RECORD: Geddes, Patrick. [1877-1878]. [Recollection of Darwin]. In Thompson, Arthur J. and Geddes, Patrick. 1931. Life: Outlines of general biology. 2 vols. New York: Harper & Brothers, vol. 2, pp. 1454-55.

REVISION HISTORY: Text prepared by Kees Rookmaaker and edited by John van Wyhe 11.2010. RN1

NOTE: Part of this recollection is reprinted in Thomas Glick, What about Darwin? Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2010.

[pages 1454-55]

Here two little anecdotes of Darwin may make this normal naturalist's progress more vivid. One day, many years ago, [1877-1878] the writer of this section—then an assistant to Burdon Sanderson and [E. A.] Schäfer at University College [London]—was amusing a spare hour by searching a pond-sample with his microscope, and had drawn a comparative blank with his microscope, with only two or three common green Euglenas swimming amid a few motile bacilli. He was about to put this slide away, when he was gently pushed aside. A big bear came over his shoulder—here was Darwin! who had come in unnoticed. He said nothing, but looked closely into this—to me—barren microscopic-field: then suddenly broke out, positively shouting for joy; "I say! They're moving, they're moving! Sanderson! Sanderson! Come and see; they're moving! Look at that!"

Was not here a vivid and memorable lesson in biology—this literally Panic intoxication of ecstasy. In our oldest of veterans, greatest of masters, before this simplest spectacle of life!

The other story, from a year or so later, was told me by a close friend, George Murray, then keeper of Cryptograms in the Natural History Museum, as he returned from a week-end at Down, to which Darwin had invited a few other younger science-men from the Museum and from Cambridge. Murray told how Darwin had spent the previous evening questioning each, and drawing him out on his subject; for no man was more open and eager to learn. Then, leaning back in his chair, he said: "I am always feeling my ignorance, but never have I had it more strongly brought home to me than tonight. You have surprised me!—and again and again! What you (pointing in turn to each) "know about cryptogams, and you tell me about phanerogams, and you about bacteriology, and you about embryology, and you about fishes, and so on, is most interesting! It's something astonishing! You do indeed make me feel my ignorance, and what I have missed!" Pause: then jumping up from his chair, and with a thump on the table: "But—damn you!—there's not a Naturalist in the whole lot of you!"

Patrick Geddes (1854-1932), English biologist, social scientist and town planner.

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

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