forwards several times between Shrewsbury, Maer, Cambridge & London, I settled in lodgings at Cambridge1 on December 13th, where all my collections were under the care of Henslow. I stayed here three months & got my minerals & rocks examined by the aid of Prof. Miller.2 I began preparing my Journal of travels, which was not hard work, as my MS. Journal had been written with care, & my chief labour was making an abstract of my more interesting scientific results. I sent also, at the request of Lyell, a short account of my observations on the elevation of the coast of Chile to the Geological Society.3 On March 7th, 1837, I took lodgings in Great Marlborough Street in London & remained there for nearly two years until I was married.4 During these two years I finished my Journal, read several papers before the Geological Society, began preparing the MS. for my Geological Observations
1 In Fitzwilliam Street. — F.D.
2 William Hallowes Miller, 1801-1880. Professor of Mineralogy, 1832-70. — N. B.
3 Geolog. Soc. Proc. ii. 1838, pp. 446-449. — F. D.
4 See Note 3, p. 231. "This is the question." — N. B.
& arranged for the publication of the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle. In July I opened my first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species, about which I had long reflected, & never ceased working on for the next twenty years. During these two years I also went a little into society, & acted as one of the hon. secretaries of the Geological Society. I saw a great deal of Lyell. One of his chief characteristics was his sympathy with the work of others; & I was as much astonished as delighted at the interest which he showed when on my return to England I explained to him my views on coral-reefs. This encouraged me greatly, & his advice & example had much influence on me. During this time I saw also a good deal of Robert Brown1 "facile princeps botanicorum."
1 Robert Brown, 1773-1858. Botanist, Librarian to Linnean Society. — N. B.
I used often to call & sit with him during his breakfast on Sunday mornings, & he poured forth a rich treasure of curious observations & acute remarks, but they almost always related to minute points, & he never with me discussed large & general questions in science.
During these two years I took several short excursions as a relaxation, & one longer one to the parallel roads of Glen Roy, an account of which was published in the Philosophical Transactions1 This paper was a great failure, & I am ashamed of it. Having been deeply impressed with what I had seen of the elevation of the land in S. America, I attributed the parallel lines to the action of the sea; but I had to give up this view when Agassiz propounded his glacier-lake theory. Because no other explanation was possible under our then state of knowledge, I argued in favour
1 1839, pp. 39-82. — F. D.
of sea-action; & my error has been a good lesson to me never to trust in science to the principle of exclusion.
As I was not able to work all day at science I read a good deal during these two years on various subjects, including some metaphysical books, but I was not at [all] well fitted for such studies. About this time I took much delight in Wordsworth's & Coleridge's poetry, & can boast that I read the Excursion twice through. Formerly Milton's Paradise Lost had been my chief favourite, & in my excursions during the voyage of the Beagle, when I could take only a single small volume, I always chose Milton.
Religious Belief —
During these two years1 I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, & I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority
1 October 1836 to January 1839. — F. D.
on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, (i.e. 1836 to 1839) to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, &c., &c., & from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian. The question then continually rose before my mind & would not be banished, — is it credible that if God were now to make a revelation to the Hindoos, would he permit it to be connected with the belief in Vishnu, Siva, &c., as Christianity is connected with the Old Testament. This appeared to me utterly incredible. By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported, —
that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become, — that the men at that time were ignorant & credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us, — that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events, — that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses; — by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.
The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight with me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on
the interpretation which we now put on metaphors & allegories. But I was very unwilling to give up my belief; — I feel sure of this for I can well remember often & often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans & manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more & more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, & have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show
that the men who do not believe, & this would include my Father, Brother & almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.1
Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings & in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws. But I have discussed this subject at the
1 Mrs. Darwin annotated this passage (from "and have never since doubted"…. to "damnable doctrine") in her own handwriting. She writes: — "I should dislike the passage in brackets to be published. It seems to me raw. Nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of everlasting punishment for disbelief — but very few now wd call that 'Christianity,' (tho' the words are there.) There is the question of verbal inspiration comes in too. E. D." Oct. 1882. This was written six months after her husband's death, in a second copy of the Autobiography in Francis's handwriting. The passage was not published. See Introduction. — N. B.
end of my book on the Variation of Domestic Animals & Plants,1 & the argument there given has never, as far as I can see, been answered.
But passing over the endless beautiful adaptations which we everywhere meet with, it may be asked how can the generally beneficent arrangement of the world be accounted for? Some writers indeed are so much impressed with the amount of suffering in the world, that they doubt if we look to all sentient beings, whether there is more of misery or of happiness; — whether the world as a whole is a good or a bad one. According to my judgment happiness decidedly prevails, though this would be very difficult to prove. If the truth of this conclusion be granted, it harmonises well with the effects which we might expect from natural selection. If all the individuals of any species were habitually to suffer to an extreme degree they would neglect to propagate their
1 My father asks whether we are to believe that the forms are preordained of the broken fragments of rock which are fitted together by man to build his houses. If not, why should we believe that the variations of domestic animals or plants are preordained for the sake of the breeder? "But if we give up the principle in one case,…no shadow of reason can be assigned for the belief that variations alike in nature & the result of the same general laws, which have been the groundwork through natural selection of the formation of the most perfectly adapted animals in the world, man included, were intentionally & specially guided." — Variations of Animals & Plants, 1st Edit. vol. ii. p. 431. — F. D.
kind; but we have no reason to believe that this has ever or at least often occurred. Some other considerations, moreover, lead to the belief that all sentient beings have been formed so as to enjoy, as a general rule, happiness. Every one who believes, as I do, that all the corporeal and mental organs (excepting those which are neither advantageous or disadvantageous to the possessor) of all beings have been developed through natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, together with use or habit,1 will admit that these organs have been formed so that their possessors may compete successfully with other beings, & thus increase in number. Now an animal may be led to pursue that course of action which is the most beneficial to the species by suffering, such as pain, hunger, thirst, & fear, — or by pleasure, as in eating & drinking & in the propagation of the species, &c. or by both means combined, as in the search for food. But pain or suffering of any kind, if long continued, causes depression & lessens the power of action;
1 "together with use or habit" added later. The many corrections & alterations in this sentence show his increasing preoccupation with the possibility of other forces at work besides Natural Selection. See P. 15 — N. B.
yet is well adapted to make a creature guard itself against any great or sudden evil. Pleasurable sensations, on the other hand, may be long continued without any depressing effect; on the contrary they stimulate the whole system to increased action. Hence it has come to pass that most or all sentient beings have been developed in such a manner through natural selection, that pleasurable sensations serve as their habitual guides. We see this in the pleasure from exertion, even occasionally from great exertion of the body or mind, — in the pleasure of our daily meals, & especially in the pleasure derived from sociability & from loving our families. The sum of such pleasures as these, which are habitual or frequently recurrent, give, as I can hardly doubt, to most sentient beings an excess of happiness over misery, although many occasionally suffer much. Such suffering, is quite compatible with the belief in Natural Selection, which is not
perfect in its action, but tends only to render each species as successful as possible in the battle for life with other species, in wonderfully complex & changing circumstances.
That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, & these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful & so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent & omniscient, & it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent
first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation & natural selection.
At the present day the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from the deep inward conviction & feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomadans & others might argue in the same manner & with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddists of no God. There are also many barbarian tribes who cannot be said with any truth to believe in what we call God: they believe indeed in spirits or ghosts, & it can be explained, as Tyler & Herbert Spencer have shown, how such a belief would be likely to arise.
Formerly I was led by feelings such as those just referred to, (although I
do not think that the religious sentiment was ever strongly developed in me), to the firm conviction of the existence of God, & of the immortality of the soul. In my Journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, 'it is not possible to give an
adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, & devotion which fill & elevate the mind." I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body. But now the grandest scenes would not cause any such convictions & feelings to rise in my mind. It may be truly said that I am like a man who has become colour-blind, & the universal belief by men of the existence of redness makes my present loss of perception of not the least value as evidence. This argument would be a valid one if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know that this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions & feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists. The state of mind which grand scenes formerly excited in me, & which was intimately connected with a belief in God, did not essentially differ from that which is often called the sense of sublimity; & however difficult it may be to explain the genesis of
this sense, it can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague & similar feelings excited by music. (a)
Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason & not with the
With respect to immortality,1 nothing shows me how strong & almost instinctive a belief it is, as the consideration of the view now held by most physicists, namely that the sun with all the planets will in time grow too cold for life, unless indeed some great body dashes into the sun & thus gives it fresh life. — Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he & all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress. To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful.
1 Addendum added later to end of paragraph — N. B.
* This conclusion1 was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; & it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker.
1 Addendum of four lines added later. In Charles's MS. copy the interleaved addition is in his eldest son's hand. In Francis's copy it is in Charles's own hand. — N. B.
feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense & wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards & far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; & I deserve to be called a Theist. * But then arises the doubt — can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause & effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the
constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong & perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear & hatred of a snake.1
I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; & I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.
From my marriage, Jan. 29th, 1839, & residence in Upper Gower Street to our leaving London & settling at Down, Sep. 14th, 1842
You all know well your Mother, & what a good Mother she has ever been to all of you. She has been my greatest blessing, & I can declare that in my whole life I have never heard her utter one word which I had rather have been unsaid.
1 Added later. Emma Darwin wrote & asked Frank to omit this sentence when he was editing the Autobiography in 1885. The letter is as follows: —
"Emma Darwin to her son Francis. 1885.
My dear Frank,
There is one sentence in the Autobiography which I very much wish to omit, no doubt partly because your father's opinion that all morality has grown up by evolution is painful to me; but also because where this sentence comes in, it gives one a sort of shock — and would give an opening to say, however unjustly, that he considered all spiritual beliefs no higher than hereditary aversions or likings, such as the fear of monkeys towards snakes.
I think the disrespectful aspect would disappear if the first part of the conjecture was left without the illustration of the instance of monkeys & snakes. I don't think you need consult William about this omission, as it would not change the whole gist of the Autobiography. I should wish if possible to avoid giving pain to your father's religious friends who are deeply attached to him, & I picture to myself the way that sentence would strike them, even those so liberal as Ellen Tollett & Laura, much more Admiral Sullivan, Aunt Caroline, &c., & even the old servants.
Yours, dear Frank,
This letter appeared in Emma Darwin by Henrietta Litchfield in the privately printed edition from the Cambridge University Press in 1904. In John Murray's public edition of 1915 it was omitted. — N. B.
(addendum) to p. 88
A man who has no assured & ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of a future existence with retribution & reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses & instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones. A dog acts in this manner, but he does so blindly. A man, on the other hand, looks forwards & backwards, & compares his various feelings, desires & recollections. He then finds, in accordance with the verdict of all the wisest men that the highest satisfaction is derived from following certain impulses, namely the social instincts. If he acts for the good of others, he will receive the approbation of his fellow men & gain the love of those with whom he lives; & this latter gain undoubtedly is the highest pleasure on this earth. By degrees it will become intolerable to him to obey his sensuous passions rather than his higher impulses, which when rendered habitual may be almost called instincts. His reason may occasionally tell him to act in opposition to the opinion of others, whose approbation he will then not receive; but he will still have the solid satisfaction
of knowing that he has followed his innermost guide or conscience. — As for myself I believe that I have acted rightly in steadily following & devoting my life to science. I feel no remorse from having committed any great sin, but have often & often regretted that I have not done more direct good to my fellow creatures. My sole & poor excuse is much ill-health & my mental constitution, which makes it extremely difficult for me to turn from one subject or occupation to another. I can imagine with high satisfaction giving up my whole time to philanthropy, but not a portion of it; though this would have been a far better line of conduct.
Nothing1 is more remarkable than the spread of scepticism or rationalism during the latter half of my life. Before I was engaged to be married, my father advised me to conceal carefully my doubts, for he said that he had known extreme misery thus caused with married persons. (written in 1879, copied out Ap. 22, 1881) Things went on pretty well
1 This paragraph has a note by Charles: — "Written in 1879 — copied out Apl. 22, 1881." Probably refers also to previous paragraph. — N. B.
until the wife or husband became out of health, & then some women suffered miserably by doubting about the salvation of their husbands, thus making them likewise to suffer. My father added that he had known during his whole long life only three women who were sceptics; & it should be remembered that he knew well a multitude of persons & possessed extraordinary power of winning confidence. When I asked him who the three women were, he had to own with respect to one of them, his sister-in-law Kitty Wedgwood, that he had no good evidence, only the vaguest hints, aided by the conviction that so clear-sighted a woman could not be a believer. At the present time, with my small acquaintance, I know (or have known) several married ladies, who believe very little more than their husbands. My father used to quote an unanswerable argument, by which an old lady, a Mrs Barlow, who suspected him of unorthodoxy, hoped to convert him: — " Doctor, I know that sugar is sweet in my mouth, & I know that my Redeemer liveth."
She has never failed in the kindest sympathy towards me, & has borne with the utmost patience my frequent complaints from ill-health & discomfort. I do not believe she has ever missed an opportunity of doing a kind action to anyone near her. I marvel at my good fortune that she, so infinitely my superior in every single moral quality, consented to be my wife. She has been my wise adviser & cheerful comforter throughout life, which without her would have been during a very long period a miserable one from ill-health. She has earned the love & admiration of every soul near her.1 (Mem: her beautiful letter to myself preserved, shortly after our marriage.)2
I have indeed been most happy in my family, & I must say to you my children that not one of you has ever given me one minute's anxiety, except on the score of health. There are, I suspect, very few fathers of five sons who could say this with entire truth. When you were
2 See Note 4, p. 235.
very young it was my delight to play with you all, & I think with a sigh that such days can never return. From your earliest days to now that you are grown up, you have all, sons & daughters, ever been most pleasant, sympathetic & affectionate to us & to one another. When all or most of you are at home (as, thank Heavens, happens pretty frequently) no party can be, according to my taste, more agreeable, & I wish for no other society. We have suffered only one very severe grief in the death of Annie at Malvern on April 24th, 1851, when she was just over ten years old. She was a most sweet & affectionate child, & I feel sure would have grown into a delightful woman. But I need say nothing here of her character, as I wrote a short sketch of it shortly after her death. Tears still sometimes come into my eyes, when I think of her sweet ways.1
During the three years & eight months whilst we resided in London, I did less scientific work, though I worked as hard as I possibly could, than during any other equal length of time in my life. This was owing to frequently recurring unwellness & to one long & serious illness. The greater part of my time, when I could do anything, was devoted to my work on Coral Reefs, which I had begun before my marriage, & of which the last proof-sheet was corrected on May 6th, 1842. This book, though a small one, cost me twenty months of hard work, as I had to read every work on the islands of the Pacific & to consult many charts. It was thought highly of by scientific men, & the theory therein given is, I think, now well established. No other work of mine was begun in so deductive a spirit as this; for the whole theory was thought out on the west coast of S. America before I had seen a true coral reef. I had therefore only to verify & extend
my views by a careful examination of living reefs. But it should be observed that I had during the two previous years been incessantly attending to the effects on the shores of S. America of the intermittent elevation of the land, together with denudation & the deposition of sediment. This necessarily led me to reflect much on the effects of subsidence, & it was easy to replace in imagination the continued deposition of sediment by the upward growth of coral. To do this was to form my theory of the formation of barrier-reefs & atolls.
Besides my work on coral-reefs, during my residence in London, I read before the Geological Society papers on the Erratic Boulders of S. America,1 on Earthquakes,2 & on the Formation by the Agency of Earth-worms of Mould.3 I also continued to superintend the publication of the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle. Nor did I
ever intermit collecting facts bearing on the origin of species; & I could sometimes do this when I could do nothing else from illness. In the summer of 1842 I was stronger than I had been for some time & took a little tour by myself in N. Wales, for the sake of observing the effects of the old glaciers which formerly filled all the larger valleys. I published a short account of what I saw in the Philosophical Magazine.1 This excursion interested me greatly, & it was the last time I was ever strong enough to climb mountains or to take long walks, such as are necessary for geological work.
During the early part of our life in London,2 I was
1 Philosophical Magazine, 1842.
2 These reminiscences until "Residence at Down" (p. 114) added Ap. 1881, which accounts for the slight repetition. — N. B.
Written April 1881
strong enough to go into general society, & saw a good deal of several scientific men & other more or less distinguished men. I will give my impressions with respect to some of them, though I have little to say worth saying.
I saw more of Lyell than of any other man both before & after my marriage. His mind was characterised, as it appeared to me, by clearness, caution, sound judgment & a good deal of originality. When I made any remark to him on Geology, he never rested until he saw the whole case clearly & often made me see it more clearly than I had done before. He would advance all possible objections to my suggestion, & even after these were exhausted would long remain dubious. A second characteristic was his hearty sympathy with the work of other scientific men. On my return from the voyage of the Beagle, I explained to him my views on coral-reefs, which differed from his, & I was greatly surprised & encouraged by the vivid
interest which he showed. On such occasions, while absorbed in thought, he would throw himself into the strangest attitudes, often resting his head on the seat of a chair, while standing up. His delight in science was ardent, & he felt the keenest interest in the future progress of mankind. He was very kind-hearted, & thoroughly liberal in his religious beliefs or rather disbeliefs; but he was a strong theist. His candour was highly remarkable. He exhibited this by becoming a convert to the Descent-theory, though he had gained much fame by opposing Lamarck's views, & this after he had grown old. He reminded me that I had many years before said to him, when discussing the opposition of the old school of geologists to his new views, "What a good thing it would be, if every scientific man was to die when sixty years old, as afterwards he would be sure to oppose all new doctrines." But he hoped that now he might be allowed to live.
He had a strong sense of humour & often told amusing anecdotes. He was very fond of society, especially of eminent men, & of persons high in rank; & this over-estimation of a man's position in the world, seemed to me his chief foible. He used to discuss with Lady Lyell as a most serious question, whether or not they should accept some particular invitation. But as he would not dine out more than three times a week on account of the loss of time, he was justified in weighing his invitations with some care. He looked forward to going out oftener in the evening with advancing years, as to a great reward; but the good time never came, as his strength failed.
The science of Geology is enormously indebted to Lyell — more so, as I believe, than to any other man who ever lived. When I was starting on the voyage of the Beagle, the sagacious Henslow, who, like all other geologists believed at that time in successive cataclysms, advised
me to get & study the first volume of the Principles, which had then just been published, but on no account to accept the views therein advocated. How differently would any one now speak of the Principles! I am proud to remember that the first place, namely St. Jago, in the Cape Verde Archipelago, which I geologised, convinced me of the infinite superiority of Lyell's views over those advocated in any other work known to me. The powerful effects of Lyell's works could formerly be plainly seen in the different progress of the science in France & England. The present total oblivion of Elie de Beaumont's wild hypotheses, such as his Craters of Elevation & Lines of Elevation (which latter hypothesis I heard Sedgwick at the Geolog. Soc. lauding to the skies), may be largely attributed to Lyell.
All the leading geologists were more or less known by me, at the time when geology was advancing with triumphant steps. I liked most of them, with the exception of Buckland,1 who though very good-humoured & good-natured seemed to me a vulgar & almost coarse man. He was
incited more by a craving for notoriety, which sometimes made him act like a buffoon, than by a love of science. He was not, however, selfish in his desire for notoriety; for Lyell, when a very young man, consulted him about communicating a poor paper to the Geol. Soc. which had been sent him by a stranger, & Buckland answered — "You had better do so, for it will be headed, 'Communicated by Charles Lyell', & thus your name will be brought before the public."
The services rendered to geology by Murchison2 by his classification of the older formations cannot be over-estimated; but he was very far from possessing a philosophical mind. He was very kind-hearted & would exert himself to the utmost to oblige anyone. The degree to which he valued rank was ludicrous, & he displayed this feeling & his vanity with the simplicity of a child. He related with the utmost glee to a large circle, including many mere
1 William Buckland, 1784-1856, Geologist, professor of mineralogy at Oxford, 1813; President of Geological Society, 1824 & 1840. — N. B.
2 Roderick Impey Murchison, 1792-1871. Studied secondary rocks. F.R.S. 1826. President R. Geog. Soc. 1843; received Russian Orders; knighted 1846; K.C.B., 1863; baronet, 1866. — N. B.
acquaintances, in the rooms of the Geolog. Soc. how the Czar Nicholas, when in London, had patted him on the shoulder & had said, alluding to his geological work — "Mon ami, Russia is grateful to you," & then Murchison added rubbing his hands together, "The best of it was that Prince Albert heard it all." He announced one day to the Council of the Geolog. Soc. that his great work on the Silurian system was at last published; & he then looked at all who were present & said, "You will every one of you find your name in the Index," as if this was the height of glory.
I saw a good deal of Robert Brown, "facile Princeps Botanicorum," as he was called by Humboldt; & before I was married I used to go & sit with him almost every Sunday morning. He seemed to me to be chiefly remarkable for the minuteness of his observations & their perfect accuracy. He never propounded to me any large scientific views in biology. His knowledge
was extraordinarily great, & much died with him, owing to his excessive fear of ever making a mistake. He poured out his knowledge to me in the most unreserved manner, yet was strangely jealous on some points. I called on him two or three times before the voyage of the Beagle, & on one occasion he asked me to look through a microscope & describe what I saw. This I did, & believe now that it was the marvellous currents of protoplasm in some vegetable cell. I then asked him what I had seen; but he answered me, who was then hardly more than a boy & on the point of leaving England for five years, "That is my little secret." I suppose that he was afraid that I might steal his discovery. Hooker told me that he was a complete miser, & knew himself to be a miser, about his dried plants; & he would not lend specimens to Hooker, who was describing the plants of Tierra del Fuego, although well knowing that he himself would never make any use of the collections from this country. On the other hand he was capable of the most
generous actions. When old, much out of health & quite unfit for any exertion, he daily visited (as Hooker told me) an old man-servant, who lived at a distance & whom he supported, & read aloud to him. This is enough to make up for any degree of scientific penuriousness or jealousy. He was rather given to sneering at anyone who wrote about what he did not fully understand: I remember praising Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciencesto him, & he answered, "Yes, I suppose that he has read the prefaces of very many books."
I often saw Owen,1 whilst living in London, & admired him greatly, but was never able to understand his character & never became intimate with him. After the publication of the Origin of Species he became my bitter enemy, not owing to any quarrel between us, but as far as I could judge out of jealousy at its success. Poor dear Falconer,2 who was a charming man, had a very bad opinion of him, being convinced that he was not
1 Richard Owen, 1804-1892. Anatomist; F.R.S. 1834. First Hunterian professor of comparative anatomy & physiology, 1836-56. Attacked Origin 1860 In Ed. Rev. K.C.B. 1884. — N. B.
2 Hugh Falconer, 1808-1865. Palæontologist & botanist. Worked largely in India; appointed to British Museum 1844 to arrange Indian fossils. — N. B.
only ambitious, very envious & arrogant, but untruthful & dishonest. His power of hatred was certainly unsurpassed. When in former days I used to defend Owen, Falconer often said, "You will find him out some day," & so it has proved.
At a somewhat later period I became very intimate with Hooker,1 who has been one of my best friends throughout life. He is a delightfully pleasant companion & most kind-hearted. One can see at once that he is honourable to the back-bone. His intellect is very acute, & he has great power of generalisation. He is the most untirable worker that I have ever seen, & will sit the whole day working with the microscope, & be in the evening as fresh & pleasant as ever. He is in all ways very impulsive & somewhat peppery in temper; but the clouds pass away almost immediately. He once sent me an almost savage letter from a cause which will appear ludicrously small to an outsider, viz. because I
1 Joseph Dalton Hooker, 1817-1911. Botanist & traveller, increased knowledge of geographical distribution, & supported the Darwin-Wallace theory of Origin of Species. F.R.S. 1847. Succeeded his father as Director of Kew Gardens, 1865. Wrote Students' Flora of the British Isles & other works. C.B. 1869; O.M. 1907, etc. — N. B.
maintained for a time the silly notion that our coal-plants had lived in shallow water in the sea. His indignation was all the greater because he could not pretend that he should ever have suspected that the Mangrove (and a few other marine plants which I named) had lived in the sea, if they had been found only in a fossil state. On another occasion he was almost equally indignant because I rejected with scorn the notion that a continent had formerly extended between Australia & S. America. I have known hardly any man more lovable than Hooker.
A little later I became intimate with Huxley. His mind is as quick as a flash of lightning & as sharp as a razor. He is the best talker whom I have known. He never writes & never says anything flat. From his conversation no one would suppose that he could cut up his opponents in so trenchant a manner as he can do & does do. He has been a most
kind friend to me & would always take any trouble for me. He has been the mainstay in England of the principle of the gradual evolution of organic beings. Much splendid work as he has done in Zoology, he would have done far more, if his time had not been so largely consumed by official & literary work, & by his efforts to improve the education of the country. He would allow me to say anything to him: many years ago I thought that it was a pity that he attacked so many scientific men, although I believe that he was right in each particular case, & I said so to him. He denied the charge indignantly, & I answered that I was very glad to hear that I was mistaken. We had been talking about his well-deserved attacks on Owen, so I said after a time, "How well you have exposed Ehrenberg's blunders;" he agreed and added that it was necessary for science that such mistakes should be exposed. Again after a time, I added:
"Poor Agassiz has fared ill under your hands." Again I added another name, & now his bright eyes flashed on me, & he burst out laughing, anathematising me in some manner. He is a splendid man & has worked well for the good of mankind.
I may here mention a few other eminent men whom I have occasionally seen, but I have little to say about them worth saying. I felt a high reverence for Sir J. Herschel,1 & was delighted to dine with him at his charming house at the C. of Good Hope & afterwards at his London house. I saw him, also, on a few other occasions. He never talked much, but every word which he uttered was worth listening to. He was very shy & he often had a distressed expression. Lady Caroline Bell, at whose house I dined at the C. of Good Hope, admired Herschel much, but said that he always came into a room as if he knew that his hands were dirty, & that he knew that his wife knew that they were dirty.
1 John Frederick William Herschel, 1792-1871, Astronomer. F.R.S. 1813. Wrote on astronomical subjects, & on Light, Natural Philosophy, etc. Master of Mint, 1850-55. Created Baronet, 1838 — N. B.
I once met at breakfast at Sir R. Murchison's house, the illustrious Humboldt, who honoured me by expressing a wish to see me. I was a little disappointed with the great man, but my anticipations probably were too high. I can remember nothing distinctly about our interview, except that Humboldt was very cheerful & talked much.
I used to call pretty often on Babbage1 & regularly attended his famous evening parties. He was always worth listening to, but he was a disappointed & discontented man; & his expression was often or generally morose. I do not believe that he was half as sullen as he pretended to be. One day he told me that he had invented a plan by which all fires could be effectively stopped, but added, — "I shan't publish it — damn them all, let all their houses be burnt." The all were the inhabitants of London. Another day he told me that he had seen a pump on a road-side in
1 Charles Babbage, 1792-1871. F.R.S. 1816. Helped to found Astronomical Society 1820, & Statistical Society 1834. Mathematical & mechanical; but his inventions often proved abortive. — N. B.
Italy, with a pious inscription on it to the effect that the owner had erected the pump for the love of God & his country, that the tired wayfarer might drink. This led Babbage to examine the pump closely & he soon discovered that every time that a wayfarer pumped some water for himself, he pumped a larger quantity into the owner's house. Babbage then added — "There is only one thing which I hate more than piety, & that is patriotism." But I believe that his bark was much worse than his bite.
Herbert Spencer's conversation seemed to me very interesting, but I did not like him particularly, & did not feel that I could easily have become intimate with him. I think that he was extremely egotistical. After reading any of his books, I generally feel enthusiastic admiration for his transcendent talents, & have often wondered whether in the distant future he would rank with such great men as Descartes, Leibnitz, &c., about
whom, however, I know very little. Nevertheless I am not conscious of having profited in my own work by Spencer's writings. His deductive manner of treating every subject is wholly opposed to my frame of mind. His conclusions never convince me: & over & over again I have said to myself, after reading one of his discussions, — "Here would be a fine subject for half-a-dozen years' work." His fundamental generalisations (which have been compared in importance by some persons with Newton's laws!) — which I daresay may be very valuable under a philosophical point of view, are of such a nature that they do not seem to me to be of any strictly scientific use. They partake more of the nature of definitions than of laws of nature. They do not aid one in predicting what will happen in any particular case. Anyhow they have not been of any use to me.
Speaking of H. Spencer reminds me of Buckle,1 whom I once met at Hensleigh Wedgwood's. I was very glad to learn
1 Henry Thomas Buckle, 1821-1862. Self-educated historian.
from him his system of collecting facts. He told me that he bought all the books which he read, & made a full index to each, of the facts which he thought might prove serviceable to him, & that he could always remember in what book he had read anything, for his memory was wonderful. I then asked him how at first he could judge what facts would be serviceable & he answered that he did not know, but that a sort of instinct guided him. From this habit of making indices, he was enabled to give the astonishing number of references on all sorts of subjects, which may be found in his History of Civilisation. This book I thought most interesting & read it twice; but I doubt whether his generalisations are worth anything. H. Spencer told me that he had never read a line of it! Buckle was a great talker, & I listened to him without saying hardly a word, nor indeed could I have done so, for he left no gaps. When Effie1 began to sing, I jumped up & said that I must listen to her. This, I suppose, offended him, for after I
1 Euphemia Wedgwood, married T. H. Farrer in 1873 as second wife. — N. B.
had moved away, he turned round to a friend, & said (as was overheard by my brother), "Well Mr Darwin's books are much better than his conversation." What he really meant was that I did not properly appreciate his conversation.
Of other great literary men, I once met Sydney Smith at Dean Milman's house. There was something inexplicably amusing in every word which he uttered. Perhaps this was partly due to the expectation of being amused. He was talking about Lady Cork, who was then extremely old. This was the lady, who, as he said, was once so much affected by one of his charity sermons, that she borrowed a guinea from a friend to put into the Plate. He now said, "It is generally believed that my dear old friend Lady Cork has been overlooked"; & he said this in such a manner that no one could for a moment doubt that he meant that his dear old friend had been overlooked by the devil. How he managed to express this I know not.
I likewise once met Macaulay at Ld Stanhope's (the historian's) house,1 & as there was only one other man at dinner, I had a grand opportunity of hearing him converse, & he was very agreeable. He did not talk at all too much; nor indeed could such a man talk too much, as long as he allowed others to turn the stream of his conversation, & this he did allow. Ld Stanhope once gave me a curious little proof of the accuracy & fulness of Macaulay's memory: many historians used often to meet at Lord Stanhope's house, and, in discussing various subjects, they would sometimes differ from Macaulay, & formerly they often referred to some book to see who was right; but latterly, as Ld Stanhope noticed, no historian ever took this trouble, & whatever Macaulay said was final.
On another occasion I met at Ld Stanhope's house one of his parties of historians & other literary men, & amongst them were Motley2 & Grote.3 After luncheon I walked about Chevening Park for nearly an hour with Grote,
1 Philip Henry Stanhope, 1805-1875. Fifth Earl of Stanhope; historian, author, Conservative M.P.; under-secretary for Foreign Affairs; influential in forming National Portrait Gallery, etc. — N. B.
2 John Lothrop Motley, 1814-1877. Born in Dorchester, Mass., but lived much in Europe, as the materials for his historical work were not available in U.S.A. Published History of the Dutch Republic in 1856. — N. B.
3 George Grote, 1794-1871. Historian; an original founder of London University. F.R.S. 1857. Vice-Chancellor Lon. Univ. 1862. — N. B.
& was much interested by his conversation & pleased by the simplicity & absence of all pretension in his manners. I met another set of great men at breakfast at Ld Stanhope's house in London. After breakfast was quite over, Monckton Milnes1 (Ld Houghton now) walked in, & after looking round, exclaimed — (justifying Sidney Smith's nickname of "the cool of the evening") — "Well, I declare, you are all very premature."
Long ago I dined occasionally with the old Earl [Stanhope], the father of the historian. I have heard that his father, the democratic earl, well-known at the time of the French Revolution, had his son educated as a blacksmith, as he declared that every man ought to know some trade. The old Earl, whom I knew, was a strange man, but what little I saw of him, I liked much. He was frank, genial, & pleasant. He had strongly-marked features, with a brown complexion, & his clothes, when I saw him, were all brown. He seemed to believe
1 Richard Monckton Milnes, 1809-1885. Intimate friend of Tennyson, Hallam & Thackeray. Conservative M.P. 1837; became a Liberal on Peel's conversion to Free Trade, & supported reforms. Created Baron Houghton 1863. Author of various works. — N. B.
in everything which was to others utterly incredible. He said one day to me, "Why don't you give up your fiddle-faddle of geology & zoology, & turn to the occult sciences?" The historian (then Ld Mahon) seemed shocked at such a speech to me, & his charming wife much amused.
The last man whom I will mention is Carlyle, seen by me several times at my brother's house & two or three times at my own house. His talk was very racy & interesting, just like his writings, but he sometimes went on too long on the same subject. I remember a funny dinner at my brother's, where, amongst a few others, were Babbage & Lyell, both of whom liked to talk. Carlyle, however, silenced every one by haranguing during the whole dinner on the advantages of silence. After dinner, Babbage, in his grimmest manner, thanked Carlyle for his very interesting Lecture on Silence. Carlyle sneered at almost every one. One day in my house he called Grote's History "a fetid quagmire, with nothing spiritual about it." I always thought, until his Reminiscences
appeared, that his sneers were partly jokes, but this now seems rather doubtful. His expression was that of a depressed, almost despondent, yet benevolent man; & it is notorious how heartily he laughed. I believe that his benevolence was real, though stained by not a little jealousy. No one can doubt about his extraordinary power of drawing vivid pictures of things & men — far more vivid, as it appears to me, than any drawn by Macaulay. Whether his pictures of men were true ones is another question. He has been all-powerful in impressing some grand moral truths on the minds of men. On the other hand, his views about slavery were revolting. In his eyes might was right. His mind seemed to me a very narrow one; even if all branches of science, which he despised, are excluded. It is astonishing to me that Kingsley should have spoken of him as a man well fitted to advance science. He laughed to scorn the idea that a mathematician, such as Whewell, could judge, as I maintained he could, of
Goethe's views on light. He thought it a most ridiculous thing that any one should care whether a glacier moved a little quicker or a little slower, or moved at all. As far as I could judge, I never met a man with a mind so ill adapted for scientific research.
Whilst living in London, I attended as regularly as I could the meetings of several scientific societies, & acted as secretary to the Geological Society. But such attendance, & ordinary society, suited my health so badly that we resolved to live in the country, which we both preferred & have never repented of.1
1 End of Reminiscences, Apl. 1881, beginning p. 99. — N. B.
Residence at Down, from Sep. 14th, 1842, to the present time, 1876
After several fruitless searches in Surrey & elsewhere, we found this house & purchased it. I was pleased with the diversified appearance of the vegetation proper to a chalk district, & so unlike what I had been accustomed to in the Midland counties; & still more pleased with the extreme quietness & rusticity of the place. It is not, however, quite so retired a place as a writer in a German periodical makes it, who says that my house can be approached only by a mule-track! Our fixing ourselves here has answered admirably in one way which we did not anticipate, namely, by being very convenient for frequent visits from our children, who never miss an opportunity of doing so when they can.
Few persons can have lived a more retired life
than we have done. Besides short visits to the houses of relations, & occasionally to the seaside or elsewhere, we have gone nowhere. During the first part of our residence we went a little into society, & received a few friends here; but my health almost always suffered from the excitement, violent shivering & vomiting attacks being thus brought on. I have therefore been compelled for many years to give up all dinner-parties; & this has been somewhat of a deprivation to me, as such parties always put me into high spirits. From the same cause I have been able to invite here very few scientific acquaintances. Whilst I was young & strong I was capable of very warm attachments, but of late years, though I still have very friendly feelings towards many persons, I have lost the power of becoming deeply attached to anyone, not even
so deeply to my good & dear friends Hooker & Huxley, as I should formerly have been. As far as I can judge this grievous loss of feeling has gradually crept over me, from the expectation of much distress afterwards from exhaustion having become firmly associated in my mind with seeing & talking with anyone for an hour, except my wife & children.
My chief enjoyment & sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; & the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort. I have therefore nothing to record during the rest of my life, except the publication of my several books. Perhaps a few details how they arose may be worth giving.
My Several Publications
In the early part of 1844, my observations on the Volcanic Islands visited during the voyage of the Beagle were published. In 1845, I took much pains in
correcting a new edition of my Journal of Researches, which was originally published in 1839 as part of Fitz-Roy's work. The success of this my first literary child always tickles my vanity more than that of any of my other books. Even to this day it sells steadily in England & the United States, & has been translated for the second time into German, & into French & other languages. This success of a book of travels, especially of a scientific one, so many years after its first publication, is surprising. Ten thousand copies have now been sold in England of the second edition. In 1846 my Geological Observations on South America were published. I record in a little diary, which I have always kept, that my three geological books (Coral Reefs included) consumed four & a half years' steady work; "and now it is ten years since my return to England. How much time have
I lost by illness?" I have nothing to say about these three books except that to my surprise new editions have lately been called for.1
In October, 1846, I began to work on Cirripedia2. When on the coast of Chile, I found a most curious form, which burrowed into the shells of Concholepas, & which differed so much from all other Cirripedes that I had to form a new sub-order for its sole reception. Lately an allied burrowing genus has been found on the shores of Portugal. To understand the structure of my new Cirripede I had to examine & dissect many of the common forms: & this gradually led me on to take up the whole group. I worked steadily on the subject for the next eight years, & ultimately published two thick volumes,3 describing all the known living species, & two thin quartos on the extinct species. I do not doubt that Sir E. Lytton Bulwer had me in
2 Barnacles. — N. B.
3 Published by the Ray Society. — F. D.
his mind when he introduces in one of his novels a Professor Long, who had written two huge volumes on Limpets. Although I was employed during eight years on this work, yet I record in my diary that about two years out of this time was lost by illness. On this account I went in 1848 for some months to Malvern for hydropathic treatment, which did me much good, so that on my return home I was able to resume work. So much was I out of health that when my dear father died on November 13th, 1847,1 I was unable to attend his funeral or to act as one of his executors.
My work on the Cirripedia possesses, I think, con siderable value, as besides describing several new & remarkable forms, I made out the homologies of the various parts — I discovered the cementing apparatus, though I blundered dreadfully about the cement glands — & lastly
1 The date of Dr Robert's death is given as 1848 in Life & Letters. In the MS. the date is clearly written 1847 — a curious error. — N. B.
I proved the existence in certain genera of minute males complemental to & parasitic on the hermaphrodites. This latter discovery has at last been fully confirmed; though at one time a German writer was pleased to attribute the whole account to my fertile imagination. The Cirripedes form a highly varying & difficult group of species to class; & my work was of considerable use to me, when I had to discuss in the Origin of Speciesthe principles of a natural classification. Nevertheless, I doubt whether the work was worth the consumption of so much time.
From September 1854 onwards I devoted all my time to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, & experimenting, in relation to the transmutation of species. During the voyage of the Beagle I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with
armour like that on the existing armadillos; secondly, by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent; & thirdly, by the South American character of most of the productions of the Galapagos archipelago, & more especially by the manner in which they differ slightly on each island of the group; none of these islands appearing to be very ancient in a geological sense.
It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others, could be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified; & the subject haunted me. But it was equally evident that neither the action of the surrounding conditions, nor the will of the organisms (especially in the case of plants), could account for the innumerable cases in which organisms of every kind are beautifully adapted to their habits of life, — for instance, a woodpecker or tree-frog
to climb trees, or a seed for dispersal by hooks or plumes. I had always been much struck by such adaptations, & until these could be explained it seemed to me almost useless to endeavour to prove by indirect evidence that species have been modified.
After my return to England it appeared to me that by following the example of Lyell in Geology, & by collecting all facts which bore in any way on the variation of animals & plants under domestication & nature, some light might perhaps be thrown on the whole subject. My first note-book was opened in July 1837. I worked on true Baconian principles, & without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale, more especially with respect to domesticated productions, by printed enquiries, by conversation with skilful breeders & gardeners, & by extensive reading. When I see the list of books of all kinds which I
read & abstracted, including whole series of Journals & Transactions, I am surprised at my industry. I soon perceived that selection was the keystone of man's success in making useful races of animals & plants. But how selection could be applied to organisms living in a state of nature remained for some time a mystery to me.
In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, & being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals & plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, & unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species.
Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it. In June 1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; & this was enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 230 pages, which I had fairly copied out & still possess. But at that time I overlooked one problem of great importance; & it is astonishing to me, except on the principle of Columbus & his egg, how I could have overlooked it & its solution. This problem is the tendency in organic beings descended from the same stock to diverge in character as they become modified. That they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which species of all kinds can be classed under
genera, genera under families, families under sub-orders, & so forth; & I can remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me; & this was long after I had come to Down. The solution, as I believe, is that the modified offspring of all dominant & increasing forms tend to become adapted to many & highly diversified places in the economy of nature.
Early in 1856 Lyell advised me to write out my views pretty fully, & I began at once to do so on a scale three or four times as extensive as that which was afterwards followed in my Origin of Species; yet it was only an abstract of the materials which I had collected, & I got through about half the work on this scale. But my plans were overthrown, for early in the summer of 1858 Mr Wallace,1 who was then in the Malay archipelago, sent me
1Alfred Russell Wallace, 1823-1913, naturalist & traveller, author of various works on geographical distribution & evolution. F.R.S. 1893. — N. B.
an essay "On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type"; & this essay contained exactly the same theory as mine. Mr Wallace expressed the wish that if I thought well of his essay, I should send it to Lyell for perusal. The circumstances under which I consented at the request of Lyell & Hooker to allow of an extract from my MS., together with a letter to Asa Gray, dated September 5, 1857, to be published at the same time with Wallace's Essay, are given in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1858, p. 45. I was at first very unwilling to consent, as I thought Mr Wallace might consider my doing so unjustifiable, for I did not then know how generous & noble was his disposition. The extract from my MS. & the letter to Asa Gray had neither been intended for publication, & were badly written.
Mr Wallace's essay, on the other hand, was admirably expressed & quite clear. Nevertheless, our joint productions excited very little attention, & the only published notice of them which I can remember was by Prof. Haughton of Dublin, whose verdict was that all that was new in them was false, & what was true was old. This shows how necessary it is that any new view should be explained at considerable length in order to arouse public attention.
In September 1858 I set to work by the strong advice of Lyell & Hooker to prepare a volume on the transmutation of species, but was often interrupted by ill-health, & short visits to Dr Lane's delightful hydropathic establishment at Moor Park. I abstracted the MS. begun on a much larger scale in 1856, & completed the volume on the same reduced scale. It cost me 13
months & ten days' hard labour. It was published under the title of the ‘Origin of Species’, in November 1859. Though considerably added to & corrected in the later editions, it has remained substantially the same book.
It is no doubt the chief work of my life. It was from the first highly successful. The first small edition of 1250 copies was sold on the day of publication, & a second edition of 3000 copies soon afterwards. Sixteen thousand copies have now (1876) been sold in England & considering how stiff a book it is, this is a large sale. It has been translated into almost every European tongue, even into such languages as Spanish, Bohemian, Polish, & Russian. (a) — Addendum Even an essay in Hebrew has appeared on it, showing that the theory is contained in the Old Testament! The reviews were very numerous; for a time I collected all
(1886) It has also, according to Miss Bird, been translated into Japanese, & is there much studied.1
1 Miss Bird is mistaken, as I learn from Professor Mitsukuri. — F. D.
that appeared on the Origin & on my related books, & these amount (excluding newspaper reviews) to 265; but after a time I gave up the attempt in despair. Many separate essays & books on the subject have appeared; & in Germany a catalogue or bibliography on "Darwinismus" has appeared every year or two.
The success of the Origin may, I think, be attributed in large part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, & to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select the more striking facts & conclusions. I had, also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without
fail & at once; for I had found by experience that such facts & thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed & attempted to answer. It has sometimes been said that the success of the Originproved "that the subject was in the air," or "that men's minds were prepared for it." I do not think that this is strictly true, for I occasionally sounded not a few naturalists, & never happened to come across a single one who seemed to doubt about the permanence of species. Even Lyell & Hooker, though they would listen with interest to me, never seemed to agree. I tried once or twice to explain to able men what I meant by natural selection, but signally failed. What I believe was strictly true is that innumerable well-observed facts were stored
in the minds of naturalists, ready to take their proper places as soon as any theory which would receive them was sufficiently explained.1 Another element in the success of the book was its moderate size; & this I owe to the appearance of Wallace's essay; had I published on the scale in which I began to write in 1856, the book would have been four or five times as large as the Origin, & very few would have had the patience to read it.
I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the theory was clearly conceived, to 1859; & I lost nothing by it, for I cared very little whether men attributed most originality to me or Wallace; & his essay no doubt aided in the reception of the theory. I was forestalled in only one important point, which my vanity has always made me regret, namely the explanation by means of the
1 See Appendix, Part 1, on Charles & Erasmus Darwin, p. 149. Charles's doubts as to whether "the subject was in the air" are there discussed. — N. B.
Glacial period of the presence of the same species of plants & of some few animals on distant mountain summits & in the arctic regions. This view pleased me so much that I wrote it out in extenso, & it was read by Hooker some years before E. Forbes published his celebrated memoir on the subject.1 In the very few points in which we differed, I still think that I was in the right. I have never, of course, alluded in print to my having independently worked out this view.
Hardly any point gave me so much satisfaction when I was at work on the Origin, as the explanation of the wide difference in many classes between the embryo & the adult animal, & of the close resemblance of the embryos within the same class. No notice of this point was taken, as far as I remember,
1 Geol. Survey Mem, 1846. — F. D.
in the early reviews of the Origin, & I recollect expressing my surprise on this head in a letter to Asa Gray. Within late years several reviewers have given the whole credit of the idea to Fritz Müller & Häckel, who undoubtedly have worked it out much more fully, & in some respects more correctly than I did. I had materials for a whole chapter on the subject, & I ought to have made the discussion longer; for it is clear that I failed to impress my readers; & he who succeeds in doing so deserves, in my opinion, all the credit. This leads me to remark that I have almost always been treated honestly by my reviewers, passing over those without scientific knowledge as not worthy of notice. My views have often been grossly misrepresented, bitterly opposed & ridiculed, but this has been generally done, as I believe, in good faith. I must,
however, except Mr Mivart,1 who as an American expressed it in a letter has acted towards me "like a pettifogger", or as Huxley has said "like an Old Bailey lawyer." On the whole I do not doubt that my works have been over & over again greatly overpraised. I rejoice that I have avoided controversies, & this I owe to Lyell, who many years ago, in reference to my geological works, strongly advised me never to get entangled in a controversy, as it rarely did any good & caused a miserable loss of time & temper.
During the two last months of the year 1859 I was fully occupied in preparing a second edition of the Origin, & by an enormous correspondence. On January 7th, 1860, I began arranging my notes for my work on the Variation of Animals & Plants under Domestication; but it was not published until the beginning of 1868; the delay having been
1 St. George Jackson Mivart, 1827-1900, biologist. Became a Roman Catholic, but later repudiated ecclesiastical authority. An evolutionist, but an opponent of Charles Darwin. F.R.S. 1869. — N.B.
Whenever1 I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, & when I have been contemptuously criticised, & even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that "I have worked as hard & as well as I could, & no man can do more than this." I remember when in Good Success Bay, in Tierra del Fuego, thinking, (& I believe that I wrote home to the effect) that I could not employ my life better than in adding a little to natural science. This I have done to the best of my abilities, & critics may say what they like, but they cannot destroy this conviction.
1 This paragraph added, probably in 1881. — N.B.
caused partly by frequent illnesses, one of which lasted seven months, & partly by having been tempted to publish on other subjects which at the time interested me more.
On May 15th 1862, my little book on the Fertilisation of Orchids, which cost me ten months' work, was published: most of the facts had been slowly accumulated during several previous years. During the summer of 1839, and, I believe, during the previous summer, I was led to attend to the cross-fertilisation of flowers by the aid of insects, from having come to the conclusion in my speculations on the origin of species, that crossing played an important part in keeping specific forms constant. I attended to the subject more or less during every subsequent summer; & my interest in it was greatly enhanced by having procured & read in November 1841, through the advice of Robert Brown, a copy of C. K. Sprengel's1 wonderful book, "Das entdeckte Geheimnis der Natur."
1 Christian Konrad Sprengel, 1750-1816. Schoolmaster at Spandau. — N B.
For some years before 1862 I had specially attended to the fertilisation of our British orchids; & it seemed to me the best plan to prepare as complete a treatise on this group of plants as well as I could, rather than to utilise the great mass of matter which I had slowly collected with respect to other plants. My resolve proved a wise one; for since the appearance of my book, a surprising number of papers and separate works on the fertilisation of all kinds of flowers have appeared; & these are far better done than I could possibly have effected. The merits of poor old Sprengel, so long overlooked, are now fully recognised many years after his death.
During this same year I published in the Journal of the Linnean Society, a paper "On the Two Forms, or Dimorphic Condition of Primula," & during the next five years, five other papers on dimorphic & trimorphic plants. I do not think anything in my scientific
life has given me so much satisfaction as making out the meaning of the structure of these plants. I had noticed in 1838 or 1839 the dimorphism of Linum flavum, & had at first thought that it was merely a case of unmeaning variability. But on examining the common species of Primula, I found that the two forms were much too regular & constant to be thus viewed. I therefore became almost convinced that the common cowslip & primrose were on the high-road to become diœcious; — that the short pistil in the one form, & the short stamens in the other form were tending towards abortion. The plants were therefore subjected under this point of view to trial; but as soon as the flowers with short pistils fertilised with pollen from the short stamens, were found to yield more seeds than any other of the four possible unions, the abortion-theory was knocked on the head. After some additional experiment, it became
evident that the two forms, though both were perfect hermaphrodites, bore almost the same relation to one another as do the two sexes of an ordinary animal. With Lythrum we have the still more wonderful case of three forms standing in a similar relation to one another. I afterwards found that the offspring from the union of two plants belonging to the same forms presented a close & curious analogy with hybrids from the union of two distinct species.
In the autumn of 1864 I finished a long paper on Climbing Plants, & sent it to the Linnean Society. The writing of this paper cost me four months: but I was so unwell when I received the proof-sheets that I was forced to leave them very badly & often obscurely expressed. The paper was little noticed, but when in 1875 it was corrected & published as a separate book it sold well. I was led to take up this subject by reading a short paper
by Asa Gray, published in 1858, on the movements of the tendrils of a Cucurbitacean plant. He sent me seeds, & on raising some plants I was so much fascinated & perplexed by the revolving movements of the tendrils & stems, which movements are really very simple, though appearing at first very complex, that I procured various other kinds of Climbing Plants, & studied the whole subject. I was all the more attracted to it, from not being at all satisfied with the explanation which Henslow gave us in his Lectures, about Twining plants, namely, that they had a natural tendency to grow up in a spire. This explanation proved quite erroneous. Some of the adaptations displayed by climbing plants are as beautiful as those by Orchids for ensuring cross-fertilisation.
My Variation of Animals & Plants under Domestication was begun, as already stated, in the beginning of 1860, but was not published until the beginning of 1868.
It is a big book, & cost me four years & two months' hard labour. It gives all my observations & an immense number of facts collected from various sources, about our domestic productions. In the second volume the causes & laws of variation, inheritance, &c., are discussed, as far as our present state of knowledge permits. Towards the end of the work I give my well abused hypothesis of Pangenesis. An unverified hypothesis is of little or no value. But if any one should hereafter be led to make observations by which some such hypothesis could be established, I shall have done good service, as an astonishing number of isolated facts can thus be connected together & rendered intelligible. In 1875 a second & largely corrected edition, which cost me a good deal of labour, was brought out.
My Descent of Man was published in Feb. 1871. As soon as I had become, in the year 1837 or 1838
convinced that species were mutable productions, I could not avoid the belief that man must come under the same law. Accordingly I collected notes on the subject for my own satisfaction, & not for a long time with any intention of publishing. Although in the Origin of Species, the derivation of any particular species is never discussed, yet I thought it best, in order that no honourable man should accuse me of concealing my views, to add that by the work in question "light would be thrown on the origin of man & his history." It would have been useless & injurious to the success of the book to have paraded without giving any evidence my conviction with respect to his origin. But when I found that many naturalists fully accepted the doctrine of the evolution of species, it seemed to me advisable to work up such notes as I possessed & to publish a special treatise on the origin of man. I was the more
glad to do so, as it gave me an opportunity of fully discussing sexual selection, — a subject which had always greatly interested me. This subject, & that of the variation of our domestic productions, together with the causes & laws of variation, inheritance, etc., & the intercrossing of Plants, are the sole subjects which I have been able to write about in full, so as to use all the materials which I had collected. The Descent of Man took me three years to write, but then as usual some of this time was lost by ill health, & some was consumed by preparing new editions & other minor works. A second & largely corrected edition of the Descent appeared in 1874.
My book on the Expression of the Emotions in Men & Animals was published in the autumn of 1872. I had intended to give only a chapter on the subject in the Descent of Man, but as soon as I began to put my notes together, I saw that it would require a
separate Treatise. My first child was born on December 27th 1839, & I at once commenced to make notes on the first dawn of the various expressions which he exhibited, for I felt convinced, even at this early period, that the most complex & fine shades of expression must all have had a gradual & natural origin. During the summer of the following year, 1840, I read Sir C. Bell's1 admirable work on Expression, & this greatly increased the interest which I felt in the subject, though I could not at all agree with his belief that various muscles had been specially created for the sake of expression. From this time forward I occasionally attended to the subject, both with respect to man & our domesticated animals. My book sold largely; 5267 copies having been disposed of on the day of publication.
In the summer of 1860 I was idling & resting near Hartfield, where two species of Drosera abound; &
1 Charles Bell, 1774-1842. Educated Edinburgh, F.C.S. Ed. 1799. Prof. of Surgery, Ed. 1847. Knighted; R.S. medallist 1829; wrote on the nervous system & Anatomy of Expression, etc. — N.B.
I noticed that numerous insects had been entrapped by the leaves. I carried home some plants, & on giving them insects saw the movements of the tentacles, & this made me think it probable that the insects were caught for some special purpose. Fortunately a crucial test occurred to me, that of placing a large number of leaves in various nitrogenous & non-nitrogenous fluids of equal density; & as soon as I found that the former alone excited energetic movements, it was obvious that here was a fine new field for investigation.
During subsequent years, whenever I had leisure, I pursued my experiments, & my book on "Insectivorous Plants" was published July 1875, — that is sixteen years after my first observations. The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were
that of another person. The fact that a plant should secrete, when properly excited, a fluid containing an acid & ferment, closely analogous to the digestive fluid of an animal, was certainly a remarkable discovery.
During this autumn of 1876 I shall publish on the "Effects of Cross- & Self-Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom." This book will form a complement to that on the Fertilisation of Orchids, in which I showed how perfect were the means for cross-fertilisation, & here I shall show how important are the results. I was led to make, during eleven years, the numerous experiments recorded in this volume, by a mere accidental observation; & indeed it required the accident to be repeated before my attention was thoroughly aroused to the remarkable fact that seedlings of self-fertilised parentage are inferior, even in the first generation, in height & vigour to
seedlings of cross-fertilised parentage. I hope also to republish a revised edition of my book on Orchids, & hereafter my papers on dimorphic & trimorphic plants, together with some additional observations on allied points which I never have had time to arrange. My strength will then probably be exhausted, & I shall be ready to exclaim "Nunc dimittis."
I have now mentioned all the books which I have published, & these have been the milestones in my life, so that little remains to be said. I am not conscious of any change in my mind during the last 30 years, excepting in one point presently to be mentioned; nor indeed could any change have been expected unless one of general deterioration. But my father lived to his 83d year with his mind as lively as ever it was, & all his faculties undimmed; & I hope that I may
Addendum to p. 111 – (written May 1, 1881) 1
The "Effects of Cross- & Self-Fertilisation" was published in the autumn of 1876; & the results there arrived at explain, as I believe, the endless & wonderful contrivances for the transportal of pollen from one plant to another of the same species. I now believe, however, chiefly from the observations of Hermann Müller, that I ought to have insisted more strongly than I did on the many adaptations for self-fertilisation; though I was well aware of many such adaptations. A much enlarged edition of my Fertilisation of Orchids was published in 1877. In this same year "The Different Forms of Flowers, &c." appeared, & in 1880 a 2d edition. This book consists chiefly of the several papers on heterostyled flowers, originally published by the Linnean Society, corrected, with much new matter added, together with observations on some other cases in which the same plant bears two kinds of flowers. As before remarked, no little discovery of mine ever gave me so much pleasure as the making out the meaning
1 This long addendum added May 1st, 1881, to …"old geological thoughts.", p. 136. — N.B.
of heterostyled flowers. The results of crossing such flowers in an illegitimate manner, I believe to be very important as bearing on the sterility of hybrids; although these results have been noticed by only a few persons.
In 1879, I had a translation of Dr Ernst Krause's Life of Erasmus Darwin published, & I added a sketch of his character & habits from materials in my possession. Many persons have been much interested by this little life, & I am surprised that only 800 or 900 copies were sold. Owing to my having accidentally omitted to mention that Dr Krause had enlarged & corrected his article in German before it was translated, Mr Samuel Butler abused me with almost insane virulence. How I offended him so bitterly, I have never been able to understand. The subject gave rise to some controversy in the Athenæum newspaper & Nature. I laid all
the documents before some good judges, viz. Huxley, Leslie Stephen, Litchfield,1 etc., & they were all unanimous that the attack was so baseless that it did not deserve any public answer; for I had already expressed privately my regret to Mr Butler for my accidental omission. Huxley consoled me by quoting some German lines from Goethe, who had been attacked by someone, to the effect "that every Whale has its Louse."2
In 1880 I published, with Frank's assistance, our "Power of Movement in Plants." This was a tough piece of work. The book bears somewhat the same relation to my little book on Climbing Plants, which "Cross-Fertilisation" did to the "Fertilisation of Orchids"; for in accordance with the principles of evolution it was impossible to account for climbing plants having been developed in so many widely different groups, unless all kinds of plants possess some slight
1 His son-in-law, R. B. Litchfield. — N. B.
2 See Appendix. Part ii. p. 167. On the Darwin-Butler controversy, with unpublished documents, including Huxley's letter in its entirety. — N. B.
power of movement of an analogous kind. This I proved to be the case, & I was further led to a rather wide generalisation, viz., that the great & important classes of movements, excited by light, the attraction of gravity, &c., are all modified forms of the fundamental movement of circumnutation. It has always pleased me to exalt plants in the scale of organised beings; & I therefore felt an especial pleasure in showing how many & what admirably well adapted movements the tip of a root possesses.
I have now (May 1st 1881) sent to the printers the M.S. of a little book on "The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms." This is a subject of but small importance; & I know not whether it will interest any readers,1 but it has interested me. It is the completion of a short paper read before the Geological Society more than 40 years ago, & has revived old geological thoughts.2
1 Between November 1881 & February 1884, 8,500 copies were sold. — F.D.
2 End of 1881 Addendum. Beginning "The Effect of Cross…", p. 133. — N.B.
die before my mind fails to a sensible extent. I think that I have become a little more skilful in guessing right explanations & in devising experimental tests; but this may probably be the result of mere practice, & of a larger store of knowledge. I have as much difficulty as ever in expressing myself clearly & concisely; & this difficulty has caused me a very great loss of time; but it has had the compensating advantage of forcing me to think long & intently about every sentence, & thus I have been often led to see errors in reasoning & in my own observations or those of others. There seems to be a sort of fatality in my mind leading me to put at first my statement & proposition in a wrong or awkward form. Formerly I used to think about my sentences before writing them down; but for several years I have found that it saves time to scribble in a vile hand whole pages as quickly as I
possibly can, contracting half the words; & then correct deliberately. Sentences thus scribbled down are often better ones than I could have written deliberately.
Having said this much about my manner of writing, I will add that with my larger books I spend a good deal of time over the general arrangement of the matter. I first make the rudest outline in two or three pages, & then a larger one in several pages, a few words or one word standing for a whole discussion or series of facts. Each of these headings is again enlarged & often transformed before I begin to write in extenso. As in several of my books facts observed by others have been very extensively used, & as I have always had several quite distinct subjects in hand at the same time, I may mention that I keep from 30 to 40 large portfolios, in cabinets with labelled shelves, into which I
can at once put a detached reference or memorandum. I have bought many books & at their ends I make an index of all the facts that concern my work; or, if the book is not my own, write out a separate abstract, & of such abstracts I have a large drawer full. Before beginning on any subject I look to all the short indexes & make a general & classified index, & by taking the one or more proper portfolios I have all the information collected during my life ready for use.
I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last 20 or 30 years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, & Shelley, gave me great pleasure, & even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, & music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot
endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, & found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music. — Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. On the other hand, novels which are works of the imagination, though not of a very high order, have been for years a wonderful relief & pleasure to me, & I often bless all novelists. A surprising number have been read aloud to me, & I like all if moderately good, & if they do not end unhappily — against which a law ought to be passed. A novel, according to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, & if it be a pretty woman all the better.
This curious & lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes is all the odder, as books on history, biographies & travels (independently of any scientific facts which they may contain), & essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine, would not I suppose have thus suffered; & if I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some poetry & listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied could thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes
is a loss of happiness, & may possibly be injurious to the intellect, & more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.
My books have sold largely in England, have been translated into many languages, & passed through several editions in foreign countries. I have heard it said that the success of a work abroad is the best test of its enduring value. I doubt whether this is at all trustworthy; but judged by this standard my name ought to last for a few years. Therefore it may be worth while for me to try to analyse the mental qualities & the conditions on which my success has depended; though I am aware that no man can do this correctly. I have no great quickness of apprehension or wit which is so remarkable in some clever men, for instance Huxley. (a)
My power to follow a long & purely abstract train of thought is very limited; I
I am therefore a poor critic: a paper or book, when first read, generally excites my admiration, & it is only after considerable reflection that I perceive the weak points.
should, moreover, never have succeeded with metaphysics or mathematics. My memory is extensive, yet hazy: it suffices to make me cautious by vaguely telling me that I have observed or read something opposed to the conclusion which I am drawing, or on the other hand in favour of it; & after a time I can generally recollect where to search for my authority. So poor in one sense is my memory, that I have never been able to remember for more than a few days a single date or a line of poetry. Some of my critics have said, "Oh, he is a good observer, but has no power of reasoning." I do not think that this can be true, for the Origin of Species is one long argument from the beginning to the end, & it has convinced not a few able men. No one could have written it without having some power of reasoning. I have a fair share of invention & of common sense or judgment, such as every fairly successful lawyer
or doctor must have, but not I believe, in any higher degree.
On the favourable side of the balance, I think that I am superior to the common run of men in noticing things which easily escape attention, & in observing them carefully. My industry has been nearly as great as it could have been in the observation & collection of facts. What is far more important, my love of natural science has been steady & ardent. This pure love has, however, been much aided by the ambition to be esteemed by my fellow naturalists. From my early youth I have had the strongest desire to understand or explain whatever I observed, — that is, to group all facts under some general laws. These causes combined have given me the patience to reflect or ponder for any number of years over any unexplained problem. As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men. I have steadily endeavoured
to keep my mind free, so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it. Indeed I have had no choice but to act in this manner, for with the exception of the Coral Reefs, I cannot remember a single first-formed hypothesis which had not after a time to be given up or greatly modified. This has naturally led me to distrust greatly deductive reasoning in the mixed sciences. On the other hand, I am not very sceptical, — a frame of mind which I believe to be injurious to the progress of science;1
for I have met with not a few men, who I feel sure have often thus been deterred from experiment or observations, which would have proved directly or indirectly serviceable. My habits are methodical, & this has been of not a little use for my particular line of work. Lastly, I have had ample leisure from not having to earn my own bread. Even ill-health,
1 Beginning of addendum. Addendum ends "which might be sold", p. 144. — N.B.
* Addendum to p.120
A good deal of scepticism in a scientific man is advisable to avoid much loss of time. In illustration, I will give the oddest case which I have known. A gentleman (who, as I afterwards heard, was a good local botanist) wrote to me from the Eastern counties that the seeds or beans of the common field-bean had this year everywhere grown on the wrong side of the pod. I wrote back, asking for further information, as I did not understand what was meant; but I did not receive any answer for a long time. I then saw in two newspapers, one published in Kent & the other in Yorkshire, paragraphs stating that it was a most remarkable fact that "the beans this year had all grown on the wrong side." So I thought that there must be some foundation for so general a statement. Accordingly, I went to my gardener, an old Kentish man, & asked him whether he had heard anything about it; & he answered, "Oh, no, Sir, it must be a mistake, for the beans grow on the wrong side only on Leap-year, & this is not Leap-year." I then asked him how they grew on common years & how on leap-years, but soon found out that he knew
absolutely nothing of how they grew at any time; but he stuck to his belief. After a time I heard from my first informant, who, with many apologies, said that he should not have written to me had he not heard the statement from several intelligent farmers; but that he had since spoken again to every one of them, & not one knew in the least what he had himself meant. So that here a belief — if indeed a statement with no definite idea attached to it can be called a belief — had spread over almost the whole of England without any vestige of evidence.
I have known in the course of my life only three intentionally falsified statements, & one of these may have been a hoax (and there have been several scientific hoaxes) which, however, took in an American agricultural journal. It related to the formation in Holland of a new breed of oxen by the crossing of distinct species of Bos (some of which I happen to know are sterile together), & the author had the impudence to state that he had
corresponded with me, & that I had been deeply impressed with the importance of his results. The article was sent to me by the editor of an English Agricult. Journal, asking for my opinion before republishing it.
A second case was an account of several varieties raised by the author from several species of Primula, which had spontaneously yielded a full complement of seed, although the parent plants had been carefully protected from the access of insects. This account was published before I had discovered the meaning of heterostylism, & the whole statement must have been fraudulent, or there was neglect in excluding insects so gross as to be scarcely credible.
The third case was more curious: Mr Huth published in his book on Consanguineous Marriage some long extracts from a Belgian author, who stated that he had interbred rabbits in the closest manner for very many generations without the least injurious effects. The account was published in a most respectable Journal,
that of the Royal Medical Soc. of Belgium; but I could not avoid feeling doubts, — I hardly know why, except that there were no accidents of any kind, & my experience in breeding animals made me think this improbable. So with much hesitation I wrote to Prof. Van Beneden asking him whether the author was a trustworthy man. I soon heard in answer that the Society had been greatly shocked by discovering that the whole account was a fraud. The writer had been publicly challenged in the Journal to say where he had resided & kept his large stock of rabbits while carrying on his experiments, which must have consumed several years, & no answer could be extracted from him. I informed poor Mr Huth, that the account which formed the cornerstone of his argument was fraudulent; & he in the most honourable manner immediately had a slip printed to this effect to be inserted in all future copies of his book which might be sold.1
1 End of undated addendum of 5½ paragraphs, — N.B.
though it has annihilated several years of my life, has saved me from the distractions of society & amusement.
Therefore, my success as a man of science, whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by complex & diversified mental qualities & conditions. Of these the most important have been — the love of science — unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject — industry in observing & collecting facts — and a fair share of invention as well as of common-sense. With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that thus I should have influenced to a considerable extent the beliefs of scientific men on some important points.
August 3d 1876
This sketch of my life was begun about May 28th at Hopedene, & since then I have written for nearly an hour on most afternoons.
Return to homepage
Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
File last updated 30 September, 2013