Darwin and Pain:
Why Science Made Shakespeare Nauseating
In the first half of this book I have focused more on ways in which Darwin's work has not been enchanting than on its power to re-enchant the world. To make the positive argument, it has been essential to face and not to minimize the dispiriting potential of his ideas. In addition, I have attended at some length to those aspects of Darwin's ideas that have been used in support of various theories that might reasonably be called “social Darwinism.” It is time to turn to alternative ways of engaging with Darwin, to turn, that is, to the enchanting Darwin, and I want to do so by looking at his writing and at his life, though we know the latter in good measure by the former. I reserve for chapter 7 my most extensive engagement with the qualities of his writing that make for re-enchantment.
Making a biographical case is a tricky business. As I have said at the outset, I concur entirely with those recent historians of science who have denigrated the tendency to write of Darwin in the mode of hagiography. It is not news that Darwin was an unusually nice man for a world-historical figure, but he was hardly perfect. Janet Browne describes the “steely” determination that lay under the gentle and cordial demeanor that marked his relations with just about everyone. She points out, in addition and among other things, that he “could be ruthless in cutting himself off from those to whom he owed the greatest debts” (Power of Place, 418). I turn to biographical elements, to a consideration of the ways in which his theory developed and to the way in which he handled a major crisis in his life, not because I like Darwin, though I do, but because these things can serve as useful examples of the way a fully naturalistic vision can be compatible with a sense of the world as value-laden and inspiriting. I want to think of Darwin's life not as saintly but as evidence for the