RECORD: Anon. 1877. [Review of Biographical sketch of an infant]. Lincoln Gazette (29 September): 5.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 8.2021. RN1


[page] 5

Mr. Darwin's studies are as curious and interesting as they are inexhaustible. Their range is extraordinary, but they all converge to one point, and all bear on his well-known theory of development. He has now unearthed a most striking chapter on infants, consisting of the notes he made 37 years ago, on his own progeny. His point of view is not that of fond parent, but of highly trained scientific observer, and it appears that he kept a sort of diary and wrote down at the time an account of the very slow steps which mark the progress of an infant's development. To ordinary people, a baby in its early stages is the same one day as another; but Mr. Darwin was quick to catch any little advance in mental development or in expression, and he made experiments to test the first movements of voluntary action as distinct from the lower reflex movements. He was also on the keen look-out for the dawning signs of the emotions, the affections, and the moral sense, and he noticed that the period of the development of different qualities varied extremely in different infants. Infant boys, he observed, showed an earlier tendency to anger than girls, and learned quicker to slap and throw things "I could never see a trace of such aptitude in my infant daughters; and this makes me think that a tendency to throw objects is inherited by boys." The terrible fears with which children are beset he looks upon as inherited troubles which have their roots in the past, and he thinks they may be traced to the real dangers and abject superstitions during ancient savage times." According to Mr. Darwin, an infant is the sport of strongly inherited tendencies, but these tendencies, if evil, may at least be counteracted by wise and gentle training. One of his children, when it committed its first act of petty larceny, and stole sugar, knew that it was doing wrong, and behaved like a culprit. On another occasion, it acted in a way that betrayed "carefully planned deceit," but "as this child was educated solely by working on his good feelings, he soon became truthful, open, and tender as anyone could desire."

Very few people would have the patience to follow Mr. Darwin's example, to watch the unfolding of infant perceptions, to trace every gesture and look back to a distant past, and to ascertain in what degree a nineteenth century baby differs from the baby of a more primitive time. Only a jury of mothers could testify to the wonderful accuracy and precision of his observations; but when all is said, and Mr. Darwin has drawn his inferences, we feel that we have but the barest glimpses into the delicate problems he so cleverly attempts to solve.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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