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He prided himself on prudent investments and punctually answered letters. His sense of gentlemanly honour included his charitable duties to the parish poor, the care required to make a reliable observation in natural history, and the obligation to deal fairly with a rival in a ticklish matter of scientific priority.
In his youth he had craved adventure in the form of a five-year round-the-world voyage on HMS Beagle , but Navy life and roughing it in the wildest parts of South America only cemented the routines that sustained his life thereafter. As this last phrase hints, neither Darwin on the Beagle nor Darwin at Down ever worked in isolation, though Darwin himself sometimes managed to convey an impression of the solitary sage.
Besides the retinue of colleagues and assistants, family and servants, all at his bidding, there was a far-flung and densely woven network of informants and correspondents ready to answer the most arcane queries about the sex life of barnacles, pigeon breeding, the facial expressions of the insane, the life-cycle of jellyfish, carnivorous plants, the germination of waterlogged seeds, and whatever else might suddenly strike him as relevant to the investigation at hand.
Over the years, Darwin had drawn together an encyclopedia of facts to support his argument, and those facts had in large part found their way to his study in Down via the efficient Victorian postal system. On the contrary, Victorian society made him. He built his theory out of information physically extracted from others.
Browne never loses sight of the social and economic structures that underpinned the Darwin household but she chooses to work at a more intimate level. She has Darwin showing off to Henslow on botanical excursions into the countryside; pleading a bad headache after proposing to his cousin Emma Wedgwood; pretending to be a bee in order to investigate the pollination of garden peas and concluding that London bees were less likely to be deceived than their country cousins ; feeding insectivorous sundew plants first flies, then milk, and finally tea and sherry; taking the fashionable water cure; enlisting his family to serenade worms with bassoon, whistle and piano.
Browne portrays Darwin as deeply rooted in family and country life, to the point that his scientific work became almost indistinguishable from the workings of his large household. Readers will find themselves constantly referring to the genealogical table thoughtfully provided at the beginning of Vol.
I, and wishing that it had been appended to Vol. II as well. Later in life, bedevilled by his own illnesses and desolate over the deaths of three of his ten children, Darwin worried about the deleterious effects of such inbreeding, but the strong preference for the company of family persisted for generations among the Darwins. The family connections were distinguished as well as tangled.
Erasmus Darwin was a successful physician of libertine leanings, who composed treatises of Linnaean natural history in fulsome verse and advanced his own speculative theory of the transmutation of species. Josiah Wedgwood I established the pottery firm that still bears his name.
His brother Erasmus shared his early enthusiasm for chemistry and natural history, and remained a lifelong confidant. Cash and connections flowed through family channels, and it was the family, too, that could be relied on to nurse invalids, assist with experiments, edit manuscripts, write letters and keep importunate visitors at bay.
Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place - PhilPapers
This was the family into which Charles Darwin was born and married, and in which he remained. The benefits were not only those of financial security, domestic infrastructure and freedom from the bustle and social distractions of London; his environment also afforded him constant contact with plants and animals, and with people whose business it was to know all about variation in nature and the efficacy of breeding.
By this time, most Darwin biographies are three-quarters over. Yet Darwin did not die until , and the bulk of his scientific oeuvre — nine books — appeared after , including the specialised though surprisingly popular monographs on orchids and earthworms, but also the seminal treatises on The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals Always shy of direct confrontation with opponents, and only too glad to take refuge in his sickbed rather than attend meetings, Darwin nonetheless energetically orchestrated his scientific campaigns through a barrage of letters to allies near and far.
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Fresh recruits such as the Harvard botanist Asa Gray or the German naturalist Ernst Haeckel were welcomed warmly into the fold.
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