Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Diana Spencer has been dead for 20 years. I was a journalist on the Evening Standard in those days and she came to lunch at the newspaper a few months before she died. Apart from her blinding charm, and her overwhelming beauty, it was her perfect manners which were striking. She mastered a few details about anyone she met, so that they always felt she was interested in them. It is a great gift. I do not go in for meeting famous people, but that lunch was something very special. I went home in a blaze of love which has lasted to this hour. Conservative-minded people feared her because she wanted to upset the apple cart. She certainly did. It is strange that after she had done so, and there were bruised Granny Smiths all over the street, the monarchy was more popular than it had ever been. I was among those buttoned-up people who winced recently when her sons emoted about their grief. Then I remembered her, and realised I was wrong to wince. There is nothing wrong with admitting to heartbreak. The monarchy exercises a role in public life which is difficult to define, but Diana certainly expanded that role. The paradox is that, by causing the Establishment such embarrassment, she actually strengthened the monarchy. Strength is made perfect in weakness. Our love of the Queen herself is not a thing of the head, but of the heart.

Finished copies of my new book, Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker, have arrived from the printers. A new book always fills the author with a mixture of emotions. Pleasure predominates, but there is also the fear that reviewers will not like it. There are so many fundamentalist Darwinian bigots at large. Before I started work on the book, I had ignorantly supposed that only Bible-bashers disputed the Darwinian version of evolution. It was a surprise to discover how many palaeontologists, biologists and philosophers do not merely question individual points of the Darwinian position but, well, nearly all of it. The stupendous advances in the science of genetics really make redundant the simplistic Darwinian 'explanations' for how living forms mutate. And the Darwinian belief that species are perpetually struggling for pre-eminence, like pushy Victorian carriage-folk, is simply not true. If science demonstrated the Survival of the Fittest (Herbert Spencer's phrase), why did Darwin and his cousin Francis Galton need to invent eugenics to correct the (to them) unfortunate fact that the poverty-stricken drunken masses bred in larger numbers than the nouveaux riches like the Darwins? …

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