Charles Darwin: Origins and Literary Legacies Born 1809 – Died 1882 I. Darwin’s Origins His maternal grandfather, Josiah Wedgewood, revolutionized ceramics, making safe dishes widely available. His paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a poet and botanist who had his own ideas about evolution. Erasmus Darwin Organic life beneath the shoreless waves Was born and nurs'd in ocean's pearly caves; First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass, Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass; These, as successive generations bloom, New powers acquire and larger limbs assume; Whence countless groups of vegetation spring, And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing. Erasmus Darwin. The Temple of Nature. 1802. Note to The Temple of Nature: “…there is more dignity in our idea of the supreme author of all things, when we conceive him to be the cause of causes…” (Note I). Charles Lyell Lyell a renowned geologist and author of Principles of Geology (1830-33) Darwin had a copy of the first volume of Principles on board The Beagle Lyell’s Key Principles Expanded time scale – 100,000,000 > 6000 Biblical chronology of earth (Creation took place in 4004 BC) replaced by geological understanding of earth as millions of years old. John McPhee offers a useful analogy: “if we think of all known time as a calendar year, then … Dinosaurs appear in the middle of December and are gone the day after Christmas. The last ice sheet melts on December 31st at one minute before midnight, and the Roman Empire lasts five seconds” Uniformitarianism Processes observable in the present are identical to those in action in the past. Small, gradual actions cause great change over great periods of time. Example: + 50 million years = Lyell’s Impact Darwin, On the Origin of Species, Ch. 9: “He who can read Sir Charles Lyell’s grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognize as having produced a revolution in natural science, yet does not admit how incomprehensibly vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume.” “Lyell was overwhelmingly the most important single influence on Darwin’s work” (Joseph Carroll). Other Influences from Loren Eiseley, Darwin’s Century James Hutton (1788) – preceded Lyell in expanding the time scale William Smith (~1815) – strata represent different epochs Georges Cuvier (1798) – comparative anatomy reveals extinction Thomas Malthus, Essay on Population (1798) Joseph Carroll describes Darwin’s reading of Malthus as a “crucial, crystallizing experience.” Darwin himself describes the experience in his Autobiography: “In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which every where goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species.” Voyage of the Beagle, 1831-36 The Journey of The Beagle Work on the Beagle The commission was to chart the coastal waters of southern South America. Darwin came along as ship’s naturalist. Collected fossils and observed animals. “As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in Natural Science” (Darwin, Autobiography) From Voyage of the Beagle “[Galapagos Archipelago]: The natural history of these islands is eminently curious, and well deserves attention. Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else…. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact—that mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth.” Clearly, Darwin is formulating the idea of evolution. Meanwhile… Literary discourse is rife with reflections on developments in science that anticipate Darwin’s Origin. Most of these come from the impact of Lyell but also others, like Robert Chambers’ Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1842). Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach” (1851) The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in. Sophocles long ago Heard it on the Agean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought, Hearing it by this distant northern sea. The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world. Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night. John Ruskin, a letter 1851 “[My faith] … is being beaten into mere gold leaf, and flutters in weak rags from the letter of its old forms…. If only the Geologists would let me alone, I could do very well, but those dreadful hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verses.” Geology Challenged Faith Darwin is paying attention to this discourse and is aware of the implications of his work. He has a completed manuscript of Origin in 1844 but waits 15 years to publish. WHY? To better prepare his scientific argument. For fear of the implications. Wrote to J. Hooker in January 1844: “At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable.” Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam (1850) An elegy for the death of Tennyson’s best friend, but also an elegy for a way of thinking about nature and faith. Tennyson influenced by Lyell and Chambers, but notably comes 9 years before Origin. In Memoriam, 54 LIV Oh yet we trust that somehow good Will be the final goal of ill, To pangs of nature, sins of will, Defects of doubt, and taints of blood; That nothing walks with aimless feet; That not one life shall be destroy'd, Or cast as rubbish to the void, When God hath made the pile complete; That not a worm is cloven in vain; That not a moth with vain desire Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire, Or but subserves another's gain. Behold, we know not anything; I can but trust that good shall fall At last—far off—at last, to all, And every winter change to spring. So runs my dream: but what am I? An infant crying in the night: An infant crying for the light: And with no language but a cry. In Memoriam, 55 LV The wish, that of the living whole No life may fail beyond the grave, Derives it not from what we have The likest God within the soul? Are God and Nature then at strife, That Nature lends such evil dreams? So careful of the type she seems, So careless of the single life; That I, considering everywhere Her secret meaning in her deeds, And finding that of fifty seeds She often brings but one to bear, I falter where I firmly trod, And falling with my weight of cares Upon the great world's altar-stairs That slope thro' darkness up to God, I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope, And gather dust and chaff, and call To what I feel is Lord of all, And faintly trust the larger hope. In Memoriam, 56 LVI 'So careful of the type?' but no. From scarped cliff and quarried stone She cries, `A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing, all shall go. Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills, Who battled for the True, the Just, Be blown about the desert dust, Or seal'd within the iron hills? 'Thou makest thine appeal to me: I bring to life, I bring to death: The spirit does but mean the breath: I know no more.' And he, shall he, No more? A monster then, a dream, A discord. Dragons of the prime, That tare each other in their slime, Were mellow music match'd with him. Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair, Such splendid purpose in his eyes, Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies, Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer, O life as futile, then, as frail! O for thy voice to soothe and bless! What hope of answer, or redress? Behind the veil, behind the veil. Who trusted God was love indeed And love Creation's final law— Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw With ravine, shriek'd against his creed— Into this discourse, Darwin enters with straightforward diction and clarity of purpose (finally). Chapter 1 begins: “When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species--that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.” II. Darwin’s Language “I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species.” (Origin, Introduction). “At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable” (Letter to Hooker, 1844). NOTE: The language is the same, after 15 years and much further thought. Gillian Beer, Darwin’s Plots (1983) Darwin “did not invent laws. He described them” (46). It is thus incumbent upon us to attend to Darwin’s language. I will consider: use of simile and emphasis on enchantment. Tree Simile First Sketch of the “tree of life” from 1837 notebook “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food: the tree of life also in the midst of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Genesis 2:8-9 Simile is like Analogy “Analogy seemed to provide evidence for a teleological order” (Beer 76). That is, using analogy or simile reveals Darwin’s sense that there is an order and a logic to the natural world. “Tree of Life” (Ch. 4) “The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during each former year may represent the long succession of extinct species. At each period of growth all the growing twigs have tried to branch out on all sides, and to overtop and kill the surrounding twigs and branches, in the same manner as species and groups of species have tried to overmaster other species in the great battle for life. The limbs divided into great branches, and these into lesser and lesser branches, were themselves once, when the tree was small, budding twigs; and this connexion of the former and present buds by ramifying branches may well represent the classification of all extinct and living species in groups subordinate to groups. Of the many twigs which flourished when the tree was a mere bush, only two or three, now grown into great branches, yet survive and bear all the other branches; so with the species which lived during long-past geological periods, very few now have living and modified descendants. Tree of Life, cont. From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these lost branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only from having been found in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the Ornithorhynchus or Lepidosiren, which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.” Stop Being Passive! Talk for a few minutes with the person next to you about what you notice in Darwin’s language. What surprises you? What strategies does he use to communicate information and ideas? What is the effect of those strategies? Analysis… Note that this whole central passage is a simile. Darwin acknowledges as much and then repeats the word “represents” and the structure of analogy, “just as the tree… so do species.” This particular simile enables him to call upon familiar and comfortable associations of nature and rebirth. He also rewrites the Biblical “tree.” The tree simile is an occasion to celebrate “Beautiful ramifications.” Language of Beauty and Wonder From ch. 3, “The Struggle for Existence” How have all those exquisite adaptations of one part of the organisation to another part, and to the conditions of life, and of one distinct organic being to another being, been perfected? We see these beautiful co-adaptations most plainly in the woodpecker and missletoe; and only a little less plainly in the humblest parasite which clings to the hairs of a quadruped or feathers of a bird; in the structure of the beetle which dives through the water; in the plumed seed which is wafted by the gentlest breeze; in short, we see beautiful adaptations everywhere and in every part of the organic world. Language of Beauty and Wonder, cont. From ch. 14, “Recapitulation and Conclusion” There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. Analysis… The grandeur is meant to combat with the “melancholy long withdrawing roar” of receding faith written of by Arnold and others. Evolution itself is offered as a force “beautiful” and “wonderful” no less so than a Romantic, non-scientific view of nature. George Levine, Darwin Loves You (2006) “A literary attention to his language suggests the possibility of an enchantment that never has to reach beyond nature itself” (xv). “For Darwin, the project of establishing the theory of evolution by natural selection was not so much the affirmation of a mindless and godless world, as the revelation that we walk in the midst of wonders; it was an act of loving engagement with the natural world that allows and fosters, even without gods and traditional forms of consolation, enchantment” (26). Enchantment and Altruism – One Response Thomas Hardy: “Few people seem to perceive fully as yet that the most far-reaching consequence of the establishment of the common origin of all species is ethical; that it logically involved a re-adjustment of altruistic morals by enlarging as a necessity of rightness the application of what has been called ‘The Golden Rule’ beyond the area of mere mankind to that of the whole animal kingdom” (quoted in Levine). A second response Arabella Buckley, The Winners in Life’s Race (1883: an introduction to evolution for children): “Thus we arrive at the greatest and most important lesson that the study of nature affords us. It is interesting, most interesting, to trace the gradual evolution of numberless different forms, and see how each has become fitted for the life it has to live. It gives us courage to struggle on under difficulties when we see how patiently the lower animals meet the dangers and anxieties of their lives, and conquer or die in the struggle for existence. But far beyond all these is the great moral lesson taught at every step in the history of the development of the animal world, that amidst toil and suffering, struggle and death, the supreme law of life is the law of SELF-DEVOTION AND LOVE.” Altruistic Principle. III. Reactions to Darwin Literary Responses 1 Tennyson, “Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After” (1886) “Evolution ever climbing after some ideal good, And Reversion ever dragging Evolution in the mud.” (198-199) Literary Responses 2 Other late nineteenth-century writers that focus on degeneration: Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Wells, The Time Machine Stoker, Dracula Literary Responses 3 Nineteenth-century realist novelists, i.e. George Eliot and Charles Dickens. Complex webs of interconnected characters and plots, as well as themes of inheritance, knowledge and experimentation, and structure (of society as of narrative.) Beer even argues that Darwin was able to see the complexity of the natural world because of his reading of Dickens. SO, realism enables Darwin just as Darwin’s writing enriches realism. Literary Responses 4, and conclusions May Kendall, “The Lay of the Trilobite” (1887) A mountain's giddy height I sought, Because I could not find Sufficient vague and mighty thought To fill my mighty mind; And as I wandered ill at ease, There chanced upon my sight A native of Silurian seas, An ancient Trilobite. So calm, so peacefully he lay, I watched him even with tears: I thought of Monads far away In the forgotten years. How wonderful it seemed and right, The providential plan, That he should be a Trilobite, And I should be a Man! And then, quite natural and free Out of his rocky bed, That Trilobite he spoke to me And this is what he said: 'I don't know how the thing was done, Although I cannot doubt it; But Huxley - he if anyone Can tell you all about it; 'How all your faiths are ghosts and dreams, How in the silent sea Your ancestors were Monotremes Whatever these may be; How you evolved your shining lights Of wisdom and perfection From Jelly-Fish and Trilobites By Natural Selection. 'You've Kant to make your brains go round, Hegel you have to clear them, You've Mr Browning to confound, And Mr Punch to cheer them! The native of an alien land You call a man and brother, And greet with hymn-book in one hand And pistol in the other! ‘But gentle, stupid, free from woe I lived among my nation, I didn't care - I didn't know That I was a Crustacean.* I didn't grumble, didn't steal, I never took to rhyme: Salt water was my frugal meal, And carbonate of lime.' 'You've Politics to make you fight As if you were possessed: You've cannon and you've dynamite To give the nations rest: The side that makes the loudest din Is surest to be right, And oh, a pretty fix you're in!' Remarked the Trilobite. Reluctantly I turned away, No other word he said; An ancient Trilobite, he lay Within his rocky bed. I did not answer him, for that Would have annoyed my pride: I merely bowed, and raised my hat, But in my heart I cried: 'I wish our brains were not so good, I wish our skulls were thicker, I wish that Evolution could Have stopped a little quicker; For oh, it was a happy plight, Of liberty and ease, To be a simple Trilobite In the Silurian seas!'