Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution


Setting an example for his future biographers, Darwin once canvassed his scientist friends for information about their lives that would account for their scientific dispositions. Darwin himself has served us well in this matter. As much, perhaps, out of economy as out of consideration for biographers, he has left us a hoard of documents about his life and work. There is the autobiographical memoir begun in 1876 and completed in 1881; the original version, differing in many and important respects from that in his Life and Letters, has only recently been published. There are the varying notebooks, diaries, and journals of the voyage of the Beagle. There are notebooks with jottings of his ideas and records of his observations and experiments; notes and transcriptions of his readings; preliminary sketches and original drafts of his works (when the backs of these pages were not thriftily used for other purposes); annotated copies of succeeding editions of these works; and thousands of letters-in original manuscript, typescript copies, and the published edited versions-written by and to him. These illuminate many critical points regarding the origin and development of his theory, his methods of inquiry and character of mind, his intentions and achievements, and the way he stimulated and was stimulated by his contemporaries. The most demanding historian could not have wished for more.

Yet the picture is all the more, not the less, confused by this wealth of information. What was, to begin with, straight forward is revealed to be devious; what was plain and obvious becomes obscure and elusive; while many of the conventional ideas about science in general and Darwinism in particular have to be discarded without any tidy generalizations to replace them. Not one meaning but a diversity of meanings emerges. No one saw this . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Garden City, NY
Publication year:
  • 1959


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