Darwin's Shrink

By Milner, Richard | Natural History, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Darwin's Shrink


Milner, Richard, Natural History


A noted Darwin historian probes the naturalist's inner life.

Psychiatrist Ralph Colp Jr.'s favorite patient has been buried in Westminster Abbey since 1882. Nevertheless, Colp has come to know him intimately through unpublished letters, his medical diary, and written reminiscences of his family and friends in British and American archives. The patient is Charles Darwin, about whom Colp has written many articles and the classic, 1977 book, To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin, which he is currently revising.

After practicing surgery for five years, Colp switched to psychiatry and became a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (Psychiatry) in 1965. He served as attending psychiatrist at Columbia University Health Services until 1993, and is now a senior associate in the Program of Human Sexuality and Sex Therapy at the New York University Medical Center and a member of the Psychohistory Forum. But it is his labor of love that has earned him a reputation as the dean of Darwin historians. In a series of conversations, Natural History questioned Colp, now 81, about Darwin's personality, family life, politics, and illness.

NATURAL HISTORY: When did you first become interested in Charles Darwin?

RALPH COLP JR.: My father was a surgeon, and in his office were framed portraits of Darwin, Freud, Huxley, Lister, and Pasteur. As a child, I thought they were heroes of science, much nobler than my father and his colleagues who practiced medicine as a business.

When I was in high school, in the 1940s, my biology teacher said, "Nobody believes in Darwinism any more," yet she kept mentioning him. I saw that he was exerting a force, still stirring up controversies sixty years after his death. But my interest from the first, staring at Darwin's portrait when I was a boy, was, "What was he like as a man?" I really started taking him on seriously in 1959, when I was thirty-five, and there were all the scientific celebrations and press reports about the centenary of the Origin of Species.

NH: How can one analyze the mental state of a person who died long ago?

COLP: Darwin's life is extraordinarily well documented by letters, diaries, notebooks, and his own record of his health. His handwriting is often very difficult to decipher, however, and even when you do decipher it, you might find some fragment incomprehensible. It can call for a bit of scholarly sleuthing.

For instance, in an 1858 letter to his wife, Emma, Darwin complains that he had been to Farnham in Surrey, and that "the Review and the confounded Queen" made him feel ill. What could that mean? Perhaps a nasty article about the Queen had appeared in the popular magazine Quarterly Review? I searched it in vain. But when I checked newspapers for the Queen's whereabouts on that date, I found that she was near Farnham reviewing some troops. Now it was clear: this man who I knew loved military parades was upset by the sloppy drill described in the article, which mentioned that the soldiers kicked up clouds of dust. So he came alive for me there. Multiply that by hundreds of instances of figuring out the meaning of fragments.

NH: How well do you feel you know him?

COLP: Probably much better than I know some of my living friends and patients. I'm interested in physical details as well as his emotional and inner life. Even the way he walked, or worked, or the quality of his laugh-it was thin, musical, and hollow sounding, like a peal. He and Thomas Huxley liked to sit and joke and laugh for hours.

Darwin lived an exemplary life as an English country gentleman, the affectionate father to a brood of seven children. Sometimes he sat on the local magistrate's bench as ajustice of the Peace, "to help keep order in the neighborhood." He was always kind and considerate to his servants and gardeners, and taught his children to always address them with "please" and "thank you."

NH: What are your views on his illness? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Darwin's Shrink
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.