Charles Darwin: A Portrait

Charles Darwin: A Portrait

Charles Darwin: A Portrait

Charles Darwin: A Portrait

Excerpt

If there is anything to be said for the present work, it is possibly best implied in two brief quotations from the Darwin memorial notices which appeared in Nature in 1882. The first, by G. J. Romanes, applies to its subject: "It is in Charles Darwin's case particularly and pre-eminently true that the first duty of biographers will be to render some idea, not of what he did, but of what he was." The second, by W. Thistleton Dyer, bears more upon the author: "From not being, till he took up any point, familiar with the literature bearing on it, his mind was absolutely free from any prepossession." If I had any relevant views at all, when I first approached the matter six years ago, they were dominantly a taking of Darwinism for granted joined to a faint distaste (not uncommon, I find) for Darwin himself as a rather more than usually "typical Victorian." My inclination to-day is to take Darwinism very much less for granted--as will appear in due course--and to feel a considerable liking, even an affection, for the man Darwin and for many of his family and friends, who seem to me to represent, if "Victorianism" still, some of the best elements of English life in their period. (Actually this is, as I have told it, a more than nineteenth-century story, beginning in the eighteenth century with Darwin's grandfathers as young men.)

So far as my account has any originality, it probably resides in the fact that I have, I believe, tried to keep closer to Romanes' dictum than any other biographer, to re-live Darwin's life imaginatively year by year, almost day by day, sharing his experience and displaying his ideas as growing out of it. I have done that primarily in the belief that the validity of any man's ideas depends ultimately upon what he is or was. It was a desire to test that faith in a field previously foreign to me that really impelled me to undertake this study, and on the whole it has been confirmed.

Throughout I have striven wherever possible for complete accuracy in factual detail. Frankly, I have found the airy assumptions and unconfirmed borrowings of some Darwin biographers distinctly disturbing. When one against all the evidence can make Emma Wedgwood Charles Darwin's "sweetheart" in 1825, and another on no . . .

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