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Chapter 5


(After speaking of his happy married life, and of his children,
he continues:--)

During the three years and eight months whilst we resided in
London, I did less scientific work, though I worked as hard as I
possibly could, than during any other equal length of time in my
life. This was owing to frequently recurring unwellness, and to
one long and serious illness. The greater part of my time, when
I could do anything, was devoted to my work on 'Coral Reefs,'
which I had begun before my marriage, and of which the last
proof-sheet was corrected on May 6th, 1842. This book, though a
small one, cost me twenty months of hard work, as I had to read
every work on the islands of the Pacific and to consult many
charts. It was thought highly of by scientific men, and the
theory therein given is, I think, now well established.

No other work of mine was begun in so deductive a spirit as this,
for the whole theory was thought out on the west coast of South
America, before I had seen a true coral reef. I had therefore
only to verify and extend my views by a careful examination of
living reefs. But it should be observed that I had during the
two previous years been incessantly attending to the effects on
the shores of South America of the intermittent elevation of the
land, together with denudation and the deposition of sediment.
This necessarily led me to reflect much on the effects of
subsidence, and it was easy to replace in imagination the
continued deposition of sediment by the upward growth of corals.
To do this was to form my theory of the formation of barrier-
reefs and atolls.

Besides my work on coral-reefs, during my residence in London, I
read before the Geological Society papers on the Erratic Boulders
of South America ('Geolog. Soc. Proc.' iii. 1842.), on
Earthquakes ('Geolog. Trans. v. 1840.), and on the Formation by
the Agency of Earth-worms of Mould. ('Geolog. Soc. Proc. ii.
1838.) I also continued to superintend the publication of the
'Zoology of the Voyage of the "Beagle".' Nor did I ever intermit
collecting facts bearing on the origin of species; and I could
sometimes do this when I could do nothing else from illness.

In the summer of 1842 I was stronger than I had been for some
time, and took a little tour by myself in North Wales, for the
sake of observing the effects of the old glaciers which formerly
filled all the larger valleys. I published a short account of
what I saw in the 'Philosophical Magazine.' ('Philosophical
Magazine,' 1842.) This excursion interested me greatly, and it
was the last time I was ever strong enough to climb mountains or
to take long walks such as are necessary for geological work.

During the early part of our life in London, I was strong enough
to go into general society, and saw a good deal of several
scientific men, and other more or less distinguished men. I will
give my impressions with respect to some of them, though I have
little to say worth saying.

I saw more of Lyell than of any other man, both before and after
my marriage. His mind was characterised, as it appeared to me,
by clearness, caution, sound judgment, and a good deal of
originality. When I made any remark to him on Geology, he never
rested until he saw the whole case clearly, and often made me see
it more clearly than I had done before. He would advance all
possible objections to my suggestion, and even after these were
exhausted would long remain dubious. A second characteristic was
his hearty sympathy with the work of other scientific men. (The
slight repetition here observable is accounted for by the notes
on Lyell, etc., having been added in April, 1881, a few years
after the rest of the 'Recollections' were written.)

On my return from the voyage of the "Beagle", I explained to him
my views on coral-reefs, which differed from his, and I was
greatly surprised and encouraged by the vivid interest which he
showed. His delight in science was ardent, and he felt the
keenest interest in the future progress of mankind. He was very
kind-hearted, and thoroughly liberal in his religious beliefs, or
rather disbeliefs; but he was a strong theist. His candour was
highly remarkable. He exhibited this by becoming a convert to
the Descent theory, though he had gained much fame by opposing

Lamarck's views, and this after he had grown old. He reminded me
that I had many years before said to him, when discussing the
opposition of the old school of geologists to his new views,
"What a good thing it would be if every scientific man was to die
when sixty years old, as afterwards he would be sure to oppose
all new doctrines." But he hoped that now he might be allowed to

The science of Geology is enormously indebted to Lyell--more so,
as I believe, than to any other man who ever lived. When [I was]
starting on the voyage of the "Beagle", the sagacious Henslow,
who, like all other geologists, believed at that time in
successive cataclysms, advised me to get and study the first
volume of the 'Principles,' which had then just been published,
but on no account to accept the views therein advocated. How
differently would anyone now speak of the 'Principles'! I am
proud to remember that the first place, namely, St. Jago, in the
Cape de Verde archipelago, in which I geologised, convinced me of
the infinite superiority of Lyell's views over those advocated in
any other work known to me.

The powerful effects of Lyell's works could formerly be plainly
seen in the different progress of the science in France and
England. The present total oblivion of Elie de Beaumont's wild
hypotheses, such as his 'Craters of Elevation' and 'Lines of
Elevation' (which latter hypothesis I heard Sedgwick at the
Geological Society lauding to the skies), may be largely
attributed to Lyell.

I saw a good deal of Robert Brown, "facile Princeps Botanicorum,"
as he was called by Humboldt. He seemed to me to be chiefly
remarkable for the minuteness of his observations, and their
perfect accuracy. His knowledge was extraordinarily great, and
much died with him, owing to his excessive fear of ever making a
mistake. He poured out his knowledge to me in the most
unreserved manner, yet was strangely jealous on some points. I
called on him two or three times before the voyage of the
"Beagle", and on one occasion he asked me to look through a
microscope and describe what I saw. This I did, and believe now
that it was the marvellous currents of protoplasm in some
vegetable cell. I then asked him what I had seen; but he
answered me, "That is my little secret."

He was capable of the most generous actions. When old, much out
of health, and quite unfit for any exertion, he daily visited (as
Hooker told me) an old man-servant, who lived at a distance (and
whom he supported), and read aloud to him. This is enough to
make up for any degree of scientific penuriousness or jealousy.

I may here mention a few other eminent men, whom I have
occasionally seen, but I have little to say about them worth
saying. I felt a high reverence for Sir J. Herschel, and was
delighted to dine with him at his charming house at the Cape of
Good Hope, and afterwards at his London house. I saw him, also,
on a few other occasions. He never talked much, but every word
which he uttered was worth listening to.

I once met at breakfast at Sir R. Murchison's house the
illustrious Humboldt, who honoured me by expressing a wish to see
me. I was a little disappointed with the great man, but my
anticipations probably were too high. I can remember nothing
distinctly about our interview, except that Humboldt was very
cheerful and talked much.

-- reminds me of Buckle whom I once met at Hensleigh Wedgwood's.
I was very glad to learn from him his system of collecting facts.
He told me that he bought all the books which he read, and made a
full index, to each, of the facts which he thought might prove
serviceable to him, and that he could always remember in what
book he had read anything, for his memory was wonderful. I asked
him how at first he could judge what facts would be serviceable,
and he answered that he did not know, but that a sort of instinct
guided him. From this habit of making indices, he was enabled to
give the astonishing number of references on all sorts of
subjects, which may be found in his 'History of Civilisation.'
This book I thought most interesting, and read it twice, but I
doubt whether his generalisations are worth anything. Buckle was
a great talker, and I listened to him saying hardly a word, nor
indeed could I have done so for he left no gaps. When Mrs.
Farrer began to sing, I jumped up and said that I must listen to
her; after I had moved away he turned around to a friend and said
(as was overheard by my brother), "Well, Mr. Darwin's books are
much better than his conversation."

Of other great literary men, I once met Sydney Smith at Dean
Milman's house. There was something inexplicably amusing in
every word which he uttered. Perhaps this was partly due to the
expectation of being amused. He was talking about Lady Cork, who
was then extremely old. This was the lady who, as he said, was
once so much affected by one of his charity sermons, that she
BORROWED a guinea from a friend to put in the plate. He now said
"It is generally believed that my dear old friend Lady Cork has
been overlooked," and he said this in such a manner that no one
could for a moment doubt that he meant that his dear old friend
had been overlooked by the devil. How he managed to express this
I know not.

I likewise once met Macaulay at Lord Stanhope's (the historian's)
house, and as there was only one other man at dinner, I had a
grand opportunity of hearing him converse, and he was very
agreeable. He did not talk at all too much; nor indeed could
such a man talk too much, as long as he allowed others to turn
the stream of his conversation, and this he did allow.

Lord Stanhope once gave me a curious little proof of the accuracy
and fulness of Macaulay's memory: many historians used often to
meet at Lord Stanhope's house, and in discussing various subjects
they would sometimes differ from Macaulay, and formerly they
often referred to some book to see who was right; but latterly,
as Lord Stanhope noticed, no historian ever took this trouble,
and whatever Macaulay said was final.

On another occasion I met at Lord Stanhope's house, one of his
parties of historians and other literary men, and amongst them
were Motley and Grote. After luncheon I walked about Chevening
Park for nearly an hour with Grote, and was much interested by
his conversation and pleased by the simplicity and absence of all
pretension in his manners.

Long ago I dined occasionally with the old Earl, the father of
the historian; he was a strange man, but what little I knew of
him I liked much. He was frank, genial, and pleasant. He had
strongly marked features, with a brown complexion, and his
clothes, when I saw him, were all brown. He seemed to believe in
everything which was to others utterly incredible. He said one
day to me, "Why don't you give up your fiddle-faddle of geology
and zoology, and turn to the occult sciences!" The historian,
then Lord Mahon, seemed shocked at such a speech to me, and his
charming wife much amused.

The last man whom I will mention is Carlyle, seen by me several
times at my brother's house, and two or three times at my own
house. His talk was very racy and interesting, just like his
writings, but he sometimes went on too long on the same subject.
I remember a funny dinner at my brother's, where, amongst a few
others, were Babbage and Lyell, both of whom liked to talk.
Carlyle, however, silenced every one by haranguing during the
whole dinner on the advantages of silence. After dinner Babbage,
in his grimmest manner, thanked Carlyle for his very interesting
lecture on silence.

Carlyle sneered at almost every one: one day in my house he
called Grote's 'History' "a fetid quagmire, with nothing
spiritual about it." I always thought, until his 'Reminiscences'
appeared, that his sneers were partly jokes, but this now seems
rather doubtful. His expression was that of a depressed, almost
despondent yet benevolent man; and it is notorious how heartily
he laughed. I believe that his benevolence was real, though
stained by not a little jealousy. No one can doubt about his
extraordinary power of drawing pictures of things and men--far
more vivid, as it appears to me, than any drawn by Macaulay.
Whether his pictures of men were true ones is another question.

He has been all-powerful in impressing some grand moral truths on
the minds of men. On the other hand, his views about slavery
were revolting. In his eyes might was right. His mind seemed to
me a very narrow one; even if all branches of science, which he
despised, are excluded. It is astonishing to me that Kingsley
should have spoken of him as a man well fitted to advance
science. He laughed to scorn the idea that a mathematician, such
as Whewell, could judge, as I maintained he could, of Goethe's
views on light. He thought it a most ridiculous thing that any
one should care whether a glacier moved a little quicker or a
little slower, or moved at all. As far as I could judge, I never
met a man with a mind so ill adapted for scientific research.

Whilst living in London, I attended as regularly as I could the
meetings of several scientific societies, and acted as secretary
to the Geological Society. But such attendance, and ordinary
society, suited my health so badly that we resolved to live in
the country, which we both preferred and have never repented of.

Charles Darwin

Cambridge 1828-1831.

Voyage of the Beagle

From My Return to England



My Several Publications

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