Primer: Darwin October 22, 2008Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Primer.
Tags: Adrian Desmond, Charles Darwin, Comte de Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, Janet Browne, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Michael Robinson, Ron Numbers
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Today we present a guest post by Michael Robinson of the University of Hartford, manager of the science-and-exploration blog Time to Eat the Dogs (where this is cross-posted), and author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture.
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), expert in barnacle taxonomy, lived his life as an omnivorous reader, letter-writer, and pack-rat. He attended college and traveled abroad, married his cousin Emma, and settled at Down House. There he wrote books, doted on his many children, and suffered bouts of chronic dyspepsia.
We don’t remember Darwin much for these details, eclipsed as they are by the blinding attention given to his work on evolution. But they are worth noticing if only to make a simple point. Darwin did not live life in anticipation of becoming the father of modern evolutionary biology, a status that seems almost inevitable when we read about Darwin’s life. Despite the distance of time and culture which separates us from Darwin, he lived his life much as we do: working too much, getting sick and getting better, fretting about others’ opinions, and seeking solace among his friends and family.
In spite of the scrutiny paid to evolution, or perhaps because of it, we continue to see Darwin through a glass darkly, distorted by a body of literature that, despite sophisticated analysis and a Homeric attention to details, reduces his life to the prelude and post-script of the modern era’s most important scientific theory. This is not to beat up on the “Darwin Industry” which has produced a number of superbly researched, balanced portraits of Darwin. But the nuance of such works cannot overcome the weight of Darwin as a (more…)